Daily Sitka Sentinel

Sitka Whale Biologist Receives State Honor

    Sitka whale biologist Jan Straley will be honored Saturday as the winner of the Marine Research Award for her more than 30 years of contributions to marine science.
    Straley is among five individuals and organizations who are being recognized by the Alaska SeaLife Center’s Alaska Ocean Leadership Committee for “significant contributions to awareness and sustainability of the state’s marine resources.”
     About 600 people are expected to attend the SeaLife Center’s third annual Alaska Marine Gala in Anchorage, where Straley and the other award recipients will be honored.
     Straley has studied the behavior and population dynamics of large whales in the North Pacific for more than 30 years. Her early research on humpbacks has provided insight on why some whales linger in the colder waters of the North Pacific during the fall and winter, when most whales migrate to the warmer climates of Mexico and Hawaii.
    Her research today involves interactions among large whales and human activities, primarily with fisheries. She is currently an associate professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, Sitka Campus, and an affiliate faculty of the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences.
    Straley said she was surprised and honored by the award.
    Lisa Busch, executive director of the Sitka Sound Science Center, said the award is well-deserved.
    “Jan is just one of those gems of a resource for the state of Alaska,” Busch said. “She’s done so much to further marine mammal research in the Gulf of Alaska and to improve our knowledge of marine mammals – not just of humpback whales, but other marine mammals. The thing that makes her so special is she works hard at mentoring young people to try out careers in science and to encourage them to go into science, which is really needed in our state.”
    Busch pointed to the problem of the “graying” of the science community in Alaska, and the push currently for young Alaska Natives, and rural coastal residents to enter the science fields to contribute their unique perspective. Busch said many in Sitka overlook Straley’s prominence or don’t realize her contributions, locally, statewide and nationally.
    “Jan is known all over Alaska and all over the country,” Busch said. “As founder and science director of the Sitka Whalefest, she’s created something so special and unique. ... We’re really lucky to have her.”
    The honorees are selected by the Alaska Ocean Leadership Committee.
    “The Alaska Ocean Leadership Awards provide an opportunity to recognize outstanding contributions to the sustainability of Alaska’s greatest resource—her oceans,” said Tara Riemer Jones, ASLC president and CEO, in the news release.
      Other recipients this year are the North Pacific Management Council, Ocean Stewardship and Sustainability award; Kurt Byers of Alaska Sea Grant, Ocean Stewardship Award; Deborah Mercy, Ocean Media Award; and the late Gov. Walter Hickel and Ermalee Hickel Lifetime Achievement Award.
    Nominations for the 2013 awards will be advertised in December this year.
    The Alaska SeaLife Center is a private non-profit research institution and visitor attraction in Seward which generates and shares scientific knowledge to promote understanding and stewardship of Alaska’s marine ecosystems.

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