MARINE MAMMAL RESEARCH NEWSLETTER   |   February 2015 (Issue 12)


2015 Alaska Marine Science Symposium

For a week each January, the main ballroom of the Captain Cook Hotel in downtown Anchorage is stuffed with a high number of people wearing plaid. However, the lack of bushy beards indicates that this is not a gathering of hipsters discussing craft beer (although that beverage is not unknown to this group). Rather, it is the annual Alaska Marine Science Symposium—where scientists, policy makers, and the inquisitive masses meet to disseminate, deliberate, and pontificate on the current state of Alaska’s oceans.

While the topics vary between the possible effects of global warming (hint: not good) to the state of Alaskan marine mammal populations (hint: also, not so good), this year’s buzzword was “stable isotopes”, and those who chose it for their Conference Bingo sheets were instantly rewarded.

During the day, there was a marathon of talks, and the coffee flowed like wine against the constant buzz of intellectual discourse. For two nights, there were additional sessions in the nearby Convention Center, where row upon row of colorful posters competed to grab the scientists’ attention, like so many Times Square billboards. This was an opportunity to exchange scientific ideas, catch up on gossip, and maybe have a beverage or two.

Liz Goundie and Mariana Gomez admire ice sculptures of a polar bear, bowhead whale and sea lion outside of the Anchorage Convention Center.

Liz Goundie and Mariana Gomez admire ice sculptures of a polar bear, bowhead whale and sea lion outside the Anchorage Convention Center.

Throughout the day, the science came thick and fast, as did the generous supply of food during the breaks. Even the late afternoon sessions were packed,  despite the after effects of lunch, the steady climb in ambient temperature, the dwindling supply of oxygen, and the fact that most attendees had not seen natural daylight in almost a week. At night, their heads heavy with thoughts of minimal ice cover, fish growth rates, and oceanographic thermoclines, the participants scrambled to find a dining venue to sit and dissect the day’s scientific offerings—while others attended specialized sessions and meetings that pushed their already busy schedules over the limit. A brief nightcap, a few hours sleep, and it was time to start all over again the next day.

After 5 days, the attendees headed home stuffed with intellectual thoughts, blinking at the unfamiliar sunlight.

Much positive activity will follow from this annual gathering: renewed partnerships, novel collaborations, and a promise to be more rigorous about going to the gym.

In 360 days, like the predictable migrations of many of the animals they study, they will return again to Anchorage, ready to start the research cycle all over again.

Cook inlet as seen from the Captain Cook Hotel

Cook inlet as seen from the Captain Cook Hotel

Presentations by Consortium researchers at this year’s AMSS included:

  • Foraging decisions by Steller sea lions: unexpected consequences of prey distribution on foraging efficiency. Elizabeth Goundie, David Rosen and Andrew Trites
  • The origin of feces: does diet diversity matter more than prey quality for northern fur seals? Mariana Diaz Gomez, David Rosen and Andrew Trites
  • Changes in blood profiles of Steller sea lions due to age, exercise regime, and nutritional status.  David Rosen, Carling Gerlinsky, and Andrew Trites

Contents | Science Outreach  | From the Lab | Into the Field |  Number Crunching | This Just In