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Sitka scientist wins ocean leadership award

Jan Straley, center, is receiving an Ocean Leadership Award from the Alaska SeaLife Center. She's pictured here with research technicians Jennifer Cedarleaf, left, and Lauren Wild, right. (KCAW photo/Ed Ronco)

A scientist in Sitka will be honored for her work tonight in Anchorage. Jan Straley will receive an Ocean Leadership Award from the Alaska SeaLife Center. The honor is given out annually to people who have made “significant contributions to awareness and sustainability of the state’s marine resources.”

Straley is an associate professor at the University of Alaska Southeast and is being honored for her research. She’s spent the last 30 years studying behavior and populations of large whales in the North Pacific. Her current research is a collaborative effort between scientists, the government and fishermen. They’re finding ways to discourage sperm whales from picking food off of fishing gear.

Straley also serves as science director for the Sitka WhaleFest. Lily Herwald is WhaleFest’s executive director. She says Straley has been a leader in her field through her research, but also through her mentoring of other scientists, and her ability to communicate science to general audiences.

“Many people hear the word science, and they think it’s some mysterious, deep subject that they might not know about,” Herwald said. “Jan has dedicated much of her time and effort toward helping make science accessible to everyone, and to link how important the research is to our everyday lives. She’s an amazing advocate for science outreach, making it accessible to everyone.”

Straley says the award is, of course, an honor, but one that she shares.

“It feels nice, but it’s not just me, right now,” Straley said. “I’m working with a team of people, so it really is an award for everybody. Especially in terms of Whalefest. I didn’t come to that all on my own.”

The Alaska Ocean Leadership awards will be given out tonight at the Dena’ina Center in Anchorage.

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