Marine Science Symposium – LIVEBLOG – Thursday

 The Alaska Marine Science Symposium is being covered by APRN contributor Steve Heimel.

5:15 p.m.  It’s over. The Symposium concluded with the presentation of awards for the best student presentations but most of the winning students were not there, presumably back at their studies. North Pacific Research Board executive director Denby Lloyd said the event had 842 participants and went well.  The symposium concluded with some overviews of the big ecosystem project the NPRB is finishing up now for the Gulf of Alaska, and a sobering and lengthy list of all the impacts of the Gulf of Alaska warm water “blob” seen by Gulf Watch Alaska – the die-offs of top predators and the disturbing shifts in both phytoplankton and zooplankton that have so far been reported.  Some participants have already left and others are leaving but for a great many of them the work goes on in the form of more specialized workshops and planning sessions tomorrow for this year’s field season.

2:30 p.m. – The listing of Cook Inlet’s dwindling beluga whale population as Endangered has brought an influx of research funding that’s paying off in a lot of new knowledge about exactly what these creatures do in the turbulent and clouded waters of the Inlet. Bob Small of the Alaska Fish and Game delivered the results of five years of acoustic monitoring.  It turns out that belugas give out a characteristic sound when they feed.  If the animals are tagged, researchers can also detect a temperature difference in their stomachs as they consume their prey.

Small said the acoustic monitors were deployed in locations up Knik Arm past Eagle River and down the Inlet to Trading Bay.  The whales have to navigate the turbid waters of the Inlet by echolocation, frequently involving distinctive “click” signals, so the instruments showed their presence at times when they were not feeding. Generally, but not entirely, they moved to the less ice-congested lower inlet in the winter, where they seemed to find less food. Surprisingly, even during the winter, some belugas were heard in Knik Arm. Small said they decided against trying to place moorings in Turnagain Arm because of the treacherous conditions there.

11:50 a.m. — The last presentation of the morning was a summary from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on what they know and don’t know about the die-off of seabirds seen this month on Gulf of Alaska beaches and even far inland.  Most of the birds have been common murres, which is s species often subject to large die-offs, but this event will likely be the largest and most widespread on record. And seeing the starving birds dying far inland apparently searching for food is “nearaly unheard of,” said USFWS’s Heather Renner.  If there is any convergence of evidence, it points to the “Blob” of warm water in the Gulf and the resulting changes in the food web.  Researchers have now examined more than a hundred of the birds but have seen no sign of toxins in their stomach contents, but then again, Renner said, the birds were so starved that there was hardly anything in their stomachs to test.

11:00 a.m. — The shellfish mariculture industry is taking steps to prepare for ocean acidification with new equipment for monitoring, forecasting, and even treating water that might harm their animals.

An instrument called a “Burke-o-later” is being used at the Aluttiq Pride hatchery in Seward to monitor the seawater in real time instead of with a two day lag, according to Wiley Evans of the Hakai Institute. It’s the work of Burke Hayes, of Oregon State University.  Concern about acidification is huge in the industry in Oregon and Washington.

Acidification monitoring is increasing in Alaska, and Ketchikan will soon be added to an existing network in the Gulf of Alaska.

Evans says also coming into use is technology to treat seawater when necessary to address acid conditions.