Marine Mammal Research Newsletter

MARINE MAMMAL RESEARCH NEWSLETTER  |  November 2016 (Issue 15)

Science Outreach

Bering Sea Days

It’s never easy getting to Bering Sea Days …

Students became a marine mammal and learned about marine mammal junk-food diets.

Flights had not made it to St. Paul Island in 3 days. This was unsettling news to about a dozen scientists who sat in the Anchorage airport waiting to board their flight.  They had traveled from across Alaska and the rest of North America to participate in a unique education experience with school children from the Pribilof Islands (St. Paul and St. George Islands). They were coming to Bering Sea Days prepared to teach lessons, lead field trips, and participate in community events — but were not prepared to have weather cancel all of their well-made plans.  It was thus with great relief when they heard the announcement to board their flight, and realized that everyone was going to make it to St. Paul — a remote town of 350 people in the middle of the Bering Sea.

Visiting Northern fur seals at the Vancouver Aquarium

Students had a virtual visit from their classroom in the middle of the Bering Sea with northern fur seals at the Vancouver Aquarium.

For a week, the kids learned about the natural world — specially-planned lessons encompassed a diversity of topics, including sea bird ecology, plant identification, underwater sampling, ice-core science, and archaeology.

Dr. David Rosen (UBC) was on-island to provide engaging lessons on the physiology of marine mammals and the importance of prey quality to seabirds and marine mammals. He also led a video link with the kids back to Vancouver, where they met the northern fur seals and Steller sea lions at the Vancouver Aquarium that are helping Consortium scientists understand population declines in the Bering Sea.

The video calls have taken place annually for 8 years, ever since Dr. Rosen and Dr. Andrew Trites brought the young fur seals from St. Paul to Vancouver. It is important to both scientists to keep the community updated and involved in the science by working closely with the school to incorporate their research into parts of the curriculum.

Dr Rosen with the kids

Dr. Rosen with some of the students on the Pribilof Islands.

Bering Sea Days culminated with a community event where the kids showed their parents and the rest of the community what they had learned and made (including a giant paper-mache killer whale). Dr. Rosen gave an update on the northern fur seals, and showed photos from 2008 when the grade 5 students — many of whom were in the audience that afternoon — came to Vancouver for their school trip and visited the Vancouver Aquarium.

 

The paper mache killer whale

Dr. David Rosen (left) helps carry an upside down paper mache killer whale constructed by the students to the community event.

The week-long schedule was packed for the visitors, but was also a tremendously enjoyable and rewarding experience. Everyone returned home happy in the realization that we had contributed to the education of the kids, and had a unique experience in return.

It’s never easy getting to Bering Sea Days, but it is always well worth the effort!


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