How exactly do you go about preventing a 40 ft., 500-ton creature from stealing salmon from longline fishermen or swooping up fish fry that a hatchery is releasing? These are serious questions, currently without solutions, that impact the livelihood of Alaskan fishermen, including those from the Tlingit Nation – an indigenous group residing in Southeast Alaska and parts of the Pacific Northwest.
Northeast Ohio Medical University researcher Hans Thewissen, Ph.D., the Brown-Ingalls Endowed Chair of Anatomy and Neurobiology, spent the month of March in Alaska, through a Scientist in Residency fellowship at the Sitka Sound Science Center (SSSC). With colleagues at the University of Alaska Southeast, Dr. Thewissen furthered an understanding of the whales that inhabit these waters: sperm whales, humpback whales, and killer whales, as well as the bowhead and beluga whales that he studies in northern Alaska. Dr. Thewissen’s research on whale hearing, vision and smell could inspire means of convincing the whales to forage in places where there is no competition with humans.
While in Alaska, Dr. Thewissen presented his research as part of the SSSC’s Natural History Seminar Series; provided an interactive anatomy lesson for high school classes; and conducted two radio interviews for Raven Radio (call letters KCAW), the local NPR affiliate station.
As a guest on the Sitka Nature Show, Dr. Thewissen shared his perspective on the unique ways whales use their senses to communicate and to navigate their surroundings. He also discussed his work on fossil whales, notably, his discovery of the missing link – fossils that showed that whales were once land mammals.