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Katline Barrows

University of Puget Sound

Research Mentor: Christy Sims

Project: Tracking Changes in Skin Condition of Cook Inlet Beluga Whales - A Method for Monitoring Individual Health?

My name is Katline Barrows and I am studying Natural Science, Biology and Environmental Policy at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington. This past summer I worked with Christy Sims and NOAA’s Marine Mammal Lab. In the first half of the internship, I spent my time sorting through and cropping and rotating many overhead images from the 2019 field season. In the latter half of the internship, I shifted focus and spent my time categorizing skin conditions in overhead images for the 2017/2018 field seasons. My project focuses on assessing skin conditions of Cook Inlet beluga whales.

The Cook Inlet beluga population is located in Cook Inlet in the southcentral region of Alaska. In 2008, Cook Inlet beluga whales were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. In 1979 there were an estimated 1,300 whales in existence and as of 2018 that number is estimated to be around 279 individuals, a decline of almost 70%.

Why assess skin conditions?

Documenting how skin conditions change, or don’t change, over time allows us to help understand and add information about the life history of these animals. Additionally, previous studies have indicated that there may be a potential tie between certain skin conditions and diseases.

The work done was preliminary work, but this leads to other questions to look into such as whether it’s possible to link causes to certain skin conditions through necropsy of stranded animals. Additionally, it could be beneficial to look into estimated survival rates of whales with and without skin conditions to determine if there is correlation of lower survival with some skin conditions.

Despite the internship turning virtual, there was still so much support from Christy, Jed, and the rest of the internship staff. I had a blast of a time getting to know everyone virtually. Thank you so much for this amazing opportunity!

Katline's research poster