Profs and Pints DC presents: “Life at Earth’s Poles,” a chance to become more familiar with whales, penguins, polar bears, and other denizens of our planet’s coldest climates, with Chris Parsons, whale and dolphin researcher and associate professor in the Centre for Ecology and Conservation at Exeter University.
At a time of year when many children eagerly await a visitor from the North Pole, Profs and Pints invites you to learn about both the northern and southern extremes of the earth from a marine mammal biologist who has spent time with their furry and flippered residents.
Chris Parsons, a marine mammal biologist with more than 30 years of field experience, is deeply familiar with the creatures that live as far north and south as humans can possibly venture. He has explored Antarctica and written a textbook on marine mammal biology and conservation, and he’s a member of the scientific committee of the International Whaling Commission. His past Profs and Pints talks have been spellbinding, with plenty of tales of encounters with animals big enough to teach hard lessons those who don’t show them enough respect.
Dr. Parsons will set the stage by discussing how the North and South Poles and their surrounding regions are unique environments in several ways. Their cold waters are rich in nutrients that nurture life, but winter temperatures that drop down to minus 128-degrees Fahrenheit pose a serious challenge to survival. Days annually swing from 24 hours of sunlight to 24 hours of darkness, causing booms and crashes in the phytoplankton populations at the bottom of the food chain and making long migrations a necessity.
Despite such extreme conditions, these regions contain a wealth of wildlife: fluffy white seals and polar bears, miles-wide schools of krill, vast colonies of penguins, and many species of the great whales.
Why do so many species live in these harsh conditions instead of chilling on tropical beaches? How have they evolved to survive the frigid temperatures? He’ll answer such questions by discussing the specialized biology that has enabled them to adapt. He’ll also discuss the threats posed to polar habitats by climate change, pollution, and other human activities, and what the future holds for the residents of these regions. (Advance tickets: $13.50 plus sales tax and processing fees. Doors: $17, or $15 with a student ID. Listed time is for doors. Talk starts 30 minutes later.)
Image: Narwhals surface through a hole in the ice. Photo by Glenn Williams (NIST / Public domain)