September 11, 2014

Going Underwater with Steller Sea Lions

Tags: Core Program Graduate Student Research Award

Scientists are studying Steller sea lions to determine the reproduction, survival and depredation (rate that they are preyed upon) in the endangered western population as compared to the stable eastern population. This summer, researchers implanted life-history transmitter tags in ten juvenile female western Steller sea lions from the Chiswell Island rookery. The tags will record the animal's age at first pupping and lifetime births; the data gathered from the tags will also provide clues of the cause of death (predation versus non-predation); after the animal dies, the data is transmitted via satellite.

To tag the sea lions, science divers lassoed an animal underwater and then a capture skiff pulled the sea lion onboard. The sea lions were transported back to the main research vessel where they went through a basic health assessments before being transported back to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska where the implant surgeries took place. After surgery, the animals were monitored and then eventually released back into Prince William Sound. Watch this short video created by Jo-Ann Mellish (one of the project's principal investigators) and Courtney Shuert (a 2014 NPRB Graduate Student Research Award winner) to get a first-hand glimpse of the process.

All research was authorized under National Marine Fisheries Permit 14335. Learn more about research and the cutting-edge technology being used at the project's website or search for the research plan for project #1310 on NPRB's project browser.