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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

New video shows how blue whales employ strategy before feeding

Blue whales didn’t become the largest animals ever to live on Earth by being dainty eaters and new video captured by scientists at Oregon State University shows just how they pick and choose their meals.

“Modeling studies of blue whales ‘lunge-feeding’ theorize that they will not put energy into feeding on low-reward prey patches,” said Leigh Torres, a principal investigator with the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State, who led the expedition studying the blue whales. “Our footage shows this theory in action.”

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MMI scientists present at Sharing the Coast conference

The Marine Mammal Institute will be well represented at this year's Sharing the Coast Conference in Waldport, OR. Leigh Torres will be providing the keynote address at 6:30 pm, Friday, March 3, 2017. Dr. Torres will discuss the latest in research into the lives of gray whales and other marine megafauna inhabiting our coastal waters and ways in which citizens can help scientists monitor whale populations. Her presentation is free and open to the public.

On Saturday, March 4, Jim Rice, coordinator of the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network, will give an overview of the state’s marine mammal populations and explain how citizens can engage in tracking these populations through reporting stranded animals, alive or dead. The theme of the conference is citizen science.

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Whales on center stage in Newport

Leigh Torres, an assistant professor at the OSU Marine Mammal Institute, will discuss some of her recent work with gray whales along the Oregon Coast during the 10 a.m. Saturday [12/3/16] meeting of the Oregon Chapter of the American Cetacean Society in Newport, Oregon. The meeting will be at the Newport Public Library. Admission is free.

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