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Sitka science fellow studies whale sounds

Alison Stimpert

Alison Stimpert

The Sitka Sound Science Center has a new fellow in town for its scientist-in-residency program. Alison Stimpert studies the sounds that animals make. It’s a field called bio-acoustics.

Her focus is on the sounds of humpback whales – a common whale in the area – and the effects of human sound on the marine mammal.

“I’m really interested in behavior and sound is so important to whales because they spend so much time underwater,” Stimpert said. “So it’s a nice way to figure out some things about how they’re behaving underwater when we can’t see them.”

Stimpert is interested in studying the sounds whales make when they feed. She has worked with whales for the last 15 years, but got interested in acoustics when she was in graduate school.

“If we’re lucky and the grey whales show up,” she said, “we might make some recordings of grey whale feeding and humpback feeding as well, and I am interested in the differences between the sounds the animals make here when they’re feeding, versus for example in the Atlantic or the Antarctic, they have slightly different acoustic repertoires, so it’ll be an interesting comparison.”

Stimpert will be here for a month, on a kind of mini-sabbatical, during which she will immerse herself in research, as well as community engagement and outreach.

She will be working with students at Sitka High School this week, where she and a scientific illustrator, Ron Holthuysen will explore the intersection between art and science. Holthuysen is the founder of the Scientific Art Studio in Richmond, Calif.

Holthuysen will be giving a free talk called “dead animals in alcohol” this week at the University of Alaska Southeast as a part of the natural history series. He’ll discuss his artistic process, from finding a specimen to the creation of a model. It’s at 7 p.m. on Wed. (3/27/2013) in room 229 at the Sitka campus.

The Scientist-in-Residency Fellowship program is funded by the National Science Foundation.



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