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Sarah Hardee,
NSF Graduate Fellow

NSF GK-12 Project: Western Washington University
Catalysts for Reform
URL: http://gk12.wwu.edu

Thesis Title: Seasonal Variation of Harbor Seal (Phoca vitulina) Distribution Within the San Juan Island Archipelago

College/University: Western Washington University

Research Advisor: Alejandro Acevedo-Gutierrez

Teacher Partner: Robert Knickrehm

Degree Sought  
Masters in Marine and Estuarine Science

University Department and/or Lab  
Biology Department; Marine Behavior and Ecology Lab

Research Focus 
Examining the differences in haul-out locations (where they get out of the water) of harbor seals between April, August, and October to understand if they stay in the same areas or if they change their haul-out sites depending on the time of year

Description of Research
I will be flying aerial surveys during April, August, and October with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine the haul-out locations of harbor seals in the San Juan Island Archipelago. I will be looking for whether seals appear to change locations during the year or if there are just less seals hauling out at different times of year. Additionally, I will be examining data from satellite-tagged seals in the San Juans (to be tagged in April) to determine approximate home ranges for a population subset of the San Juan Island harbor seals. I will use this data to predict foraging hotspots for this population of seals and eventually the Marine Behavior and Ecology Lab hopes to do this for the whole ecosystem and come up with a model of how much food (and of what species) the entire harbor seal population requires on an annual basis.

Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience
Our classroom was fortunate enough to take a field trip out on the Snow Goose , an educational vessel in Bellingham Bay , and look at the seals and the ecosystem within Bellingham Bay . We have been examining food webs and the movement of energy from one trophic level to the next. I helped to create one small-group station where we looked at the amount of energy (grams of biomass) needed in the producer trophic level to support an entire seal. We started small, first examining how energy moves, with only 1/10 of the available biomass "moving on" to be available to the next trophic level, and looked at the amount of phytoplankton (1000 grams), zooplankton (100 grams), and herring (10 grams) that we would need to support only one gram of seal! Food webs and the food consumption of harbor seals directly ties to my research and the research of my laboratory. Later in the year I will be giving a presentation on my research and will tie in the stations that the students have completed in class.

Profile date: March 2007
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