Category Archives: President’s Blog

Dr. John Wang Receives the 2021 Society for Marine Mammalogy’s Conservation Merit Prize

Cetacean biologist heralded for over 30 years of research and conservation efforts.

Every two years in the lead up to the Society for Marine Mammalogy conference, our Conservation Committee considers potential awardees for the Conservation Merit Prize. The Conservation Merit Prize is public recognition given to a person, team, or organization contributing toward solving a pressing conservation problem for marine mammals, either ongoing or resulting in a conservation success. The prize is only given when the Conservation Committee finds a case of exceptional merit and may not be awarded at every biennial.

After reviewing an impressive slate of nominees, the Society Conservation Committee and Board selected Dr. John Wang as this year’s recipient.

John Y. Wang, Ph.D.
2021 SMM Conservation Merit Prize Winner
• CetAsia Research Group Ltd – Chief Biologist
• Trent University – Professor, Department of Biology
• National Museum of Marine Biology and Aquarium of Taiwan – Adjunct Researcher

John’s work started in the chilly waters of Canada’s Bay of Fundy in the late 1980’s. Donning a wetsuit and snorkeling equipment, John jumped into herring weirs, a fixed fishing trap, to help fishermen release harbor porpoise. The fishermen used seine nets to remove herring that had aggregated in the weirs and porpoise would become trapped in the nets as they were hauled in. That work quickly pivoted to focusing on harbor porpoise bycatch in the gillnet fishery and lead Dr. Wang to start the first groundfish gillnet observer program in Canada.

In the mid-1990’s the global issue of cetacean bycatch pulled John beyond the borders of Canada to the other side of the planet when he started working on understanding cetacean fauna and bycatch throughout Taiwan. Early investigations consisted of visiting fishing ports around the country, recording carcasses, and conducting interviews to understand local fisheries. He attended stranding events and visited various scientific and academic institutions to examine their specimen collections. These efforts resulted in one clear conclusion – bycatch was a significant conservation issue for cetaceans in Taiwan. Specifically, large-mesh pelagic driftnets were clearly a serious problem as well as smaller-scale gillnet fisheries throughout Taiwan with a total annual cetacean bycatch in the thousands to tens of thousands per year for Taiwanese fisheries. His path for cetacean conservation in Taiwan was set.

In 2002, John was encouraged by a good friend and colleague to conduct exploratory surveys in the inshore waters along the heavily-industrialized and developed coast of western Taiwan. It was during these surveys that the endemic and highly restricted Taiwanese white (or humpback) dolphin subspecies was discovered. Given the status of the subspecies and the many threats it faced, John decided to put the driftnet bycatch issue on the backburner as urgent attention and focus on the Taiwanese humpback dolphin was the priority. For more information about the Taiwaianese humpback dolphins, threats and recovery actions please visit the IUCN Red List.

To this day, conservation of the Taiwanese humpback dolphin still occupies most of John’s attention. However, his expertise and decades of experience working with small cetaceans and local communities/fisheries has proven valuable to other ongoing bycatch reduction and other conservation efforts around the globe including finless porpoise bycatch in several areas in east Asia, underwater noise and cetaceans, Indo-Pacific humpback conservation in other parts of east Asia and river dolphins in Brazil.

Dr. Wang has made a career out of working on challenging conservation issues, many of which are ongoing – taking years or decades to affect change. We asked John why he does his work and what kept him motivated to continue his efforts all these years. His response spoke of a deeply seated belief that scientists have a duty to use their abilities to better the natural world.

“ Other living things have no “voices” (or votes) to choose not to be exploited and to be driven to extinction so we should lend them our voices. The voices of scientists are often “louder” and will be given more attention by others. Although the main responsibility of a scientist is to conduct solid, objective research to better our knowledge of the universe, being a scientist is a small subset of the responsibilities of being human. Humans have a much larger responsibility to not stay quiet and voiceless when we possess specialized/privileged knowledge of conservation issues (some of us may be the only people who know of some issues) and this responsibility supersedes those of being scientists. It is clear that there is no reason why scientists cannot advocate for conservation and environment issues while continuing to fulfill his/her role as a scientist and maintain a high level of credibility and scientific integrity.”

As far as what motivates him, it is about knowing he is doing what he believes is right.

“Working on conservation issues is difficult because there is often strong opposition, the chance of failure is high and rewards or accolades are few (if any). But it’s the right thing to do and being self-satisfied with doing the right thing is the strongest motivation.”

The Conservation Merit Prize includes travel to the award presentation at the Biennial Conference. Conservation Merit Prize nominees may be nominated at any time for the next upcoming Biennial Conference by any active SMM member and the SMM Conservation Committee selects award recipient(s) with the approval of the Board of Governors.

Webinar on Equity in Internships Recording Now Available

Thank you to all who joined us for our first webinar on equity in internships, hosted by SMM and WDC. Special thanks to our panelists, who shared their perspectives as program leaders and former interns and to our audience for your excellent, thoughtful questions and participation. We look forward to hosting the next webinar in our Diversity and Inclusion Series in September.

Here is a recording of the webinar, in case you missed it, would like to rewatch or share.

Reminder to Vote for SMM’s Honorary Member Nominees by 2 September 2021

Dear Members,

This is your reminder to vote for SMM’s Honorary Member nominees by 2 September 2021.

We are pleased to present two new nominees to become Honorary Members for you to vote on. An Honorary Member is a member recognized for distinguished service to the field of marine mammalogy, as recommended unanimously by the Board of Governors, and elected by two-thirds of the voting members. Honorary Members have all the privileges of full members but are exempt from dues.

Here is the link to the ballot:

The ballot will close at 3:00 PM EST on 2 September 2021.

Best wishes,
Emer Rogan
Nominations and Elections Committee Chair

Postponement of SMM2021 Conference until August 2022

Aloha Marine Mammal Community,

We are reaching out today to share our decision to postpone both the in-person and the virtual 24th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals until 2022. The new dates will be Monday, August 1 to Friday, August 5, 2022 with workshops being held on Saturday, July 30 and Sunday, July 31, 2022. All conference venues will remain the same.

The SMM2021 Conference Team has been closely monitoring COVID infection and vaccination trends throughout the pandemic. The global surge of infections related to the Delta-variant and the slow and inequitable rollout of vaccines compromises our ability to maximize participant safety and inclusivity.

We know that this change will significantly impact many of you who have submitted abstracts, planned workshops, already registered, received a grant, sponsored the conference and more.  We have included information below regarding some of the more obvious questions we expect to receive, and we will continue to sort out more details and share them with you over the next few weeks. Rest assured, there is no need for you to act on anything at this time; we are going to be applying maximum flexibility on all aspects of the conference (e.g., refunds, grants, sponsorship, etc.).

Though the future seems exceptionally uncertain these days, we intend to provide a world-class conference in 2022. We will be using the intervening months to maximize in-person safety,  enhance our virtual program experience, more deeply promote the inclusivity of the conference, and expand sponsorship to reduce cost for members of our community that could be aided with financial support. We will ensure that we are communicating regularly with you on how the plan is progressing. Please keep checking back on our questions and answers page for all questions related to the postponed conference by following this link.


Key Questions You Might Have:

1. I already paid for conference registration. What should I do?
You don’t need to do anything!  We will be rolling all registrations forward to the future conference date. However, if there is a reason you would like a refund we will work with you. Please contact if you have any questions.  Please be patient while we work through requests.

2. What is your registration refund policy?
If you require a refund for your conference registration, or any other items you’ve already paid for (e.g. workshop, merchandise, etc.), please contact and we will work to provide you with a full refund until Wednesday, October 27, 2021 at 12pm (noon) EDT. After this date, our standard cancellation of $100 USD handling fee for registration cancellations will apply.

3. I didn’t take advantage of early bird registration because I was uncertain about traveling, will you be extending early bird now?
Don’t worry! We will be reopening and extending the early bird registration window. Early bird registration will now be open until Tuesday, March 1, 2022 at 12pm (noon) EDT. If you registered after the original early bird deadline and paid full price, please reach out to to request a partial refund until Wednesday, October 27, 2021 at 12pm (noon) EDT.

4. Can I change my presentation format (i.e. in person to virtual and vice versa)? 
The conference program has already been set with excellent content and we are hoping to minimize any changes in 2022. However, we realize that the change of conference date may change your preference for how you would like to present your work (i.e. in person vs. virtually).  If you would like to switch to a virtual presentation, or visa versa, we can accommodate your request. If you would like to switch to an in-person presentation we will put you on a waiting list and add you as spots become available. We will be extending the date to make these requests to Wednesday, April 13, 2021 at 12pm (noon) EDT.

5. What if my abstract/research changes (between now and next year)? Will I be able to update my abstract?
We realize that the later conference date may allow you to analyze that last bit of data. We can work with you to help you update your abstract if necessary. We will follow up with an announcement early in the calendar year to open a short window for updates. Presenters will be given one opportunity to update their abstracts.

6. Can we submit new abstracts? 
We will not be reopening abstract submissions. The program has been finalized and reproducing the abstract acceptance and review process would prove exceedingly difficult.

7. I’ve already booked my hotel. What should I do?
You can cancel your reservation with no penalty and rebook at your convenience. To visit the accommodation reservation portal, click HERE.   We will be establishing the new room block soon and will announce opening for rebooking or changing your reservation.

8. I’ve already paid for a workshop. What should I do?
We will be working with workshop organizers to determine how this delay might impact their workshop. If a workshop organizer needs to cancel their planned workshop, you will be refunded the full cost. If you no longer will be able to attend the workshop in person at the new date, we will refund the full cost. Please wait for updates and guidance. We will be sending out more information before Wednesday, October 27, 2021.

9. I’ve already paid for conference merchandise. What should I do?
You don’t have to do anything if you are still planning on attending the conference in person.  Products will not be shipped to attendees prior to or following the conference. So, if you will now be presenting virtually or no longer want the merchandise, please contact and we can provide a full refund.

10. I’m not going to be a student by the time the conference happens. What does this mean for my registration costs? Ability to get a student travel grant?
If you were going to be a student during the originally scheduled dates of the conference then we will honor that status at the conference in 2022 – even if your status has changed. Your registration costs and travel grant status will not change.  It is expected that all grant recipients maintain their Society for Marine Mammalogy membership.

11. Will I get to keep my student/low income country travel grant?
Yes! If you still plan on attending the conference you will be able to keep your travel grant. We are hoping that travel uncertainty will clear up before the postponed conference happens. If you received support to attend the conference in person and the date change means you will not be able to do so, then please work with your grant coordinator (Student Members-at-Large or International Relations Committee) to let them know of your change of plans and whether or not you will need the virtual conference costs covered.  It is expected that all grant recipients maintain their Society for Marine Mammalogy membership.

12. I need an updated conference receipt and/or VISA letter to support my travel in 2022. Who do I contact?
If needed, we will gladly provide an updated conference receipt or VISA letter with new conference dates to support your travel to Palm Beach. Please contact for assistance with these requests.


We hope to see many of you in August 2022 online or in person.

Be safe, be well.


 Charles Littnan, SMM President

Amy Hirons and Jeremy Kiszka, SMM Conference Co-Chairs

Stephen Trumble and Sascha Usenko, SMM Conference Scientific Co-Chairs

Please vote for SMM’s newest Honorary Members by 2 September 2021

Dear Members,

We are pleased to present two new nominees to become Honorary Members for you to vote on. An Honorary Member is a member recognized for distinguished service to the field of marine mammalogy, as recommended unanimously by the Board of Governors, and elected by two-thirds of the voting members. Honorary Members have all the privileges of full members but are exempt from dues.

Here is the link to the ballot:

The ballot will close at 3:00 PM EST on 2 September 2021.

Best wishes,

Emer Rogan
Nominations and Elections Committee Chair

SMM Conservation Fund Now Accepting Proposals

The Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM) is now accepting proposals for projects under its new Conservation Fund. Proposals for up to US$25K can be submitted between now and 31 July 2021. Proposals should be focused on projects that can catalyze real conservation action for the world’s most endangered marine mammal species. Details on the application process can be found here. Proposals will be judged by the SMM Conservation Committee and Committee of Scientific Advisors and awards will be announced at the SMM member’s meeting at the Marine Mammal Conference in December.

SMM Conservation Committee Welcomes a New Chair

The Society for Marine Mammalogy’s Board of Governors is excited to welcome Dr. Eduardo Secchi to the Board as the newly appointed chair of the SMM’s Conservation Committee.  Dr. Secchi will be taking over from Dr. Barb Taylor who has overseen the SMM’s conservation actions since the committee’s creation.

Dr. Secchi has a long history in marine mammal science and conservation.  He graduated in Oceanography at the Federal University of Rio Grande (FURG) in 1991. He did his Masters in Biological Oceanography (FURG, 1999) and PhD in Zoology (University of Otago, New Zealand, 2006).  After completing his dissertation he became the Associate Professor in the Oceanography Institute at FURG to lead the Marine Megafauna Ecology and Conservation Laboratory with a primary focus on the ecology and conservation of marine mammals and turtles. Dr. Secchi is now the Dean of Research and Graduate Studies at FURG.

His commitment to marine mammal conservation goes beyond that of just working with students and collaborators.  He is a member of the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group/Species Survival Commission and acts as the advisor to the Brazilian Ministry of Environment and Ministry of External Affairs on International Commissions such as the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the Committee for Environmental Protection of the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (CEP/ATCM), and the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

Each candidate for the position provided a brief statement of their vison for the Conservation Committee and the SMM, more generally.  Dr. Secchi’s hopes are that the SMM will continue on its path to become a global reference on the conservation of marine mammals and invest in the development and engagement of a new generation of scientists. The SMM’s efforts must turn towards actions to reverse declines observed in many species, especially in developing nations. He especially emphasized that, “… conservation must always take into account social vulnerability of the human communities sharing resources with marine mammals.”

As we welcome Dr. Secchi, we must simultaneously thank Dr. Taylor for her many years of work leading the Conservation Committee.  She nurtured a nascent committee and built a team of engaged marine mammal conservation scientists to help advise the SMM on species in crises around the globe.  There are few marine mammal conservation issues that Dr. Taylor has not been involved with in some capacity and she is committed to learn from each experience to build a stronger foundation for conservation in the future.  This is exemplified in her recent efforts, with a team of collaborators, to help fight future cetacean extinctions through the use of ex situ options for cetacean conservation.

Few in our field have the breadth of marine mammal conservation experience as Dr. Taylor and we are thankful for her continued commitment to the SMM.  While she is stepping down as chair of the committee, she will be remaining with the group and sharing her experience with the team and the SMM Board of Governors.

Thank you Barb and welcome and good luck Edu!


To contact the SMM Conservation committee please email


Click on the links below if you are interested in reading some of Dr. Secchi’s and collaborators’ more recent publications in Marine Mammal Science.

Distribution, habitat use, and abundance of the endangered franciscana in southeastern and southern Brazil

Age structure of strandings and growth of Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatusgephyreus)

Ontogenetic and sexual characterization of the feeding habits of franciscanas, Pontoporia blainvillei, based on tooth dentin carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes


Gratitude for Dr. Doug Wartzok

Greetings SMM members and global marine mammal community.  I would like to bring attention to the change in leadership of our Committee of Scientific Advisors (CSA) that was announced in our recent newsletter.  Dr. Doug Wartzok, after 11 excellent years as Chair of the CSA, is handing over the reins to Dr. Laura May-Collado.  In total, Doug has given two decades of himself to the Society Board and our membership.  Doug has been with the Society since before it was a society and is one of a relatively small cohort of founding members.  He has always sought to serve the community he helped create – either as the Editor for our flagship journal or Chair of the Committee of Scientific Advisor.  His long experience with the Society eased the entry of every President he has worked with and provided a steadying hand for our growth as we honor our history and adapt to our future.  Doug is always engaged and ever-thoughtful on every topic tackled by the Board.  And he is relentless in his support for fostering high-quality science within our society.  

All of our board members, past and present, are unsung heroes who give willingly of their time and energy to help the SMM grow and evolve the way in which we support our members and the science and conservation they undertake.  There are few, however, that have given as much (and continue to give) as Doug Wartzok.  Thankfully, Doug isn’t straying too far as he leaves the CSA.  He has kindly agreed to step in to lead our Ad Hoc Archives Committee. If you see him in the future, please thank him.  He has been working hard for all of us for decades and you quite possibly never knew it. Many thanks Doug!!

And thank you to Dr. May-Collado for stepping up to this important position and for being willing to help shepherd the good work of the CSA!


Congratulations to our Inaugural Group of Society for Marine Mammalogy Fellows

Two years ago, the members of the Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM) voted to establish a Fellows membership category. This “Fellow” designation is for  members who are  recognized by the Society and its membership as having “rendered conspicuous service or made truly notable contributions to the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of marine mammal science or the fostering of its practical applications through conservation of marine mammals.” 

Some of our members make great contributions conducting or supporting good science.  Others are amazing educators and communicators helping to foster a better understanding and appreciation of marine mammal science and conservation.  Some may be champions of conservation.  They may be at any stage of their career and from anywhere in the world.  What links them is excellence in what they do, impact to our field, and being a member of our SMM family.  They are nominated by their colleagues and reviewed by their peers.

We have completed the first round of selections for our inaugural class of Fellows but before I announce them, I would like to thank the hard work by all involved in the conception, development and implementation of this program.  It took many hands to make this happen but I would like to call out two people in particular. Drs. Cecile Vincent and Doug Wartzok did an enormous amount of work behind the scenes, and sometimes in front of a camera (thank you Doug!). I also want to thank the nominators and writers of recommendation letters who invested the effort to honor their colleagues and friends.

Now, it is my great pleasure to welcome our first class of SMM Fellows.  The 2021 SMM Fellows Are (alphabetical order by last name):

Dr. Dan Costa: For pioneering work in field physiology, biologging development, and global syntheses, and for training the next generation of marine mammalogists.

Dr. Enrique “Kike” Crespo: For contributions to the knowledge and conservation of the marine mammals of the Patagonian Shelf.

Dr. Ailsa Hall: For being a leader and role model for Women-in-STEM, for contributions to understanding disease pathology and spread in marine mammals.

Dr. Janet Mann: For efforts to improve the participation of women in marine mammal research and contributions to longitudinal studies of dolphin behavior.

Dr. Joy Reidenberg: For cetacean sound production research, and teaching the world about marine mammal anatomy through television documentaries.

Suzanne Yin: For the consistent collection of high quality cetacean abundance and behavioral data.

Congratulations to you all for this well-deserved honor.  Our new Fellows will comprise the next Fellows committee and will help shepherd the next round of nominees.  For those interested, we will be announcing our next call for Fellows nominations later this year and we hope to see packages that represent expertise from all corners our of community!