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Sarah Hardee Peterson

About me:

I am studying northern elephant seals, Mirounga angustirostris, at the Año Nuevo State Reserve for my research. I am currently still exploring the many avenues down which I can take my research but I am focusing on quantifying heavy metals (mercury and lead) and persistant organic pollutants (PCBs, DDTs and PBDEs) in northern elephant seals. I am interested in a broad range of ecological questions including how northern elephant seals may accumulate specific contaminants over the course of a foraging trip (as well as their lifetime) and if there are regions of the north Pacific that we can correlate with increased toxic loads in individual seals. I am also interested in other ecological questions including how elephant seals impact prey populations,how their foraging locations and movements align with other upper-trophic level marine species in the north Pacific and how their movements align with specific measurable oceanographic conditions.

My research experience and work as a naturalist and science educator have provided me insight into a variety of diverse ecosystems with a focus on upper trophic-level predators. I began the fieldwork component of my ecological career while studying abroad in Africa as an undergraduate. I spent time at the Botswana Wild Dog research camp, where I conducted their yearly ungulate census and helped in the tracking and observation of wild-dogs. I then transitioned gears to conduct research in Sweden for my undergraduate thesis on the specific visual and olfactory cues that a small solitary bee species uses to find the host-plant on which it specializes. After graduating from Whitman College, I worked for over a year as a naturalist in the San Juan Islands of Washington and a science instructor at the Ocean Institute in Dana Point, CA. The Ocean Institute is a non-profit marine institute in southern California where kindergarten through community college students come for marine-based science laboratory and boat programs. I then obtained my Masters degree in Washington studying the movements, home ranges, haul-out site fidelity and abundance of harbor seals, Phoca vitulina, in the Salish Sea. While in graduate school, I was able to spend portions of my summers in southeast Alaska working as the naturalist on a boat that conducted weeklong nature cruises with just a dozen passengers. After finishing my Master's degree I was thrilled to get a position studying gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park, working for Dr. Doug Smith. I was part of two winter predation studies and one summer predation study, quantifying the kill-rates and identifying prey selection of gray wolf packs in the northern range of Yellowstone NP. I then transitioned back towards the marine environment while working for USGS on an avian research project in south San Francisco Bay. Now I am here in Santa Cruz and back to marine ecology for my own research!

Contact information and Office Hours:
PhD Student - Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
Office: Center for Ocean Health 148A
UCSC Long Marine Laboratory
Costa Lab website