Preparations Underway for the SMM Biennial in New Zealand

Preparations are well underway for the SMM biennial in New Zealand with a near record number of abstract submissions . All the abstracts have been reviewed and the results posted on the web. If you need letters of support to obtain an New Zealand visa or travel funds from your institution, I am in the process of organizing such letters to be downloadable from the website.

As marine mammal scientists, we are incredibly privileged to be allowed to observe and handle wild marine mammals in ways that are not open to members of the wider society. In 2009, the Society published Guidelines for Handling Marine Mammals (Gales et al. Marine Mammal Science 25:725-736). These guidelines represent the ethical standards of the international marine mammal scientific community and define the values that characterise the researchers that are the backbone of our Society. These guidelines are an invaluable resource for researchers and Animal Ethics Committees throughout the world.

Thanks to the hard work of Charles Littnan and his Ethics Committee, the Society has now gone one step further and produced a Code of Professional Ethics, which was accepted by the Society in the mid-year ballot this year and will be published in Marine Mammal Science in 2014. This Code states 13 guiding principles aimed at assisting the Society to fulfil its mission to promote the global advancement of marine mammal science and contribute to its relevance and impact in education, science, conservation and management. The code is comprehensive and covers professional conduct, human and animal ethics, information dissemination and authorship and the use of robust science in evidence based management. I commend it to you.

Two panels associated with the Biennial will provide the opportunity for members to learn about the science I hope will contribute to shaping views about two controversial, ethical matters:

  1. ‘Lethal Take of Marine Mammals’, which will be a feature of the plenary day, the first day of our meeting; and
  2. ‘Biology and Life History of Captive and Freed-Ranging Killer Whales’, which will be an evening ‘side event’.

The purpose of these panel discussions is NOT to reach a consensus or Society position but to educate members with regard to current scientific perspectives so that people can consider empirical data as they make up their own minds about these complex mixes of technical, ethical and cultural issues. There will be no outputs from the session or motions from the floor.

The workshops will have several structural features in common:

  1. an independent facilitator,
  2. introductory speaker(s) who will outline the relevant science, and
  3. an expert panel with the capacity to represent the diverse dimensions of the issue in their answers to questions provided by you, the members, in advance of the meeting.

Members of the Society will be invited to submit questions online one month prior to the meeting. The questions will be clearly visible to our membership for transparency’s sake. The working groups organising each session will select a set of the questions that encompass the aspects of the issue. The expert panel will then discuss the questions.

We are very fortunate to have two distinguished facilitators. Sir Geoffrey Palmer will facilitate the ‘Lethal Take’ workshop. Sir Geoffrey, a former Prime Minister of New Zealand was the New Zealand Commissioner to the IWC for several years, experience that makes him outstandingly well qualified for this role.

John Reynolds , a former Chair of the US Marine Mammal Commission and President of the Society from 2006-2008 will facilitate the ‘Captive Killer Whale Workshop’.

I hope that many of you will submit questions on-line and attend these workshops. Watch the SMM website or email

There will clearly be much to talk about in Dunedin and I look forward to seeing you there. Remember, it is our very diversity on tough issues such as these that makes our Society so vital, effective and internationally relevant.

Helene Marsh

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