University of Alaska Southeast assistant professor Heidi Pearson will present her research on the behavior of humpback whales and dolphins today during two Fireside Lectures at Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. Talks occur at 6:30 p.m. and repeat at 8 p.m.
Pearson will describe how the sea’s rich food resources and the animals’ large brains, high intelligence, and social behavior contribute to the success of whales and dolphins in Juneau and throughout the Pacific.
“Humpback whales are an excellent study species,” Pearson said, “because they are one of the most social of the baleen whales and their populations are increasing in many areas of the world, including Juneau.” Juneau’s humpback whales are part of a larger population that is growing at a rate of nearly seven percent per year. There are an estimated 1,800 humpbacks in the northern part of Southeast Alaska.
A primary focus of Pearson’s research is to better understand how whales and dolphins solve ecological problems such as finding food, and social problems such as with whom to associate. She has been studying humpback whales in the Pacific and Atlantic since 2008.
“My on-going work is focused on understanding how humpbacks work together during feeding,” adds Pearson, “and how their feeding strategies change according to prey availability.”
Humpbacks migrate to Southeast Alaskan waters during the summer to take advantage of high abundance of fish, mostly herring, pilchard and salmon. To effectively corral these fish, humpbacks use a variety of foraging strategies such as deep feeding, lunge-feeding and bubble-net feeding.
Since 2004 Pearson has been studying another marine mammal, the dusky dolphin, in the waters off New Zealand. Her research on these social toothed dolphins is supported by the National Geographic/Waitt Grants Program with a goal of understanding the life of a dolphin from its perspective.
Fireside Lectures are free and open to the public. Doors open at 6 pm. Presentations are at 6:30 pm with a repeat at 8 pm. Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is managed by the US Forest Service. For more information call 789-0097.