June 15th: M631 and 178M

Sea Lion of the Month

Since we are putting the Steller Watch project and blog on hold while we are away in the field, we wanted our final Sea Lion of the Month posting  to be a special one. It’s a double whammy! Many of you nominated M631 and guess what? We did some digging and confirmed that her juvenile is the same 178M that you have been seeing in images. We confirmed this with images of M631 nursing 178M on multiple occasions. It is a pretty rare and special thing to see a mother-pup pair that are both marked.

Both sea lions were born on Medny Island (Russia). M631 (the mother) was born in 2004 and marked on June 27th. She weighed about 60 pounds (27 kg) and was almost 3.5 feet long (105 cm). She remained at Medny Island throughout her younger years and was seen with her first pup in the summer of 2010.  So far, she has had six pups total. As you can see from the timeline below, she took break after her first pup during summer of 2011. During this summer, we actually saw her in the remote camera images at Cape Wrangell.


Every summer after that she was seen back on Medny with a new pup each year! It’s great to see females having a pup every year instead of every other year, which is more typical out here in the Aleutian Islands.

SLofMSince 2012 she has been seen regularly on Cape Wrangell during the winter time. You all have seen her during her spring 2016 visit to Cape Wrangell with her fifth offspring, the juvenile 178M (and pregnant with her sixth pup). 178M was born on Medny in 2015 and marked on June 20. 178M is a female at at the time of marking, weighed about 62 pounds (28 kg) and was just over 3 feet (103 cm) long. We know that this mother-pup pair left Attu Island in the spring of 2016 and M631 showed up back in Russia in early June 2016 and gave birth to her 6th pup. I wonder if M631 took 178M with her? Let us know! If you see 178M in any images dated after June 2nd we will know if M631 weaned her and let her stay on Attu island.

We will share the stories of two marked sea lions each month. Be sure to check-in on the 1st and 15th of every month to learn about our featured Steller sear lion. You may nominate a sea lion by submitting their full mark on the Sea Lion of the Month nomination forum. Thank you all for your nominations! 

Gearing up for the field season

We heading off to Alaska and we will be back in August!


June 6, 2017
Katie Sweeney


The office has been humming with energy lately. It’s that time of year, the field season is just around the corner. Spring and summer are busy times at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. This is the time of year when the Center conducts the majority of its field work. Weather in Alaska over the winter isn’t conducive to getting work done, though summer weather offers no guarantees, either!

While we’re away, we will be putting the Steller watch project on hold starting June 20th. Since we won’t have internet while we are in Alaska we can’t respond on the Talk Forum but don’t worry! We’ll be back in August with many more images and stories to share with you all.

Some of the Center’s research trips this year include bottom trawl and hydro-acoustic groundfish surveys, marine mammal aerial surveys in the Arctic, harbor seal vessel surveys, Cook Inlet beluga aerial surveys, and vessel surveys to deploy passive acoustic recorders to record marine mammal sounds. Along with Steller sea lion surveys, our program will also conduct several studies on northern fur seals.

We have four Steller sea lion trips planned, similar to our efforts in 2016. And like all the field work at the Center, these trips require a lot of preparation. It is a coordinated effort to ensure we have everything we need since we will be isolated in very remote places and can’t just run to the store if we forgot something. Here’s a little background about each of our Steller sea lion trips:

Remote field campsobservation-site

One of our featured bloggers, Katie Luxa, has been working with other biologists to accomplish the large task of packing and preparing gear to be shipped up to Alaska to our remote field camps. They have also been preparing the week-long training class for the seven biological observers who will be living on two uninhabited islands (Ugamak and Marmot Islands) for almost two months. The field campers will live in rudimentary shelters with limited electricity, no internet or cell phones, and no running water. They will be perching above sea lions, going unnoticed to collect data on marked animals and sea lion behavior.

Research cruise

One of the trips I will be participating in will be our annual research cruise on board the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Research Vessel (R/V) Tiĝlax̑ (pronounced TEKH-lah; Aleut for eagle). For two weeks, 13 people from the Alaska Fisheries Science Center will call this 120 foot vessel home. Every summer, six skilled USFWS crew members operate this vessel, a vital platform, for nearshore research along the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.

During our trip, the primary goal is to study sea lions to collect population counts, service our 20 remote cameras and download images (more images to come for our citizen scientists team members!), look for marked individuals, and mark individuals for on our ongoing research project. Along with sea lion biologists, there are two fish biologists who will dropping an underwater camera near sea lion sites to get a better idea of the available prey. There will also be two killer whale biologists on board looking for killer whales and other species of whales.

hexacopterTo prepare for this trip, I’ve been working with our other remote pilots to test out our new camera mount, called a gimbal, mounted to our hexacopter (or drone). The gimbal mount ensures that the camera will always point directly down and over the sea lions no matter how much the wind causes the hexacopter to tilt. I’m excited to see these mounts in action! We also have a new person on our team who you heard form in our last post about the NOAA Corps. LTJG Blair Delean will be heading up to Alaska with us for the first time to help with hexacopter surveys.

Aerial survey


Biologists (and featured bloggers) Lowell Fritz, Josh Cutler, and Katie Luxa will be heading out on the annual aerial survey. The team will meet up with NOAA Aircraft Operation Center flight team and Twin Otter aircraft in southeast Alaska. They will survey along the coastline, capturing images of sea lions hauled out on land at known sites.

The aerial survey team assembled and tested our camera mount that holds three cameras; it will be installed on the NOAA Twin Otter. Now we know it’s working fine, I’m packing up all the gear to ship to Alaska.

Re-sight trip2014_akutan_cape-morgan_resize

After the aerial survey and research cruise, Katie Luxa and I will meet up in Dutch Harbor (Unalaska Island) for our final survey. We will be on board a small boat for six days, checking out nearby sea lion sites for marked animals.

While we’re away, we will be putting the Steller watch project on hold starting June 20th. Since we won’t have internet while we are in Alaska we can’t respond on the Talk Forum but don’t worry! We’ll be back in August with many more images and stories to share with you all. Thank you all for your contributions classifying so many images before we head out. It’s been a joy to share our research with such dedicated people and we are so happy to have you as apart of our team!

Wish us calm seas, clear skies, low winds, and many sea lions!

I have been a biologist in NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center studying Steller sea lion population abundance and life history for over 10 years. I am an FAA certified remote pilot and have been flying marine mammal surveys with our hexacopter since 2014. I earned my B.S. in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington and my Master in Coastal Environmental Management at Duke University. 

June 1st: >42

Sea Lion of the Month

Camera 3

Our first Sea Lion of the Month for June is >42. This individual is relatively new on the scene but many of you have started seeing him a lot! He is the first to be featured from Hasgox Point (Ulak Island). He was born in 2013 and marked on July 2, 2013. When he was marked he weighed 80 pounds (36.2 kg) and was over 3.5 feet (109 cm) long. Another healthy pup!SLofM

The remote cameras at Hasgox Point were not functioning properly from summer of 2013 to fall of 2014, so we don’t have any sightings of him during this time. It’s safe to assume he stuck around his birthplace at Hasgox Point. We began seeing him again in images throughout the fall of 2014 and through winter of 2015. Between March and June we’re not sure where he went but he eventually showed up on Cape Wrangell (Attu Island), about 400 miles (645 km) away! You all have been reporting him settled down at Cape Wrangell over the summer and fall of 2015. Keep an eye out! We may see him head back to Ulak Island in the future.

We will share the stories of two marked sea lions each month. Be sure to check-in on the 1st and 15th of every month to learn about our featured Steller sear lion. You may nominate a sea lion by submitting their full mark on the Sea Lion of the Month forum. Thank you all for your nominations!