Lars Bejder joins HIMB as director of marine mammal research

Lars Bejder recently joined the Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB) as the director of the Marine Mammal Research Program (MMRP).

For nearly two decades Bejder’s research has focused on cetaceans, that is, whales, dolphins and porpoises. Specifically, his interests are in analyzing and developing methods to evaluate complex animal social structures; evaluating impacts of human activity such as coastal development, tourism, and habitat degradation on cetaceans; and ecology, including assessing abundance and habitat use of marine wildlife. He has worked closely with wildlife management agencies to integrate research findings into conservation and management strategies.

Bejder comes to HIMB from Murdoch University (Australia) where he was a professor and the research leader of the Cetacean Research Unit. Attracting him to Hawai‘i is the strong and long history of marine mammal research at HIMB.

“MMRP’s well-respected foundation provides the ideal basis for the development of a more diverse marine mammal research program,” said Bejder. “HIMB’s unique location, facilities and infrastructure, as well as the accessibility to a diverse range of marine mammal species in Hawaiian waters provides a unique opportunity for local, regional and international cetacean research projects. I envision building a research team of core scientists of higher-degree, research students and postdoctoral fellows; and partnerships with other HIMB faculty, national and international collaborators, state and federal management agencies, and non-governmental organizations.”

Historically, the Marine Mammal Research Program at HIMB has been heavily acoustics-oriented, investigating the functions and capabilities of the hearing and bio-sonar of marine mammals. The program will​ maintain its strong acoustics reputation of marine mammal research at HIMB, but with Bejder as director, the ​main ​focus will shift.

The program’s emphasis will include broader research themes, many of which support conservation and management objectives. Their studies will seek to identify the specific effects of human activities on cetaceans, and the development of appropriate mitigation and management strategies. Research on cetacean population dynamics and behavior will involve efforts to estimate animal abundance at local and regional scales, assess changes in abundance over time and geographically, and assess population connectivity. Analyses of ecosystem interactions will identify prey species and assess the structure of the food webs and fish assemblages to which they are linked.

Bejder’s research will include the use of innovative technology (non-invasive suction cup tagging and unmanned aerial vehicles; drones) to quantify fine‐scale habitat use, movements, communication, calf suckling rates and body condition of marine mammals.

“I am finding it exciting and also humbling to move the MMRP into its next phase,” Bejder said.

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For the latest on Bejder’s research, follow him on Twitter: @lbejder.