Research in Which NPWC is Involved
Examples of research that we conduct that are funded internally include:
(Click to expand)
+ Steller sea lion studies in Russia and the United States
NPWC helps coordinate and facilitate numerous studies with Russian, U.S., and Japanese scientists to investigate a variety of topics regarding Steller sea lions important to the respective governments. The summaries below are a brief introduction to those studies.
+ Steller sea lion population studies in the Russian Far East
From 2002 and into 2019, the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, NOAA Fisheries, in Seattle, WA, has contracted NPWC to provide funds to Russian research institutions conducting Steller sea lion research in the Commander and Kuril Islands, Kamchatka Peninsula, western Bering Sea, and Okhotsk Sea. The contract calls for the collection and publishing of information on the number of Steller sea lion pups and non-pups present, to brand Steller sea lion pups, and collect brand resight data for demographic studies. In addition, fecal samples, tissue samples, and blood are collected to provide diet and health information of Steller sea lions in the surveyed areas. Results of this long-term work were presented in numerous publications and presentations at different levels of national and internationals conferences, symposiums, and published in peer review journals.
+ Automated time-lapse cameras to monitor Steller sea lion rookeries in Russia and Alaska
Due to the high risk of Steller sea lion field observation on remote volcanic islands and funding reductions, NPWC encouraged and provided its own funding support directly to Russian scientists at Kamchatka Branch of the Pacific Geographical Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences to develop and build an automatic high resolution digital time-lapse photo cameras (TLC). In spring and summer 2012, a total of 30 automated TLC sets were tested on 10 sea lion rookeries in western Alaska and Russia. Each TLC was custom built by Russian scientists, and containing a high resolution digital single-lens reflex camera, zoom lens, timer, power adapter, and light sensor, all placed into a waterproof case with a small window and weather hood. Power to the unit was provided by a charge-regulated solar panel. Each TLC was completely autonomous and took pictures automatically from dusk to dawn at preset time intervals. Each took pictures of a portion of the rookery where sea lions were hauled out. An array of several TLC covered the whole rookery and allowed monitoring of major breeding events of branded Steller sea lions throughout the breeding season. Many units collect images of rookeries year around.
+ Steller sea lion rookeries on Sakhalin Island, Okhotsk Sea, Russia
In 2009 NPWC approached the Hokkaido National Fisheries Research Institute of Japan with request to provide funding support to help Russian researcher and the Russian government conduct research on Steller sea lion rookeries on Sakhalin Island and Tuleny Island. In cooperation with the Kamchatka Branch of the Pacific Geographical Institute of Far East Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, NPWC facilitated research with Japanese and Russian scientists to monitor sea lion population trends, mark pups, conduct resightings of marked animals, and when possible, conduct studies on movement and foraging. Results of the research are published in scientific journals and presented at international marine mammal and wildlife conferences.
+ Interactions between Steller sea lions and Pacific cod longline fisheries
In 2006 the NMFS Alaska Region contracted with NPWC to investigate the direct and indirect interactions of the Pacific cod freezer-longline fishery with Steller sea lions in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands regions during the period 1996 - 2004. This study was in cooperation with the Pacific Cod Freezer Longline Cooperative. NPWC examined daily logbooks and other relevant information to determine the level of interaction. The study was completed and a report issued in 2007.
+ Experiment on the diet of captive Steller sea lions
The Alaska SeaLife Center, Seward, Alaska, conducted an experiment in 2003 to test the hypothesis that Steller sea lions do not obtain adequate nutrients from a diet of only walleye pollock, and that a diverse diet is needed for proper health and nourishment. The results of that experiment were never formally analyzed and published. Consequently, the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission contracted with NPWC in 2012 to have those data formally analyzed and published in a scientific journal.
+ Killer whale photo-identification
During Steller sea lion surveys in remote areas of the Russian Far East and Northern Pacific Ocean biologists often encounter with killer whales which are poorly studied in that part of the world. NPWC initiated several small grants from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, NOAA Fisheries, and U.S. Marine Mammal Commission and provided funding to Russian biologists allowing them to have extra ship time to collect photos for individual whale identification and to collect skin biopsy samples for killer whale genetic research. Results of these collaboration studies between Russian and American scientists are published in scientific journals and photo ID catalogues are prepared.
+ Gray whale population structure
Similar to the killer-whale photo-identification studies, the gray whale photo identification and biopsy sample collection was conducted by Russian and American researchers during Steller sea lion surveys when they encountered gray whales. NPWC initiated several small grants from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, NOAA Fisheries, to conduct research on gray whales in the eastern and western Pacific Ocean. These small grants allowed Russian and U.S. biologist to obtain over 50 biopsy samples from gray whales in remote areas of eastern Kamchatka and western Bering Sea. These samples were important to better understand the population structure of gray whales. In addition, several hundred photographs were provided to Russian and U.S. gray whale researchers for identification of individual gray whales to help define the population structure of North Pacific gray whales.
+ Bottom trawl fisheries in the western Bering Sea and their impact on marine mammals
The impact of bottom trawl fisheries in the western Bering Sea is poorly studied but is of vital importance to Russian marine mammal biologists in their attempts to understand the fisheries impact on marine mammals. The NPWC helped Russian scientists obtain funding from the Alaska Region, NOAA Fisheries, to examine fisheries reports and accessible logbook data. Additionally, direct observations were made when possible to assess the impact of bottom trawl fisheries targeting bottom fish on Steller sea lions, either by incidental catch or by the reduction of available prey through removal by the fisheries. The results have been presented as reports in several international and national conferences and concluded that marine mammals in the western Bering Sea and eastern Kamchatka areas are vulnerable to deleterious impact by trawl fisheries conducted there.