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KODIAK: Field Volunteers Do Double Duty
Alaska Region, August 16, 2008
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Jeff Lewis, Kodiak Refuge Marine Mechanic, and Sophie Pierszalowski, NOAA intern, scan Kodiak Archipelago waters for humpback whales to tag with satellite tracking devices (photo courtesy of Sally Mizroch, National Marine Mammal Laboratory).
Jeff Lewis, Kodiak Refuge Marine Mechanic, and Sophie Pierszalowski, NOAA intern, scan Kodiak Archipelago waters for humpback whales to tag with satellite tracking devices (photo courtesy of Sally Mizroch, National Marine Mammal Laboratory). - Photo Credit: n/a
Kodiak Refuge volunteers Erin Burkett and Amy Westmark assist biology technician, James Lawonn, with a survey of Kittlitz's murrelet nests on Kodiak Island.
Kodiak Refuge volunteers Erin Burkett and Amy Westmark assist biology technician, James Lawonn, with a survey of Kittlitz's murrelet nests on Kodiak Island. - Photo Credit: n/a

On wildlife refuges across the country, volunteer efforts often make all the difference in achievement of Service goals, but too often those efforts, as well as the projects they assist, remain as isolated from public attention as the refuge habitats which they benefit.  This summer, for three volunteers at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge, the typically anonymous role of the field biologist was put in the spotlight.  Thanks to outreach coordination efforts at the new Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center, these volunteers not only helped achieve the goals of biological projects but also assisted with outreach and education by offering public presentations, which highlighted their field experiences and volunteer service.

 

In late July, University of Washington student and NOAA intern, Sophie Pierszalowski, wowed staff and volunteers with a slide show outlining a whale-tagging project conducted in a partnership between the Kodiak Refuge and NMFS Marine Mammal Laboratory.  NMFS biologist, Sally Mizroch, in collaboration with Kodiak Refuge biologist Denny Zwiefelhofer, tagged humpback whales with cutting-edge satellite tracking devices from onboard the FWS M/V Ursa Major II.  Photos of the charismatic cetaceans enthralled the entire audience while tales of whale tracking and the complexities of tagging giant mammals from a pint-sized skiff inspired several Student Conservation Association interns to research future volunteer opportunities in the field.  As if the undersea lives of whales were not intriguing enough, the satellite tracking tag technology used in the project is so advanced and proprietary that Ms. Pierszalowski could not display photos of the tags at the public presentation, which added an air of mystery and drama to the presentation.

 

Even more mysterious is the life of the Kittlitz's murrelet, or KIMU, the small but incredibly fast flying seabird whose elusive, inland nesting habits and ocean-feeding lifestyle serve to shroud this avian subject in a cloak of biological questions.  Seeking answers about the rare murrelet, two volunteer interns withstood 70 days of field deployment, hiking over 400 miles on steep scree-covered slopes and across boot-sucking bogs.  Scraping fresh snow from their gear in early June and pitching tents within the fragile circle of an electric fence—mere feet away from the well-worn path of a Kodiak bear "highway"—Amy Westmark and Erin Burkett assisted Kodiak Refuge wildlife technician, James Lawonn, with a survey of murrelet nesting habitat on southwestern Kodiak Island.

 

After more than two months on the remote south end of Kodiak Island, the pair of intrepid volunteers adroitly overcame the culture shock of a return to civilization, compiling and presenting a public slideshow about their field work within 48 hours of touching down in Kodiak City.  Their tales of adventure in stalking this seemingly invisible bird and locating its perfectly camouflaged nests brought the trials, tribulations, and excitement of biological field work to vivid life for the three dozen attendees at the mid-August event.

 

In a place where Refuge lands are accessible only by boat or amphibious plane, public awareness of the Refuge and understanding of Refuge conservation efforts is severely limited.  Thanks to the extra efforts of volunteers, public presentations brought the excitement of field research to life at the Kodiak Refuge Visitor Center this summer and, in doing so, fostered public appreciation for the importance of biological research in conserving Kodiak's rich wildlife resources. 


Contact Info: Lisa Polito, (907) 487-0285, lisa_polito@fws.gov



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