Moving to Alaska nearly 40 years ago was a gamble for Jan and John Straley. They arrived with undergraduate degrees in fisheries and creative writing, respectively. Being young and naïve, having moved to a place with boundless chances to follow paths of opportunity was sheer luck. Jan literally fell into marine mammal research and with huge support from John has developed a program researching the behaviour and population dynamics of large whales, which now includes interactions with fisheries. Jan is a Professor of Marine Biology at the Sitka campus of the University of Alaska Southeast and has received broad recognition for her research and efforts in science education with a focus on mentoring young women in science. John has written and published books of poetry, mystery and essays. Together they recently published a book of essays about Ed Ricketts and how place shapes life. Living in a place where you can study whales at your doorstep and where the landscape is a character in every novel has helped immensely in their success. Balancing life and work has not been easy but following a passion is a family trait, captured by their son now a standup comic. For Jan a diagnoses of Parkinson’s 8 years ago, has added additional challenges but with the support of family, friends and community she has worked (slowly) towards new adventures and accomplishments in her career.
Dr. Michael Castellini earned his PhD from Scripps Institution of Oceanography in 1981 and has been a faculty member at the University of Alaska Fairbanks since 1989. He was the founding Science Director for the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, the Director of the Institute of Marine Science, Associate Dean and then Dean for the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. He is now the Interim Dean for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Graduate School. Dr. Castellini’s research focuses on how marine mammals have adapted to life in the sea. Ever since his graduate work in San Diego, he has studied marine mammals around the world examining their biochemical, physiological and behavioral adaptations for deep and long duration diving, extended fasting, exercise physiology, hydrodynamics and even sleeping patterns. In Alaska, his work has extended into issues of population health (Why are marine mammal populations declining in some areas?), contaminant chemistry, reproductive chemistry and digestive physiology. Mike’s graduate students have worked from Alaska to Antarctica on these issues. He has written over 100 scientific papers on his work and is involved in local, state and national panels and committees dealing with policy issues related to marine mammals, ecosystem management and agency oversights. Mike is an integral member of the Sitka WhaleFest team that develops the program for the science symposium each year and discuss the overall theme. Together they are responsible for inviting the speakers for the Scientist in the Schools program and the weekend symposium. This collaboration between the University of Alaska campuses has helped forge and strengthen the connections among Alaskan marine scientists. His favorite location in Alaska is on the Forrester Island complex, about 70 miles southwest offshore of Ketchikan and as far south in the Alaska panhandle as you can get…the islands are covered in Steller sea lions, birds, berries and fortunately, no bears. Wonderful weeks have been spent there working on sea lions and exploring elfin-like old-growth forest…just amazing.