About the extreme scientist Dr. Ari Friedlaender

Humpback Whale Photo: Frank Grebstad

Humpback Whale Photo: Frank Grebstad

Dr. Ari Friedlaender of Oregon State University and his colleague from Duke University will conduct a long-term ecological study on the foraging behavior of humpback whales around the Antarctic Peninsula. 

We asked him why he decided to become a scientist and he told us that it is really the pursuit of knowledge and desire to understand how the natural world work. He is specifically interested in how animals interact with their environment and how human activities impact animals in different ways. 

His research is based on the high energy demand of humpback whales during foraging due to their enormous size. This high demand of energy during foraging can only be met by foraging in areas where their prey are present in large numbers. As a result, humpback whales distribute themselves and move between areas of high prey abundance throughout the Antarctic feeding season. 

He emphasizes that the reason he chose to become a researcher on the Antarctic ecosystem is its uniqueness of animals who have adapted for life in an extreme, yet fragile environment. He is curious on how the animals manage to not only survive but thrive in this system.  As well, learning how animals forage and ‘make a living’ in this environment makes for interesting comparisons with different ocean ecosystems around the world.

The goal of his research is to determine how critical foraging areas relate to historic catches of krill in the region. By deploying satellite-linked time depth recording tags on whales throughout the Antarctic feeding season, the scientists aim to quantify if, when, where, and to what extent commercial fishing effort and humpback whale feeding co-occur. This information is important for managing fishing while also providing useful information on the biology and ecology of these top predators in a changing environment.

Finally, we challenged him to explain the research project in five sentences: 

"We are using information from satellite tags deployed on minke and humpback whales to better understand how their behavior and movement patterns relate to different features of the Antarctic marine ecosystem.  As krill predators with large energetic requirements, we want to understand how the places that are critical feeding areas for these whales overlaps with areas of commercial krill harvest.  If we can better understand the needs of the whales and the areas that are critical for their successful foraging, we can work to minimize the potential for any competition with the krill fishery operating today and well as into the future."