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Prominent marine mammal researcher earns top award


October 10, 2003
Friday - 12:45 am

Dr. Tom Loughlin of the Alaska Fisheries Science Center's National Marine Mammal Laboratory has won the Distinguished Career Award from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The award cites "exceptional efforts to promote research and conservation of marine mammals in Alaska during 26 years of service with NOAA."

Dr. Loughlin leads a research program focused primarily at Steller sea lions and northern fur seals in Alaska. Under his direction, researchers spend hundreds of days per year at sea and on remote islands of Alaska conducting field research on seals and sea lions (pinnipeds), often in dangerous and inclement weather.

Dr. Loughlin and his program staff were responsible for much of the science used to protect the Steller sea lion populations under the Endangered Species Act.

Responding to the complex and controversial nature of Steller sea lion research and conservation over the past 20 years, Dr. Loughlin shifted his program's research goals from initially documenting the distribution and abundance of pinnipeds in Alaska to identifying their population declines. In the 1980s and early 1990s his program identified several hypothetical reasons for the decline and implemented specific research projects designed to test these hypotheses. From the late 1990s to the present, his program's research has focused increasingly on understanding fine-scale impacts of commercial fishing on Steller sea lions in order to better select conservation actions that have the best chances of promoting recovery of the species.

Dr. Loughlin has successfully championed research on the northern fur seals in the Pribilof Islands, often in spite of inadequate funding. His ongoing commitment to research has enhanced the overall understanding of fur seal biology and prolonged what is now one of the longest running research programs on any wild animal population.

Dr. Loughlin was one of the first researchers to employ satellite-linked time-depth recorders to better understand underwater behavior. These instruments are now widely used by the marine mammal scientific community. He fostered the use of genetics to help identify two populations of Steller sea lions that have been separated for tens of thousands of years and thus must be managed separately. He has implemented highly technical procedures to handle large pinnipeds, and recently supported the development of an agency research team trained to conduct underwater captures of Steller sea lions using SCUBA. As other methods have been developed, such as fatty acid analysis of diet, he has brought staff into his program who can use the new techniques to pursue new research questions.

Dr.Loughlin has written nearly 40 peer-reviewed publications since 1980 plus contributing significantly to 19 books or book chapters and to educational movies. He has worked to make his research electronically available, including website development and giving public access to locations and movements of free-ranging Steller sea lions equipped with satellite transmitters.

Because of his knowledge of pinnipeds and Alaska ecosystems, he has served in many distinguished roles outside NOAA Fisheries for instance, as a member of the steering committee for the joint U.S.-Russia Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Environmental Protection since 1995, and serving as chairman since 1997. He is part of the PICES Bering Sea Working Group, the Research Committee of the North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research Consortium, the Seattle Aquarium's Research Advisory Committee and other organizations.

"The high standards and unwavering scientific ethics he has applied and demanded within his own research program have influenced many younger researchers. In this way he has served as a mentor to others and has always encouraged their professional growth by finding ways to highlight their efforts above his own," states the narrative nominating him for the award.

Dr. Loughlin's long and notable career with NOAA began in 1977, shortly after he received his PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. In 1981, Dr. Loughlin became the Program Leader of the Alaska Ecosystem Program at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, in Seattle, Washington.

Dr. Loughlin served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam where he earned a Purple Heart in 1967, plus more than six other medals, mostly centering on his work as a military pilot.



Related web site:

National Marine Laboratory


Source of News Release:

NOAA - National Marine Fisheries Service - Alaska Region
Web Site


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