This project builds on the success of the Gray Whale Foraging Ecology Project of 2016 by adding in a new and exciting community engagement component. In addition to gathering data on gray whale habitat use and zooplankton community structure in the Port Orford region, we integrated local high school student interns into our research efforts to better engage with the local community, and promote interest in the OSU field station and local research projects. Furthermore, we recruited an OSU undergraduate student with the opportunity to participate in research, as well as gain leadership skills in training the two high school interns. While the interns gained scientific skills and experience, we broadened the exposure and impact of our research.
Over the course of this internship, all students learned how to track whales with binoculars, a theodolite, and the associated computer program Pythagoras, as well as proper camera techniques for taking photo-ID quality images. They also learned how to kayak, how to navigate between stations with a GPS, and how to complete zooplankton net tows and GoPro casts from the research kayak. Additionally, the interns learned how to communicate their research with both formal and informal audiences through frequent on-the-water interactions with other kayakers, and a community presentation at the end of the field season. This internship gave students a chance to interact with scientists, as well as a taste for the realities of field research. Whether or not students continue on STEM career paths, the experience has broadened their horizons and skill set, and helped to engage the Port Orford community in local marine research.