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High school and college students and a science teacher learned to conduct research at sea aboard a ship operated by Oregon State University.

Four high schoolers boarded the Oceanus Sept. 12 from Newport, Waldport, North Bend and Beaverton. The teacher, Carisa Ketchen, is from Toledo Jr/Sr High School. They were joined by an undergraduate from Oregon Coast Community College as well as three OSU graduate students. The graduate students – two of whom have been on research cruises before – served as mentors for the other students.

Participants learned about marine-related careers, what it’s like to live and work at sea, and how to work as a team to accomplish a variety of research tasks, said Tracy Crews, who manages Oregon Sea Grant’s marine education program and coordinated everyone’s participation in the cruise.

“We’re trying to get the next generation of researchers excited to join the ranks,” she added.

The lead researchers were Leigh Torres, a marine mammals scientist with Oregon Sea Grant and the OSU Extension Service; Sarah Henkel a seafloor ecologist in OSU’s College of Science; and Jessica Porquez, a seabird researcher at OSU.

The cruise departed from and returned to Newport Sept. 15, and was funded by the Oceangoing Research Vessel Program at OSU, Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.

The students learned to collect sediment and animals from the ocean floor at a future wave energy test site off the coast of Newport. The goal was to collect baseline data to see how conditions might change over time after the wave energy devices are operating.

The students also learned to collect plankton and to deploy equipment that records oceanographic data at different depths. They identified and counted seabirds and marine mammals off the Oregon Coast, with the aim of correlating their distribution to oceanic conditions and the location of prey. Additionally, the students learned how researchers use camera-equipped drones to film whales. Torres hoped to launch a small boat from the Oceanus to collect whale poop. The samples would later be analyzed in a lab to understand the whales’ diet and stress levels.

“Since blue whales are being seen in significant numbers, we are hoping to encounter them in addition to gray whales and humpbacks,” Crews said prior to the trip.

The crew launched an unmanned, 5 ½-foot sailboat built and decorated by students at the Career Tech High School in Lincoln City. It contains a GPS unit that will allow students to track the boat’s location. The aim is for students to monitor forecasted wave and wind conditions and predict where the boat will go. A note inside with contact information will encourage anyone who might find the boat to correspond with the students at Career Tech.

The students on the cruise wrote about their experiences on the Oregon Coast STEM Hub’s blog and on its Facebook page.

This is the third year that faculty with Oregon Sea Grant have led cruises on the Oceanus for students and teachers. Crews and Torres led expeditions in 2016 and 2018.

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