Tsunami Dock Species Under The Microscope

Jun 27, 2012

The Japanese dock that washed ashore in Oregon carried more than a few invasive species. Scientists have found enough living cargo to keep them busy for decades.

Experts at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center have 50-some species stored in a subzero freezer. OSU marine ecologist Jessica Miller says they have identified some species and shipped others to scientists around the country and in Canada.

Miller: “Sea squirts or tunicates, a group called ascidians. We sent some samples out to an expert, and then Gayle Hansen, here at OSU, is working with a Japanese colleague. She’s been sorting her way through the algal species.”

Miller thinks an invasive brown algae might try to settle in the Pacific Northwest.

“The Undaria would probably be the one where you might estimate would have the highest chance of causing some problems in this region, because there were lots of individuals on the outside of the dock and they were, according to experts, releasing spores.”

Identifying what was onboard is just the first step. Scientists also want to know what might happen next.

Miller: “For the species that had to have come from the coastal waters of Japan and survived the whole 14-month journey over here, if we could learn more about their growth rates and maybe what water masses they were in, we can get a better handle on which species are more likely to invade and better understand the dispersal possibilities.”

The Japanese dock had been in the water since 2008. That gives scientists some clues about how old some of the species might have been before the tsunami sent them across the Pacific.

It is that journey that intrigues Miller. She has researched the migration, dispersal and movement of fishes. She wants to apply that science to the mussels and other shelled species that latched onto the dock in Japan.

“I use the ear bone, which is a calcium-carbonate structure in their head where you can track their moving and migration with the structure and chemical composition of that, and you can do similar work with shells.”

Copyright 2012 Oregon Public Broadcasting