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August 17, 2004

SFOS scientists tag, track humpback whales off Kodiak

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Kodiak, Alaska—SFOS researchers are studying humpback whales around Kodiak Island this summer as part of the ongoing Gulf Apex Predator-prey (GAP) program. Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program marine mammal specialist Kate Wynne recently attached sonic depth-transmitting tags to four humpback whales to determine dive depths and profiles of individual humpbacks. The whales were feeding in waters 15 miles northeast of Kodiak city. Transmitters sent their data in real time to the researchers at sea, enabling them to track the whale's path and chronicle their diving activities. The data was then relayed to assistant professor of marine ecology Bob Foy at the SFOS Fishery Industrial Technology Center. Foy was simultaneously determining the prey species and biomass around the whales.

The primary goal was to determine what the humpbacks near Kodiak Island are feeding on. Such information is key to addressing numerous questions such as the role of humpbacks in the ecosystem and the potential for prey overlap with other apex predators including Steller sea lions.

Researchers were assisted by Bree Witteveen, former master's degree student at SFOS and now a fulltime GAP technician; Jordy Thomson, seasonal technician who heads to Simon Frazer University in the fall in pursuit of a master's degree; and Casey Clark, student intern who starts college at UC Santa Cruz in September.

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