Category Archives: Science / Conservation

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.

Editors’ Select Series Presentation: Population genomic structure of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in Australian and New Zealand waters

The SMM Seminar Editor’s Select Series highlights the latest and most exciting marine mammal science published in the Marine Mammal Science Journal. The SMM created this series to give scientists and citizens around the world a chance to engage with marine mammal scientists, learn and ask questions. All are welcome.

Guest, Isabella Reeves of Flinders University presents: “Population genomic structure of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in Australian and New Zealand waters

August 19, 2021 6-7:30 pm PDT (1-2:30 AM GMT August 20; 10:30 am-12 pm ASCT (August 20)
Online. Free to attend. 

About this talk:
In Australasia, seasonal killer whale aggregations have been recently discovered and they have known to also reside year-round in New Zealand waters. However, there is currently limited information available about the species in these regions and therefore effective conservation management strategies are lacking. Here, we present the first study on the number of killer whale populations and their connectivity in Australasia using DNA. We discovered a minimum of three populations of killer whales, one in tropical and a second in temperate Western Australia, and a third in New Zealand. They each have distinct female-driven societies and appear to have little movement between them with low number of breeders. These findings can assist conservation management of these animals in the region.

About the presenter:
Isabella is currently a PhD Candidate in the Cetacean Ecology, Behaviour and Evolution Lab and the Molecular Ecology Lab at Flinders University in South Australia. She has over five years of experience researching cetaceans, leading her to obtain a skillset predominantly in photo-identification methods and using genetics to understand population-level questions for conservation. Her research now focusses on using genetics to broadly understand cetacean evolution, with a focus on Australasian killer whales.

Missed a presentation or want to share this series with a friend? All previous Editors’ Select  presentations are recorded and archived on our YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLUc78IynQlubS2DVS1VZoplf_t42-yZOO

Editors’ Select Panel on July 15, 2021: Reintroductions have saved the sea otter throughout North America: why should we care?

We are pleased to announce the next edition of the the SMM Seminar Editor’s Select Series. This series highlights the latest and most exciting marine mammal science published in the Marine Mammal Science Journal. The SMM created this series to give scientists and citizens around the world a chance to engage with marine mammal scientists, learn and ask questions. All are welcome.

Guest, Shawn Larson of Seattle Aquarium presents: “Reintroductions have saved the sea otter throughout North America: why should we care?”

July 15, 2021 5 PM PDT (12 AM UTC)

About this talk:

Sea otters were once abundant throughout the nearshore of the North Pacific. The maritime fur trade left few remnant populations with low genetic diversity. Subsequent reintroductions of otters resulted in several new populations in North America. We sampled sea otters genetically from Bering Island to California to evaluate genetic diversity, population structure and geneflow. Genetic diversity was the highest in reintroduced populations, population structure was greatest between California and all other groups, and geneflow was evident between all populations except for those at the ends of the range. The reintroductions are arguably the greatest success in sea otter conservation.

Dr. Larson shared details about this work during this 1-hour presentation followed by a Q&A session. All are welcome to participate.

Open access to all Marine Mammal Science papers is available to current SMM members. Open access to this article will be made temporarily available to the public between July 8–July 31, 2021.

About the presenter:
Shawn Larson, PhD, She/Her pronouns, is Curator of Conservation Research at the Seattle Aquarium. Shawn has been working at the Seattle Aquarium since 1995. Her main duties are leading the rehabilitation program, the water quality/research lab and the conservation research program which includes 10 long term ecological monitoring projects on sea otters, Salish Sea whales, sharks, temperate water rocky reefs, Hawaiian coral reefs, and microplastics. She has been studying marine mammal physiology, genetics, population biology and ecology for 27 years and has published several scientific papers and chapters on marine mammals and was lead editor on a 2015 book published by Elsevier titled Sea Otter Conservation.

Missed a presentation or want to share this series with a friend? All previous Editors’ Select presentations are recorded and archived on our YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLUc78IynQlubS2DVS1VZoplf_t42-yZOO

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.

Dr. Danielle Kreb On Winning the SMM Conservation Merit Prize

Thank you for submitting your inspiring nominations for the 2021 SMM Conservation Merit Prize winner. The Conservation Committee is now reviewing all nominations. 

Meanwhile, here is a video from the 2019 SMM Conservation Merit Prize winner, Dr. Danielle Kreb, discussing how much receiving the prize has meant to her work and giving us a peek into her impactful conservation efforts in Indonesia. 

Brazilian Marine Mammalogist, Pedro Fruet, Awarded Whitley Award

This year, the Whitley Award was granted to six researchers and conservationists in the Southern Hemisphere, among them Pedro Fruet, a Brazilian marine mammalogist who has been studying the Lahille’s bottlenose dolphin since 2000. Pedro completed his graduate studies (MSc and PhD – the latter in cotutele with Flinders University, Australia) in the Biological Oceanography Graduate Program at the Federal University of Rio Grande-FURG, in southern Brazil. As a graduate student and pos-doctoral fellow at FURG, Pedro and colleagues increased considerably the understanding of the ecology and conservation needs of this subspecies of bottlenose dolphins, including taxonomy, population genetics, population structure, estimation of population-specific parameters, and viability analysis. This achievement is a result of the long-standing partnership between Kaosa (an NGO funded by Pedro and colleagues in 2007), the Oceanographic Museum “Prof. Eliezer C. Rios” and the Ecology and Conservation of Marine Megafauna Laboratory (Ecomega) at FURG, with the continued financial support of Yaqu Pacha, a German NGO focused on the conservation of Aquatic Mammals in South America. The project under the scope of the Whitley Award aims to reduce bycatch in fishing gear, raise awareness about this subspecies and strengthen the community’s connection to their marine environment.

SMM Conservation Fund to Open for Submissions on July 1, 2021

The Society for Marine Mammalogy is pleased to inform our membership that the inaugural SMM Conservation Fund application window will open on 1 July 2021. Awards may be for up to US $25,000, and a total of US $50,000 is available during this preliminary call for submissions.

Applications will be accepted during the entire month of July. The Committee of Scientific Advisors and the Conservation Committee will review applications and will announce the recipients at the Biennial Conference in December 2021.

Full eligibility requirements and application instructions are available here.

For all questions about the fund and application process, please contact:

Jay Barlow
SMM Conservation Fund Coordinator
Society for Marine Mammalogy
conservationfund@marinemammalscience.org

SMM Small Grants in Aid of Research 2021 Applications Window Now Open

The Society for Marine Mammalogy would like to inform eligible members (see below) that this year’s Small Grants in Aid of Research application window opens on 1 June 2021. Applications will be accepted during the entire month of June. The Committee of Scientific Advisors will review applications and make recommendations on funding with decisions announced in early September 2021. The awards are up to US $2,000. Up to 25% of the budget may be used as stipend. All three of the following eligibility requirements must be met:

1. Be a member of the Society for Marine Mammalogy.

2. Be a national of any country not on this Excluded Country List: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom and United States.

Preference is given to early career researchers such as students and researchers with less than 5 years post-doctoral experience.

3. Be conducting research in a country not on the above Excluded Country List.

The Small Grant web page provides full information, links to past successful applications, a list of recipients from prior years and their completed project reports, and a link to the application itself. Please be mindful of the word limits in the various sections of the application.

Last year 17 of 55 applicants from 20 counties received funding ranging from $793 to $2,000 USD.

For technical questions regarding the online application, please email the Society webmaster at admin@marinemammalscience.org

For all other questions about the grants, please contact:

Laura J. May-Collado
Chair
Committee of Scientific Advisors
Society for Marine Mammalogy
science@marinemammalscience.org

SMM Conservation Merit Prize Is Accepting Nominations through June 15, 2021

The SMM Conservation Committee awards a special Conservation Merit Prize at the Biennial Conference. 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.

Previous recipients: include

2019: Dr. Danielle Kreb for her over 20 years of conservation efforts on behalf of the critically endangered Mahakam River population of Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) in East Kalimantan, Indonesia, and for her engagement of local communities in that critical work.

2017: Dr. Alexandros Karamanlidis for his team’s work in preventing the extinction of the Mediterranean monk seal.

2015: Mexican officials including President Enrique Peña Nieto, Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources, Rafael Pacchiano, top Mexican biologists, economists and fishermen for their work to save the critically endangered vaquita.

About eligibility, nominations and the review process:
The Prize includes travel to the award presentation at the Biennial Conference, including two night’s lodging. Any active SMM member may propose recipients. The Prize is only given when the Conservation Committee finds a case of exceptional merit and may not be awarded at every biennial. Choice of the person or team will be by the Conservation Committee and approved by the Board.

To nominate a person or group for this prize, please send a one-paragraph description including the name of the nominated individual or group and their qualifications (self nominations welcome) to: conservation@marinemammalscience.org.

The Conservation Committee will select a short list of nominees and follow up with nominators to request the completion of a more comprehensive application after the submission deadline of June 15, 2021.

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 conservation@marinemammalscience.org.

 

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