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Santa Cruz Good role model or has an excellent PR working.

Credit: Paul Woodward

Chance discovery sheds light on the fates of young salmon
Contact: Tim Stephens (831) 459-2495;

Fisheries scientists are gaining unexpected insights from the serendipitous discovery on Año Nuevo Island of tiny tags that had been implanted in juvenile salmon and steelhead in coastal creeks.

The first tags were found by Patricia Morris, a research biologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and assistant manager of UCSC's Año Nuevo Island Reserve. The island, located a half-mile out to sea, hosts abundant populations of seals, sea lions, and seabirds. Researchers now suspect the tags came from fish that were eaten by birds.

When Morris was crawling through the muck of Año Nuevo Island in May of 2006 on gloved hands and padded knees, she wasn't trying to make a scientific discovery. She was mainly trying to get to her research terrace without disturbing the sea lions. Two unusual objects caught her eye as she crawled along--first, a flat, black plastic hexagon about half an inch across, and a week later, a glass object the size and shape of an uncooked grain of rice.

"You're kind of just sitting there, looking idly at the ground. In nature, things don't have perfect shapes--that's out of place, and it catches your eye," Morris said.

The glass grain of rice turned out to be a type of microchip called a passive integrated transponder (PIT), like the identification chips pet owners put in their dogs and cats. A PIT tag can be scanned, like a bag of frozen peas at the grocery store, to reveal identifying information about the animal.

Morris was able to scan the PIT tag and eventually figured out that it belonged to Sean Hayes and Morgan Bond, researchers in the Salmon Ecology Team at the NOAA Fisheries Lab near UCSC's Long Marine Laboratory. The black hexagonal tag was theirs, too--it was an implantable temperature logger designed to monitor the body temperature of tagged fish. (All three researchers are UCSC biology alumni--Morris with B.A. and M.A. degrees, Hayes with M.S. and Ph.D. degrees, and Bond with B.S. and M.A. degrees.)

The Salmon Ecology Team tags juvenile salmon and steelhead trout every year in Scotts Creek before they migrate out into the open ocean. The researchers hope to catch at least a small percentage of the fish over the next few years when they return to the creeks to spawn. Researchers scan captured fish for PIT tags and record each fish's tag number, size, and weight. If the fish is carrying a logger, the PIT tag lets the researchers know so they can take the fish to the lab and quickly remove the logger.

The logger takes a temperature reading every four hours. Because the fish is cold-blooded, its body temperature mirrors that of the water through which it swims. The scientists use data from the temperature loggers to try to figure out where the fish go and how they spend their time after they leave Scotts Creek.

After Morris got in touch with the Salmon Ecology Team, they came out and scanned the island for more PIT tags, most recently on January 24. So far they have recovered 60 PIT tags and 2 temperature loggers. Most of the PIT tags are from fish that were released in 2005 in Scotts Creek, but some came from as far away as Soquel Creek and as far back as 2003.

"This seems to be happening year after year," Bond said. "There are probably more older tags there, they're just buried."

But the first logger Morris found on Año Nuevo Island told a fascinating story. Hayes and Bond implanted the logger in a hatchery-raised Coho salmon on March 15, 2006. That salmon swam down Scotts Creek to the lagoon, where it lasted 13 days. On March 28, the temperature logger records it was eaten by a warm-blooded predator. The logger emerged on top of Año Nuevo Island on March 29.

Because it showed up on top of the island, researchers can rule out the theory that an elephant seal or a harbor seal ate the Coho. Hayes and Bond say the guilty predator is probably a bird, but they can't be sure.

"Unfortunately, the temperature loggers top out at about 25 degrees Celsius," Bond said. "The stomach temperature of the predator was much warmer than that. We never thought that we'd recover the tag of any of our fish that got eaten. We missed getting a good, precise measurement of the predator's body temperature."

To Hayes and Bond, the interesting thing about the temperature logger data is that it indicates that the Coho got eaten before it even made it out of the relative safety of the creek to the open ocean.

"The suspicion is that the predator is gulls," Hayes said. "It was a surprise only because we hadn't thought about it. In hindsight it makes sense."

Gulls spend a lot of time hanging out on the beach, where Scotts Creek broadens into a shallow stream only six inches deep, according to the researchers.

"If a big flock of gulls happens to be there at the same time that a big group of fish comes flooding out onto the beach, they're kind of running the gauntlet there," Bond said.

Also, the area on the island where Morris found the temperature logger is almost exclusively populated by nesting gulls. Hayes and Bond hope that further scans of the island will provide deeper insights into who's eating the fish. Bond is building a new scanner that will be more flexible and can scan farther than the improvised setup he initially used to scan the island.

"We've only scanned about half of the island. With the new scanner, I'll be able to scan under rocks and inside burrows," Bond said.

Hayes also hopes to raise funding for a study to determine if gulls are, in fact, eating the salmon and steelhead. He said that some researchers are skeptical that gulls are eating the fish, some of which were a foot long when they were consumed. Prior to this discovery, most researchers thought gulls ate only a very small percentage of young fish, while these results indicate that they may be a major predator.

"Seagulls have to eat something," Hayes said. "They haven't always lived off our dumps and McDonald's deposits."

Hayes and Bond will likely collect another year or two of data before they publish their results. They're grateful for this stroke of luck that allowed them to take a peek into the lives of young fish.

"Most of the time as a fish biologist, you tag a bunch of fish, they go out to sea, and most of them never come back," said Bond. "It was just pure luck that Pat Morris happened to see those tags on the island."


Note to reporters: You may contact Patricia Morris at (831) 429-5342 or; Sean Hayes at (831) 420-3937 or; and Morgan Bond at (831) 420-3955 or

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Paul Woodward, Laboratory for Computational Science and Engineering, University of Minnesota. Photo credit above info.
New book explores the effects of whales and whaling on ocean ecosystems
January 29, 2007

Contact: Tim Stephens (831) 459-2495;


Whales, Whaling, and Ocean Ecosystems, a new book from the University of California Press (December 2006), explores an aspect of whale ecology that until now has received surprisingly little attention. Focusing on the role of whales in ocean ecosystems, the book looks at the effects of industrial whaling in terms of its ecological impact on the world's oceans.

"We've thought a lot about the impact of whaling on whale populations, but not about its impact on ocean ecosystems and the functional role of whales in the oceans," said James Estes, an adjunct professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at UC Santa Cruz, who edited the book along with several colleagues.

Approaching these issues from a broad range of perspectives, the book provides a sweeping overview of the natural history, biology, and ecology of whales in the context of their influence on ocean ecosystems and the ecological consequences of a whaling industry that removed large numbers of whales from the oceans.

The book resulted from a workshop on whaling and whale ecology organized by Estes and his coeditors and held in Santa Cruz in 2003. Joining Estes in organizing the workshop and editing the book were Daniel Doak and Terrie Williams, both professors of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCSC; Douglas DeMaster, director of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center; and Robert Brownell, senior scientist with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center. The workshop was supported by funds Estes received as a Pew Marine Conservation Fellow.

Whales are the largest animals on the planet, and they are such impressive creatures that our interest in them has tended to focus on the whales themselves rather than on the roles they play in the marine environment, Estes said. But their large body sizes and high metabolic rates make them important players in ocean food webs, and they are found throughout the world's oceans.

"The whales were and are important just because they are so big and so abundant," Estes said. "How different are the oceans when you remove these animals? That's what we wanted to explore."

This question has important implications for the conservation and management of the great whales. Management strategies must be considered not only in terms of their effects on the sustainability of whale populations, but also in terms of how they will affect the broader ocean ecosystems in which whales are key players.

In the book's introduction, Estes describes how he stumbled onto this issue in the first place through his investigations into the collapse of the sea otter population in southwest Alaska. He and his colleagues came to suspect that killer whale predation was causing the sea otter decline. They eventually proposed that whaling prompted a dietary shift in killer whales that had previously preyed on large whales. As the great whales became scarce, the killer whales turned to smaller marine mammals, including seals, sea lions, and sea otters, all of which underwent marked population declines (see earlier press release). This remains a highly controversial hypothesis, and various aspects of it are examined in several chapters of the new book.

Contributors to the volume include ecologists, population biologists, physiologists, geneticists, oceanographers, economists, and experts in environmental policy and law. In addition to the editors, several UCSC scientists contributed to various chapters, including biologists Donald Croll, Bernie Tershy, and Daniel Costa, oceanographer Raphael Kudela, and biostatistician Marc Mangel.

Estes said many of the questions raised at the workshop remain unresolved. But the book provides a wealth of information for anyone interested in these issues.

"Our hope is that this book will stimulate more research on the role of whales in ocean ecosystems," Estes said.


Note to reporters: You may contact Estes at (831) 459-2820 or

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UC Santa Cruz honored during Ecological Farming Conference Jan. 24-27
Contact: Jennifer McNulty (831) 459-2495;


SANTA CRUZ, CA--The contributions of UC Santa Cruz to sustainable agriculture will be in the spotlight during this year's Ecological Farming Conference, with a focus on the 40th anniversary of the campus's pathbreaking Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture.

The apprenticeship will be the focus of a feature presentation at the Successful Farmers' plenary session and at other events throughout the three-day conference, which takes place January 24-27 at the Asilomar Conference Grounds in Pacific Grove.

As educators, farmers, and researchers, affiliates of UC Santa Cruz will be prominent participants throughout the conference, known as Eco-Farm (See below for a listing of events featuring UCSC affiliates.)

The apprenticeship is the nation's premier hands-on training program in organic farming and gardening. Widely regarded as one of the most significant influences in the growth of sustainable agriculture, the six-month full-time program has prepared more than 1,200 graduates who have spread their expertise throughout the world.

Graduates operate commercial farms and market gardens, run community and school gardens, and work at the forefront of international development, food policy, and social justice programs. In addition, the apprenticeship provides training in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and prepares farmers to participate in this popular new mode of community collaboration (see Wednesday, January 24, and Thursday, January 25). In education, the apprenticeship has served as a model for similar college-based farm training programs at the University of Georgia, Michigan State University, the University of Montana, and other campuses.

In addition to the apprenticeship, UCSC's Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems (CASFS) and the UCSC-based Life Lab Science Program are home to cutting-edge research and educational endeavors. CASFS scholars have raised awareness of the social justice aspects of food production, while Life Lab has developed an award-winning garden-based K-6 science curriculum that has been adopted by 1,400 schools nationwide (see Thursday, January 25).

UCSC remains at the forefront of sustainable agriculture, pioneering the farm-to-school movement by piloting delivery of fresh, locally grown, organic produce to campus dining halls, spearheading UC's systemwide sustainable food initiatives, and advancing scholarship about the feasibility of farm-to-school programs (see Saturday, January 27, listing below, and a press release available at

Leaders of UCSC's sustainable agriculture efforts will be available at the events listed below. In addition, they can be reached through the UCSC Public Information Office. Please contact Jennifer McNulty at (831) 459-4399 or for assistance.

Wednesday, January 24
9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
• Former apprentice Nancy Vail, who coordinates the CASFS Farm-to-College and CSA programs, will lead the preconference session, "CSA Nuts & Bolts: A Continuing Conversation."

Thursday, January 25

8:30-10 a.m.
• Apprenticeship graduates Tom Broz, owner/operator of Live Earth Farm in Watsonville, and Gloria Decater of Live Power Farm in Covelo, present during a workshop entitled "Adding Value through Community Involvement in CSAs."

4-5:30 p.m.
• John Fisher of the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems and the UCSC-based Life Lab Science Program presents during a workshop, "Beyond Agri-tainment: On-Farm Education Programs for Youth."

5:30-6:30 p.m.
• The UCSC Farm & Garden host a "Back 40" mixer to kick off the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Apprenticeship in Ecological Horticulture.

7:30-9 p.m.
• Katie Monsen, doctoral candidate in environmental studies and the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems at UCSC, hosts a mixer for "Post-Secondary Sustainable Agriculture Education" to announce the establishment of a Sustainable Agriculture Education Association and other news.

Friday, January 26

8:30-10 a.m.
• The "Successful Farmers" plenary session honors the UCSC Farm & Garden Apprenticeship Program. UCSC staff members will present a brief history and profile the work of 10 graduates. Staff participants include coordinator Diane Nichols; Farm Garden manager Christof Bernau; Chadwick Garden manager Orin Martin; field production manager Julie Stultz; Farm manager Jim Leap; and Farm to College/CSA coordinator Nancy Vail.

2-3:30 p.m.
• Jim Nelson of Camp Joy Farm in Boulder Creek, one of the original UCSC apprentices who worked with founding gardener Alan Chadwick, participates in a workshop entitled "Quality Farm Internships: Teaching the Skills of Small Farming."

• Appenticeship graduate Amy Courtney of Freewheelin' Farm in Santa Cruz participates in a workshop on "Women in Sustainable Agriculture."

4-5:30 p.m.
• John Fisher of the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems and the UCSC-based Life Lab Science Program hosts a mixer for K-12 educators.

Saturday, January 27

8:30-10 a.m.
• Tim Galarneau, coordinator of the UC Santa Cruz Food Systems Working Group and UC Sustainable Foods Project, presents during a workshop on "Colleges Convert to the Wisdom of Local, Organic Food."

• Former apprentice Ken Foster of Terra Nova Ecological Landscaping in Santa Cruz participates in a workshop on "Fossil-Free Landscaping."

• Former apprentices Nancy Vail and Jered Lawson of Pie Ranch in San Mateo County participate in a workshop on "Passionate Pumpkins, Squash Sisters, and Glorious Gourds."

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