Dr. Lei Lani Stelle has researched Steller sea lions, the ecological interactions between gray whales and mysids (swarming zooplankton), and river otters. For Earthwatch, she's in Southern California researching whale and dolphin populations.
How does your research help marine mammals?
“The key issue of human disturbance is where our research comes in,” Dr. Stelle wrote on www.sportdiver.co.uk. “With the help of Earthwatch volunteers we are monitoring disturbance to grey whales in Southern California through observations of their behaviour and dive physiology. Each individual whale has a steady breathing pattern and natural swimming behaviour that can be significantly altered when under stress. A stressed whale displaying avoidance behaviour might abruptly change swimming direction or speed to evade an approaching boat. If a whale becomes crowded or stressed and has to switch from feeding or resting in order to swim away from a boat, it loses the time it would normally spend in those behaviours and can cost the animal valuable energy.”
“Of all the fascinating creatures that inhabit the world ocean, perhaps none are as enchanting as whales,” Dr. Stelle wrote. “These magnificent megafauna have captivated our imaginations for thousands of years, beloved throughout the world for their intelligence and gentle grace. Along the western coast of the United States we are especially fortunate to have several species roaming our waters; from gigantic blue whales and charismatic humpbacks to cunning killer whales.”