My Master’s thesis research is on how changes in prey distribution and density affect the diving costs and foraging patterns of Steller sea lions.

The energetic costs associated with diving and foraging make up a major part of a Steller sea lion’s energy budget. Accurate estimates of these costs are needed to understand how physiological constraints and energetic demands may affect foraging ability in the wild under different conditions, such as those imposed by changes in prey density and distribution.  This has implications for understanding the decline and recovery of Steller sea lions in Alaska.

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I am conducting my research with the sea lions at the Open Water Research Station.

For the first part of my research, the four female sea lions are asked to dive to 10 and 40 meters to separate the costs associated with getting to and from a prey patch, staying at a prey patch and actively foraging at a prey patch. I am measuring diving metabolic rate of the sea lions to identify which dive components most limit their ability to forage.  I am also determining how they optimize their foraging strategies. 

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The second part of my research is designed to determine how the quality of a prey patch affects foraging behaviour and diving costs. I will be manipulating the abundance of prey encountered by the sea lions at 10 and 40 meters to compare their foraging efficiencies at depth when prey encounter rates are high and low. 

I am so excited to be working at the Open Water Research Station. I have been collecting data for just about two months now and it has been an amazing experience. All four girls are doing great with their trials and I’m amazed at how quickly they learn what we need from them for each different dive type. They are incredibly smart animals and such an important part of the research program. I am really enjoying getting to work so closely with them. Yasha was the first to finish the first set of trials last week and Sitka, Hazy and Boni aren’t far behind.

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The sea lions at the Open Water Research Station are, of course, a very important part of the research that is done there, but none of it would happen without the amazing staff. They are so knowledgeable and it’s great to work with people who are excited about your research. 

We are just finishing up with trials for the first part of my project and I’m looking forward to getting started on the second part and spending some more time out here (and hopefully enjoying some nice weather soon!) 

Our Mission...to undertake open ocean research with trained sea lions that contributes to the conservation of marine mammals in the wild.