Northern Fur Seals and The Pribilofs, Part 1

Northern Fur Seals and The Pribilofs, Part 1

Seattle Aquarium mammal biologist Julie Carpenter recently assisted 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, our hope is to continue to educate people about the critical population studies being conducted in these far-off islands and the many issues surrounding the Pribilof fur seals. Learn about Julie’s experience in the Pribilof Islands in this four-part blog series.

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 (See my previous blog series here). 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.

Northern Fur Seals and The Pribilofs, Part 1
Northern fur seals swimming and resting on the rocks


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!

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.


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


Stay tuned for the next blog post. To learn more about northern fur seals, come visit the Aquarium!

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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