Imarpim Ungungsiit (Marine Mammal) Project

two people looking at map Mark Kosbruk showing research assistant Ilona Kemp ancestral travel routes between villages on the Pacific side of the Alaska Peninsula. Photo taken during fieldwork in Port Heiden, June 2013. Photo by Jaclyn Christensen.

Welcome to the Imarpim Ungungsiit project. This page provides an overview and the general context of the project, which is taking place in southwestern Alaska. Thank you for visiting, and please contact us if you have any questions, comments or ideas.

Dr. Chanda Meek, project investigator,
Helen Aderman, project investigator
Ilona Kemp, PhD student and project research assistant,

Alaska Sea Grant research project summary

Collaborative Research: Building Capacity for Community-based Marine Mammal Conservation in Bristol Bay

Project description

aerial view of marine mammals on a beach Sea otters and seals observed on an aerial sea otter survey in Port Heiden. Photo by Gerda Kosbruk.

The Imarpim Ungungsiit project is a collaborative research project between the Bristol Bay Native Association, three member tribes—Traditional Village of Togiak, Native Village of Port Heiden, Native Village of Chignik Lagoon—the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), and others. Our aim is to gain insight and understanding of the ways in which marine mammal ecology and harvesting patterns among hunters in three communities in southwestern Alaska have changed through time.

Our methods include in-depth traditional ecological knowledge interviews and the production of maps showing marine mammal habitat and traditional hunting locations. Field notes and photographs taken during interviews and community visits help to document the local context of the project.

In order to build a timeline of marine mammal ecology in the regions of our partner villages, we have also gathered historical files such as ship logs and old reports. Boat and aerial surveys of marine mammal habitat, abundance, and distribution provide contemporary snapshots of marine mammal ecology. Maps that can be used to delineate areas important for marine conservation planning and regional subsistence priorities will be based on a synthesis of these multiple streams of data.

Through hiring local employees as research assistants, boat operators, and GPS mapping assistants, the project’s additional aim is to build capacity for community-based marine mammal conservation in the region.

Funding organizations

Participating organizations

people around conference table Attendees of the BBNA/UAF Field Research Techniques Training receive instructions from GIS specialist Michael Knapp on how to use GPS navigation units and software for boat surveys. Photo by Ilona Kemp.

Participating villages

three people at a table Emil Christensen, Jaclyn Christensen (Port Heiden local research assistant), and Mark Kosbruk from Port Heiden attend the BBNA/UAF Field Research Techniques Training in Anchorage, March 2013. Photo by Ilona Kemp.


The village of Togiak is located on Bristol Bay. Residents of Togiak hunt bearded seal, or maklak, twice a year in the spring and fall. The Traditional Council of Togiak selected fifteen residents to participate in the Imarpim Ungungsiit project. This group of participants consists of experienced bearded seal hunters and residents experienced in processing bearded seal.

Port Heiden

The village of Port Heiden is located on Bristol Bay on the Alaska Peninsula. The Native Village of Port Heiden selected eleven people to participate in the Imarpim Ungungsiit project who generously shared their local knowledge about sea otters present in Meshik Bay.

Chignik Lagoon

The village of Chignik Lagoon is located on the Pacific Ocean side of the Alaska Peninsula. The Native Village of Chignik Lagoon selected nine people to participate in the Imarpim Ungungsiit project. Participants shared their extensive local knowledge on sea otter ecology and traditional hunting locations in the lagoon and outlying waters.

Map of project villages