Category Archives: President’s Blog

Holiday Greetings and An Important Ask from SMM President, Charles Littnan

2020 has been a testing year for all of us. It has also been hard for non-profits, such as the Society for Marine Mammalogy, as charitable donations have declined while the world navigates financial uncertainty.  These donations fund some of our most vital functions like supporting student travel, small grants in aid of research, and our many awards.   But if there is one thing that we have learned this year, it is the importance of togetherness and giving in face of adversity.  To our members from the United States,  you have a unique opportunity to support our global marine mammal community.

We want to take a moment to inform you about Section 2104 of the CARES Act, which allows donors to deduct cash donations up to $300 without needing to itemize deductions for the 2020 tax year. If you are interested in supporting the SMM through a charitable donation, we the SMM Board and all the members you help, would be incredibly grateful.  Please review the linked article that outlines a 100% tax benefit for those donating prior to year’s end. It probably goes without saying but I am required to mention – I am not qualified to give tax advice. Please consult tax professionals for more details.

Help support our awards, grants and programs with a tax-deductible donation toward the program of your choice here.



Discussion Panel on Unpaid Positions in Science

Dear Colleagues,

We all agree that our marine mammal community, and science in general, benefits from increased diversity. We all agree that barriers to diversity and inclusiveness, where they exist, should be dismantled.

In July 2020, the SMM received a petition requesting that the Society no longer post unpaid positions on our job board, as they contribute to inequity. This petition created an opportunity for important dialogue and consideration of the issue to occur. One of the most positive actions we can take is to facilitate this dialog further and include our membership to the greatest extent possible. To that end, we host an online forum with a variety of participants and perspectives on this issue on 25 November 2020 at 8 PM EST. This will be a moderated online discussion that will be archived for future watching.

Over the past few months, our colleagues in North America, South America, Asia and Europe have gathered insights and information from around the globe regarding the subject of unpaid positions in marine mammal science and how they help and hinder equity in the field. During this 1-hour panel, followed by a Q&A session, our moderators and panelists will share their collective insights and we will continue this discussion in a format designed to be accessible to our diverse global community. Panelists include: Eric Archer, Tara Cox, Auriel Fournier and Diane Gendron

Please join us on 25 November 2020 at 8 PM EST for this forum. Participation is open to everyone. Registration is required to participate in this event and it is free to attend.

Link to register:

We know that the timing will not work for all of our widespread members and we will be taking steps to address that. The conversation will be recorded and archived so our membership who can’t attend will be able to watch at their convenience. The panel will also respond to follow up questions that come from these delayed viewings. Most importantly, this is not the end of the conversation, merely the next step in our growth as a professional society.

About the Facilitator and Panelists:


  • Eric Archer, PhD is currently head of the Marine Mammal Genetics Program at the NOAA Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, CA. He is also co-chair of the ad hoc Diversity and Inclusion Committee in the Society of Marine Mammalogy. He is interested in paying forward the opportunities he has received and helping to open doors to a wide array of people with a curiosity for marine science.


  • Tara Cox, PhD is a Professor of Marine Sciences at Savannah State University and currently serves as Secretary and co-chair of the ad hoc Committee of Diversity and Inclusion for the Society for Marine Mammalogy. She has had paid and unpaid interns work in her lab.
  • Auriel M.V Fournier, PhD is the Director of Forbes Biological Station and an Assistant Research Scientist, Wetland Bird Ecologist with the Illinois Natural History Survey. In addition to her work as an ornithologist, ecologist she studies and publishes research on how unpaid labor impacts scientific career paths.  
  • Diane Gendron, PhD is a professor and researcher on cetacean ecology with a particular focus on monitoring blue whales in the Gulf of California and promoting conservation of the Northeastern Pacific population. She accepts seasonal unpaid interns to work with her program in Mexico and provides them with partial support during their time in the field. 
  • Cindy Peter, Msc is Coordinator of the Sarawak Dolphin Research Project, based at the Institute of Biodiversity and Environmental Conservation, Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, where she is also a Lecturer. Currently the Member-at-Large for SMM, Cindy ran for the position to contribute as a voice for members from the developing nation and to increase inclusion of Asians in the Society.

While we encourage an open, transparent, respectful discussion above all, for those who prefer to remain anonymous, questions can be asked anonymously via the Q&A feature in the Zoom meeting, and we have also set up an anonymous comment box (here) for you to leave comments or questions prior to or during the forum.

Thank you for being a part of this important conversation.

Eric Archer and Tara Cox
Co-Chairs, Ad hoc Committee for Diversity and Inclusion
Society for Marine Mammalogy

SMM Changing Policies to Allow for Stipends in Small Grant in Aid of Research Program

The Society for Marine Mammalogy is pleased to announce a substantive change to its Small Grant in Aid of Research (SGIAR) program. Beginning with the 2021 funding cycle, applicants can request a portion of the award to be allocated as a stipend. Specifically, SGIAR guidelines now allow applicants to provide “a detailed one-year, itemized budget identifying and justifying specific requests for equipment, supplies, travel to field site, operational expenses, and up to 25% of the total budget as stipend. Total budget is not to exceed US $2,000.”

The Society thanks SMM member Dr. Eiren Jacobson for raising the broader issue of unpaid internships. The petition she and other colleagues initiated was signed by a number of members of the Society, including several members of the Committee of Scientific Advisors which administers the SGIAR program.  As part of of a larger policy review being undertaken by the SMM Board,  the Committee of Scientific Advisors took up the discussion of allowing stipends to be included in SGIAR.  The goals of the SGIAR program is to provide both intellectual and financial support to early career marine mammal researchers in countries where they have less access to research funds, the committee decided 25% of the total budget was a reasonable first step, and one that will be reviewed after SGIAR funding cycles are completed in 2021-2022. The Committee takes very seriously its assignment to provide feedback to both successful and unsuccessful applicants on all components of the proposal—significance of the research to be performed, methods for conducting the research, proactive rather than post-hoc methods of analyzing the research, a clear understanding of where the proposed research fits in the broader scientific landscape, and a comprehensive budget for successful accomplishment. The Committee obviously wished that there were greater resources available with which to be even more responsive to the intent of the petition and the Board will be determining future funding levels as part its strategic planning process.  Note that while travel to conferences is not an acceptable component of the research budget, the Society has adopted a policy whereby any SGIAR recipient who is presenting the work supported by the SGIAR program at a subsequent SMM Biennial Conference will receive a minimum of $500 toward travel expenses to the conference.

The Society Board of Governors concurred with the recommendation of the Committee of Scientific Advisors and implemented the policy as stated above.  More information on the SGIAR can be found here.

SMM Strategic Planning

Aloha SMM Members-

The Society for Marine Mammalogy began its journey some five decades ago. Our first focus was bringing marine mammal professionals together on a regular basis to share our science- thus our biennial conferences were born. Following that publication of Marine Mammal Science, our flagship science product, was started to disseminate our science to the world. Over the years, our membership has grown as has the number of services we provide. These include small grants in aid of research, student and international researcher travel support, a variety of awards, presidential letters on conservation issues, ethics reviews on research, podcasts, and much more. All of these with the intent to improve the science and conservation we do, promote the exchange of ideas, and build a more global and inclusive membership.

The need for a strategic plan

This evolution has largely been organic and done one piece at a time. The SMM is now older and larger and we are facing a number of challenges, needs and opportunities that stand between us and being of greater value to our members and the animals that bring us all together. Many of these opportunities to improve or provide more support to our members require financial investment  of our relatively limited resources. So, we must be strategic and prioritize the most important actions moving forward. To do this we are going to tackle our first ever strategic plan. Some of you might not be familiar with what strategic plans look like. Here are examples from other scientific societies such as the Society for Conservation Biology or Ecological Society of America. Our ambitious plan will be to have a final draft of the strategic plan ready for membership vote for our April ballot.

Get involved

We want to include the membership in multiple steps of this strategic planning process. This has to be OUR plan so please help to shape it. Please share your ideas for goals and actions that the Society should undertake. Goals and actions are defined as:

Goal: This is generally a higher level objective that would have several more specific actions nested underneath.  While it should be broad it must be concrete and achievable.

        Example: Increase the accessibility of our Society and Science.

Action:  This is a very specific and measurable activity that helps to achieve the goal it is intended to support.

       Example:  Move all or part of the biennial conferences into a digital format to allow for greater participation globally.

We would like to capture a long list of ideas from the membership to help us find common themes and actions. You can submit your ideas in the comments below or by email. This page will always remain open for submission but we would like to encourage people to share their ideas by September 14, 2020.  

The second way to participate is to volunteer to help with the strategic planning team.  Once we have settled on some priority goals we will be identifying actions, measures of success, and timelines.  Many hands make light work and this is a great opportunity to help shape the future of the SMM.  For everyone that has been asking how to get involved, well here is your chance.  If you are interested in participating send me an email with a short description of your particular interests.  We may not be able to accommodate everyone depending on the level of response.

Thank you in advance for your contributions.  If you have any questions please comment below or email me.

Be safe, be well.


Twitter: @himonkseal

Update on the Society’s Virtual Conversation on Unpaid Internships

Aloha Everyone-

Just wanted to post a short update to let you know that the planning is still going on for the our digital meeting to continue the conversation on unpaid internships.  My original hope was to have it happen in August but we have passed that deadline. We have pulled together most of the panel who will cover several perspectives and now just finalizing details and timing.  The Board and our various committees have also been very busy reviewing and identifying updates for several of our policies.  We will be sharing those updates very soon.

I thank all of you that continue to discuss this and other challenging topics and our SMM board and committees who are approaching this so thoughtfully.


As always feel free to comment below or reach out to me with questions and comments.

Be safe, be well.


Twitter: @himonkseal

Update Regarding Petition Related to Unpaid Internships

I wanted to put out a quick update on behalf of the Society for Marine Mammalogy Board regarding the petition related to unpaid internships and the subsequent discussion on MARMAM and beyond.  

It is encouraging to see ongoing dialogue and the evolution of various positions as more voices and perspectives engage on the issue. At the core we all agree that our marine mammal community, and science in general, benefits from increased diversity. We all agree that barriers to diversity and inclusiveness, where they exist, should be dismantled. The challenge we face is finding agreement on what the ‘right’ course of action should be and which action should come first. The initial dialog on internships quickly moved to two perspectives: one being that unpaid internships were the barrier that needed addressing, and the other that a focus on underrepresented groups throughout the marine mammal science career pipeline was the necessary action.  Thankfully, the discussion has continued to grow in nuance with greater acknowledgment that the pipeline is broken in many places and each spot needs focused attention. This is an issue of “and” not “or” – it is both unpaid internships AND lack of access in early education (and so much more) that contribute to the struggle to achieve greater diversity in our field.  

The SMM has just received the petition, and it will feed into the Board’s ongoing deliberations on this important and multifarious issue. The Board is reviewing the online discussion and available literature, reaching out to a broader cohort of our community, and looking across other professional societies to see if and how they have addressed similar concerns. After this initial process we will work with our membership to find what action by the SMM is in our purview and could address this issue in a meaningful and responsible way.  

One thing is certain though: one of the most positive actions we can take is to facilitate this dialog further and include our membership to the greatest extent possible. To that end, we will soon host an online forum with a variety of participants and perspectives on this issue. This will be a moderated online discussion that will be archived for future watching.  Our intent is for this to happen in mid-August.

While across our community there may not be 100% agreement on the issues raised in the petition or some of the responses to it, I believe we should thank those who have started the discussion and those who have stepped up to respond. This is how our marine mammal society will grow and advance – by asking hard, and oftentimes uncomfortable questions and taking necessary steps to improve. We best serve our community and the animals we study by being open to these discussions, self reflective about our roles and perspectives, and willing to evolve when necessary.

More information, including ideas for specific actions, will be coming soon. If you have thoughts you would like to share directly with the Board please feel free to email me at or contact our Diversity and Inclusion Committee co-chairs at

Be safe and well.


A Letter to the Community Regarding Racial Injustice

Dear Marine Mammal Science Community,

A core tenet of the Society for Marine Mammalogy is that our science is strengthened by the participation of people representing all ages, races, national, cultural, and socio-economic backgrounds, genders, gender identities, sexual orientations, and physical abilities. Our science is at its best when all voices are at the table.

Today, the tears of the SMM join those of the rest of the world as we grieve the latest in a long string of killings and systemic abuses against black Americans. We add our voices to those who have been historically oppressed in saying, enough. We can no longer stand idly by as our colleagues and friends in African American communities continue to be minimized, sidelined, abused, and suffer.

The Society for Marine Mammalogy has an obligation to speak at a time like this and give our support to the communities that have been under siege – an obligation that we have not previously fulfilled. Unfortunately, far too many of our members and their communities are continuously silenced through the insidious forces of institutionalized racism, sexism, and political and religious intolerance. This statement is a renewal of our commitment to our membership and our global community at large to do our part to actively create a diverse, inclusive and tolerant world. Thus, SMM will continue its mission working to make spaces where all people are welcome and free to pursue their interests.

We hope you will feel free to share your thoughts and feelings with us during these difficult times. We are regularly looking for ways to support our members and provide a safe community for all.


D. Ann Pabst, SMM President

Charles Littnan, SMM President-Elect

Eric Archer and Tara Cox
Co-Chairs of the Ad hoc Committee on Diversity and Inclusion


On behalf of and with support from the SMM Board

Call for 2023 SMM Conference Venue Hosts

Aloha SMM Community-

One of my responsibilities for the Society is to bring to the membership options for the venue for our 2023 Biennial (as a reminder 2021 will be in Florida). As we have in the past, we are reaching out to the membership to engage with groups who may wish to host the conference in their region. This challenging but important honor is vital to our scientific, conservation and educational mission, so we hope several groups will step up to the opportunity.

We are open to hear from any geographic location, but are especially interested in venues outside of North America. We would also strongly encourage expressions of interest from regions/countries that have not previously hosted the conference. For a list of past conference locations, follow this link.

We will simultaneously be exploring venue options through our contracted conference organizing company. This might allow us to find a more cost effective location, but would require organizing and scientific committees to work remotely from the site with occasional travel to the venue. So if your group is interested in hosting a conference, but do not happen to be around facilities that could support it, this could be an opportunity for you.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions about this opportunity or what hosting the conference entails at It is hard work but there is a lot of support from the Society and previous conference organizers. Our Society benefits from having several choices and these efforts are focused on finding the most cost effective model for holding a conference to ensure it is as accessible as possible to our entire membership.

I would like to receive expressions of interest by Friday August 23 so that there is sufficient time to work with each group in the lead up to the conference. Conference venues will be presented and voted on by the membership at the closing members meeting in December.

Thanks in advance to everyone who considers this opportunity/request

Charles Littnan, PhD.
SMM President-Elect

News from Ann

Hello Friends and Colleagues,

As I write you today, I am still getting my “land legs” after having the distinct pleasure of joining an international team of students and other colleagues for a leg of an offshore research cruise. Our goal was simple, to enhance our understanding of the abundance, distribution and behavior of cetaceans off the continental shelf. But the logistical requirements of such an endeavor were anything but simple! From the years-long planning; to the competencies of the crew, honed and developed over collective decades; to the purpose-built vessel that safely plied the winter, and sometimes downright angry, Atlantic waters; to the diversity of technologies onboard including those to detect individual whales that we would never see; to the tags that offer us unparalleled insights into the lives of these divers. All had to work.

This wonderful adventure reminded me that members of our community are every day working across the globe, in a diversity of environments and often under difficult conditions, to carry out critical research on marine mammals. From the poles to the equator, from the pelagic to the riverine, from the sea surface to the abyss, from the Eocene to the Anthropocene, and from the outside to the inside of our species, our colleagues are discovering how marine mammals work in their diverse environments. This information always adds to our understanding of the biological world and is often absolutely required to inform wise management and conservation actions to help preserve marine mammal biodiversity. 

Our strength as a Society relies upon the dedication and hard work of its members. So, thank you all.

Things have been busy within the Society lately! A few highlights – congratulations to our Emily B. Shane Awards winners! The Education Committee and the sub-Committee on Diversity and Inclusion have filled their ranks and are ready to carry out their important work. The World Marine Mammal Conference team has been working diligently (an understatement, really!), and you will soon be asked to submit your abstracts and workshop proposals to ensure that we have the finest scientific program possible. You are being asked to vote on three measures that will strengthen our community – to support our student members, to enhance our ability to recognize the accomplishments of many of our colleagues, and to honor the lifetime achievements of two senior scientists. And your journal is getting a new look, including options for its cover design, upon which you will be asked to vote!

So, a lot is going on! And as always, I look forward to hearing from you if you have any questions or ideas that will continue to enhance our work together.

My very best wishes to you all!

D. Ann Pabst

News from Ann

Hello Good Colleagues!
It has been a busy few months for the Society, and I would like to highlight just a few of these events here.
To begin, please join me in welcoming Dr. Mridula Srinivasan as our new Chair of the Education Committee. Mridula is a very active member of the SMM and helped lead the Women in Marine Mammal Science (WIMMS) Workshop in Halifax. She has worked globally to promote marine mammal science and will bring her commitment to building inclusive communities to her new role. I also wish to thank all the fine individuals who stated their interest in this position – we are very fortunate to have dedicated and passionate colleagues willing to serve our Society.
On November 10-11, we held our interim SMM Board meeting in Barcelona, which included a joint meeting with the Council of the European Cetacean Society (ECS), to discuss and plan for the World Marine Mammal Conference (WMMC). Manel Gazo and Carla Alvarez Chicote, the WMMC Co-Chairs, were our gracious hosts. Many thoughts about the Conference come to mind at once! Our host city of Barcelona is as beautiful, historically-rich, and friendly as you have heard, and Carla and Manel are working very hard to ensure that you will have an opportunity to learn more about, and visit parts of, their city during the Conference. The site of the WMMC, the Barcelona International Convention Center (CCIB), is a world-class facility on the waterfront, which will provide us beautiful and extremely functional space for all our events. The Scientific Co-Chairs, Joan Gonzalvo and Frances Gulland, are developing an exciting program befitting a World Conference, and the Student Organizing Committee, Serena Lagorio and Rebecca Boys (ECS) and Courtney Smith and Raquel García Vernet (SMM) are planning a multitude of science and social events for the student attendees! In addition, there is a small army of dedicated folks who will be working virtually non-stop from now until December 2019 to ensure that the WMMC is a truly global and impactful meeting, and one that you will not want to miss!
In Barcelona, the Board also carried out regular business for our Society. Our focus was to consider how we could best continue to support the work of our colleagues to carry out high quality marine mammal research (especially that with a conservation focus) and how we could help our Society enhance its diversity, inclusiveness, and sense of community. An important outcome of this meeting was the development of a Diversity and Inclusion Statement, now posted to our website with our Mission and Objectives. We must, as a Society, live up to this statement, as our strength and ability to achieve our goals relies utterly upon our being as welcoming and inclusive a community as possible. To help us move forward with these efforts, I hope you all participated in our diversity and inclusion survey before the December 16th deadline. 
I also wish to let you know that you will be asked to vote in early 2019 on two important topics. The first will be a re-definition of the Student Membership category to increase the length of time that a student is eligible for that status. The proposal will define a student as “any person who is actively enrolled in, or within one year of their graduation from, a degree-granting program at an institution of higher learning.” We hope that this change will make it easier for students, who represent the future of our Society, to maintain their active membership as they transition to their next life step. The second vote will be to bestow Honorary Membership to two of our colleagues, to recognize their exceptional contributions to marine mammal science. We look forward to bringing you these votes in early 2019.
In closing, as we look ahead to the new year, and all that it will bring, I also wish to take a moment and reflect upon those colleagues and friends whom we have lost this year. We all stand upon their shoulders, and thus, as a community, can see farther and contribute more.
My very best wishes to you all. 
D. Ann Pabst