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Pierre woman making waves in marine biology research

todayJuly 9, 2024 3

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SAN FRANCISCO, C.A. (KELO) — The closest ocean to South Dakota is over 1,000 miles away, but that didn’t stop a Pierre native from pursuing a degree in marine biology.

Josie Slaathaug has been interested in marine biology since the start of high school.


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“I never looked back. I went for four years and then got my bachelor’s of Science in Marine Biology,” studying gray whales, Josie Slaathaug said.

Now, she is doing research in the San Francisco Bay area that no one has done there before– Gray Whale photo ID-ing.

“How many whales do we have here total? How long do the whales stay here? Where else do the whales go? All of those questions can be answered through a really noninvasive research technique, which is just taking photographs of them and comparing those photographs to understand if you have the same individual or different individual over time,” Josie said.

The Dakota Scout ownership group named

Josie has looked at close to 17,000 photos of gray whales dating back to 2018, looking for the different markings the whales have. While she is off in California pursuing her dream, her family is cheering her on from South Dakota.

“We’re just super proud of her. We’re kind of busting at the seams. She’s really doing what she wants to do,” Josie’s mom, Missy Slaathaug said.

While her dream took her over a thousand miles away from home, she’s reminded of South Dakota at every corner.

“And we would talk about how the prairie does remind a person of the sea and that you have those rolling slightly rolling hills and the wind and the tall grasses and all that wide open space,” Missy said.

“Every time I get the chance, I’m telling everybody that I know where I get my skills and my determination and my persistence is my upbringing on a ranch, in a farm in South Dakota,” Josie said.

Josie plans on earning her master’s of biology in whale research over the next 2 years, and then she’ll start working on her PhD.

Written by: The Dam Rock Station

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