Whales of Northern Alaska: How are they Faring? 1/7 @ 7PM

The newly formed Natural History Society of the Jefferson Land Trust (JLTNHS) is sponsoring a talk and slide show by veteran wildlife biologist Dave Rugh, on the status of bowhead, gray, and beluga whales in northern Alaskan waters. The presentation will take plance on January 7, at 7:00 pm in the Cotton Building, 607 Water Street, Port Townsend.

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Dave Rugh surveying Arctic whales.

Bowheads, gray whales, and belugas are considered to be the most common whales in marine waters surrounding northern Alaska, but just how many are there? Where do these whales feed and where do they migrate? How healthy are their populations, especially in the face of a changing Arctic?

Answering such questions about animals that live underwater in distant, icy seas has proven enormously challenging for scientists. Bowheads can live as long as 150-200 years and are wonderfully adapted for swimming in cold, ice-covered waters. Their huge reserves of fat and long baleen plates, prized by commercial whalers, nearly proved their undoing. Although indigenous people continue to hunt bowheads for subsistence, these whales are recovering from the huge losses of the past. Gray whales—once hunted almost to extinction—spend half the year making one of the lengthiest migrations for any mammal. Their coastal travels between summertime habitat in Alaska and wintering areas near Mexico’s Baja Peninsula (a round-trip distance of 10,000 miles or more) expose them to many threats. The graceful white belugas—nicknamed “sea canaries” for their high-pitched twitters—generally occur near sea ice, so what does a melting Arctic bode for them?

Dave Rugh, who served as researcher with NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Lab for 34 years, has contributed much to the current understanding of Alaska’s bowhead, gray, and beluga whales. In more than a hundred research projects conducted by land, sea, and air from the Arctic to California, Dave documented the distribution and abundances of these whales. Results from his surveys have been critical for assessing the health of their populations, particularly in regard to their status as threatened or endangered. Dave has published hundreds of scientific articles and documents, sharing his knowledge in many presentations to fellow scientists, students, and the general public. His work earned him more than 30 professional awards, including NOAA’s Distinguished Career Award.

This event is free and open to the public, but a $5 donation would be appreciated to help defray the costs.

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