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Food Web Virtual Field Trip

A Tour of the Northern Gulf of Alaska’s Food Web

Imagine yourself on a 260-foot research ship.

You are headed more than 100 miles offshore from the coast of Alaska.  Your goal is to investigate how living things – from the tiniest phytoplankton to giant sperm whales – survive and interact in the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA). 

The Gulf of Alaska is a dynamic place.  It changes day to day, season to season, and year to year!  

Learn more about seasonal cycles & variability in the Northern Gulf of Alaska.

Try Your Luck

This type of variability means that sometimes it is easy for organisms to find food (or make food if they photosynthesize!) and sometimes it is really difficult for them. How about you? Could you survive as a diatom, copepod, or crystal jelly?

Try out your skills with this video game!

How was life as an organism in the Northern Gulf of Alaska? This video game is a very simplified model of the real ecosystem. 

What other challenges do you think these organisms would have to face in real life? Take 2 minutes to write down or draw some of the challenges that you think a diatom, copepod, or crystal jelly might encounter in the NGA.

Diversity of Ocean Life

Life can be tough in the NGA, but despite all of these challenges, a large variety of really amazing organisms are able to exist successfully.

Humpback whales, sea lions, storm petrels, lion’s mane jellies, and krill are just a few examples of the cool animals that call this place home. 

Visit our gallery of illustrations to learn more about some of the fascinating organisms that inhabit the Northern Gulf of Alaska

humpback whale
Humpback Whale [Credit: Megan Rene Nolte]

 Food Web

Many of the organisms that live here are animals that humans harvest for food, like shrimp, crab, halibut, pollock, cod, and salmon. All these organisms (including people) are connected in a food web. Energy and matter flow through this food web, from photosynthesizing plankton to larger animals like marine mammals, fish, seabirds, and even people. Let’s dive in to explore a part of the food web in the Northern Gulf of Alaska.

Check out this video:

The food web of the northern Gulf of Alaska is really interesting, and it is also really biologically productive.  This means that a HUGE number of organisms live and grow here each year.

But if the environment can be so variable in the northern Gulf of Alaska, how can it also be so biologically productive? 

What do you think?  How is it possible that so much life can survive in the unpredictable conditions of the northern Gulf of Alaska?

Researchers with the Northern Gulf of Alaska (NGA) Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) team are working hard to answer this question.

nga food web schematic
Food Web model for the Northern Gulf of Alaska

Your Turn:

Share Your Own Question

Share your questions about the NGA LTER with us and the science team will respond via e-mail. 

And check back here to see if your question is featured in the future!  

Share Your Own Food Web

Now that you’ve learned about food webs in the northern Gulf of Alaska, think about the ecosystems where you live.  Use drawings, words, photos, or even sculpture to create your own model of a food web from a local ecosystem.  We’d love to see what you come up with.  You can e-mail an image of your food web model to projectmanager.ngalter@gmail.com

Each year, we’ll randomly select a submission and the person who created that food web model will get an NGA LTER t-shirt, mug, or poster!