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Posts Tagged ‘Whale Migration’

JOHN UPTON, San Francisco Examiner, January 28, 2010

Tracking gray whales as they migrate past the San Francisco shoreline will help provide key information for a proposed plan to for a wave energy farm.

The mammals — which can grow up to 50 feet long, weigh up to 40 tons and are considered endangered on the West Coast — migrate between the Alaskan coast to the shores off Mexico, where they give birth to their young.

During their travels, the whales pass near Ocean Beach — but there is a lack of information about exactly where.

Moss Landing Marine Laboratories researchers will partner with San Francisco and track the mammals’ depth and distance from the shoreline using visual surveys and satellite tracking devices. A review of existing scientific literature will also be undertaken.

“There’s a fair amount of data on gray whales down around Monterey,” San Francisco Public Utilities Commission Project Manager Randall Smith said. “But there’s a data gap off the San Francisco coastline.”

The study will help city officials decide how and where to safely place an array of potentially-revolutionary underwater devices that might eventually deliver power as cheaply as solar panels.

The farm would capture and convert into electricity the power of arctic storm-generated waves as they pulse toward Ocean Beach.

A wide variety of devices are being developed worldwide that could help capture the wave power: Some bob near the surface, others float midwater like balloons, and a third type undulates like kelp along the seafloor.

Learning about gray whale migration patterns will help officials determine which devices would minimize the risk of whale collisions and decide where they should be located.

Research by UC Berkeley professor Ronald Yeung previously identified Ocean Beach as having strong potential for the nascent form of energy generation.

A wave study completed by San Francisco city contractors in December confirmed the site’s potential, according to Smith.

“Potentially, we could do a 30-megawatt wave farm out there,” Smith said.

The timelines and investment structure of the wave project are unclear, largely because the U.S. Minerals Management Service — which historically managed gas and oil deposits — was recently charged with regulating offshore renewable energy projects.

While the SFPUC waits for the service to finalize its permit application procedures, it’s forging ahead with an environmental review of the project required by California law, which includes the whale study.

Gray whales – the giant mammals are an endangered species.

Annual migration: 10,000 miles
Length: Up to 50 feet
Weight: Up to 80,000 pounds
Lifespan: In excess of 75 years
Maturity: Six to 12 years
Gestation: 12 to 13 months
Newborn calves: 14 to 16 feet long; 2,000 pounds

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

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LIBBY TUCKER, The Associated Press & the Ashland Daily Tidings, January 28, 2008

NEWPORT, Oregon — Eighty-two feet above the shore at the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, biologist Joel Ortega spots a gray whale swimming three nautical miles offshore.

A few seconds later, his team of observers, on hand with binoculars, a surveying instrument called a theodolite and a laptop, pinpoint the whale’s location, just inside the boundary of Oregon territorial waters where a wave energy park has been proposed for development.

“I’ve been doing marine mammal observations for about 12 years now, so I can’t avoid it,” says Ortega, a research associate at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. “Whenever I’m near the ocean, I start looking for whales and dolphins.”

Since early December, the team of OSU biologists has been cataloging the eastern gray whale as it migrates south from Alaska to Mexico, passing through the site of what one day could be Oregon’s first commercial wave energy park.

Their data will serve as a baseline of information to determine whether the whales’ path will change direction, speed or location after the buoys are installed.

The state is banking on wave energy as an industry it can dominate, and companies are eager to test their technologies for deployment.

“A wave energy research center could be a nice focus for the state of Oregon for what we’re doing with (renewable) energy generation,” said George Boehlert, director of the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

But state and federal regulators are hesitant to approve development of commercial wave energy parks without detailed environmental impact studies. Because ocean power technologies are relatively new, their effects on whales, dolphins, sea lions and other ocean life are largely unknown.

OSU’s marine mammal study is one of several funded by the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, which recently received $1 million from the Oregon Innovation Council to oversee research and development of ocean power technologies in the state. The grant is part of $4.2 million earmarked for wave energy by the 2007 Legislature.

“It’s very important to the wave energy sector to have this kind of a study being conducted,” said Mary Jane Parks, senior vice president of Finavera Renewables, which tested the AquaBuoy wave energy device that sank off the Newport coast last year. “We do need to have more marine research in this area to understand what the impacts are so we can better site the location of ocean energy plants.”

At Yaquina Head, the science team works quickly, scanning the horizon with high-power binoculars for a whale’s signature spouting. They zero in on the exact geographic location with a theodolite, the same instrument highway construction workers use to survey roads. Then they map the data on a laptop.

They take measurements to find the migration corridor, a whale highway for traveling to and from their mating grounds in Mexico. The grays are the only whales that follow a completely coastal route, making it possible to observe their migration from land. Other whales, such as humpbacks, travel through the open ocean as well as along the coast.

Gray whales typically migrate south between December and January, Ortega said, with the peak of the migration between Christmas and the first week in January. This year the whales appear to have left Alaska later than usual, since the peak happened later.

Ortega hopes to discover how gray whales follow the coast. The whales might stay at a certain depth of water, a set distance from the coast, or they might travel along the most direct route between destinations.

So far the whales are staying outside the Oregon territorial boundary, three nautical miles offshore, or just outside the waters proposed for the wave park. But, Ortega says, past studies have shown the whales swim closer to shore on their return north. More research is needed to find the exact location of the whales’ highway and determine the effects of the actual wave energy technology once it’s deployed.

“This is relatively new territory for everybody,” Ortega says. “And that’s why we’re here to find those facts and base that decision on solid science.”

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