- Associated Press - Sunday, October 2, 2016

NORTH BEND, Ore. (AP) - Spending three days on a research ship was a dream come true for North Bend High School senior Matthew Perry.

He stayed on the Research Vessel (RV) Oceanus with Oregon State University after submitting an essay that earned him one of five student spots. He helped place buoys in the ocean, looked for marine mammals and sea birds and recorded them onto data sheets.

What started as a learning experience turned into something Perry never thought he would see, reported The World (http://bit.ly/2dkOY78).

“I saw over 50 humpback whales feeding, and pods of dolphins stretching from horizon to horizon,” he said. “It was amazing.”

His science teacher, Christina Geigerman, urged him to apply for the three-day excursion. She saw the notice announced that positions were open for applications, told her classes about it, but printed an application for him.

“I knew he would want to do this because he wants to go into marine engineering,” Geigerman said. “It is through the STEM hub, which was formed three years ago to promote science on the South Coast, and part of my job is to let students know about these cool opportunities.”

Geigerman explained that for Perry to put this experience on his college applications could change whether or not he is accepted where he wants to go.

“If that makes a difference for him, it is totally worth it,” she said.

While Perry was with the RV Oceanus from Sept. 13-15 they saw more than 500 marine mammals and thousands of seabirds.

“We saw several different whales, though humpback mainly,” Perry said. “When we exited Newport, we saw gray whales straight off the bat, and also saw orca.”

When they got farther out to sea, they spotted more coastal whales and even fin whales.

Research from the trip showed that mammal populations are on the rise, especially in whale species. The whales are on their migratory routes now, and scientists on the ship attributed the numbers they counted to the species being better protected over recent years and are now “bouncing back.”

“There was also a big plankton bloom off the Oregon coast, and that attracted krill and whales and other sea life,” Perry said. “The bloom was caused by elevated amounts of sunlight, and there’s a deep water current that came up, which is abnormal, and pushed the plankton off the shelf. The whole thing was just breathtaking, to say the least.”

Perry was also fascinated by the ship, which didn’t discharge as much as others because waste and water was more cleanly recycled.

“It has to be carefully filtered before being dumped so that it doesn’t mess with equipment that’s testing the water around us,” he said.

Of the other students with him, three were from Newport, one was just about to start attending OSU, and the other was from Astoria.

After arriving back to Portland at the end of the trip, public tours were offered at the ship and the crew presented the information gathered.

“I took away so much from this,” Perry said. “I’ve always loved the ocean, and being out there is really home for me. Seeing the whales feed was a privilege, and learning about seabirds, how most live their whole lives on the water and only come to the coast to nest, was fascinating. I wasn’t big on birds, but they are more interesting than I knew.

“It was a remarkable time.”

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Information from: The World, http://www.theworldlink.com

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