CORVALLIS - Oregon State University is beginning an "Adopt-a-Whale" program to help support research on endangered whales around the world.

The university's Marine Mammal Program, directed by Bruce Mate, is internationally recognized for its pioneering research in the use of satellites to track whales. That research has helped OSU scientists to begin identifying critical habitats of differ ent species of whales in several of the world's oceans.

Such research, however, is costly. Lori Cloninger Sweeney, development director for the program, said that a single radio tag costs in excess of $4,000 and lasts for only a few months. But during that time, the transmitter sends back to a lab at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport vital information about the whale's migration routes, diving habits and other data.

The "Adopt-a-Whale" program is an effort to boost resources for the program, which is supported by an endowment. For $5,000, donors can choose a whale species, and "name" a whale. Information about the whale that is selected will be sent to the donor, or to a group selected by the donor, Sweeney said.

"Donors will receive updates about the research, which will yield surprises and discovery," she said. "That's the nature of this kind of research - you don't know what you'll get until it happens." At the end of the research project, the research team will send donors a complete map of the whale's migration routes and their feeding, breeding and calving areas.

Though the program is just being announced publicly, it already is catching on with a whale-loving public. Rod and Adele Rodriguez of Madras are sponsoring a whale for a biology class at Madras High School taught by Nick Kezele. They had heard about th e new program while on an educational trip to Mexico's San Ignacio Lagoon with the OSU Marine Mammal Program this spring.

"Nick was all enthused about how this would help get his class excited about science," said Rod Rodriguez. "We just thought it would be a neat thing to do for the kids."

Other donors are naming whales for their children or grandchildren. Money raised through the program will boost the Marine Mammal Research Endowment. The funding allows OSU's Marine Mammal Program to "build a strong foundation of knowledge about these endangered whales' critical habitats through multi-year research projects," Sweeney said.

"This year, for example, Bruce Mate and his colleagues will conduct research of the California coast on blue whales, and off Hawaii and Antarctica on humpback whales," Sweeney said.

More information about the Adopt-a-Whale program is available by calling Lori Cloninger Sweeney at the OSU Portland Center, 503-725-5761.

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Lori Cloninger Sweeney, 503-725-5761