Podcast: Meet BLM Alaska's Marine Mammal Expert

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BLM works hard on its permits and environmental impact statements, trying to make sure all the science that's needed is included. If the plans or permits are in the Arctic, the polar bear can be a large part of that science, and that means BLM Alaska biologist Craig Perham will be busy.

So how long has Perham been studying the white giants of the ice? 

“Probably been involved with polar bears probably almost 20 years in one form or another,” Perham reflected.


Man holding paw of sedated polar bear
Wildlife biologist Craig Perham examines a paw of a sedated polar bear on the Chukchi Sea in April 2009. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo.

Some would argue biology isn't a career as much as a calling for Craig. He was drawn to it from an early age.

“Well, I grew up in Alaska,” Perham explained, “and like most kids in Alaska, I just had interest in the outdoors. And it just kind of led to a, you know, led to a career field that I thought I could be in the outdoors and work in the outdoors. And I've been lucky it has.”

Biologists often become specialized by experience. With Craig, his experience with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and later the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, had him working with bears and marine mammals. But why was Craig so interested in studying these Arctic predators when there are so many other critters? 

“Marine mammals and polar bears are an important piece to a lot of people up on the North Slope,” Perham expanded, “So trying to help facilitate solutions to maintain populations and help conserve those animals is kind of an intriguing piece, I guess, for me now.”

Like most biologists, Perham's work is part of a much larger effort. It goes beyond what you see on nature shows and biology program recruitment videos. He's working for a long-term goal that will help generations of Alaskans. 

Polar bear track next to human hand print in snow
Polar bear track with a human handprint for size comparison on the Chukchi Sea, April 2008. U.S. Fish and Wildlife photo.

“It's not so much going out and collaring bears or tagging seals,” Perham said. “It's more of facilitating and trying to maintain activities that all of us humans need and want, as well as trying to conserve these animals for future generations.”

Every goal has its challenges, especially when working on issues in the Arctic. So what's the most challenging aspect of Perham's work?

“Trying to find that medium,” Perham emphasized. “Trying to find that meeting between humans and animals. You know, in the conservation of those animals you still have people on the landscape. It's pretty challenging. And sometimes those solutions aren't very visible. You have to work at them.” 


Man looking into a polar bear den
Wildlife biologist Craig Perham looks into a polar bear excavation on Howe Island on the Beaufort Sea coast March 2011. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo.

BLM Alaska is always busy in the Arctic and Craig certainly has job security. What's he going to be looking forward to next? 

“I guess once this pandemic is over, getting back into the field,” Perham beamed, “and creating this new marine mammal program for BLM. That's what I'm looking forward to.”


Man working on sedated polar bear
Wildlife biologist Craig Perham processes a sedated polar bear for study on the Chukchi Sea, April 2016. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo.

That concludes this Frontier's podcast. Make sure to check out the BLM Alaska Facebook page and stay up to date on everything permitting environmental work and balances and more. Frontier's podcast as a production of the BLM Alaska Office of Communications.

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James Hart, Public Affairs Specialist

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