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Dispatches from the field

Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM)


Bowhead whale
Bowhead whale amid sea ice.  Photo: NOAA Fisheries

Aerial Surveys
of Arctic Marine
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June 27, 2017 -- This Arctic survey of marine mammals in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, off the northern and western coasts of Alaska, has been conducted every year since 1979. A long-term dataset like this is both unusual and important. Exact dates and specific locations of the survey have varied over the years, but the study goals, general area of survey, and survey methods have stayed remarkably similar. ASAMM is co-managed by the NOAA Fisheries Marine Mammal Laboratory, and funded and co-managed by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

Research focus

We examine the distribution, relative numbers of animals using certain areas, and behavior of whales (including bowhead, gray, fin, humpback, minke, and killer whales, and belugas) harbor porpoises, ice seals, walruses, and polar bears.

Results from our survey provides an objective, broad-scale understanding of marine mammal ecology in the Alaskan Arctic that helps inform management decisions about areas of potential interest to petroleum exploration, development, and production in the Alaskan Arctic.

In 2017, we’ll be operating out of Utqiagvik (formerly Barrow), AK from July 1–Oct 31, and Deadhorse, AK from July 18 – Oct 11.

A diversity of marine life

We’re excited to kick off another survey season. We expect to see lots -- bowhead whales and belugas making annual migrations to and from their feeding grounds, gray whales creating mud plumes as they forage on the sea floor, new calves and pups of the season, breaching whales, walruses hauled out on sea ice, polar bears congregated at food sources, and changing sea ice. In the summer, bright blue meltwater ponds accompany sea ice while in the fall as the sea ice freezes interesting geometric patterns occur.

Although some of the animals’ movements and behaviors are quite predictable, we occasionally have species show up in places and times that are completely unexpected. Check back to hear how our surveys are going and see what we’re seeing!

For ASAMM background information, see our webpage at:

Meet the Bloggers

Ameilia Brower
Ameilia Brower

Amelia Brower is a NOAA Fisheries affiliate with the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center through the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington (UW).

Amelia began working with marine mammals in 2006. She has participated in marine mammal necropsies, seal, sea lion, and fur sea lion rehabilitation and diet and life history studies, bone preservation, monitoring for manatees and other marine life from dredges, oceanographic sampling, small boat surveys for toothed whales off Hawaii, and seal, sea lion, and North Atlantic right whale aerial surveys.

Amelia Brower joined the Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) project in 2009 as a seasonal observer and as a year-round core team member in 2010. Amelia is a team leader during the field season and spends the rest of the year error-checking and analyzing data and photos and assisting with and producing reports, presentations, and scientific publications. Amelia’s work within the ASAMM data has focused on gray whale feeding in the northeastern Chukchi Sea and humpback, fin, and minke whale distribution in the Chukchi Sea. She also serves as the ASAMM polar bear data liaison.

Christy Sims
Christy Sims

Christy Sims is a NOAA Fisheries affiliate through the Joint Institute for the Study of the Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington (UW).

Christy started as a photo-identification volunteer at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in 1998, and has been working with the Cook Inlet beluga whale project since completing her Masters of Marine Affairs at the UW in 2001.

Christy has worked as observer and videographer on the Cook Inlet beluga aerial surveys since 2003 as well as working on photo-id projects on humpback and bowhead whales. She has also participated in Aerial Survey of Alaska Marine Mammals (ASAMM) as a team leader since 2012.

When she isn't flying around in Alaska in a small plane, Christy is in Seattle analyzing data or designing and managing databases.

Amy Willoughby
Amy Willoughby

Amy Willoughby is a marine mammal biologist at NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center.

Amy began her career on the sandy beaches of Florida’s Atlantic coast where she conducted sea turtle nesting surveys. She took to the skies in 2009 as an aerial survey observer for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s North Atlantic right whale Early Warning System project.

Since then she has logged hundreds of flight hours searching for protected marine species in the Gulf of Mexico and coastal waters from New Jersey to South Carolina.

Amy has been involved in numerous field projects, conducting research on a range of species including salmon, marbled murrelets, bottlenose dolphins, ice-associated seals, and polar bears.

In 2014, Amy headed to the Alaskan Arctic for a seasonal position with the Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) project as a marine mammal observer and was fortunate to have the project invite her on as a full-time employee. Since then, she has worked for ASAMM year-round on fieldwork logistics, data management and analysis, and reports, and she serves as team leader and walrus data liaison during field operations.

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