Implications for Re-Introducing California Condors, Gymnogyps californianus, In Oregon

D.GundersenDr. Deke Gundersen is a Professor of Environmental Science and the Director of Environmental Studies Program at Pacific University Oregon. He received a Ph.D. in Toxicology, Oregon State University, and is currently responsible for teaching Environmental Studies Seminar, Environmental Science, Environmental Toxicology and Problem Solving, Human Physiology, and Animal Physiology.

His research interests include: Aquatic toxicology and adaptational fish physiology; ecotoxicology; toxicant effects on fisheries, particularly on reproductive success; the use of in vitro systems to assess toxicity mechanisms on physiological processes in fish; the use of biomarkers to assess the heath of endangered and threatened fish in large river systems. Recently he published a paper titled: ‘Organochlorine contaminants in blubber from stranded marine mammals collected from the Northern Oregon and Southern Washington coasts: implications for re-introducing California Condors, Gymnogyps californianus, in Oregon’ in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology.

Background of the study

A collaboration between me and a scientist at Portland State University (Deb Duffield). We were awarded a grant from the Oregon zoo to look at pesticides in beached marine mammals. The zoo is starting a California Condor breeding program and they wanted to see if there were high contaminant loads in a primary food source of California Condors. In Southern California they are having eggshell thinning problems with Condors and the thought is it is due to very high DDE levels (a DDT breakdown product) in their food source in the area (beached marine mammals).


All animals that we looked at were contaminated with pesticides (mainly DDE), and the levels of contamination has the potential to cause health effects in Condors like endocrine disruption and suppression of their immune system. In addition, the contaminant levels found in the marine mammals could have contributed to their demise (Some of these animals were threatened Stellar sea lions.

Additional research

We have applied for and received additional funding from the Oregon Zoo. This time we are going to focus more on the relationship between contaminant levels in beach marine mammals and their health. Some of the data from our previous work showed that the sickest animals were the ones with the highest contaminate levels.

About the department

The Environmental Studies Department ( in the College of Arts and Sciences provides students with an education that takes full advantage of Pacific University’s liberal arts curriculum. In this program, students and faculty have opportunities to pursue interests that span a wide range of disciplines. In addition to the three faculty members in the department, Environmental Studies offers the expertise of faculty affiliated with the program who are based in the disciplines of biology, chemistry, political science, economics, history, art, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and literature. This results in a wide range of opportunities to investigate environmental problems that cross traditional boundaries. Students in Environmental Studies can choose to apply their knowledge through research opportunities in unique nearby surroundings such as the coniferous forest of the John Blodgett Arboretum, the riparian corridors of the Gales Creek and Tualatin River watersheds, and the 750-acre Fernhill Wetlands. The B Street Permaculture Project (a 15-minute walk from campus) is a learning laboratory for sustainability that directly addresses the human component of environmental problem solving.

Regionally, there are many exemplary resources available within a one- to two-hour drive of campus such as the Willamette and Columbia Rivers, Tillamook and Willapa Bays, and the forests of the Coast and Cascade Ranges. The proximity of Pacific University to study sites both wild and human-influenced is one of the main strengths of the Environmental Studies program.

The Environmental Studies curriculum includes majors that lead to a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) degree. Students pursuing a B.S. in Environmental Science can choose either a Biology or a Toxicology & Chemistry Emphasis. Students pursuing a B.A. in Environmental Studies can choose to major in either Policy, Culture & Society (PCS) or in Sustainable Design. Students in all tracks will gain knowledge about how ecological and physical earth systems work, how these systems are being affected by human activities, and how we can alter these patterns to produce more desirable outcomes. Students will learn to appreciate the services provided by natural systems and will understand how our social, economic, political, and legal systems are rapidly increasing stratification locally, regionally and globally. Students will develop the ability to think systematically and will “solve for pattern” by understanding the cause and effect of environmental and social relationships, and how initiatives to solve problems in one area will affect conditions in the other.