The Behavioral REsearch And eCosystem Health lab

at the University of Alaska Southeast &

the College of Fisheries & Ocean Sciences, University of Alaska Fairbanks



The overall aim of this lab is to understand the behavior and ecology of marine mammals, and their role in maintaining healthy ecosystems. A wide network of collaborators, undergraduates, and graduate students are involved in projects related to this theme. Click on the links to the right to learn more about current research and students. 

If you are a prospective student, please read through the project descriptions on this website. Also review the admission requirements to the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences: I do not currently have funding to support additional students. However, highly talented students may be able to obtain their own funding so please contact me if you are interested.




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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Following the large pod


  Large Pod
Photo Album

Uploaded: Tue Jun 24 01:32:36 2014
by Heidi Pearson


Yesterday, we were met with a wonderful surprise in the morning. The large dusky dolphin pod was nearby! The large pod had been very far south for the past few days, and too far for us to reach. However, yesterday morning they were well within reach and just a 15 min ride from the harbor. The seas were also fairly calm, so we were all very happy.

The pod was very spread out at first. There were 200-300 or so dolphins spread over about 1 kilometer. This made it difficult to try to collect data because it was hard to decipher behaviors in such a large, diffuse group. They were also traveling quickly. We stuck with them, though, and watched them for awhile before we started our observation period. We noticed that they were traveling as a unit in an overall meandering pattern. Our GPS tracks later showed that they were moving in one large circle throughout the couple of hours that we observed them. This is typical behavior during the day. Dusky dolphins feed offshore at night, and during the day they come nearshore and meander around. This is when they rest, socialize, recover from the night's activity, and get ready for the next feast.

The pod gradually started to come together and tighten up. Some individuals on the outskirts left the group. This made it easier for us to observe them, so we started our one-hour focal follow observation. There were about 150 individuals in this pod, including many mom-calf pairs. We collected some good information on mom-calf behaviors. We also got many photo-id shots of distinctive dorsal fin photos. For me, the most exciting part was when we got a photo showing a female with a distinctively marked fin, and her calf, in the same frame. This is definitive evidence of a recognizable individual being not only a female, but a mother. There are important data for the long-term study on dusky dolphins in New Zealand. We have photographic records dating back to 1984, so by matching up distinctive fins over the years, we can unravel many aspects of dusky dolphins' lives. Lifespans, friendships, and reproductive rates are just a few of the things we can learn from this long-term photo-id project.


Dusky dolphin photos taken under Marine Mammal Research Permit from the New Zealand Department of Conservation issued to Heidi Pearson. Do not duplicate.

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