OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute to Develop Wildlife Distribution Models to Inform Wind Power Development


NEWPORT, Oregon – The Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University has received a $ 2 million grant to collect data on the distribution and density of marine mammals and seabirds that will be used to inform decisions about the development of offshore wind energy.

The grant is one of four announced this month by the US Department of Energy to support wind energy research. Surveys of seabirds, whales, dolphins and porpoises will allow the Oregon State science team to develop models of species distribution. These will be used to construct density and distribution maps of the species studied.

The director of the Marine Mammal Institute, Lisa T. Ballance, is the principal investigator of the project, which includes visual and acoustic surveys in an area of ​​the west coast of Cape Mendocino, California, to the mouth of the Columbia River in the Oregon / Washington border and west to the continental slope.

“We are thrilled with this opportunity,” said Ballance. “This funding will support strong fundamental science that will undoubtedly lead to new discoveries. Equally important, our science will be used to inform the wind energy industry.

Environmental and wildlife data collected through research is essential for decisions regarding the location and authorization of offshore wind power development projects and will be used to help assess impacts as offshore wind development increases. Developing offshore wind power is a priority for President Biden and the Departments of Energy, Commerce and Home Affairs have set a goal of developing 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power – enough to power more than 10 million homes – by 2030.

The four-year project will include visual surveys and passive acoustic monitoring of seabirds, whales, dolphins and porpoises during all seasons. Researchers will also collect identifying photographs of individual baleen whales, data from satellite tagged whales and DNA profiles. The data will provide detailed insight into whale behavior, population identity and site loyalty, meaning the animals will likely return to the same location every year.

The researchers will collect new data but will also use historical data and data currently collected in other projects. They will use the data to generate species distribution models that can predict the density and distribution of species across the region.

“A solid understanding of which species occur where, how often and in what number is essential to inform human use of the marine environment,” said Ballance. “We are proud to be part of this blend of industry-leading scientific knowledge in the context of the sustainable use and stewardship of our oceans. “

The researchers plan to begin visual surveys and acoustic monitoring in the spring of 2022.

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


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