A summer internship with NOAA takes St. Olaf student to Alaska

Shannon Moore ’19 stands in front of the NOAA sign at the staff quarters on Saint Paul Island, where she is working with the agency to research northern fur seals.

St. Olaf College student Shannon Moore ’19 is spending this month researching northern fur seals in Alaska as part of an internship with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

“One of the main factors that drew me to this internship was, of course, the fact that it provides me with an opportunity to assist in conducting research for a scientific agency within the United States government,” says Moore. “I have an interest in polar ecosystems, and I am considering research as a potential career path. What better place to engage in research in the field as an undergrad than with NOAA?”

Shannon Moore ’19 photographed this seal pup taking a snooze on a pile of washed-up debris along a rookery.

NOAA’s mission places emphasis on science, service, and stewardship. To fulfill this mission, NOAA strives to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts; share that knowledge and information with others; and conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.

Moore, a biology major at St. Olaf, is working for the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in the National Marine Mammal Laboratory on Saint Paul Island, where she is conducting research on northern fur seal populations.

Saint Paul Island —  with a land area of just 40 square miles and only one residential area — is the largest of the Pribilof Islands, a group of four Alaskan volcanic islands located in the Bering Sea between the United States and Russia.

Shannon Moore ’19 took this photo as she was working along the coast of Polovina Rookery. The structures are called blinds, and they protect researchers from the elements as well as from bulls (male seals).

Moore’s research on the island is focused on ecology and behavior, population dynamics, life history, and status and trends.

The data collected will be provided to various domestic and international organizations to assist in developing rational and appropriate management systems for marine resources under NOAA’s jurisdiction. Along with NOAA, Moore will determine movements and migrations, critical feeding areas and depths, and other behavioral data.

Her work focuses on re-sighting flipper-tagged fur seals, making observations on rookeries (breeding sites), entering data on computers, and assisting in the management of the summer database.

Shannon Moore ’19 photographs the tags she is re-sighting at a rookery. “We do this to make sure we record the correct tag number,” she says.

Another one of Moore’s tasks is monitoring fur seal numbers at index sites within some of St. Paul’s rookeries. This data provides a repeatable and highly precise estimate of mean numbers visible on shore, enabling the detection of interannual changes and trends.

Her final task is to use a number of VHF radio-tags on adult females at six different rookeries on St. Paul to estimate migration rates between rookeries, which biases estimates on survival.

“I have always had a fascination with northern ecosystems,” says Moore. “I was born and raised in Minnesota, and I have always enjoyed spending time outside in various locations across Minnesota exploring the flora and fauna in my surroundings and learning about the natural history of the places I visit.”

In June, Moore worked as an animal care intern for the Wildlife Science Center in Wyoming, Minnesota, providing her with a wealth of information concerning wolves, lynx, and red fox.

“I am excited to continue my hands-on learning, assisting with research for NOAA through this amazing Alaskan opportunity,” says Moore.