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Alaska Ecosystems Research Program

Conferences and Symposiums

Scientists from the Alaska Ecosystems Program (AEP) attended the Sea Lions of the World symposium hosted by Alaska Sea Grant held in Anchorage, Alaska, in early October. The symposium was an excellent format for the exchange of ideas and included researchers from around the world.

Staff from the AEP presented four oral presentations and three posters, including:

  • “Regional variation of juvenile Steller sea lion (Eumetopias jubatus) growth rates in Alaska”  by B. Fadely, T.S. Gelatt, L.D. Rea, J.C. King, and T.R. Loughlin
  • “Movement and dive behavior of foraging juvenile Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) associated with pelagic eddies”  by J.T. Sterling, B. Fadely, and T.R. Loughlin
  • “Attendance patterns of juvenile Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus) in the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands derived from satellite dive recorders (SDRs)”  by K.A. Call, B. Fadely, and A. Greig
  • “Spatially explicit foraging ecology of juvenile Steller sea lions (Eumetopias jubatus)”  by M.E. Lander, T.R. Loughlin, and M.L. Logsdon
  • “Status of the Western Steller sea lion population in 2004”  by L. Fritz, C. Stinchcomb, T.R. Loughlin, and W. Perryman
  • “A critical review of the regime shift- “junk food” hypothesis for the decline of the Western stock of Steller sea lion”  by L. Fritz and S. Hinkley.

Rolf Ream attended the PICES conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, in mid October where he presented work investigating oceanographic influences on northern fur seal migratory movements. Brian Fadely gave an oral presentation at the Marine Mammals of the Holarctic III conference in the Ukraine.

Field Work

During the northern fur seal breeding season (August) AEP personnel captured 39 adult female fur seals on the Pribilof Islands, Alaska. All animals were outfitted with satellite transmitters, and 28 females with time depth recorders. The data derived from these instruments provides locations of repeated female foraging trips and details their dive behavior.

In early and mid-October, 33 of the 39 animals were successfully recaptured and the instruments recovered. The main focus of this project is to investigate adult female site fidelity and assess the variability in foraging ground location within and between individuals. Initial results indicate that the number of repeated foraging trips varied by individual and ranges from four to eight trips tracked over the length of deployments. Foraging ground location fidelity also varies among and between individuals, rookeries, and islands.

Personnel from the AEP in collaboration with researchers from the University of Alaska and Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, were awarded a North Pacific Research Board grant to investigate female northern fur seal foraging strategies in the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean. Twenty adult females were captured in mid-November on St. Paul Island and are the first cohort of the study. Morphometric measurements and body condition information were collected to assess female health.

In addition, animals were outfitted with satellite instruments to track their movements on the annual migration. Longitudinal studies of adult female fur seals through their annual cycles (pupping, lactation, and annual migration) combined with studies of their pups throughout the lactation period will provide important insight regarding both female and pup body condition, female reproduction success, and habitat use during the breeding season and the winter migration.

By Kate Call


Cetacean Assessment & Ecology Program

International Whaling Commission Workshop

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) held a workshop on habitat degradation, 12-15 November 2004, in Siena, Italy. The meeting had approximately 50 participants. The goals of the workshop were to 1) determine and help develop a framework and methodology to assess the significance of changes in cetacean habitats, and 2) facilitate the eventual development of a research plan to evaluate and quantify cetacean habitat degradation in specific case studies.

The workshop was funded by the Government of Austria, the Environmental Investigation Agency, ASMS Ocean Care, and the World Wide Fund for Nature. A workshop report will be presented at the 57th Annual Meeting of the IWC Scientific Committee in Ulsan, Republic of Korea, 30 May – 10 June 2005.

By Nancy Friday

Computer-Based Video Analysis of Cook Inlet Beluga Whale Counts

Biologists Christy Sims and Rod Hobbs of the Cetacean Assessment and Ecology Program (CAEP) have developed a computer program to analyze aerial video of beluga whale groups. During aerial surveys of Cook Inlet each June, from three to eight video censuses are made of each beluga group encountered. Over the course of each survey, 15-20 groups are recorded, resulting in more than a hundred video clips to analyze.

In previous years, beluga images in each video clip were transposed manually onto acetate sheets, with one sheet representing each half second of video. The number of whales, the maximum image size of each whale, and the up and down time for each surfacing was recorded. Working 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, for 4 to 5 months, a team of recorders spent over 800 hours viewing video and transcribing it onto approximately 600-800 acetate sheets.

In spring 2004, Sims and Hobbs began searching for computer software to analyze video clips. Once they identified a suitable software system, they worked with Steven Hentel, a programmer from the University of Washington, to develop the necessary subroutines and data management systems to duplicate the previous “hand count” system. Although not in its final form, the current version of the program allowed Sims, assisted by NMML biologist Janice Waite, to complete the analysis of the 2004 Cook Inlet survey data in 6 weeks during a total of 150-200 hours.

The current program manages a database of video clips on a computer and allows the analyst to view the clips, identify individual belugas, track beluga images, mark the up and down times for all surfacings, and measure the image sizes with a few mouse clicks. The program stores the resulting data and then outputs the data to a text file that can be opened in a spreadsheet for further analysis.

At this point, the program does not identify beluga images, but much of the tedious viewing and reviewing-—frame by frame in slow motion--has been eliminated. The computer program will enable NMML to provide an annual abundance estimate for the Cook Inlet beluga population within 2 months of completing the June survey, compared to the 6 months required in previous years.

By Rod Hobbs


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