Sitka Sound Science Center Field Station

Member of the Organization of Biological Field Stations

Organization of Biological Field Stations 2016 Meeting hosted by the SSSC

 “Sitka Sound Science Center is far more than a classroom and a laboratory, it’s a pathway to understanding Sitka’s unique ecology and geology, and to becoming a part of its wonderful community. The people and the resources of the Sitka Sound Science Center are second to none. Everything they do for field courses, from the learning to the logistics, will help deepen your students’ understanding and relationship to the ecology and community of Southeast Alaska.”

— Aaron Strong, Stanford Sophomore College Field Course Instructor

The OAR Program: Ocean to Alpine Research


OAR is our feature program at the SSSC Field Station.  This program allows researchers to study  one or several diverse environments including the marine, temperate rain-forest, and alpine ecosystems found right outside our front and back doors at SSSC.  Many of the environments and disciplines you can study are described in our What We Offer tab above.

We have a Cooperative Ecosystem Service (CESU) Agreement with several federal agencies within Alaska, which include the US Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, US Geological Survey, and many others.

“The Sitka Sound Science has helped me run a 3-week summer immersion course on Culture and the Environment for the University of San Francisco several times and always done a wonderful job.  The staff is a joy to work with.  Sitka is an ideal place for such a program, as close to the “wild” environment (Pacific Ocean and Tongass National Forest) as possible, a very active fishery (commercial, subsistence, and sport), a small friendly community, historical significance (for the Tlingit and US), and many engaged activists and researchers.  The experiences my students had in Sitka and the information they acquired about resource use, the importance of salmon, and the broader environment as well as our responsibilities towards it had a profound impact on them.”

– University of San Francisco Professor of Anthropology Sharon Gmelch

SSSC Field Course Coordination & Support

“Teaching a field course through the Sitka Sound Science Center has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life and I simply cannot recommend working with SSSC highly enough.”
– Stanford Sophomore College Field Course Instructor Aaron Strong)

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The Sitka Sound Science Center offers a variety of academic support for colleges and universities looking to conduct field courses in Southeast Alaska. SSSC provides lab space, classrooms, inorganic and organic specimens, as well as access to our small saltwater aquarium and touch tanks. We strive to provide the hands on experiences and support necessary for quality, interdisciplinary field work here in Sitka, Alaska. Colleges and universities bring their professors, their students, and their classes to Sitka, where SSSC staff and associates provide local knowledge, transportation, field trip coordination, expertise in outdoor recreation and additional support. The former Sheldon Jackson College campus (owned and operated by the Sitka Fine Arts Camp) can provide housing, dining services and recreational facilities.

Interdisciplinary Learning


An interdisciplinary approach to learning has become an important tool in modern academia. Such an approach synthesizes multiple disciplines and ultimately enriches one’s academic experience. At the Sitka Sound Science Center we believe that in order to best understand the interconnected nature of Sitka’s environment, people, industries, wildlife and their shared future, an interdisciplinary education is critical. At SSSC we provide the logistical support necessary for faculty and students to adequately explore such relationships and intricacies.

The Science Center is capable of supporting four main academic modules: Marine Science & Fisheries; Forestry & Botany; Anthropology & Tourism; Geology & Energy Systems. We encourage the integration of each of our advertised support modules and take pride in our ability to assist students and faculty carryout a diverse range of field work in an equally diverse series of locations. Whether you’re heading out into Sitka Sound for a marine wildlife cruise, hiking a ridge-line along one of Sitka’s world-class trails or exploring the Tongass National Forest, the largest intact temperate rain-forest in the world, field course participants get to experience one of the greatest natural classrooms on the planet.


Several schools have already based field courses out of Sitka Sound Science Center. Our staff utilize their Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetexpertise, access and unique environment to assure the highest caliber of field study. We are constantly seeking new ways to showcase all of what Southeast Alaska has to offer visitors and believe building academic bridges across disciplines and around the nation is the most appropriate and progressive means of achieving this goal. Past participants include Knox College, University of San Francisco, Stanford University, and more!

If you’d like more information on basing field courses out of Sitka Sound Science Center or would like to arrange a focus group to discuss all we have to offer, please feel free to contact our field course development specialist:

Matt Barr
Field Course Developer
(907) 747.8878, ext. 11

Geology & Energy Systems


Alaska is famous for its exotic terrains and Sitka is no exception. With plenty of Sitka gray wacke, geologic surprises abound. Mt. Edgecumbe, a leaky transformer volcano, dominates the landscape and has a $1 million world-class trail stretching over 7 miles from the ocean to its crater. Baranof Island affords a myriad of geologic field trips on and off the road system and interconnected trail system. Sitka’ geographic isolation has led to some innovative energy systems. The major expansion of our hydro-electric dam makes for an interesting case exploration of rural Alaskan energy systems and has exposed new geologic issues.

Forestry & Botany

With immediate access to the Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rainforest in the world, Sitka is a first class destination for those interested in forestry and botany. With over a 100 inches of rainfall a year, Sitka’s forest provides field course students with the an opportunity to explore the intricacies of a temperate environment in a living, breathing laboratory found nowhere else on earth. Looking to take your field experience to the next level? Explore the alpine and high altitude plants and ecosystems at the top of any one of Sitka’s many mountains, a fine excuse for a hike and some field work made fun. Students can also learn from natural resource managers about the balance between recreation and forest products uses in the Tongass, how forest management has changed in the last 50 years, and the latest research on forest ecology.

Marine Sciences & Fisheries


Situated on the outside of the Alexander Archipelago, Sitka boasts direct access to the Pacific Ocean, making it an ideal location for marine science discovery. A diversity of seabirds, marine mammals, fish and invertebrates are accessible by the road system or by kayak. The Sitka intertidal environments are regionally and world renowned and provide field course students with an infinite number of beautiful and natural-occurring laboratories. Whale Watching and other wildlife tours are easily arranged. One of the first hatcheries in Alaska, the Sheldon Jackson Salmon Hatchery at the Sitka Sound Science Center, provides a unique opportunity to learn about the history of aquaculture and commercial fishing in Alaska and to engage in hands-on le
arning with technical and industry professionals. The Sheldon Jackson Hatchery provides field course students with a tangible means of understanding Alaska commercial fishing issues, the science and business of fishery enhancement operations in Southeast Alaska, and the science of salmon.

Anthropology & Tourism


In our increasingly globalized society, tourism has become the subject of much critique. Where better to break down and understand the implications of this international and multi-billion dollar industry than in Sitka, Alaska? As one of Southeast Alaska’s premier travel destinations, Sitka is popular with cruise ships winding their way up the Inside Passage. With the thousands of people who visit our small coastal community during the summer travel season comes a whole host of planning issues and social questions for the community. How are rural economies affected by such an influx? What are the environmental impacts of tourism? What are the impacts of tourism on culture? Sitka has more National Historic Landmarks than any other town in Alaska. With our unique combination of Native Alaskan, Russian and American history, Sitka is a culturally-rich location primed for exploration. Explore Sitka’s Tlingit heritage on a walk through Totem Park, during a performance by the Sheet’ka Kwaan Naa Kahidi Dancers, or through a tour of the Sheldon Jackson Museum, the oldest in the state. Explore Russian America as you only could in Sitka with a visit to Castle Hill, St. Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church, or the Bishop’s House. Fishing is one of the Borough’s main economic sectors, which means Sitka is a prime location for an analysis of fishing, both as an industry and regional culture.

Current Research at SSSC

Our Scientist in Residency (SIRF) Program has brought some of the top scientists from across the country to Sitka to conduct research and participate in scientific education programs in our local schools and community.

Click here to see our 2017 Field Course Offerings, Local Experts, and Activities.

Our most recent Scientist in Residency Fellow, Dr Kate Stafford is a Principal Oceanographer at the Applied Physics Lab and affiliate Associate Professor in the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington in Seattle.  Kate has BAs in French Literature and Biology from the University of California at Santa Cruz and degrees in Wildlife Science (MS) and Oceanography (PhD) from Oregon State University. She is one of the founding members of the Scholarly Union for Bio-Physical Arctic Research and co-chair of the Southern Ocean Research Partnership Blue and Fin Whale Acoustics project. Before going to graduate school, she lived as a Fulbright scholar for a year in Paris studying Medieval French Literature. Kate’s research focuses on using passive acoustic monitoring to examine migratory movements, geographic variation and physical drivers of marine mammals, particularly large whales. She has worked all over the world from the tropics to the poles, and is fortunate enough to have seen (and recorded) blue whales in every ocean in which they occur.  Kate’s current research focuses on the changing acoustic environment of the Arctic and how changes, from sea ice declines to increasing industrial human use, may be influencing subarctic and Arctic marine mammals. Kate is an Air Force brat who was born in Tachikawa, Japan, and hasn’t stopped traveling since.

(Oct/Nov 2017)


Hot off the Press: Additionally, SSSC Field Station has just started a new project in collaboration with the University of California Santa Cruz. At the start of 2016, SSSC’s research lab was busy with the activities of a dive team from the University of California Santa Cruz led by Dr. Kristy Kroeker, a marine ecologist who studies how environmental change is likely to affect coastal marine ecosystems in the future. Dr. Kroeker’s lab is currently studying kelp forest ecosystems across their range in North America, with sites extending from Baja, Mexico to Sitka, AK. Across this range, kelp forests are exposed to very different temperature and chemistry conditions, with those in Sitka regularly experiencing strong, seasonal acidification. Dr. Kroeker and her two technicians spent half of January scouting sites and installing infrastructure for their experiment, including mooring environmental sensors to the bedrock and installing bolts for settlement tiles. They are now off to set up this same infrastructure at their other kelp forest sites along the west coast of North America. Together, these sites will enable a large-scale, comparative experiment to see how varying environmental conditions impact these nearshore marine systems. SSSC is excited to have an ongoing collaboration with this talented group of scientists, and look forward to seeing them when they return again in the spring!

Publications  associated with Sitka Sound Science Center

Au, W. L., Thode, A., Folkert, K., and Straley, J. (2011). “Examining the biosonar process involved with depredation of black cod by sperm whales in the Alaskan long line fishery (A),” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 129, 2398.

Cohen, Sarah, Davis, Tammy, Shaw, Linda and Ruiz, Gregory.  2011 Discovery and significance of the colonial tunicate Didemnum vexillum in Alaska. Aquatic Invasions Volume 6, Issue 3: 263–271

Cook, J. A., C. Brochmann, S. L. Talbot, V. Fedorov, E. B. Taylor, R. Väinölä, E.P. Hoberg, M. Kholodova, K. P. Magnusson. 2013. Genetics. Pp. 567-590.  In Arctic Biodiversity Assessment. Conservation of Arctic Fauna and Flora Committee, Copenhagen.

Cook, J.A., Edwards, S.V., Lacey, E, Guralnick,  R.P., Soltis, P.S. , Soltis, D.E., Welch, C.K., Bell, K.C., Galbreath, K.E., Himes, C., Allen, J.M. Heath, T.A., Carnaval, A.C., Cooper, K.L., Liu, M, Hanken, J., and Ickert-Bond, S.  2014. Natural History Collections as Emerging Resources for Innovative Education.  BioScience (August 2014) 64 (8): 725-734 doi:10.1093/biosci/biu096

Cox, M. K., R. Heintz, and K. J. Hartman.  2010. Measurements of resistance and reactance in fish with the use of bioelectrical impedance analysis: sources of error. Fish Bull. 109:34-47.

Cox, M. Keith., and R. A. Heintz.  2009.  Electrical phase angle as a new method to measure fish condition.  Fishery Bulletin.  107:477-487.

Heintz, R. and M.K. Cox.  2008.  Seasonal Growth and Energy Dynamics of Forage Fish in Nearshore Habitats of Prince William Sound, Alaska. North Pacific Research Board Chapter 3.

Cox, M.K. and K.J. Hartman. 2007. Testing brook trout bioenergetic models.  Transactions of the American Fisheries Society.  137: 357-363.

Mathias, D., Thode, A., Straley, J., and Folkert, K. (2009). “Relationship between sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) click structure and size derived from videocamera images of a depredating whale (sperm whale prey acquisition),” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 125, 3444-3453.

Mathias, D., Thode, A., Straley, J., Calambokidis, J., Schorr, G., and Folkert, K. (2011). Acoustic and diving behavior of sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) during natural and depredation foraging in the Gulf of Alaska, J. Acoust. Soc. Am. submitted.

Mesnick S, Taylor B, Archer F, Martien K, Escorza Treviño W, Hancock-Hanser B, Moreno P Medina S, Pease V, Robertson K, Straley J, Baird R, Calambokidis J, Schorr G, Wade P., Burkanov V, Lunsford C, Rendell L and Morin P. (2011) Sperm whale population structure in the eastern and central North Pacific inferred by the use of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), microsatellites and mitochondrial DNA. Molecular Ecology Resources, Special Issue: SNP Development in Non-model organisms, Vol 11, pages 278-298.

O’Connell, V., Straley, J.M., Liddle, J.B., Wild, L.A., Behnken, L., Falvey, D., Thode, A.M. (2015). Testing a passive deterrent on longlines to reduce sperm whale depredation in the Gulf of Alaska. ICES J. Mar. Sci. 72(5), 1667-1672. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsv014

Schakner, Z.A., Lunsford, C., Straley, J., Eguchi, T., and Mesnick, S.L. (2014). “Using models of social transmission to examine the spread of depredation behavior among sperm whales in the Gulf of Alaska.” Plos One. 9(10): 109079-109084.

Sorte CJB, Bracken MES (in review) Warming and Elevated CO2 Interact to Drive Rapid Shifts in Marine Primary Productivity. PLoS ONE.

Straley, J.M., O’Connell, V., Liddle, J.B., Thode, A.M., Wild, L.A., Behnken, L., Falvey, D., Lunsford, C. (2015). Southeast Alaska Sperm Whale Avoidance Project (SEASWAP): A successful collaboration among scientists and industry to study depredation in Alaskan waters. ICES J. Mar. Sci. 72(5), 1598-1609. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsv090

Straley, J.M., Andrews, R.D., Schorr, G.S., Thode, A.M., Calambokidis, J.A., Lunsford, C.R., Chenoweth, E.M., O’Connell, V.M. (final draft in review by co-authors) Local movements, habitat use, and long distance migrations across stock boundaries by satellite tagged sperm whales in the North Pacific.

Thode, A.M., Straley, J.M., O’Connell, V., Behnken, L., Falvey, D., Mathias. D.K., Wild, L.A., Calambokidis, J., Schorr, G.S., Andrews, R.D., Liddle, J.B., Lunsford, C. (2015). Cues, creaks, and decoys: using passive acoustic monitoring as a tool for studying sperm whale depredation. ICES J. Mar. Sci. 72(5), 1621-1637. doi: 10.1093/icesjms/fsv024

Thode, A., Skinner, J., Scott, P., Roswell, J., Straley, J., and Folkert, K. (2010b). “Tracking sperm whales with a towed acoustic vector sensor,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 128, 2681- 2694.

Thode, A., Straley, J., Tiemann, C. O., Folkert, K., and O’Connell, V. (2007a). “Observations of potential acoustic cues that attract sperm whales to longline fishing in the Gulf of Alaska,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 122, 1265-1277.

Tiemann, C. O., Thode, A. M., Straley, J., O’Connell, V., and Folkert, K. (2006). “Three-dimensional localization of sperm whales using a single hydrophone,” J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 120, 2355-2365.

Vlietstra, L.S., K.L. Mrakovcich, V.C. Futch, and, B.S. Stutzman. In Press. Anthropogenic climate change in marine and environmental science programs in the United States. Journal of College Science Teaching.

Vlietstra, L., L. Bell, and J. Condon. 2015. Kelp, climate, and more in Sitka Sound. U.S. Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association Bulletin 84:44-47.

Witteveen et al. 2011. Using movements, genetics and trophic ecology to differentiate inshore from offshore aggregations of humpback whales in the Gulf of Alaska. Endang Species Res 14: 217–225.

Through our field station as well as the SSSC Aquarium and Hatchery, we have many opportunities for students. Our Education homepage details our educational programs.


Undergraduate students who’d like to work for us can contact  at, for information about our employment opportunities, such as science communications or aquarium internships. Please keep in mind that a majority of position openings are seasonal and may not be posted on our website.

We offer fisheries internships in our Hatchery for college credit through the University of Alaska Southeast and Bellingham Technical College. We’re in the process of creating similar programs with other institutions. If your institution is interested in giving students fisheries internship opportunities at SSSC, please contact Matt Barr at

For Sitka high school students, we have available summer interpreter positions. Please contact Ashley for more info. We also offer summer camps for students of all ages from primary school through high school. During the academic year, you can get to know our aquarium, hatchery, and scientists through a work study position that gives you credit at your school. Please get in touch with Janet Clarke, our Education Manager,, to learn more about our work study positions and summer camps.

The SSSC Field Station & Facilities are available for your meeting, workshop, or conference.

We’re proud to have hosted the Organization of Biological Field Station 2016 Annual Meeting at our field station Sept 22 – 25, 2016. For more information on this meeting, please visit the event website.


Our facilities as well as those of our partners at the Historic Sheldon Jackson Campus provide a beautiful setting that includes all the details important to making your event a success – cafeteria food service, lodging in dormitories or efficiency studio apartments, beautiful historic buildings, halls, classrooms, a chapel.  Off campus, hotels, apartments, and lodges are available as well and described in the Info table on the Menu above.


We also host an annual event celebrating the marine environment – Sitka Whalefest.  Last year’s meeting hosted record numbers of locals and visiting whale enthusiasts from around Alaska and the country.

In addition to Sitka Whalefest, we have hosted the following meetings and conferences:

Archipelago Marine Research Electronic Monitoring Training
Alaska Marine Safety Education Association
Ecotrust Meeting of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries
Sitka Fish and Game Advisory Committee

Downtown Sitka

Getting Here

Southeast Alaska is exclusively serviced by Alaska Airlines, which offers daily flights between Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Sitka Rocky Gutierrez Airport, with an average roundtrip airfare of $450-$650.

Sitka is also on the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System which connects Sitka to Alaska towns such as Juneau, and Ketchikan, as well as with Washington state. Please check their schedules as ferries do not arrive every day. Alaska Marine Highway Website

Once you arrive in Sitka, you’ll need to take a taxi the two miles to downtown or the Historic Sheldon Jackson campus.  Estimated cost is around $10.  Below are a few local companies:

Hank’s Cabs (907) 747-8888                                                Baranof Taxi (907) 738-4722

Cummins Taxi (907) 738-3079                                            Sitka Cab (907) 738-5002



Sitka has accommodations from basic to boutique.  If you’re looking for basic, we recommend the Historic Sheldon Jackson dormitories.  If you’re attending OBFS 2016 in Sitka, please visit this page for information specific to your conference regarding housing.

Historic Sheldon Jackson Campus

Dormitory Housing (through the Sitka Fine Arts Campus)

$35/night – shared room; $70/night – private room

Dorm rooms are basic and have two twin beds.  Bed linens and one towel are provided. Please bring any toiletries and extras like washcloths. All options in the dormitories are with shared bathrooms. Laundry services are available in the dormitory.  Bring quarters.  The cost if $5.00 per load which includes washing and drying. Housing Assignments will be made on a first come first serve basis.

The Historic Sheldon Jackson Campus is a tobacco free campus. Tobacco of any kind is not permitted anywhere on the premises.  Campus is just across the street from SSSC.

SSSC rents a studio apartment on campus, which you can read about here.

Other lodging options

Westmark Sitka Hotel 10 minute walk from SSSC

Fly In Fish Inn 20 minute walk from SSSC

Totem Square Inn 15 minute walk from SSSC

Sitka Fine Arts Suite on the Historic Sheldon Jackson campus (907) 747-3085

Fairweather Vacation Rentals

Downtown Franklin apartments  & Trierschield apartments through Sitka Travel – 15 minute walk from campus

Katlian Street Suites

There are several airbnb listings in Sitka as well.  Check out the “Charming, Bright, Downtown” listing.

Please also see The Sitka Convention & Visitors Bureau site for more information on what to do and where to stay in Sitka.

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Activities you can enjoy in your free time

Wildlife viewing boat charters

Esther G Sea Taxi (907)738-6481

Gallant Adventures (907) 738-2855 

Other local attractions

We recommend:  Hiking our local trails See the maps of Sitka and our trails below.

Charter Fishing:  Try out Wild Strawberry Lodge or Kingfisher Lodge for a charter fishing tour.

Visit our amazing locally owned bookstore Old Harbor Books at 201 Lincoln Street

St Michael’s Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox Church: Important collection of Russian Orthodox art and rare church treasures. Built in 1844-48, it was totally destroyed by fire in January of 1966.

Alaska Raptor Center

Sheldon Jackson Museum

Tour the Russian Bishops House by calling the Sitka National Historic Park Visitor’s Center (907) 747-0110.

Sea Kayaking with Sitka Sound Ocean Adventures


Local Restaurants, Cafes, and Grocery Stores

Highliner Cafe 327 Seward Street

Backdoor Cafe 104 Barracks Street

Larkspur Cafe 2 Lincoln Street

Bayview Pub & Restaurant  407 Lincoln Street

Ludvig’s Bistro 256 Katlian Street

Market Center 210 Baranof Street – a locally-owned small supermarket with a deli, produce, snack and lunch supplies, and more.

Sitka Weather

Always expect the unexpected! Our weather can be gorgeous and sunny one moment and then raining sideways the next. This is a hard place to predict the weather, so it’s best to always be prepared for anything.

NOAA National Weather Service Sitka Forecast

Sitka Trail Map