Geospatial Ecology of Marine Megafauna (GEMM) Laboratory

The ocean is huge, patchy, and dynamic. Our research aims to understand how marine megafauna encounter the resources they need within this challenging habitat. The GEMM lab focuses on the ecology, behavior and conservation of marine megafauna including cetaceans, pinnipeds, seabirds, and sharks. Our research typically examines species-habitat relationships to generate an improved understanding of species ecology and distribution patterns. Often, by filling these knowledge gaps about where marine animals can be found and why certain habitats are critical, conservation efforts can be more directed and effective in order to separate, in time and space, threats and marine animals.

Our research is diverse and global. We use advanced and innovative methods to address three broad areas of research:

  • Describe the spatial and temporal distribution patterns of marine megafauna to provide effective management options that reduce space-use conflicts with human activities (e.g., fisheries, vessel traffic, petroleum extraction, marine renewable energy).
  • Understand behavioral and spatial responses of marine megafauna and their prey to short-term impacts (e.g., fishing activity, vessel traffic, seismic air gun noise) and long-term environmental variation (e.g., climate change, El Niño Southern Oscillation, prey competition).
  • Generate and validate species distribution models of marine megafauna for effective prediction of distribution and habitat use patterns.

Marine megafauna range widely throughout the oceans in search of resources and potentially encounter numerous anthropogenic influences. We incorporate five main components into our geospatial research to understand the distribution, ecology, and threats posed to marine megafauna:

  • Space:  Where do animals occur?
  • Time:  When are animals in an area?
  • Behavior:  What are the animals doing in an area (i.e., feeding, resting, migrating)?
  • Habitat:  What are the environmental characteristics that determine ‘good habitat’ and how are they limited or changing?
  • Scale:  At what scale of space and time do we answer the above questions and how do the answers change with change of scale?
If you are a prospective graduate student interested in working with Dr. Torres, please review her Letter to Prospective Graduate Students prior to contacting her.

News and Events

Report on January-February 2016 Blue Whale Field Season in New Zealand

The January-February 2016 Field Report on blue whale ecology in the South Taranaki Bight region of New Zealand is now available.

Read Article

Exclusive Video May Be First to Show Blue Whale Calf Nursing

National Geographic Explorer and marine ecologist Leigh Torres made the likely discovery of nursing while on a research cruise in the South Taranaki Bight off the western coast of New Zealand. On February 5, the Oregon State University professor got video that she thinks shows a mother blue whale and her calf nursing beneath the waves.

Read Article

Blue whale research begins off the Taranaki Coast

Research on the world's largest animal has begun off the coast of Taranaki. Blue whales are being studied by a team from Oregon State University (OSU) in collaboration with the Department of Conservation to try to find out if the species use the South Taranaki Bight as a feeding ground. The survey comes after OSU marine mammal expert Leigh Torres led a team of researchers who observed dozens of blue whales feeding about 100km off the coast south of New Plymouth in 2014. "We want to know when and where the blue whales occur in the South Taranaki Bight, as well as how many blue whales use this area as a foraging ground," Torres said.

Read Article