Southern California supports a rich community of marine mammals yet is also home to the busiest port in the United States, Los Angeles Harbor. Whale, dolphin, and pinniped (seal and sea lion) species who migrate or live in the area year-round are in direct contact with a range of potential human impacts, including major shipping lanes, commercial and recreational whale watching boats, oil rigs, and pollution (noise, chemical, and solid waste). This project examines some of these effects by conducting boat transects along the coast and between the mainland and Catalina island, along with shore observations to monitor the marine mammal species. Individuals are identified to investigate population trends physiological data is recorded to examine their energetics (e.g. are their swim speeds or respiration patterns different from previous years?), and sightings are mapped to assess relationships with human activity and oceanographic variables The research team will assess if whale watching activities are a disturbance (e.g. do animals change their swim path, respiration rates, or activity in the presence of boat traffic?). They are also using photographs to look for direct evidence of whale injuries to estimate the percent of whales that have survived vessel collisions or entanglements with fishing gear.
Meet the Scientists
Dr. Lei Lani Stelle
University of Redlands;
Coastal Ecosystems Research Foundation
Dr. Lei Lani Stelle is Associate Professor of Biology in the Department of Biology at the University of Redlands. Prior to this, she had spent six years as an Assistant Professor at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York. Her research interests are the physiological ecology of aquatic mammals. Lei Lani is Vice-President of a non-profit research group, Coastal Ecosystems Research Foundation. She grew up in Huntington Beach and has been studying marine mammals for 20 years.