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NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center (SWFSC)

image floated rightThe Southwest Fisheries Science Center is the research arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Naitonal Marine Fisheries Service in the Southwest Region. Southwest Fisheries is the newest lab site to offer placements with the STAR program, and opportunities include placements in La Jolla, CA (near San Diego), Santa Cruz and Pacific Grove, CA (near Monterey). Additional NOAA projects will be based in Juneau at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center focusing on bioenergetics and the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington . More info about the participating labs may be found at

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What type of work is done at Southwest Fisheries?

Southwest Fisheries is comprised of five research divisions that generate the scientific information necessary for the conservation and management of the region's fish, marine mammals and turtles, seabirds, and invertebtates. The five divisions are: Antarctic Ecosystems Research, Environmental Research, Fisheries Ecology, Fisheries Resources, Protected Resources.



2012 Research Opportunities for STAR participant

To date, two specific projects have been identified at the Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, California this summer. Be sure to specify on your application in one of the written response questions your interest in these projects.

Polpulation Genetics Analysis: Over the past few years the Southwest Fisheries Science Center has compiled a suite of analysis functions written in the programming language R for the analysis of molecular data for population genetic studies. Much of the code has been internally documented and tested, but it needs to be compiled into self-contained packages so that it can be more readily distributed to other researchers. If you are planning to apply to STAR and have general programming experience or experience specifically with R (or S/S-Plus) then this could be a great opportunity!! Learn more at the links below:

Marine Mammal Genetics Group:
ETP Cetacean Assessment Program:

image floated leftLeatherback sea turtle genetics: An opportunity that is available this summer involves both lab and field work with staff in the Marine Turtle Genetics Program. The STAR teacher will begin with work in the lab for a few weeks helping to archive samples from last year, collect supplies and pack equipment for the field season. The field component will take place in St. Croix, in the US Virgin Islands and involves collecting genetic samples from hatchling leatherback sea turtles. All training will be provided. Applicants should be prepared to experience field work conditions, which may be difficult at times. The weather is very hot (we begin work on a remote beach at 5 pm nightly – it may be 100 degrees and very humid), the biting mosquitoes, gnats and beach flies are often terrible, rain is frequent and the work may sometimes be tedious. To find hatchling turtles, we are required to walk 4-5 hours per night in soft beach sand, so physical fitness is important. Successful applicants should be prepared to live for ~4 weeks in a remote location – possibly cut off from phone and internet access (storms are frequent). Extreme attention to detail (note-taking, observations, and data-checking) is required for the field work and associated archiving of the samples. However, the experience is a rich one, and we do have a lot of fun in a beautiful location. Please mention this project in your application if you are interested in participating with us.


What type of work is done at other NOAA sites?

Additional NOAA projects will be based in Juneau at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) and will focus on bioenergetics. More info about AFSC can be found at

Specifically, there are two projects available for STAR fellows in Alaska this summer:

Understanding herring energetics: Herring are a key link between the spring plankton bloom and upper trophic level predators in the Gulf of Alaska, the student will participate in projects aimed at improving our ability to study this linkage. Bioenergetic modelers currently do not have data describing the activity costs of Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi) nor are there data describing the energy content of many herring prey. Activity costs represent  the metabolic demands placed on fish as they forage or evade predators.  The student will assist in our respirometry laboratory as we measure the oxygen consumption rates of herring as a function of their swimming speed. These data will be combined with our previous observations of the escape velocity of herring when they are attacked by Steller sea lions. Ultimately, this will allow us to construct models describing the overwintering behavior of herring and answer the question of why herring aggregate and winter in predictable locations.  At the same time the student will assist in the collection of herring prey using zooplankton nets. The prey will be sorted into species and examined for their lipid and energy content. These data will be used to construct models describing the potential growth  of herring rearing in different habitats.  Although this is a laboratory study, the student will accompany scientists into the field to catch zooplankton species, forage fish species and survey humpback whales in the local area.

Optimal foraging by rhinoceros auklets: In the north Pacific, sea birds are important predators on juvenile forage fish and consequently represent an important source of mortality.  Understanding prey selection by these birds provides resource managers with important information regarding recruitment in forage fish and chick-rearing success in sea birds. In this project the student will examine the composition of the prey Rhinoceros Auklets deliver to their young and compare to the distribution of the prey energy near the nesting grounds. The student will use bomb calorimetry to estimate the energy content of forage fish species collected near an auklet nesting ground. These data will be combined with acoustically determined estimates of forge fish abundance to map the spatial distribution of energy available to the birds.  These maps will be compared to the bird diets to determine if birds are foraging on the most energetically abundant prey or if they exhibit more selectivity for prey. This project is a component  to a much larger Gulf of Alaska Integrated Ecosystem Study. It will provide valuable data into the sea bird foraging that will be used by the Study’s modeling component in their efforts to understand how climate change will influence Gulf ecology. Although this is a laboratory study, the student will accompany scientists into the field to catch zooplankton species, forage fish species and survey humpback whales in the local area.

Additional information about Southwest Fisheries (see links below):