The OSU Marine Mammal Institute is a multi-disciplinary facility incorporating the work of academics from Engineering, Genetics, Agriculture, Aquatics, Ecology, Veterinary Medicine, Biology, and Communications. As the only institute of its kind, the Marine Mammal Institute combines the efforts of top researchers from around the world to continue the legacy of discovery and preservation of critical habitats of target species and understanding how they interact with their environment and human activities.
Using satellite-monitored radio tags to determine the distribution and critical habitats of endangered whales.
Exploring the genomes of whales and dolphins to understand the past, assess the present, and conserve the future.
Ecology, behavioral physiology, and conservation biology of pinnipeds.
Documenting occurrences and investigating the causes of marine mammal strandings in Oregon.
A decade ago, we set out to unravel deep ocean crime scenes we weren’t even sure existed. The crime? Endangered Steller sea lions were rapidly disappearing in parts of Alaska. Their numbers dropped by 80% in three decades, yet only rarely did anyone see or sample dead sea lions. Live sea lions studied in the summer when they haul out to breed seemed healthy and had healthy pups.
We wanted to know when, where, and why sea lions die. To unravel the mystery, we needed information from those animals that we don’t see, those that might not breed, those that might never come back ashore. So we developed a special monitoring tag that could send us data about the sea lions we can’t directly observe.
The GEMM Lab led a research expedition in January 2014 that collected observational, behavioral, and oceanographic data to prove the existence of a blue whale foraging ground in the South Taranaki Bight (STB) in New Zealand. Prior to this study, it was thought that blue whales only migrate through New Zealand waters, which is reflected in its listing by the New Zealand Threat Classification System as a Migrant, offering blue whales no distinct conservation protection. The GEMM Lab is currently planning a comprehensive research program to improve knowledge of this blue whale population by generating estimates of abundance, residency, and distribution in the STB. These are the data needed to ensure the protection of these endangered animals and their critical feeding habitat.
Three of MMI’s graduate students have successfully defended their theses and have been awarded their advanced degrees: In April 2014, Rebecca Hamner, PhD (conservation genetics and monitoring of New Zealand Maui's and Hector's dolphins), and in September 2014, both Alana Alexander, PhD (The influence of social structure and molecular evolution on genetic diversity in the sperm whale), and Sophie Pierszalowski, MSc (the influence of local fidelity and recruitment on population dynamics and specialized foraging of humpback whales in Glacier Bay and Icy Strait, Alaska). All three studied with Dr. Scott Baker in his Cetacean Conservation and Genomics Laboratory.