A Final Presidential Blog from Helene Marsh

In a few hours (depending on the time zone), I pass the baton of President of the Society to the very capable hands of Nick Gales. I am sure his experience at the International Court of Justice has given him the gravitas required for the role!

It has (mostly) been a very interesting and rewarding experience to be Present of your Society and I feel very honored to have had the opportunity to serve in that capacity. I would like to thank all my fellow Board members for their support. I could not have done the job without their friendship and professionalism. Particular thanks to:

  • Nick Lunn and Ailsa Hall who are also leaving the Board after very long and faithful stints;
  • Jim Harvey and Heather Koopman who have bravely agreed to soldier on in their invaluable roles of Treasurer and Secretary (how could the Society manage without you);
  • Simon Goldsworthy and Coralie D’Lima who also rotate off the Board after giving stellar service as Member-at –Large and Student-Member-at Large respectively leaving Simon Northbridge and  Carolina Loch Silva and their newly elected colleagues to carry on their good work ;
  • Liz Slooten and Steve Dawson for such a great conference in Dunedin and leaving the Society in such excellent financial shape;
  • Alana Phillips and Shane Gero for their hard work as chairs of the Membership and Education Committees respectively and their attempts at educating me about social media (I still haven’t got a Facebook account though);
  • Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara for his attempts to make the Society more international;
  • Daryl Boness for his outstanding stewardship of our journal;
  • Charles Littnan for his leadership in all things ethical, especially his hard work on developing the Code of Conduct and for organizing the Humane Killing Panel in Dunedin;
  • Doug Wartzok for his efficient administration of the grants-in-aid and for moderating the Killer Whale Panel in Dunedin at such short notice – a tough gig;
  • Barb Taylor for facilitating the production of a record number of Presidential Letters, some of which actually appear to have made some difference;
  • Bill Perrin for his taxonomic wisdom and deep insights into the history of the Society.

A special thanks to Shane for taking over the awards in Dunedin when Nick Lunn could not come at the last minute.

When I stood for President, I aimed to make the Society more international. How are we doing on that front?  Membership Secretary, Alana Phillips, has come up with some interesting stats.

  • Members from the USA comprise approximately 50% of membership.  It will be important to stage at least every second Biennial in the US to serve that constituency.
  • Presumably as a result of the Dunedin Biennial, the Society had more members in Australia and New Zealand in 2013 than ever before. For the first time, there are more Australian members than Canadian, although that situation will presumably revert when the 2015 Biennial is held in San Francisco.
  • Membership is increasing from Central and South America; Brazil and Mexico have the 6th and 8th most members respectively and we can expect membership from that part of the world to be boosted by the 2017 Biennial in Mexico.
  • Although Monaco has the distinction of having the highest per-capita membership of any country, membership from Europe is not as high I would like, presumably because of competition with the European Cetacean Society. I hope that European membership might be boosted by a joint meeting with that Society in 2021. Negotiations to that end have commenced…
  • Membership from Asia is still low apart from Japan (5th) – perhaps we need to be thinking about an Asian Biennial in 2025!

However, I am less sanguine about the geography of marine mammal research effort. Between 2008 and 2012, only 12 % of papers in marine mammal were about taxa in low income countries, even though the coastal and riverine populations of marine mammals in such countries are disproportionately at risk. Bob Brownell recently pointed out that 9 of the 12 taxa of  small cetaceans listed on the IUCN Red List as “Critically Endangered” are from low income countries. The conservation of these populations needs to be informed by science. I recently attended a workshop on one of these species the Mekong River dolphin in Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Although the survival of this dolphin population is far from certain, its prospects have improved as a result of assistance from a team of international experts. This team is hoping to be able to provide similar expertise to assist in the conservation of the Ayeyarwady dolphin, a liaison that has been facilitated by a Presidential letter  – demonstrating that our science can make a difference.

I wish the new Board all the best and look forward to seeing you all in San Francisco in 2015.

Warm regards,


Helene Marsh

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