Marine Offshore Species Assessments to Inform Clean Energy (MOSAIC)

In support of a joint interagency goal to develop 30 gigawatts of offshore wind by 2030, the U.S. Department of Energy is funding four projects that will inform offshore wind siting, permitting, and help protect wildlife and fisheries as offshore wind deployment increases. Oregon State University's Marine Mammal Institute has been selected to conduct visual surveys and acoustic monitoring of marine mammals and seabirds to develop predictive density maps of species present in potential wind energy development areas on the West Coast.

DOE Announces $13.5 Million for Sustainable Development of Offshore Wind (October 13, 2021)

OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute to develop wildlife distribution models to inform wind energy development (October 19, 2021)

DOE project schematic

Marine Offshore Species Assessments to Inform Clean Energy (MOSAIC)

OSU's Marine Mammal Institute has been awarded a $2 million grant to collect baseline data on the distribution and density of cetaceans and seabirds in Northern California and Oregon waters to inform the development of offshore wind energy. The grant is one of four announced in October by the US Department of Energy. The four-year project, led by Lisa T. Ballance, will include two years of visual surveys and passive acoustic monitoring in the Northern California Current from Cape Mendocino to the mouth of the Columbia River on the border of Oregon and Washington and seaward to the continental slope. 

The resulting data on species occurrence, distribution, and abundance will be integrated to develop spatially and temporally explicit Species Distribution Models (SDMs) which in turn will be used to produce predictive density maps for surveyed species throughout the region. Identification photographs of individual baleen whales, data from satellite-tagged whales, and DNA profiles from whale biopsy samples will provide detailed insight into whale behavior, site fidelity, and population identity, further enhancing and contextualizing the SDMs. The results obtained in this project will provide critical information toward responsible siting and permitting of offshore wind energy development and for assessing its impacts on marine life. 

Co-investigators on the project are Scott Baker, Barbara Lagerquist, Rachael Orben, Daniel Palacios, Kate Stafford, and Leigh Torres of the Marine Mammal Institute; John Calambokidis of the Cascadia Research Collective; and Elizabeth Becker of ManTech International Corp.

Baseline Data Collection on Cetaceans and Seabirds in the Outer Continental Shelf and Slope of Northern California and Oregon to Inform Offshore Wind Energy Development

We propose a multidisciplinary, four-year project that will combine complementary data streams in synergistic ways to provide spatially and temporally explicit distribution and density maps and models for cetaceans and seabirds. Our geographic region of focus is the US West Coast from Cape Mendocino, California, north to the Columbia River mouth (Oregon/Washington border), and seaward to the continental slope at a depth of 3000 m. This region represents a distinct oceanographic province that naturally defines an ecologically meaningful study area in the context of cetaceans and seabirds (Checkley and Barth 2009) and includes the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s Humboldt Call Area and Oregon State University’s PacWave South Proposed Lease Area.

Two research components will form the backbone of the project: visual surveys (using distance sampling and strip transect methods for cetaceans and seabirds, respectively) and passive acoustic monitoring (using bottom-mounted hydrophones and echolocation click detectors), to provide complementary data on species occurrence, distribution, and abundance. Three additional data elements will be strategically added to allow for deeper interpretation: (1) identification photographs (collected during this project) and sighting histories of individual baleen whales (based on comparisons with previously photographed whales in curated catalogs) to characterize movements, site fidelity at the individual and population level, and link humpback whales to Distinct Population Segments (DPS); (2) data from tagged whales (using recoverable, medium-duration archival tags equipped with high-resolution accelerometers) to characterize site fidelity, behavior, and (for blue whales) record call rates (to better interpret acoustic detections from passive acoustic monitoring); and (3) DNA profiles of cetaceans (through mitochondrial haplotype sequencing and nuclear microsatellite genotyping) to provide supporting information on migratory fidelity and individual assignment to DPS. Data will be collected during multiple years and all seasons. Our project will be leveraged with ongoing and currently funded research (visual surveys, collection of large whale identification photographs and biopsy samples) and existing historical data and data products. These data streams will be integrated using state-of-the-art statistical methods to generate species distribution models (SDMs) capable of predicting species density and distribution throughout this region. SDMs will resolve seasonal and interannual variation; a temporally integrated climatological product will also be provided. These density maps provide critical information for siting decisions required for offshore wind energy development, for obtaining necessary permits for moving forward, and for assessing their impacts.

Principal Investigator: Lisa T. Ballance (Marine Mammal Institute, Oregon State University)
Major Participants: C. Scott Baker, Barbara A. Lagerquist, Rachael A. Orben, Daniel M. Palacios, Kate M. Stafford, Leigh G. Torres (Marine Mammal Institute, Oregon State University), John Calambokidis (Cascadia Research Collective), Elizabeth A. Becker (ManTech International Corporation)

april 16–may 1, 2024 (survey 6/6)

The last of our six visual surveys of marine mammals and seabirds aboard the R/V Pacific Storm has been completed. Working around a particularly rainy, windy, and rough ocean, the team was able to complete 9.5 of 14 survey tracklines. Cetacean sightings included fin, gray, and humpback whales; Bigg’s killer whales and Baird’s beaked whales; Pacific white-sided and northern right whale dolphins; Dall’s and harbor porpoise; and California and northern fur seals. More than 50 species of seabirds were cataloged, including migrating Sabine’s and Bonaparte’s gulls, red and red-necked phalaropes in breeding plumage, a pair of northern pintail ducks, and a flock of over 3,000 cackling geese. Most noteworthy was a sighting of a Nazca booby, a tropical seabird far from home (they breed in the Galapagos). The team also successfully deployed a bottom-mounted hydrophone in 3,000-m water depth off Coos Bay to record cetacean vocalizations and detect echolocation clicks for the next five months until recovery in August. 
Science Team:

Lisa Ballance (lead), Craig Hayslip, Julia Hinrichs, Barb Lagerquist, Emma Pearson, Clarissa Teixeira,  Dawn Breese.


OCTOBER 1–20, 2023 (SURVEY 5/6)

Dawn Barlow led a team of scientists on the fifth of six surveys of marine mammals and seabirds aboard R/V Pacific Storm. The team was able to complete about two thirds of the study area, between the Columbia River and Cape Blanco, despite very challenging October weather conditions. Observers recorded sightings of blue, fin, gray, humpback, and minke whales; common dolphins (pictured below), Pacific white-sided dolphins, and northern right whale dolphins; Dall’s and harbor porpoise; and over 25 species of seabirds (including large flocks of Buller’s shearwaters and a Nazca booby). After waiting out the weather, the team rallied to try to cover the remaining study area between Cape Blanco and Cape Mendocino. This second cruise, led by Lisa T. Ballance, conducted a 4-day trip off southern Oregon and northern California, completing three more tracklines to bring the total for all of October to 11 of 14. In calm seas, the team logged blue, fin, and humpback whales (one large group of the latter numbered 45 animals or more) as well as Dall’s and harbor porpoise and northern right whale dolphins. Seabird observations included hundreds of gulls, northern fulmars, and common murres, as well as smaller numbers of short-tailed shearwaters, Cassin’s auklets, black-footed albatross, and two tufted puffins. 
Science Teams: 

Dawn Barlow (lead), Lisa T. Ballance (lead), Craig Hayslip, Barb Lagerquist, Daniel Palacios, Emma Pearson, Bob Pitman, Will Kennerley, Daniel Palacios, Keenan Yakola, Hannah Hall, Erin Lefkowitz

Blog post: A MOSAIC of species, datasets, tools, and collaborators


august 1–12, 2023 (SURVEY 4/6)

Tracklines of mosaic research cruise August 2023Lisa T. Ballance led a team of scientists on the fourth of six surveys aboard R/V Pacific Storm. All 750 nm of the trackline were successfully surveyed with sightings of blue, fin, gray, humpback and minke whales; Pacific white-sided, Risso’s, and northern right-whale dolphins; Dall’s and harbor porpoise; and over 40 species of seabirds (including thousands of Cassin’s auklets and fork-tailed storm petrels). The highlight for the mammal crew was three separate sightings of Baird’s beaked whales, including a rare encounter with eight individuals breaching completely out of the water and fluke-slapping within 100 m of the vessel (see photo below). Two bottom-mounted hydrophones, deployed one year ago on the first MOSAIC cruise, were successfully recovered, and the moorings were re-deployed with new hydrophones to record for another year. Following a report of a large concentration of blue whales near Bandon, Oregon, Ladd Irvine joined John Calambokidis and James Fahlbusch of Cascadia Research Collective August 8–10 to deploy medium-duration tags on whales in the area. These tags collect fine-scale movement and behavior data for periods of days to multiple weeks before being shed and floating at the surface for recovery and data download. The team deployed tags on five blue whales and one fin whale and collected biopsies from three of the tagged whales. Data from these tags will be used to characterize the whales’ site fidelity, behavior, and calling rates to better inform and interpret acoustic detections and species distribution models collected and developed during other aspects of the MOSAIC project.
Science Team: 

Lisa T. Ballance (lead), Craig Hayslip, Ladd Irvine, Barb Lagerquist, Mahmud Rahman, Shanta Shamsunnahar, Angela Szesciorka


april 11–30, 2023 (SURVEY 3/6)

The third of six visual surveys of marine mammals and seabirds aboard R/V Pacific Storm was completed on April 30. The team was able to cover most of the planned survey tracklines, with some weather interruptions. They recorded sightings of fin, humpback, gray, and killer whales; Pacific white-sided dolphin; Dall’s and harbor porpoise; California sea lions; and northern fur seals. The team collected photo-identification data and skin/blubber biopsy samples from priority whale species and gathered information from 57 species of seabirds. The biggest surprise of the cruise was the sighting of five different groups of killer whales, including animals from the “outer coast transient,” “southern resident,” and “northern resident” populations.
Science Team:

Daniel Palacios (lead), Renee Albertson, Craig Hayslip, Ladd Irvine, Amanda Gladics, Dawn Breese


October 1–14, 2022 (SURVEY 2/6)

MMI conducted the second of six visual surveys as part of our Department of Energy–funded project to collect baseline data on the distribution and density of cetaceans and seabirds in Northern California and Oregon waters to inform the development of offshore wind energy. The survey took place aboard the MMI’s research vessel Pacific Storm over the course of 8 days at sea (scheduled around 5 days ashore waiting for calmer seas). Seven of 14 tracklines were completed with an additional four partially completed (visual surveys for cetaceans and seabirds), photo-identifications of humpback whales, and echosounder and sea surface temperature and salinity data were collected. Cetaceans included blue, fin, gray, humpback, killer, minke, sei and sperm whales; Pacific white-sided dolphins and northern right whale dolphins (pictured here); Dall’s and harbor porpoise. Thirty-eight species of seabirds were observed, with the most numerous being Northern Fulmars, Cassin’s auklets, Pink-footed shearwaters, Black-footed albatross, Common Murres, and California Gulls.
Science Team:

Leigh Torres (lead), Craig Hayslip, Dawn Barlow, Renee Albertson, Dawn Breese, Alexa Piggott, Will Kennerley


August 10–23, 2022 (SURVEY 1/6)

The first of six surveys aboard MMI’s research vessel Pacific Storm successfully concluded after 11 days at sea (and 2 days waiting for winds to calm). All tracklines were completed (visual surveys for cetaceans and seabirds), three bottom-mounted hydrophones were deployed, photo-identifications of humpback and blue whales, and echosounder and sea surface temperature & salinity data were collected, and a fantastic time was had by all. Cetaceans included blue, fin, humpback, gray, and sperm whales; Pacific white-sided and Risso’s dolphins; Dall’s and harbor porpoise. Seabirds included Buller’s and Sooty shearwaters; Black-footed and (1!) Laysan albatross; Fork-tailed and Leach’s storm petrels; Common Murres, Cassin’s and Rhinocerous auklets; Red and Red-necked phalaropes; and one (each) Hawaiian and Murphy’s Petrel!
Science Team:

Lisa T. Ballance (lead), Barb Lagerquist, Craig Hayslip, Dawn Barlow, Sabena Siddiqui, Mayah Baker, and Dawn Breese

Figure: Tracklines, dates surveyed (colored lines), and hydrophone deployment locations (stars) for MOSAIC survey #1 aboard Pacific Storm