Bianca Santos

2012 Research Experience for Undergrads

Studying the effect of temperature and diet on the growth of coho salmon in Alaska

Bianca holding fish in Alaska
Bianca Santos

When searching for a summer internship, I was excited to come across the opportunity to work with JISAO of the University of Washington. I was ecstatic at the prospects of visiting the west coast for the very first time and doing research in Seattle, and was even more thrilled when I got offered the chance to spend my summer interning in Alaska. Working with the Alaska Salmon Program, under the direction of Dr. Daniel Schindler, I was very lucky to spend two months studying in the Wood River System of Bristol Bay.

Majoring in marine biology at Stony Brook University in New York, I came into the program knowing nearly nothing about the fisheries system, but soon found out that I was working with one of the largest and last pristine sockeye salmon fisheries in the world. An anadromous species, these fish are born in a freshwater system, feed and grow in the ocean, and return to the same freshwater streams they were born in, where they spawn and die. As the summer progressed and I had the opportunity to learn more about this species, it was astonishing to realize how greatly the local community and ecosystem depend on a successful sockeye run. It was a tremendous feeling to be involved with a program whose research is of critical importance to helping sustain this keystone species.

While in Alaska, I had the chance to work on an independent research project on juvenile coho salmon. Similar to sockeye, these fish grow in freshwater before relocating to the ocean. With the impending climate change our world faces, there is concern over how different species may be affected by an increase in global temperatures. I studied how the growth of coho changes in different temperature waters in various streams throughout the Woods River watershed. I also studied growth change associated with diet. Foraging on mostly low energy aquatic insects throughout the year, the arrival and spawning of sockeye salmon during the summer allows for the availability of high energy eggs for coho to consume. These eggs allow for fish to experience a higher growth rate, however fish must be a certain size in order to be big enough to  consume these eggs.  In order to collect data, I captured and measured coho every two weeks, monitoring the change in growth rates within each stream throughout the summer. When I wasn’t working on my project, I had the chance to assist in the collection of both short term and long term data. Working with many talented graduate students and staff, I had the opportunity to help with a bunch of different projects and learn all about the different research that is currently being conducted.

Overall, my experience with the Alaska Salmon Program was amazing. I had the chance to spend two months across the country learning all about a system that I had previously knew little about. All of the people I worked with were extremely helpful and supportive, and this experience helped to reaffirm my desire to continue my studies to a graduate level. I am very grateful for this once in a lifetime opportunity, and I know that I will be able to apply the skills I learned to any project in the future. I would like to thank JISAO and the Alaska Salmon Program for making this experience possible.