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Forage Fish Key to Food Chain

November 03, 1999

Alaska Sea Grant
Press Release

FAIRBANKS, Alaska Natives, fishermen, and scientists have long believed Prince William Sound is an important feeding zone for commercially caught fish, seabirds and marine mammals. Now, researchers have the photographs and videotape to prove it.

University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists today released aerial and underwater photographs taken during a three-year study to better understand the importance of herring, sand lance and other forage fish to the sound’s ecosystem.

“Many of the photos are interesting from a scientific perspective, but also the general public will like them too,” said Evelyn Brown, the study’s lead scientist and research associate at the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.

The photographs show shimmering schools of juvenile herring and sand lance being attacked by auklets, kittiwakes and other diving seabirds. One image shows a large salmon, mouth agape, plowing through a school of young herring. Aerial video footage shows humpback whales, sea lions, and seals feeding on forage fish.

“Forage fish are the underdogs out there, everything eats them,” said Brown. “But we’ve never been able to observe firsthand just how salmon prey on herring, or how herring react to diving seabirds. These photos give us a perspective we’ve never had before.”

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