Publication Date

Summer 2019

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Bruce A. Schulte (Director), Steve Huskey, Phil Lienesch, and Anthony Paquin

Degree Program

Department of Biology

Degree Type

Master of Science


Marine mammals are in a precarious conservation position because of anthropogenic impacts and historic perceptions that they are a consumable commodity. In light of changing abiotic conditions, further evaluation is needed on the habitat use, behavior, and interactions among marine mammals. Conservation legislation has helped protect species, but the greatest ground swelling may be the advent of the commercial whale watching industry. The feeding grounds in Alaskan waters have made this area a prime tourism location, and these nutrient-rich waters have resulted in a confluence of marine mammal species, including the appealing and abundant humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) that may associate with three ecotypes of killer whales (Orcinus orca). These species are interesting because they may travel together to feed on prey or be adversaries in a predator-prey relationship. Using whale watching as a platform, this study evaluated the effects of the presence of these two species separately and together, and of the type of interaction between them, on human perception. Data were collected via opportunistic observations and a retrospective pre- and post-survey instrument. Differences in humpback whale distribution and group size patterns were found relative to killer whale occurrence, although humpback whale behavioral states were unchanged. Changes in passenger conservation attitudes could not be attributed to species and behaviors but they were important determinates to whale watching satisfaction. Overall, more positive conservation attitudes and an increase in knowledge about marine mammals were reported after whale watching. These tours provide an opportunity for collecting meaningful scientific data and providing more in-depth education such as enhancing the appreciation for ecosystem services provided by marine mammals.


Behavior and Ethology | Biology | Zoology