The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Bruce Mate Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Mike Dicianna.

September 8, 2016


“Tracking Marine Mammals Across the World's Oceans”  September 8, 2016  Location: Hatfield Marine Science Center, Newport, Oregon.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Mate describes his family background and upbringing in Illinois, his move to Oregon during his undergraduate years, his post-doctoral research on heavy metal metabolism in marine mammals, and his experience of working for OSU as a Marine Extension Agent. From there, he comments on the role that the Hatfield Marine Science Center has played in the community of Newport, and then retraces his doctoral research on the migration habits of sea lions.

As he recalls the early years of his faculty career at Oregon State, Mate shares his memories of a few important graduate students that he has mentored. He then narrates the history of his research program at OSU, which is the primary focus of the interview.

In reflecting on his research, Mate discusses some initial work that he led on pinniped and lamprey conflicts with salmon and other fish in a variety of Oregon rivers. He then recounts his use of radio tracking in his study of seals during this time; his initial idea that these same techniques might be applied to whales; and the financial risk that he and his wife assumed in self-funding Mate's very first whale tagging expedition in Baja California.

The success of this initial expedition and the subsequent growth of Mate's research program forms the heart of the interview. As he outlines the history of his groundbreaking work on the use of radio and satellite telemetry to study whale behavior, Mate discusses specific projects on right whale behavior in New England; gray whale behavior off the west coast of the United States and Central America; multiple whale populations off the west coast of Africa and near Antarctica; and blue whale behavior throughout the Pacific Ocean. Mate likewise shares his perspective on the awe inspired by coming into close contact with the world's largest animals, and also details recent research on the impact of climate change on the health of the world's blue whales.

As it nears its conclusion, the session changes its focus to the history of the OSU Marine Mammal Institute and its growth in recent decades. The interview is rounded out with notes on family, an aside on Mate's love of British cars, and words of wisdom for OSU students of today.