Florence (van Tulder) Sullivan


M.S. Student, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife



Educational Background:

B.S. Biological Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, 2011

Professional Preparation:

Research Assistant: GEMM Lab, Oregon State University (2014–present)

Instructor: Oregon State University, FW 251 Principles of fish and wildlife conservation (2014–2015)

Oceanographer: Ecosystem Monitoring and Assessment, NOAA Auke Bay Laboratories, Juneau, AK (2011–2013)

Field Oceanographer: Bering Arctic Subarctic Integrated Survey (BASIS) (2010–2012)

Laboratory Assistant: Baross Laboratories, University of Washington, Seattle (2010–2011)

Teaching Assistant: University of Washington, undergraduate introductory oceanography (2010–2011)

Research Interests/Area of Expertise:

I am interested in deciphering the mechanisms and ecology of reoccurring large-scale marine phenomena such as oceanic hotspots to inform conservation of biodiversity efforts. For my master’s work, I will conduct an Assessment of vessel disturbance to foraging gray whales along the Oregon Coast to promote sustainable ecotourism:

Gray whales are an iconic feature of the Oregon coast. In 2008, whale watching generated $29.8 million in revenue for Oregon coastal communities. This whale watch industry is expected to grow in number of operators, locations, client-base, and revenue.  While this expansion will bring economic gains to Oregon coastal communities and provide valuable educational experiences to tourists, recreational and commercial vessels must act responsibly to minimize disturbance to feeding gray whales during this critical summer foraging period. I aim to (1) document and describe fine-scale foraging behavior of gray whales, (2) assess the impact of vessel disturbance on foraging behavior, and (3) work with local communities, stakeholders, and whale watch operators to create sustainable, scientifically informed guidelines for vessel operations in the presence of gray whales. During the summer of 2015, we synoptically recorded gray whale tracks and vessel movements with shore-based theodolites and used photo-ID to document whale body condition. Two sites along the Oregon coast with contrasting levels of vessel traffic, Depoe Bay and Port Orford, were monitored for approximately 4 weeks each. Analysis of whale focal follows to assess behavior state changes relative to kelp, body condition, vessel presence, speed, type, and distance is currently underway. We hypothesize that (1) foraging behavior will most often be documented in close proximity to kelp beds, (2) whales in good body condition will exhibit different response patterns than emaciated whales relative to vessels and (3) there will be whale disturbance thresholds based on vessel speed and distance. Results will be presented to stakeholders to aid in creation of vessel operation guidelines so that the economic and education gains of a whale watch industry can be balanced with adequate protection of the observed whale population. 

For the latest news concerning this project, check out our GEMM Lab blog.


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