Investigators: Lisa Hildebrand, Dr. Leigh Torres

Giving students an opportunity to undertake field work, learn about data collection and analysis, as well as work and live in a team of diverse individuals is a unique experience that can influence and shape future careers and lives. As such, engagement of young science enthusiasts has always been a goal of the Gray Whale Foraging Ecology project, which is why the field season team always comprises 2-3 undergraduate and/or local high school students.

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.

So far, 14 students in total have participated in the research of which two were high school students from the Pacific High School in Port Orford and 12 were undergraduates from different institutions, including Oregon State University and Duke University. One of the high school students that participated in the 2017 field season was so inspired by the research that he decided to go to college to study Biology, something which he had not planned to do previously. Additionally, several of the undergraduate students from the 2015 and 2016 seasons have now gone on to start various scientific degrees at graduate school. The project also encourages participating interns to come up with small, independent research projects to investigate. This effort has resulted in several interns presenting posters of their findings at the State of the Coast Conference, which is held annually in Oregon. Additionally, students develop strong skills in science communication as they not only interact with local community members to whom they explain the research but they also are required to write a blog post for the GEMM Lab blog.

Past intern blogs:

2016: Catherine Lo, Cathryn Wood

2017: Maggie O'Rourke-Liggett, Nathan Malamud, Quince Nye, field season video

2018: Robyn Norman, Haley Kent, Dylan Gregory, Hayleigh Middleton, field season video


Tracy Crews and Cait Goodwin, Oregon Coast STEM-Hub

Tom Calvanese, OSU Port Orford Field Station

Dave Lacey, South Coast Tours

Providing high school and undergraduate students with an opportunity to experience ecological field research and learn valuable skills in data collection, processing and analysis has always been a central part of theĀ Gray Whale Foraging Ecology Project.