The Gulf Apex Predator-Prey Project (GAP) is supported primarily by funding from NOAA. GAP studies have been augmented by funding from the North Pacific Research Board and complemented by a suite of collaborators. See Acknowledgments below.
The GAP project was initiated in 1999 by Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program faculty at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Kodiak to address trophic-level questions of immediate biological and economic concern in the western Gulf of Alaska.. These questions were triggered by the precipitous decline of the western stock of Steller sea lions, and program goals have been to document trophic relationships between sea lions, their prey, competitors, and predators in the Kodiak area ecosystem. Early phases of GAP (2001–2006) comprised interrelated studies focused on a suite of apex predators, including fish, birds, and marine mammals, while researchers also explored oceanography, phytoplankton, and prey populations. In more recent years (2007 to present), project emphasis has shifted to marine mammals with specific and direct research on Steller sea lion and large whale (primarily fin and humpback whales) foraging ecology and population dynamics, as well as developing a conceptual model of predator-prey trophic interactions around the Kodiak archipelago.
The productive waters around Kodiak Island support diverse and abundant populations of marine fishes, birds, and mammals that in turn have supported coastal communities for centuries. GAP's primary goal is to document trophic relationships among these apex predators, their prey, and potential competitors in waters near Kodiak Island. Our primary objectives are to (a) monitor the abundance, distribution, and quality of available prey resources, (b) determine diets and monitor populations of sympatric consumers of these prey species, and (c) monitor environmental conditions that affect these prey and their consumers. We will integrate this suite of ecosystem-based studies to assess whether Steller sea lion recovery may be impaired by prey limitation or environmental change. Ultimately, our findings will shed light on how biotic and abiotic factors drive change in this system and thus enhance our ability to detect the effects of natural and anthropogenic perturbations.
The GAP program consists of a number of independent but integrated studies focused on coastal waters northeast of Kodiak Island. Individual GAP studies are conducted within this area on several spatial scales, detailed on this website. In addition to internal collaboration, several collaborating researchers have chosen to conduct related studies near Kodiak synchronously on one or more of these scales. Such collaborative studies, overlapping both spatially and temporally, have enhanced our ability to understand this complex and dynamic ecosystem.
In addition to annual support from the NOAA grant, the GAP program has benefited from additional funding and support provided by Steller Sea Lion Research Initiative, Cooperative State Research Education and Extension Service, Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Consortium, Cooperative Institute for Arctic Research, USFWS (Migratory Birds), University of Alaska Foundation, Angus Gavin Memorial Migratory Bird Research Grant, UAF’s Center for Global Change and Arctic Systems Research, North Pacific Research Board, Rasmuson Fisheries Research Center, UAF Office of the Graduate School, and Alaska Sea Life Center.
GAP represents a truly collaborative effort with additional financial, permitting, and/or logistic support provided by personnel from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADFG), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) and National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Biological Survey, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). In particular, we appreciate the collaborative efforts and support of Dr. Kathleen O’Reilly (University of Portland), Dr. David Irons (USFWS Migratory Birds), Dr.Tom Loughlin (NMML), Dr. Gail Blundell (ADFG), Mark Witteveen (ADFG), Matt Foster (ADFG), and Alex De Robertis (NMFS).
We thank the captains and crews of the R/V Resolution (ADFG), F/V Alaskan, F/V Alaska Beauty, and F/V Laura. Our aerial surveys have been safely and expertly piloted by Tom Walters (Maritime Helicopters), Willie Hall (Kodiak Air), Willie Fulsom, Garrett Houiser, and Dean Andrew (Andrew Air, Kodiak), and Kyle Eaton (Kingfisher Air).
We are also grateful to the number of technicians, interns and volunteers that have worked with the GAP project over the years, including Erin Kate Aleksak, Chuck Adams, Peggy Amox, Allison Banks, Katie Brenner, Sharon Buck, Casey Clark, Steve Coen, Travis Cooper, Lucretia Fairchild, Joel Fiddes, Ian Gravenstede, Andrea Haas, Catherine Hegwer, Susan Inglis, Dwaine Macintosh, Samuel Mansfield, Christy Newell, Rachel Orben, Bob Pfutzenreuter, Petra Reimann, Cassandra Roberts, Jordy Thomson, Carey Vorholt, Tom Wilson, Andrea Kroll, Annie Fiske, Jo Pflaum, Sophie Pierszalowski, Natura Richardson, and Paige Chase.