High school students learn about fur seals

October 2, 2017

three people on beach Melissa Good begins necropsy on northern fur seal in Unalaska.

In mid September two Unalaska high school students had an exciting opportunity to work with “charismatic megafauna”—they were invited to help necropsy a dead northern fur seal.

Members of the Unalaska National Ocean Sciences Bowl team, the students assisted Melissa Good as she trimmed biological samples from the carcass for a national marine mammal stranding program. The data can help determine cause of death, and reveal reasons for species decline and possible means for population recovery.

“Involving students in these strandings gives them a sense of place and belonging to the ecosystem and their community, and fosters stewardship for conserving the natural environment,” said Good, Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory agent in Unalaska.

Two students watch ready to assist as woman cuts seal skinStudents stand by and take notes.

The student team will spend the next five months studying marine science to prepare for the Alaska competition in February, when they will participate in a quiz bowl and present a research project. As team coach, Good plans to do a lot of hands-on outdoor projects with the students this year.

“Weather permitting, we will be collecting plates that I have set out for invasive species monitoring this Friday,” she said.

The National Ocean Sciences Bowl encourages students to lean toward the sciences and gives them opportunities to experience hands-on science in the field, labs and classrooms. Each team will have different experiences prior to coming together, but they are all wholly engaged in ocean sciences by the start of the competition, said Good.

Two students watch as woman cuts dead seal on beachMale northern fur seals can reach 600 pounds.
Two students talk with scientist during necropsyGood explains the necropsy steps.
Student smiles as he helps scientist collect tissue samplesFecal sample goes into a bag.
Student holds vial to help scientist collect tissue sampleReady for another sample.

— By Melissa Good and Sue Keller

Alaska Sea Grant is a statewide marine research, education, and outreach program, and is a partnership between the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program agents provide assistance that helps Alaskans wisely use, conserve, and enjoy marine and coastal resources.