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AFSC Historical Corner:  Olsen Bay Field Station

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Montlake  (Seattle)
Newport, OR
Auke Bay Labs, AK
Kodiak Lab, AK
Little Port Walter, AK
Brooks River, AK
Kasitsna Bay, AK
King Salmon, AK
Olsen Bay, AK
Pribilof Islands, AK
Traitors Cove, AK
Early Pioneers
Research and Mgmt.
Olsen Bay field laboratory
The intertidal area at the Olsen Bay field station in the spring of 1961.
Photo by Jack Helle (Auke Bay Laboratories, AFSC, retired).

Research by National Marine Fisheries Service and its predecessor agencies at Olsen Bay in Prince William Sound, Alaska, began with the Bureau of Fisheries (Department of Commerce) during the early 1930s when a weir was constructed across the intertidal zone to enumerate salmon spawners. The weir was operated for about 3 years and it was found that up to 75% of the spawning by pink salmon in Prince William Sound took place in the intertidal portions of the streams.

Staff from the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) office in Cordova, Alaska, once again constructed an intertidal weir at Olsen Bay (Olsen Creek) and operated it during 1953-56. The Bureau of Commercial Fisheries (BCF, part of the U.S. FWS) unit in Juneau started juvenile salmon research at Olsen Bay in 1957 that continued through 1958.

In January 1961, the BCF research unit in Juneau moved into the newly constructed Auke Bay Laboratory (ABL) and initiated a long-term study of intertidal spawning by salmon at Olsen Creek.

Prior to 1960, only one small cabin for weir personnel existed at Olsen Creek. A boat warehouse on the bay and separate buildings (laboratory, cook house, workshop, bath-house, and three bunk houses) were constructed next to the stream in 1960-61. At this time the site was designated as the Olsen Bay Field Station.

The Good Friday Alaska earthquake on 27 March 1964 resulted in major physical changes to many pink salmon spawning areas in Prince William Sound. Uplift associated with the earthquake was estimated to be about 3-4 feet in the Olsen Bay area. Using baseline studies that had started in 1960, ABL scientists were soon studying how returning adult salmon would respond to these ecological changes and how productivity might be affected over the long term. They found that the distribution of pink salmon spawning in intertidal areas in 1964 was similar to that of previous years at the same tide levels. Despite uplift or subsidence of stream areas, pink salmon behavior was normal in regard to intertidal use. Spawning fish did not 'home' to uplifted areas, instead, they chose the newly formed intertidal zone. Research on pink salmon continued at the Olsen Bay Field Station until 1979.

In the summer of 1965 the BCF also began a study of intertidal invertebrates in the Olsen Bay area of Prince William Sound, which included an evaluation of the effect on intertidal organisms of uplift caused by the 1964 Alaska earthquake. Intensive sampling of four areas representative of the three most common types of habitat in this protected bay revealed a vertical distribution and abundance of invertebrate species strongly influenced by substrate composition and tidal exposure. This research on the impacts of the earthquake in the area would continue for over 10 years.

ABL research on mussel beds at Olsen Bay began in 1977 and continues today (1911). Starting in 1980, the station was also used as a base or operations for sea otter research by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Presently, nearly 80 years after the initial research activities, ABL scientists are back at Olsen Creek monitoring chum and pink salmon for marine age and size along with otolith marks.

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