We investigate the ecology, behavior and physiology of pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walrus). Pinniped stocks and population trends are analyzed in relation to predator-prey interactions, anthropogenic (man made) and natural variations in environmental conditions.
We focus on pinniped diving and foraging behavior in relation to reproductive strategies. Of particular interest are the effects of physiological constraints on behavioral plasticity, and how these influence the ability of pinnipeds to respond to environmental changes.
Our research is carried out in many locations in Oregon, California and Alaska, and as far away as Antarctica.
A key aspect of our work involves the development and application of innovative research approaches and new technologies to study animals that spend the majority of their life outside of our sphere of direct observation. Examples include infrared and 3D remote imaging, as well as development of life-long satellite transmitters to monitor health, condition and vital rates in inaccessible species such as the Steller sea lion in Alaska.
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.
WALDPORT — Shea Steingass, a Ph.D. student at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, was part of a research team involved in giving area harbor seals new head decorations last week. [Read the whole story in the Newport News-Times here.]
In a virtual field trip, “Southern Exposure,” viewers can join Dr. Markus Horning and his colleagues as they investigate how changing sea ice conditions may impact ice-dependent polar seals, like Antarctica's Weddell seals. The website was produced by the education department of the Alaska Sea Life Center and includes multiple videos, classroom activities, lesson plans, and associated material for school teachers.