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A Renewed Sense of Porpoise - An Interview with Jonathan Stern


by Claire Watry, Terra Linda HS
Harbor porpoises have returned to the San Francisco Bay after a 65-year absence. What does their return mean for the other animals of the bay? Why did they leave? Why might they have returned? This week's Marin Science Seminar speaker Jonathan Stern will address these questions and provide insight into the world of local harbor porpoises. The video below is a tribute to the harbor porpoise's return to the bay by the National Wildlife Federation California.




Fast Fasts about the Harbor Porpoise from the National Geographic Society:

Terra Linda High School graduate Jonathan Stern is a lecturer and adjunct professor in the Biology Department at San Francisco State University. He has studied minke whales since 1980 and currently serves as a Co-Principal Investigator at Golden Gate Cetacean Research, where he studies harbor porpoises, bottlenose dolphins, and minke whales locally in the San Francisco Bay. He has also studied an assortment of whales including gray whales, killerwhales, fin whales, humpback whales, and pilot whales. He was the first volunteer at the Marine Mammal Center when it opened in 1975.

How did you decide to study marine life?

My father was a ship captain, who traveled all over the world. When he would come home, he would bring me seashells from the places he traveled. I also watched Sea Hunt and Jacques Cousteau when I was a child and was fascinated by the sea.
From left: Lloyd Bridges stars in Sea Hunt, Seashell collection, Explorer Jacque Cousteau
How do you conduct your research?
This varies depending on what specifically I am studying. I do my observations from the shore and a boat. I also spend a considerable amount of time doing data analysis. I sit with my computer and books about statistical analysis and modeling.



Harbor Porpoise sighting near the Golden Gate Bridge

What is the most difficult aspect of your work?
My works is not difficult; it is challenging physically (being out on the water in a small boat on the open ocean takes its toll over the years) and the data analysis and the writing of papers take time to get things right. The challenge is fun!

What is one of the most surprising or exciting thing you have discovered about porpoises?
We have seen porpoises mating. This sounds like it is not a big deal, but given that these porpoises are among the most commonly seen marine mammal, we are the first to see them mating. The real surprise though is that we can do most of our observations from the Golden Gate Bridge.



What advice do you have for aspiring young scientists?
Prepare yourself! Prepare yourself by taking as many math and science classes as possible. Prepare yourself by learning to keep your focus, but keep your eye on other branches of science. Prepare yourself by learning to ask questions. that is the most important part of science, asking questions. Do not be afraid of the challenge. Prepare to study, work, and have fun. Science is a process.




Report your porpoise sightings! Golden Gate Cetacean Research's page for Porpoise, Dolphins & Whale sightings in SF Bay & the NorCal coast. http://www.ggcetacean.org/Contact_Us.html




To learn more about the return of the harbor porpoise and its ecological implications, attend the Marin Science Seminar presentation San Francisco Bay Has a Renewed Sense of Porpoise" with Jonathan Stern Ph.D. of San Francisco State University, January 29, 2014, 7:30 – 8:30 pm, Terra Linda High School, San Rafael, Room 207. See the flyer here

Want more information? Check out the websites below.
National Wildlife Federation California 
Golden Gate Cetacean Research
National Geographic
NPR 
SF Gate Article

~Claire Watry
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