NORTHERN FUR SEAL RESEARCH IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BERING SEA

Northern fur seal

In 2012, Seattle Aquarium Associate Curator of Birds and Mammals Julie Carpenter had the opportunity to assist scientists from NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) with their pup count, which happens every two years in the Pribilof Islands, Alaska.

The Pribilofs are home to the largest breeding colonies (or rookeries) of northern fur seals in the world, representing over half of the world’s northern fur seal population. Collaborating on the research and participating in it side-by-side with the field researchers provided Julie with firsthand experience and knowledge about the research techniques and technical challenges involved in working with the wild northern fur seal population—making her uniquely suited to bring a deeper understanding of this work back to the staff and visitors of the Seattle Aquarium.

Through this cooperative relationship, we’ve been able to continue educating people about the critical population studies being conducted in these far-off islands and the many issues surrounding the Pribilof fur seals.

Just a few days ago, Julie was able to interview Dr. Jeremy Sterling, a fisheries biologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Watch the video to see their conversation and learn more about northern fur seal conservation research in the wild—while admiring the Seattle Aquarium’s Leu and Flaherty checking out the action from their habitat!

 

 

Keep reading to explore Julie’s research journal from her trip to the Pribilofs in 2012.

PART 1: THE LONG WAIT FOR ST. PAUL, ALASKA
DAYS 1–5

My second trip to the Pribilof Islands is finally here! Last fall I went to St. Paul, one of four Pribilof Islands, to assist NMFS scientists conducting research on northern fur seals in their breeding rookeries. They were studying fur seal disease, health and condition of adult females and pups. I can’t wait to help again, this time on a different aspect of their research: their biennial northern fur seal pup count! I’m excited to see the northern fur seals in their natural environment in the middle of the Bering Sea.

Pribilof Islands
All four Pribilof Islands are circled in red on the map. They include St. Paul and St. George Islands as well as two small islets, Otter and Walrus Islands.

 

I’m packed for the cold, wet weather expected on the islands and I mailed my nonperishable food a month ago. There is only one grocery store serving the island and its population of about 500 people. Choices are minimal and food is expensive.

We arrived in Anchorage on Monday, excited and prepared to fly next to St. Paul Island. Unfortunately, the fog was too thick on the island and the flight from Anchorage to St. Paul was canceled. Only one airline flies to St. Paul, and it offers five flights a week during the summer (even fewer in the winter). Hopefully we will get there soon!

Map of St. Paul northern fur seal rookeries, courtesy of NOAA
Map of St. Paul northern fur seal rookeries, courtesy of NOAA

 

Want to see what happened next? Read Pribilof blog post part 2, part 3 and part 4! You can also check out our maze activity to help a northern fur seal find food as it travels through the Bering Sea, and do some math to learn more about northern fur seal tagging.

The work described here was authorized under Marine Mammal Permit No. 14327 issued to the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, AFSC, NMFS.

 

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