Meet the Commission
The Marine Mammal Commission consists of three members (i.e., Commissioners) who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The Commissioners must be knowledgeable in marine ecology and resource management as mandated by the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA).
The Commission is assisted in its work by a nine-member Committee of Scientific Advisors (CSA) on Marine Mammals. Committee members are appointed by the Chairman of the Commission after consultation with the Chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, the Director of the National Science Foundation, and the Chairman of the National Academy of Sciences. A special advisor on native affairs is also appointed to the committee. The MMPA requires that committee members be knowledgeable in marine ecology and marine mammal affairs.
The Commission and CSA are supported by a staff of 14 full-time employees, including an Executive Director, who is appointed by the Chairman with the approval of the Commissioners.
Our Commission staff office is located in Bethesda, Maryland. Learn more about contacting or visiting us.
Daryl J. Boness, Ph.D.
University of New England
Daryl Boness currently serves as Chairman of the Marine Mammal Commission, having been appointed to that position by President Obama and confirmed by the Senate in 2010. He also serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s scientific journal, Marine Mammal Science, having been selected by the Board of Governors in 2007. He earned an M.A. in human psychophysiology in 1973 and a Ph.D. in animal behavior (behavioral ecology) in 1979. He received his Ph.D. from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. Dr. Boness joined the staff at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park in 1978, where he worked his entire career. During his tenure at the Smithsonian, he served both as a Curator of Mammals and as a research scientist. His research focused on the reproductive strategies of pinnipeds, both mating systems and maternal care patterns, although he also mentored students who worked on similar questions in seabirds. Dr. Boness’ studies included working on about a third of the various species and subspecies of pinnipeds, including representatives of all three taxonomic families. He retired after 26 years with the Smithsonian, during which he became a senior scientist and had been Head of the Department of Conservation Biology. Dr. Boness served on the Commission’s Committee of Scientific Advisors on Marine Mammals for 17 years prior to being confirmed as a Commissioner. For a list of his publications, visit http://www.researchgate.net/profile/Daryl_Boness.
Frances M.D. Gulland, Vet. M.B., Ph.D.
School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California Davis
San Rafael, California
Frances Gulland is a veterinarian specializing in marine mammal medicine. She is a Research Associate at the University of California, Davis, and worked for 25 years at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California, where her focus was treatment of stranded marine mammals and research into the causes of disease in these animals. She received a veterinary degree from the University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, in 1984, and a Ph.D. in zoology in 1991. Dr. Gulland has served on a number of federal and state advisory panels, including the Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events, the Hawaiian Monk Seal Recovery Team, and California’s Ocean Protection Council and Oiled Wildlife Care Network. In 2000, she joined the Committee of Scientific Advisors of the Marine Mammal Commission, and in 2011, was appointed to serve as one of three Commissioners.
Michael Tillman, Ph.D.
Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
La Jolla, California
Michael Tillman serves as a Commissioner on the Marine Mammal Commission, having been appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate in 2010. A Viet Nam era veteran and member of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribe of Southeast Alaska, he received his Ph.D. in fisheries science with a minor in natural resource economics from the University of Washington in 1972. Joining the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in 1972, Dr. Tillman variously undertook research on the population dynamics of whale stocks, served on the U.S. delegation to the International Whaling Commission (IWC), directed the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, chaired the IWC’s Scientific Committee, and directed the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Conservation Monitoring Center on a three-year detail. Appointed as an NMFS Senior Executive in 1988, he served as the agency’s first Chief Scientist, its Deputy Director, and finally as Director of its Southwest Fisheries Science Center. Retiring in 2004, Dr. Tillman worked as a self-employed consultant for 6 and a half years, focusing on the whaling issue and the subsistence use of marine wildlife resources. His extensive experience in international conservation included Presidential appointments as Deputy U.S. Commissioner to IWC (1994–2004) and as U.S. Commissioner to the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (1994–1999). In addition to his work at the Commission, Dr. Tillman is also a research associate working on marine wildlife conservation issues at the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation, Scripps Institution of Oceanography. As a Commissioner, he continues to pursue his interests in Alaskan and Arctic issues, subsistence use, IWC, and other international conservation efforts.
Committee of Scientific Advisors on Marine Mammals
Randall R. Reeves, Ph.D.
Okapi Wildlife Associates
Hudson, Quebec, Canada
Randall Reeves was born, raised, and educated in Nebraska. He relocated to the East Coast in 1970, earned his M.A. in public policy from Princeton in 1973, and soon after that became hooked on whales. As a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution and later the Arctic Biological Station near Montreal, he carried out numerous contract studies, including several for the Marine Mammal Commission in the 1970s and 1980s. Dr. Reeves’s doctoral dissertation at McGill University (1992) was on the history and management of narwhal hunting. During the 1980s and 1990s, he was involved in field research and conservation initiatives on whales in Alaska, the Canadian Arctic, and Greenland; on right whales and other cetaceans in the North Atlantic; and on river dolphins and coastal cetaceans in Asia and South America. He is also an expert on the history of whaling. As Chairman of the International Union for Conservation of Nature Species Survival Commission’s Cetacean Specialist Group since 1996, Dr. Reeves has been responsible for preparing and evaluating Red List assessments; drafting conservation action plans; and advising government agencies, intergovernmental bodies, and non-governmental organizations. He has published numerous articles in scientific journals and co-authored or co-edited books on marine mammal conservation and science. He is a longtime member of the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee and Mexico’s international vaquita recovery committee and recently served on the President of Mexico’s special advisory commission to save the vaquita. Dr. Reeves joined the Committee of Scientific Advisors in 2006.
Robin W. Baird, Ph.D.
Cascadia Research Collective
Robin Baird received his Ph.D. in biology in 1994 from Simon Fraser University and was a post-doctoral fellow at Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia) from 1996 to 2001. He has worked with marine mammals since 1986, focusing primarily on odontocete population assessment, stock structure, habitat use, and behavior. He has also worked as a research biologist with Cascadia Research Collective since 2003 and is a member of the False Killer Whale Take Reduction Team. Dr. Baird is an affiliate faculty member at Hawai’i Pacific University and a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Cetacean Specialist Group. He joined the Marine Mammal Commission’s Committee of Scientific Advisors on Marine Mammals in 2011. Information on his research can be found at http://www.cascadiaresearch.org/hawaii.htm and https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=60qrzj4AAAAJ&hl=en.
Jason Baker, Ph.D.
NOAA Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center
Jason Baker is a marine biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC). He earned a B.A. in Russian and Eastern European international studies and an M.S. in wildlife sciences from the University of Washington, followed by a Ph.D. in zoology from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. From 1984 to 1998, he worked at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory, primarily researching northern fur seals and Steller sea lions. He has conducted field research in Alaska, the continental U.S. West Coast, the former Soviet Far East, Hawaii, Scotland, and American Samoa. In 1998, he accepted a position leading NOAA’s Hawaiian monk seal population assessment research. In the mid-2000s, he led the establishment of the PIFSC’s cetacean and marine turtle stock assessment programs. Dr. Baker is the author or co-author of more than 40 peer-reviewed publications on a diverse range of topics, including population dynamics, research techniques, population and foraging ecology, evidence-based conservation, climate change, behavior, physiology, and health. Since 2007, he has focused on applied conservation biology and is keenly interested in the links among marine mammal population biology, ecology, and environmental change. His current research centers on determining impediments to Hawaiian monk seal recovery and designing rigorous, science-based interventions to improve population status. Dr. Baker joined the Marine Mammal Commission’s Committee of Scientific Advisors on Marine Mammals in 2013.
Sue E. Moore, Ph.D.
The Center for Ecosystem Sentinels, Biology Department, University of Washington
Sue Moore is a biological oceanographer with over 35 years of research experience focused on the ecology, bioacoustics, and natural history of whales and dolphins, especially those found in Arctic waters. She holds a B.A. in biology from the University of California, San Diego, a M.S. in biology from San Diego State University, and a Ph.D. in biological oceanography from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Dr. Moore has served as the Director of the Marine Mammal Laboratory (2002–2004) and Cetacean Program Leader (1998–2002) at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center, and was a Senior Scientist in NOAA’s Office of Science and Technology. She is currently an affiliate professor at the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels, for the Department of Biology and the School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences at the University of Washington. More information can be found at https://ecosystemsentinels.org/sue-moore/
Patricia E. Rosel, Ph.D.
NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center
Patricia Rosel is a research geneticist with NOAA Fisheries’ Southeast Fisheries Science Center Marine Mammal Program. She earned her Ph.D. in marine biology from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. Dr. Rosel’s dissertation research focused on population genetics, phylogeography and phylogenetics of the porpoise family Phocoenidae, as well as application of genetic data to distinguish cryptic species of dolphins. After finishing her Ph.D., she completed two post-doctoral research positions working on marine fish species. At the University of Chicago, Dr. Rosel examined worldwide population structure of swordfish, and at the University of New Hampshire she developed molecular methods to detect larval cod in the stomach contents of other fish species as part of a Georges Bank predation project. In 1997, she moved to the NOAA facility in Charleston, South Carolina, to return to research on marine mammal populations, completing work on harbor porpoises in the Atlantic and initiating a research program on population structure of common bottlenose dolphins along the U.S. East Coast. Currently, she runs the Marine Mammal Molecular Genetics Laboratory, which is a component of the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center’s Marine Mammal Program and focuses on population structure, taxonomy and phylogenetics of cetaceans in the northwest Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Dr. Rosel joined the Commission’s Committee of Scientific Advisors on Marine Mammals in 2011.
Samantha Strindberg, Ph.D.
Wildlife Conservation Society
Carmel Valley, CA
Samantha Strindberg is a Conservation Scientist and Wildlife Statistician in the Global Conservation Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), a US-based NGO. She provides statistical design and analysis assistance to WCS staff based at terrestrial and marine field sites world-wide. She focuses in particular on the appropriate application of continually evolving specialized techniques for wildlife surveys, and on conducting statistical analyses to investigate ecological and human-influenced relationships relevant to conservation management. Samantha also contributes to strategic conservation planning by developing conceptual models and theories of change, and by designing monitoring programs to assess the effectiveness of conservation activities. Her work covers whales, dolphins, fish, marine turtles, forest elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, tigers, ungulates, and many other species across the world. Occasionally she has the pleasure of participating in field work, most often in marine surveys.
Samantha holds a Ph.D. in Statistics focused on Wildlife Population Assessment from the University of St Andrews, Scotland. While there, she was a member of the Research Unit for Wildlife Population Assessment (RUWPA), and also worked on projects including the mapping and survey design component of the Distance software, the International Whaling Commission’s Database-Estimation Software System, as well as data entry software for cetacean surveys. Samantha originally majored in Computer Science and Applied Mathematics at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. During this time she also worked on fisheries and marine mammal population assessments. She has published four book chapters on distance sampling and over 45 peer-reviewed papers covering topics such as abundance estimation, spatial distribution, temporal trends, survey techniques, and evidence-based conservation.
Robert Suydam, Ph.D.
North Slope Borough
Robert Suydam earned a B.S. in environmental biology from California State University-Fresno in 1986 and an M.S. in biology from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1995. He has lived in Barrow, Alaska, and worked as a wildlife biologist for the North Slope Borough since 1990. His research interests have focused on working with Northern Alaska communities to monitor population trends and document natural history traits of bowhead and beluga whales, eiders, geese, and other Arctic species. Additionally, he works with subsistence hunters and oil and gas industry to identify, prioritize, and fill baseline study needs and data gaps. He also serves on the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee, currently as their vice-chair. Dr. Suydam has authored or co-authored more than 75 peer-reviewed scientific publications and numerous scientific reports. In 2007, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fisheries Sciences. His doctoral work focused on the population dynamics and life history traits of beluga whales from the eastern Chukchi Sea. Dr. Suydam joined the Marine Mammal Commission’s Committee of Scientific Advisors on Marine Mammals in 2008.
Aaron M. Thode, Ph.D.
Marine Physical Laboratory, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California
San Diego, California
Thode received his Bachelor of Science degree in physics and master’s degree in electrical engineering (specializing in antenna and radio propagation) concurrently in 1993 from Stanford University. He received his Ph.D. in Oceanography from Scripps in 1999. He was a postdoctoral scholar in ocean engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1999-2001, before rejoining Scripps in 2002 as a Research Scientist.
In 2005, he received the A. B. Wood Medal from the UK’s Institute of Acoustics, “for distinguished contributions in the application of acoustics.” In 2008 he was elected a Fellow in the Acoustical Society of America for “contributions in signal processing to marine mammal acoustics”, and in 2011 he was awarded the Medwin Prize in Acoustical Oceanography by the same society, recognizing “a person for the effective use of sound in the discovery and understanding of physical and biological parameters and processes in the sea”. Thode’s research ranges from the physics of underwater sound propagation to studies of the acoustic behavior of marine mammals off Alaska, California, and Mexico.
Randall Wells, Ph.D.
Chicago Zoological Society, Sarasota Dolphin Research Program
Randall Wells joined the Marine Mammal Commission’s Committee of Scientific Advisors in 2015. He is a senior conservation scientist with the Chicago Zoological Society, where he directs the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program. Dr. Wells obtained his Ph.D. from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and received a post-doctoral fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Dr. Wells’ current research program examines the behavior, social structure, life history, ecology, health, and population biology of resident bottlenose dolphins studied since 1970 along the Central West Coast of Florida, with studies focusing on anthropogenic impacts. In addition, Dr. Wells has been involved in research with vaquita; spinner and pantropical spotted dolphins; franciscanas; blue, gray, bowhead, and humpback whales; and manatees. Dr. Wells has engaged in interventions and the reintroduction and post-release monitoring of captive, rescued, and rehabilitated bottlenose, Risso’s, Guiana, and rough-toothed dolphins, as well as short-finned pilot whales. Dr. Wells was President of the Society for Marine Mammalogy from 2010 to 2012. Dr. Wells also serves on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Atlantic Scientific Review Group, and he is past-chair of the NOAA Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events. Dr. Wells serves on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Cetacean Specialist Group.
Vera Kingeekuk Metcalf
Special Advisor on Native Affairs
Eskimo Walrus Commission
Vera Metcalf was born and raised in Savoonga (Sivungaq) on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. Since 2002, she has been the Director of the Eskimo Walrus Commission (EWC) at Kawerak, Inc., which represents 19 coastal Alaskan communities in areas such as promoting community involvement in research, documenting local traditional ecological knowledge, and co-managing the Pacific walrus population. Ms. Metcalf represents the EWC in various forums, including the Indigenous People’s Council on Marine Mammals, the Arctic Marine Mammal Coalition, and the Arctic Waterways Safety Committee. She is a Special Advisor on Native Affairs on the Marine Mammal Commission, an advisory panel member of the North Pacific Research Board, a steering committee member for the Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy, a committee member on the Marine Advisory Program/University of Alaska Fairbanks, and a member of the Inuit Circumpolar Council Executive Committee and Alaska board. Ms. Metcalf is also a Bering Strait Commissioner for the U.S. Department of State, facilitating travel between Chukotka, Russia, and the Bering Straits region of Alaska. She is a strong advocate for the subsistence lifestyles of Alaska Native peoples, and is passionate about strengthening Alaska Native languages and cultures.
Peter O. Thomas, Ph.D.
Peter Thomas is the Executive Director of the Marine Mammal Commission. He earned his Ph.D. in Animal Behavior from the University of California, Davis, conducting research on southern right whales at Peninsula Valdés, Argentina under a Fulbright Fellowship. In the early 1980s, he was part of a team studying bowhead whale behavior in response to seismic testing in the Canadian Beaufort Sea. As Assistant to the Director of the Minnesota Zoological Gardens (1987-1991) Dr. Thomas led a review of the zoo’s marine mammal program. He joined the U.S. State Department in 1991 as a AAAS Science and Diplomacy Fellow. Over his career at State (1991-2001) he managed U.S. policy and international negotiations on the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). He was instrumental in the creation of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) and the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force and was the first ICRI Global Chair (1994-1996). From 1999-2001 Dr. Thomas served as the U.S. Advisor for Scientific and Technological Affairs to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris. He joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2001 as Chief of the Division of Management Authority, the office that oversees permitting and policy for U.S. wildlife imports and exports under the CITES Convention.
Dr. Thomas joined the Marine Mammal Commission in 2008 as International and Policy Program Director, overseeing reviews of proposed actions under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), Endangered Species Act (ESA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and other statutes and treaties and domestic policy related to the Arctic, climate change, sound, energy development, and shipping. He led the Commission’s international work with a focus on acute marine mammal conservation issues such as the endangered vaquita porpoise, conservation of freshwater cetaceans, and the response of marine mammals to the effects of climate change. He is lead author of the 2015 assessment of the Status of the World’s Baleen Whales.
Scientific Program Officer
Dee Allen joined the Marine Mammal Commission’s team in 2014 as the Research Program Officer and later transitioned to the Scientific Program Officer. She earned her B.S. (Towson State University) and M.S. (The George Washington University) degrees in biological sciences. Her master’s thesis research on the use of mandibular morphometric analyses for distinguishing species and sex of beaked whales earned her the John G. Shedd Aquarium Award from the Society for Marine Mammalogy and the Sylvia L. Bunting Prize from the George Washington University. Ms. Allen has volunteered with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program since 1991, assisting with health assessments, telemetry, photo identification, and behavioral observations of bottlenose dolphins. From 1996 to 2007, she worked with the Smithsonian Institution’s Marine Mammal Program at the National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) and maintains active collaborations with this program as a Research Associate. At NMNH, she managed the Cetacean Distributional Database, participated in necropsies and anatomical studies of cetaceans, led the collaborative development of an online reference for identifying beaked whale specimens, and participated in numerous student mentorship opportunities and outreach events. Ms. Allen worked with the National Marine Mammal Laboratory at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Alaska Fisheries Science Center (AFSC) for seven years. At NOAA’s AFSC, she coordinated the annual development of the Alaska Marine Mammal Stock Assessment Reports (SARs), served as Fisheries Liaison to the Alaska Scientific Review Group, managed the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) import and export permits, and coordinated reviews of permit applications at the request of the Fisheries Permit Division. She also compiled human-caused mortality and injury data on Alaskan marine mammals and assessed the severity of injuries under the agency’s Serious Injury Policy for use in the SARs and List of Fisheries. Ms. Allen has participated as a member of marine mammal field research teams with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, NOAA’s Northeast and Alaska Fisheries Science Centers, and Duke University. As a member of the Commission’s Scientific Program, Ms. Allen administers the Commission’s research grants program and provides scientific support to the program and the Commission.
Tiffini J. Brookens
Tiffini Brookens is a biologist for the Marine Mammal Commission. In 2001, she earned a B.S. in biology and marine science, with minors in chemistry and environmental science. In 2006, she earned an M.S. in marine science, with an emphasis in marine mammalogy, from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories at California State University, Monterey Bay. Her master’s thesis focused on trace element concentrations in live-captured and dead-stranded harbor seals throughout central and northern California. She also was the stranding network coordinator for Monterey County and a marine mammal technician tasked with determining body burden assessments of total mercury in harbor seal pups. In 2007, she began work as a marine biologist at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division, Newport, in Rhode Island. While with the Navy, she drafted and reviewed compliance documentation in support of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and Executive Order 12114 regarding acoustic and impulsive effects of the Navy’s testing and training activities on marine mammals. Ms. Brookens has been at the Commission since 2010 and was originally tasked with reviewing, evaluating, and commenting on both permit and authorization applications and associated documents involving the taking of marine mammals under the MMPA, ESA, NEPA, Antarctic Conservation Act (ACA), Animal Welfare Act (AWA), National Defense Authorization Act, and Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). A large portion of her job at the Commission has entailed providing technical expertise regarding the effects of underwater sound on marine mammals. As of fall 2018, Ms. Brookens has graciously handed over her duties associated with permit applications to Merra Howe and plans to focus more of her time on authorization applications, policies, and programs involving the effects of sound on marine mammals.
Victoria R. Cornish
Energy Policy Analyst / Alaska Native Liaison
Victoria Cornish is the Marine Mammal Commission’s energy policy analyst and liaison on Alaska Native issues. Ms. Cornish focuses on the effects of offshore oil and gas and renewable energy activities on marine mammals and their environment, as well as the enhancement of scientific research, monitoring, policies, and programs to better understand and minimize those effects. She also serves as the Commission’s liaison on Alaska Native issues, with an emphasis on enhancing co-management of marine mammals. She holds a B.S. in biology from the University of California at San Diego and an M.S. in biological oceanography from the University of Miami. Prior to joining the Commission, Ms. Cornish served as Director of Marine Wildlife Policy for the Ocean Conservancy, where she led the organization’s efforts to conserve marine mammals and endangered species by providing scientific and policy expertise on fisheries bycatch, marine debris, vessel strikes, ecotourism, and Endangered Species Act listing actions. Ms. Cornish also worked for 15 years at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) National Marine Fisheries Service, where she was involved in the development and implementation of the 1994 amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). She represented the agency on several take reduction teams, initiated the National Observer Program, and served as the Marine Mammal Branch Chief for the agency’s Southeast Regional Office in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Michael L. Gosliner, Esq.
Michael Gosliner is the General Counsel of the Marine Mammal Commission, a position he has held since 1987. He holds an undergraduate degree in biology from the University of California at Berkeley and a J.D. from the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. He was a founding member of the Hastings Environmental Law Association, an affiliation that led to him securing an internship with the White House Domestic Policy Staff. Mr. Gosliner served as a staff attorney with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Office of General Counsel beginning in 1983, where he specialized in issues related to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). While at NOAA, he was the primary author of regulations governing subsistence hunting of fur seals, was a principle author of regulations implementing Section 7 of the ESA, and represented the agency in a formal rulemaking authorizing the incidental taking of marine mammals in commercial fishing operations. As General Counsel, he oversees the legal affairs of the Commission. Among his many positions, he serves as the Commission’s ethics official, tribal liaison, committee management officer, National Environmental Policy Act liaison, and Freedom of Information Act officer. A recognized expert on the MMPA, Mr. Gosliner has lead responsibility for the development of Commission positions regarding interpretation and implementation of the Act. He also serves as the staff lead on a variety of other issues, including the conservation of polar bears and Cook Inlet beluga whales.
Dennis Heinemann, Ph.D.
Senior Adviser for Fisheries Policy & Ecology
Dennis Heinemann joined the Marine Mammal Commission as the Director of Science in 2011 and took on the role of Senior Advisor for Fisheries and Ecosystems in 2016. Dr. Heinemann leads the Commission’s policy and science engagement on issues related to interactions between marine mammals and fisheries, the ecosystem role of marine mammals, and the design, establishment and performance of marine mammal protected areas. Dennis’ experience includes community and population dynamics of marine wildlife, oil spill impacts on marine mammals and birds, fisheries bycatch of marine mammals and birds, marine mammal and fish stock assessment, marine mammal and fisheries management and policy, and marine protected area policy and design. For much of the 1990s, Dr. Heinemann was a Senior Research Scientist in the Division of Marine Research of Australia’s Commonwealth Science and Industry Research Organization, where he worked on interactions between longline fisheries and seabirds, marine reserve design and performance, and human impacts on nearshore marine ecosystems. Prior to that, Dennis held a variety of academic and research positions in the United States, during which time he undertook scientific studies of the pelagic community dynamics of seabirds in Alaska; impacts of oil development and spills on marine birds and mammals in Alaska and Southern California; foraging ecology of endangered terns in California and Massachusetts; and the predator-prey relationships of seabirds, fur seals, and their principal prey, krill, in Antarctica. In 2001 and 2002, he worked for the National Marine Fisheries Service, conducting assessment analyses of Gulf of Mexico fish stocks. Prior to joining the Commission, Dr. Heinemann was Senior Scientist and Vice President at Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C., where he provided leadership and support on conservation issues associated with marine fisheries, ocean climate change, and marine protected areas. Dennis holds master’s degrees in avian ecology and applied statistics and a Ph.D. in marine ecology.
Merra Howe joined the Marine Mammal Commission as a policy analyst in October 2018. After earning her undergraduate degree in biology from Vassar College in 2010, Merra gained extensive experience in cetacean passive acoustic monitoring as a technician for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and as a research associate at the Oceanwide Science Institute on Maui. She decided to pursue an M.S. in marine biology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa with a focus in ecology, evolution and conservation biology. Her thesis research used a dual approach of citizen science observations and passive acoustic monitoring to better understand the distribution of odontocetes around the Maui Nui islands of Hawaii. With a keen interest in the translation of science into policy, Merra headed off to Washington, D.C. as a 2017 Knauss Marine Policy Fellow. Her fellowship led her to congressional and legislative affairs at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, where she continued on after completing the fellowship. As a policy analyst at MMC, Merra is responsible for reviewing permit applications and drafting formal comments and recommendations, as well as helping to assess and develop policy advice for the International and Policy Program.
Darel E. Jordan
Since 1989, Darel Jordan has served as a staff assistant for the Marine Mammal Commission. She initially served for several years as office receptionist. Beginning in 2006, Ms. Jordan began providing support to the Commission’s Administrative Officer on a diverse range of tasks, including processing invoices, preparing travel paperwork, and maintaining administrative records and spreadsheets.
Erin LaBrecque, Ph.D.
Scientific Program Officer
Erin LaBrecque joined the Marine Mammal Commission’s Scientific Program in 2020. She is a marine ecologist with research interests in spatial modeling, marine bioacoustics, and understanding the bio-physical processes that describe marine mammal habitats and influence their distributions. After graduating from the Honor’s Program at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore with a B.S. in biology, she worked as a field biologist on various marine mammal research and conservation projects for US government agencies and nonprofit and academic research groups. From ship-based, multispecies abundance and ecosystem assessment surveys to dedicated small-boat, species-specific field work, Dr. LaBrecque has observed marine mammal populations in several ecosystems including the Eastern Tropical Pacific, U.S. Hawaiian waters, the California Current, Gulf of Mexico, Gulf of Maine, Bay of Fundy, and U.S. Atlantic waters. After several years as a marine mammal field biologist, Dr. LaBrecque attended Duke University and earned a Master of Environmental Management focusing on coastal environmental management, and a Ph.D. in marine science and conservation. Her master’s research with Dr. Andy Read assessed the influence of a dynamic frontal zone on seabird and marine mammal distributions off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Her Ph.D. with Dr. Pat Halpin focused on developing cetacean habitat models within the Mid-Atlantic Bight shelf break region to understand fine-scale cetacean habitat and prey variability within this dynamic region which overlaps with human activities. In 2016 and 2017 Dr. LaBrecque was a visiting postdoctoral associate in the Marine Ecology and Acoustic Lab at Florida International University and helped characterize individual and group movements of the deep scattering layer in the Gulf of Mexico from broadband and multifrequency narrowband active acoustics. Since 2017, she has been an independent contractor working in data science, active acoustics, spatial modeling, and has consulted for the Natural Resources Defense Council on the potential effects of US offshore wind development on marine mammals. Beyond marine mammal research, Dr. LaBrecque is a proponent of open-source programming and collaborative research, science communication, and anything having to do with dogs.
Phyllis P. Malloy
Administrative Support Assistant
Phyllis Malloy is the new Administrative Support Assistant for the Marine Mammal Commission. She is a native of Fairmont, North Carolina and an alumnus of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro where she earned a B.S. degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies with a concentration in Therapeutic Recreation. Ms. Malloy brings 20 years of administrative experience and training with the U.S. Air Force as an Administrative Specialist/Information Manager. In addition to her honorable Air Force career, she holds an A. S. degree in Information Management from the Community College of the Air Force and an A.S. degree in Office Systems Technology from Central Carolina Technical College. Ms. Malloy brings a strong love for animals of both land and sea. She joined the Commission staff in 2015.
Communications and Legislative Affairs Officer
Brady joined the Commission as the Communications and Legislative Affairs Officer in April 2019. He previously served the Commission as a 2018 Knauss Marine Policy Fellow through the NOAA Sea Grant program. His duties include legislative affairs, external communications, and media management. He received his Master’s degree from the University of California, Davis where his research focused on the carbon sequestration of seagrass meadows in Northeastern Pacific estuaries. While in graduate school, Brady pursued science-policy opportunities including an internship at the NOAA West Coast Regional Office, research with Point Blue Conservation Science, and social media development for the Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. He has completed and led many science communication workshops and is always eager to learn more. Brady completed a B.S. at Eckerd College with a double major in Marine Science and Environmental Studies, minoring in Political Science. While at Eckerd College, his undergraduate research focused on the linkages between human impacts to the environment in marine sediments, including work on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in the Gulf of Mexico as well as sediment pollution to coral habitats in St. John, US Virgin Islands. As the Communications Officer, Brady will continue to further the Commission’s mission by strengthening the agency’s external communications, legislative affairs, and media management.
Cathy Shrestha holds a B.A. in economics from Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, and an M.A. in South Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She began her career as a Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, working on a program that provided credit to small farmers. She has worked in international development at both non-profit organizations and at the Peace Corps Headquarters. At the Peace Corps, she held positions as a country desk officer, management analyst, and administrative officer. Prior to joining the Marine Mammal Commission, Ms. Shrestha worked as a budget analyst at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.
Samantha E. Simmons, Ph.D.
Scientific Program Director
Samantha Simmons has been the Scientific Program Director of the Marine Mammal Commission since February 2018. She is a marine biologist by training with an emphasis on marine mammal biology. Dr. Simmons was born and raised in the United Kingdom and completed her BSc. (Hons.) in marine and environmental biology at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews in 2000. She moved to the United States to pursue graduate studies, joining Dr. Daniel Costa’s laboratory at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2001, where she earned an M.S. in marine science and then a Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology. Her master’s research considered the behavior of northern elephant seals in relation to oceanography, using satellite remote-sensed oceanographic data. Her Ph.D. research examined the foraging success of pinnipeds in relation to the sub-surface thermal structure of the water column. During a one-year postdoctoral fellowship at the university, Dr. Simmons initiated a research project on the foraging energetics of elephant seals. In June 2009 she started as the Assistant Scientific Program Director at the Marine Mammal Commission where she continues to advise on the use of the best available science in policy decisions in her current role as Program Director. Sam is involved with several projects focused on evaluating impacts from natural and anthropogenic sources on marine mammals, including cumulative impacts. Additionally, Dr. Simmons is engaged with several efforts to improve the standardization and availability of biological data, including developing an Animal Telemetry Network, developing a marine mammal health monitoring and analysis platform, and engaging with the global community on similar issues as a panel member representing marine mammals on the Global Ocean Observing System’s Biology and Ecosystems Panel. Dr. Simmons also oversees the Commission’s research grant program and the Survey of Federally Funded Research. Information on Dr. Simmons’ professional activities, research, and publications can be found here.
Connor Fagan, J.D.
2020 Knauss Fellow
Connor Fagan is the 2020 Knauss Fellow at the Marine Mammal Commission. He earned his J.D. from Louisiana State University (LSU). While obtaining his J.D. from LSU, he worked at the intersection of science and policy with a number of non-profit and government institutions. The bulk of this time was spent with the Louisiana Sea Grant and the NAS-funded Coastal Sustainability Studio as a Law and Policy Clerk. There, he broadly worked in all facets of Sea Grant’s research, education, and extension-oriented mission. His research and presenting experience has included the Marine Mammal Protection Act and Endangered Species Act (among other environmental protection statutes), pollution prevention laws, the legal establishment of aquaculture ‘parks,’ and other issues related to marine and coastal issues in the Gulf of Mexico. While at LSU, he also participated in coursework at the LSU Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences (DOCS). There, he continued to work at the intersection of oceanographical qualitative and quantitative analysis. At the Commission, he will continue to develop this work at the convergence of marine science, policy, and law. By engaging and enhancing these skills, he may assist the Commission in implementing their Congressionally-mandated mission to protect and conserve marine mammals, marine ecosystems, and the rights of native communities.
2021 Knauss Fellow
Lauri is the 2021 Knauss Fellow at the Marine Mammal Commission. She earned a B.S. in biological sciences at the University of Rhode Island and spent several years working as a veterinary technician and wildlife rehabilitator, while volunteering with multiple marine mammal stranding programs. With a growing interest in conservation, Lauri went on to gain experience as a field biologist studying Hawaiian monk seals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, participated in aerial and vessel-based surveys for North Atlantic right whales in Florida and Cape Cod, and assisted with photo-identification of humpback whales, fin whales, and gray seals in the Gulf of Maine. She later completed a Master’s degree in marine biology at the University of Maine, where she studied predator-prey interactions between seals and diadromous fish in the Penobscot River Estuary. As a Knauss Fellow at the Commission, Lauri hopes to gain policy experience while using her skills and experience to support the conservation of marine mammals and their ecosystems.