Ethics Committee Terms of Reference

The following Terms of Reference (ToR) were developed by the SMM Ethics Committee. The ToR were submitted to the Society of Marine Mammalogy’s Board of Governors for review and approved and completed in January 2010.

The Role of the SMM Ethics Committee

  1. To foster an awareness of ethical principles and practices in the marine mammal research, care and management community.
  2. To facilitate excellence in marine mammal research and innovative practice for the well-being of the animals we work with.
  3. To advise the membership through the SMM Board of Governors on ethical issues relating to marine mammal science.
  4. To consider, at the request of the SMM Board of Governors, specific ethical issues raised by the members.
  5. To prepare position statements on ethical issues on behalf of the Society.
  6. To initiate and inform debate on ethical issues within the Society.
  7. To advise the Editor-in-Chief on ethical aspects of publication in the Society’s journal.
  8. To provide assistance to the Education Committee in developing educational materials related to ethics in marine mammal science.

Standard Operating Procedures

  1. The committee will consist of at least five (5) members at any time. The Chairperson will be appointed by the elected officers of the Board of Governors, serve two-year terms and may be reappointed for any number of terms. Up to eight (8) additional standing committee members will be nominated by the Chairperson and approved by the elected officers.
  2. The Committee should always have at least two (2) non-US members and at least one (1) veterinarian and a student member. The remaining members of the committee should represent a cross-section of the Society including scientists involved in manipulative experiments, different taxa, and a variety of fields of research and others with experience in law, sociology and other relevant fields.
  3. The Chairperson shall have authority to invite other members of the Society or individuals outside the Society to temporarily advise the committee on specific issues within their field of expertise.
  4. The committee will meet at least two times per year, in person or electronically, and report on its activities to Board of Governors through the Chairperson. The EAC will hold an open meeting at each biennial conference.
  5. Communication between committee members will primarily be by e-mail.
  6. Records of all meetings and decisions, with supporting documentation, will be maintained in the Society’s archives, as managed by the SMM Secretary

Duties and responsibilities of a member

This section sets out the duties and responsibilities generally expected of a person appointed as a member of the SMM EAC. This is intended to aid EAC members by providing them with a common set of principles for appropriate conduct and behaviour.


EAC members should have a commitment to protecting the interests of marine mammals while promoting and facilitating excellence in research and innovative practice.

There is an expectation that EAC members will make every effort to attend all EAC meetings and devote sufficient time to become familiar with the affairs of the EAC.

Members have a duty to act responsibly with regard to the effective and efficient administration of EAC business.

Conflicts of interest

EAC members should perform their functions in good faith, honestly and impartially and avoid situations that might compromise their integrity or otherwise lead to conflicts of interest. Proper observation of these principles will protect the EAC and its members and will ensure it retains public confidence.

EAC members attend meetings and undertake EAC activities as independent persons responsible to the SMM as a whole. Members are not appointed as representatives of professional organisations or particular community bodies. The EAC should not, therefore, assume that a particular group’s interests have been taken into account because an EAC member is associated with this group. Members should declare, and the committee regularly review, their actual and potential conflicts of interest.

When EAC members believe they have a conflict of interest on a subject that will prevent them from reaching an impartial decision or from undertaking an activity consistent with the EAC’s functions, they should declare that conflict of interest and withdraw themselves from the discussion and/or activity.

A member of the EAC who is involved with an issue brought before the EAC shall not take part in the EAC’s assessment of that issue. The member may be present to answer questions but should take no part in the discussion surrounding the consideration of the issue or any decision relating to the issue. This will allow each issue to be considered in a free and frank manner. The EAC must demonstrate transparency in avoiding or managing any real or perceived conflict of interest.

Committee meetings

Meetings of the EAC shall be held twice a year, or more often as determined by the workload. As issues arise a quorum will be convened to discuss each issue and come to a decision. The EAC should hold one meeting at each SMM Biennial Conference.

At any meeting, a quorum shall consist of the minimum number constituting a majority. The quorum must include a reasonable representation of members with veterinarian, research, and taxa specific knowledge and perspectives.

As part of the accountability to the Society they serve, it is desirable for the biennial coference EAC meetings to be open to the public.

Subject to the provisions set out in this document, the EAC may regulate its own procedures.

Decision-making process

Wherever possible, the EAC should determine matters by consensus decision. Where a consensus cannot be reached, a vote shall apply, with a two-thirds majority of those voting required for any decisions, and the Chairperson having a tie-breaking vote. If a decision can not be reached, the EAC will approach the SMM Board of Governors for resolution.

On occasion, individual members may wish to abstain from some or all of the decision making process because of strong personal moral or other reasons. Such abstentions shall not affect the decision process.

Ethics Committee Actions

For each issue it reviews and recommendation it produces, the EAC must state its grounds for any action.

Expert advice and consultation

Members may wish to consult on ethical issues with individuals or outside groups, and this should be encouraged and supported. Consultation should be carried out in a timely manner.

Where the Chairperson or quorum of EAC members believes there is insufficient expertise on the EAC to assess an issue, the committee should seek additional expert advice.

Advice may be sought from recognized experts with:

  1. specialist knowledge in particular fields of marine mammal science
  2. specialist knowledge for a particular taxa
  3. an understanding of relevant cultural perspectives
  4. an understanding of developing methodologies
  5. expertise in ethical theory.

It should be noted that the above list gives examples, without restricting the range, of external expertise that may be sought.

Where external consultation has taken place or advice has been sought, this should be documented, and recorded where appropriate in the EAC’s decision on an issue.