Picture of Heidi Pearson

Heidi Pearson

Phone: 907-796-6271 (office)
Email: hcpearson@uas.alaska.edu
Home: http://uashome.alaska.edu/~HCPEARSON
Office location: 205 C Anderson
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The Behavioral REsearch And eCosystem Health lab at the University of Alaska Southeast

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This lab is focused on understanding the behavior and ecology of marine mammals, and their role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Current projects include: examining the role that female social behavior played in the evolution of complex cognition and large brains in cetaceans and primates; assessing the effects of climate change and marine farming on dusky dolphins in New Zealand; and determining the effects of sea otter recolonization on kelp forests in Southeast Alaska.  As humans are also integral components of healthy ecosystems, I also study environmental behaviors in people, such as recycling and whale watching.

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Sunday, January 12, 2014

Close of a Successful Field Season

All members of the research team are back home now, and all in all, we had a successful field season. We were able to get a tag to stay attached to a dusky dolphin for 6 hours, which is much longer than we had hoped for during this initial, trial phase. No one has attached this type of suction-cup tag to dusky dolphins before, so we were very happy with our results. We will spend the next few months analyzing our data and making some modifications to our tag design. The next time we go to the field, we hope to get a tag to stay on throughout the night so we can track the feeding behavior of the dolphins. Below is a timeline of events which tracks the progression of our tag development.

 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Kaikoura marine animals and research tools

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Photo Album

Uploaded: Tue Dec 24 16:55:42 2013
by Heidi Pearson

These images are from our first 10 days in the field. They include (in no particular order) photos of our research vessels and our captain, Mike and his crayfish (kiwi for rock lobster); the little blue penguin Captain Mike rescued and released; albatross; shearwater; the film crew filming us on the large boat; Hector's dolphins; a New Zealand fur seal; our tag that we're attaching to the dusky dolphins; Kaikoura scenery; a lavendar farm; and of course dusky dolphins.

We had our first tag attachments on Dec. 23 and 24. It was very exciting to see our tag stick to a dolphin and see it descend to depth on the dolphin! This is the first time this has been done on a dusky dolphin. However, the tags aren't sticking for more than a minute or so, so we are refining our technique. We are currently attaching the tag to the deployment pole with electrical tape, and when the tag hits the dolphin, we jerk the pole back and the tape breaks. We are wondering if the tape is too strong and actually removing some of the suction on the cups. Our next trial will be to use velcro instead of tape.

 

Friday, December 20, 2013

First week in the field

Happy Summer Solstice! We’ve been in the field in Kaikoura for a week now and it’s been a productive first week. The research team consists of Mridula Srinivasan, whom I went to grad school with and is now working at NOAA in Washington, DC; Annelise Fischer, my undergraduate research assistant from UAS; and our captain, Mike Morrissey, from the New Zealand Department of Conservation.

Last Saturday, we were out with a French film crew that was filming a travel documentary called “Des trains pas comme les autres” (Trains like No Others).  The host of the program travels around different countries by train and meets the locals.  They came to Kaikoura to film the marine wildlife and we took them out on our research boat to show them what we do.  It will be interesting to see the final production, since all of our voices will be dubbed over in French! 

The following few days were spent preparing our tags for deployment, with the help of our colleagues Bree and Mark from University of Alaska Fairbanks. Our goal is to develop a short-term suction-cup tagging method for dusky dolphins so that we can track their movement and feeding patterns. This study is funded by NASA, so we’ll be using satellite photos of the ocean to measure plankton levels, and then determining how that relates to our dolphin feeding and movement patterns.  

No one has attached these types of tags to dusky dolphins before, so we are learning and refining our technique as we go. We are learning lots! The best time to try to tag them is when they are bow-riding close enough to the boat that we can stick our pole out and touch them. Yesterday was our first test run with the tags and while we got close to attaching them to the dolphins a few times, we have not yet been successful. Today also looked very promising, but the swell and winds quickly picked up so we came in early.

Photos to follow in a separate post!