Category Archives: Science / Conservation

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


SMM Seminar Editor’s Select Series: Re-emergence of Guadalupe fur seals in Oregon and Washington

The SMM Seminar Editor’s Select Series highlights the latest and most exciting marine mammal science published in the Marine Mammal Science Journal. This is your chance to engage with marine mammal scientists, learn and ask questions from anywhere in the world. All are welcome.

Re-emergence of Guadalupe fur seals in Oregon and Washington with Dr. Erin D’Agnese
11 February 2021 at 4 PM Pacific Time (12 AM UTC)

About this talk:
This talk discusses the health risks facing Guadalupe fur seals (Arctocephalus phillippii townsendi; GFS) as they re-emerge in their historic, pre-sealing, migration range. The continued presence of the species in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, was largely represented by juvenile animals and was seasonally driven. Their stranding numbers were related to the seasonal upwelling present in the area during summer months. Detailed necropsies, histopathology (n=93) and epidemiological analysis found three main causes of death (COD): emaciation (44%), trauma (29%), and infectious disease (19%) and the factors associated with overall strandings and emaciation. Trauma included many cases found associated with fisheries interactions and clustered near the mouth of the Columbia River where high levels of commercial fishing occurs. Re-emergence of GFSs is likely due to conservation efforts, which have been critical for species recovery in the region, continued monitoring is needed as this vulnerable species continues to rebound and faces pressures of increased fisheries in the region.

About the Presenter:
Dr. Erin D’Agnese is a Postdoctoral scholar at University of Washington, with a specialty in One Health research, specifically using molecular methods for wildlife health and conservation.

SMM Seminar Editor’s Select Series: Sex Ratios in Blue Whales

The SMM Seminar Editor’s Select Series highlights the latest and most exciting marine mammal science published in the Marine Mammal Science Journal. This is your chance to engage with marine mammal scientists, learn and ask questions from anywhere in the world. Attendance is free, registration is required and all are welcome.

Sex Ratios in Blue Whales from Conception Onward with Dr. Trevor Branch
January 14, 2021 05:00 PM in Pacific Time (1:00 AM UTC)

About this talk:
Deviations from equal sex ratios in mammals can reveal insights into sex‐specific growth, survival, movements, and behavior. In the paper highlighted during this talk, Dr. Trevor Branch assessed blue whale sex ratios from conception to birth using whaling records. In this 1-hour talk and Q&A session, Branch discussed his research and shared assessments on the implications of blue whale sex ratios and deviations.

About the presenter:
Trevor Branch, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at the University of Washington School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences. Branch and his lab members focus on solving biological problems through data synthesis and mathematical models and work on a variety of fishery, marine mammal and marine research projects.

SMM Seminars: Editors’ Select Series – Assessing the lethality of ship strikes on whales using simple biophysical models

A North Atlantic right whale rests at the ocean’s surface. With an estimated 100 reproductive females remaining, the species could be unable to reproduce naturally in 20 years.

About this presentation:

An interesting pattern of dead whales known to be killed by blunt trauma is that not all of them have broken bones. So if lethal collisions do not need to generate enough force per unit area (i.e. stress) to break bones, we wondered what a lethal amount of stress might be. We used simple models that incorporated whale biology, Newtonian physics and real-life observations to identify this amount of stress and it turns out many of the vessels on the ocean, large and small, can lethally injure large whales. Find out more about this study and get your questions answered during this 1-hour presentation followed by a Q&A session.

Thursday, 10 December, 2020
7:00 PM – 8:15 PM Atlantic Time (11 PM UTC)

Dr. Sean Brillant presented this work on behalf of his co-authors.

About the presenter:

Sean Brillant is the Senior Conservation Biologist for Marine Programs at the Canadian Wildlife Federation. He is a marine biologist with a PhD in experimental ecology and a masters in pollution ecology. Since 1993, Sean has collaborated with wide ranges of resource users, landowners, governments, NGOs, and scientists to solve a variety of environmental issues. In 2007, Sean began working to reduce harmful interactions between human activities and marine wildlife, focusing particularly on entanglements of and ship strikes on whales. Sean is an active member of many local, national, and international initiatives working on marine conservation and education and is based at Dalhousie University in Halifax Nova Scotia, where he is an Adjunct with the Department of Oceanography. Originally from Saint John NB, Sean spent his school years exploring, studying, fishing, and freezing in the Bay of Fundy.

Government of Mozambique chooses to relinquish seismic explorations in core dugong habitat in response to stakeholder input, including SMM Presidential Letter

Good news!

In March 2020, SMM President, D. Ann Pabst signed an SMM Presidential Letter to attract the attention of the Government of Mozambique on the high risks involved in letting the South African SASOL oil giant conduct seismic explorations in core habitat of the last healthy population of dugongs in Africa.

Today South African petroleum giant, SASOL, announced that they have chosen to relinquish Blocks 16 & 19 (the area just to the north of the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park in southern Mozambique) in their entirety to the Government of Mozambique and that the Mozambican authorities have been notified of this decision.

SASOL acknowledged all the comments received during the pre-feasibility phase of the EIA process from scientists, NGOs, tourism operators, fishers, local community members, and international authorities. They said they valued the input provided by these stakeholders.

They stated that they understood and appreciated the environmental sensitivity of the area in question and maintained that sustainability is integral to how SASOL conducts business.

This is encouraging not only for the dugongs – long may they live – but also because it shows that we must never give up.

See the Presidential Letter here:…/presidential-letter-to-m…/

See Official Press Release here:…/1GdErAjUy1y9AToOWRUVEXgw2EW…/view

List of Marine Mammal Species and Subspecies Update Includes New Species and Subspecies

The Committee completed its annual review of the SMM list of accepted marine mammal species and subspecies in May 2020. A new species has been added to the list — Sato’s beaked whale, Berardius minimus Yamada, Kitamura and Matsuishi, 2019. This species is found in the North Pacific Ocean. It is smaller and darker in coloration than Baird’s beaked whale, B. bairdii, a closely related species of Berardius that is also found in the North Pacific. In addition to the morphological differences, mitochondrial DNA data also separate Sato’s beaked whale from the other beaked whale species.

The Committee has also recognized the North Pacific population of fin whales as a separate subspecies, Balaenoptera physalus velifera Cope in Scammon, 1869. Fin whales in the North Pacific have historically been included in the broadly distributed Northern Hemisphere subspecies B. p. physalus. A new genetic study examining both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA found that North Pacific fin whales are diagnosably different from those in the North Atlantic and the Southern Hemisphere, and are likely on a separate evolutionary trajectory.  The subspecies name velifera is Latin for sail-bearing and may refer to the large falcate dorsal fin.

The publications describing these new taxa are:

Archer FI, Robert L. Brownell J, Hancock-Hanser B, Morin P, Robertson K, Sherman K, Calambokidis J, R JU, Rosel P, Mizroch S, Panigada S, Taylor B (2019) Subspecies of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus Linnaeus, 1758): Taxonomic implications of genetics. J Mammal 100:1653–1670

Yamada TK, Kitamura S, Abe S, Tajima Y, Matsuda A, Mead JG, Matsuishi TF (2019) Description of a new species of beaked whale (Berardius) found in the North Pacific. Scientific Reports 9:1-14

Progress Update from the Conservation Committee

The Committee drafted several Presidential Letters (found here). The most recent was sent to President Tsai of Taiwan in regards to conservation efforts for the Taiwanese white dolphin. In March 2020, a Presidential Letter was sent regarding the conservation of dugongs in the Bazaruto Archipelago National Park (in Mozambique) and adjacent waters, the last viable dugong population in East Africa. The letter asks that the protected area be maintained and expanded and makes several suggestions about proposed oil and gas development. There is also a response to Mexican President López Obrador’s government response to an earlier vaquita letter. The letter expresses distress at evidence of another gillnet vaquita fatality together with evidence of increasing levels of gillnetting (in addition to ongoing illegal totoaba gillnetting) following the cessation of compensation to fishermen. The letter concludes with a plea for action (but none was taken). The final letter went to the NOAA Office of Protected Resources regarding the endangered southern resident killer whales. The letter was in response to a request for comments on ways to reduce impacts of vessels and noise and a series of recommendations that urge the agency to be precautionary are made.