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2024 Aerial Survey for Ice Seals in the Bering Sea

February 12, 2024

Research Brief for 2024 Aerial Survey for Ice Seals in the Bering Sea

Who is conducting this research?

Scientists from NOAA Fisheries’ Alaska Fisheries Science Center and the University of Washington’s Cooperative Institute for Climate, Ocean, and Ecosystem Studies will be conducting the research.
This project is included in the annual Alaska Ice Seal Research Plan which describes research priorities for ice-associated seals in Alaska, and was developed by the Alaska Native Ice Seal Committee’s Co-management Working Group.

What is the survey objective?

To prepare for 2025 surveys to estimate the abundance of bearded, ringed, ribbon, and spotted seals in U.S. waters of the Bering, Chukchi, and Beaufort seas and to understand how these species are responding to changes in sea ice conditions. Aircraft and camera system capabilities will be tested in 2024. High resolution imagery of seals on sea ice will be collected with new cameras to prepare image processing software for the 2025 survey.

Where is the survey area and how are the data collected?

Flights will occur over the Bering Sea out to the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and south to the typical extent of spring sea ice. A NOAA King Air aircraft will fly at an altitude of 1,000 feet and use cameras to collect color, thermal, and ultraviolet images of the sea ice. These images will be used to train machine learning algorithms to help identify animals on the sea ice.
All flights will avoid active subsistence hunting areas around coastal communities. Flights that transit a buffered hunting area will occur at an altitude of 3,000 feet. Flight lines will be modified to target sea ice using satellite imagery.

Why are the data important?

Preparation for the 2025 survey effort is critical to achieving an efficient survey effort and sound abundance estimates for these species. Survey results are needed to support sound planning and management decisions by agencies, and to conserve these species for the communities that rely on them as traditional resources.

Last updated by Alaska Fisheries Science Center on 06/25/2024