Marine Mammal Commission

2024 Grant Awards

Grant Awards by Fiscal Year: 2024 | 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011Previous Years

Projects Funded by the Marine Mammal Commission in Fiscal Year 2024

Topic A(1): Research/Projects - Marine mammal health in a changing climate

Forecasting the ecology and epidemiology of avian influenza viruses in marine mammals

Johnson, C.

One Health Institute, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis

The Marine Mammal Commission’s 2024 Marine Mammal Health Surveillance Workshop Report lists influenza as a priority pathogen for every focal species and region in the US.  This project will combine empirical data and predictive modeling to characterize the transmission dynamics of high pathogenicity avian influenza (HPAI) H5N1 Gs/GD clade viruses (hereafter “H5N1”) in marine mammals across the Americas. The 2024 southern elephant seal breeding season in Península Valdés, Argentina, provides a critical opportunity to monitor marine mammal population health following a catastrophic H5N1 mortality event. Elucidating patterns of transmission will inform disease risks to numerous sub-Antarctic and Antarctic marine mammal species disproportionately vulnerable to climate change.  This project will measure molecular and serological prevalence of H5N1 in mother-pup elephant seal pairs, sea lions, and scavenging seabirds, perform phylogenetic analysis, and document contact networks to assess transmission mechanisms, differential susceptibility to disease, and potential for endemicity.  A large-scale ecological niche model characterizing HPAI spillover risk to marine mammals in current and projected climate scenarios will be built, as well a multi-species epidemiological model to simulate epizootics. The goal of this work is to improve the ability to target avian influenza surveillance and monitoring, understand factors contributing to outbreaks, and predict impacts to marine mammal population health in the face of climate change.

An integrated approach to estimate body condition for subsistence-harvested beluga whales in a changing Arctic

Kosma, M.

Kosma Collaborative, LLC

Beluga whales (Delphinapterus leucas) play a pivotal role in the Arctic marine ecosystem as the most abundant odontocetes. These marine mammals are crucial for the nutritional subsistence of Arctic coastal and island communities, holding deep cultural and spiritual significance for Indigenous peoples. Given the pronounced impact of climate change in the Arctic, it is imperative to comprehend how these changes will affect beluga whales. Previous declines in certain beluga stocks have spurred proactive efforts by co-management groups to monitor the status and health of current populations, particularly the Beaufort Sea and Eastern Bering Sea stocks. The use of unoccupied aerial systems (UAS) provides a noninvasive method to assess body condition of whales. This approach allows the incorporation of live animals into population health assessments and provides detailed information for life history parameters. The objective of this work is to validate body condition assessment methods for belugas and analyze trends in subsistence-harvested beluga stocks in Alaskan waters. This involves integrating direct morphometric measurements of harvested animals from well-established databases and methodology with those obtained through the new method of UAS-photogrammetry. Establishing the groundwork for a long-term health monitoring program of beluga whales will contribute to the ongoing efforts to conserve and manage these stocks. Furthermore, the integration of this new tool enhances our capacity to monitor marine top predators and observe changes in the Arctic ecosystem amidst climate change.

Developing a method to assess nutritional status of gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) in response to environmental change

Newsome, S.

University of Mexico

Gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) populations in the northeast Pacific Ocean can be heavily influenced by environmental variation that reduces prey quantity/quality. This is evident in increased sightings of whales in poor body condition and a recent unprecedented mass mortality event (2019-2023). The goal of this project is to develop a method to assess the nutritional status of gray whales combining the use of stress hormone analysis (i.e., cortisol, corticosterone) with stable isotope analysis of bulk tissue and constituent amino acids (AAs), in baleen plates and skin biopsies collected from 1980-2023. Baleen can be used to generate a multi-month continuous record of the ecophysiology of whales prior to death. This project will use stress hormones, bulk baleen carbon (δ13 C) and nitrogen (δ15 N) isotopes, and body condition data of stranded whales to categorize them into three groups: (1) healthy, in good body condition; (2) stressed but in good body condition; and (3) stressed, in bad (emaciated) body condition. Subsequently, AA δ13 C and δ15 N in baleen will be measured to examine nitrogen balance and the use of endogenous stores (blubber) among these three groups to develop an isotope-based method for assessing nutritional status. Baleen isotope data will be compared to those from skin collected from whales with well-documented life histories as a first step towards applying this approach to skin samples that are much more ubiquitous than baleen in regional archives. It is anticipated that this approach could be used to assess the nutritional status of other baleen whales. The results will be disseminated through workshops provided to local communities that depend on whale-watching activities, and shared with researchers that monitor and manage gray whales.

Topic A(2): Research/Projects - Changes in marine mammal distribution or habitat associated with a changing climate

Right whales as sentinels to assess the impacts of climate change on Southern Ocean ecosystems

Carroll, E.

School of Biological Sciences, University of Auckland

Climate in the Southern Ocean (SO) displays high levels of temporal and regional variability. This has resulted in uncertainty regarding the future impacts of climate change on ecosystems, as well as potentially masking trends. In such environments, the use of sentinel species in improving our understanding about climate change is quickly gaining recognition. Southern right whales (Eubalaena australis; SRW) are one such sentinel, and are separated into distinct populations across the Southern Hemisphere. The level of connectivity varies between populations, with two, the Aotearoa New Zealand and South African populations showing very little overlap in foraging ranges and limited gene flow. This presents a valuable opportunity to compare foraging habitat preferences, as well as the susceptibility to climate change, between these two distinct populations with inferences for SO ecosystem changes. Therefore, this project aims to assess the heterogeneity of climate change impacts on SO productivity by describing and comparing changes in foraging ground habitat use for two distinct SRW population over time. To do this, this project will combine historical whaling data, stable isotope data, satellite tracking and habitat modelling, and conduct a comparative investigation into the trends in environmental variables quantifying foraging habitat quality and location. Such a comparative assessment will provide new and valuable insights into the ecosystem functioning of the SO, as well as into the potential drivers behind variable and changing foraging patterns observed in the two whale populations.

Environmental RNA (eRNA) metabarcoding to detect modification in distribution of marine mammal populations of the St John River (FL) driven by anthropogenic climate change

Mancia, A.

Department of Biology and Marine Science, Marine Science Research Institute, Jacksonville University

The goal of the project is the development of a novel, non-invasive and reliable monitoring program for marine mammals using eRNA technology. The hypothesis is that the eRNA analysis of water regularly sampled in the same locations will be informative of the presence and distribution of marine mammal populations. The location that will be sampled is the northeast section of the St Johns River, Florida, where the river also empties into the Atlantic Ocean. Two methods will be applied, identified here as A) barcoding and B) metabarcoding which will be put to test with water samples carrying RNA from different marine mammal species/populations/individuals. For A) barcoding, the two species are the bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus, TT) and the Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris, TML). TT is a carnivore, year-round resident, while TML is an herbivore and a seasonal resident of the river. For B) metabarcoding, the test group will be represented by the mixed populations of marine mammals (resident and transient species) detected at the mouth of the river, on the Atlantic coast. The lower basin of the St. Johns River is acknowledged as ecologically vulnerable watershed, threatened by rising salinity, pollution, and environmental hazards. These anthropogenic stressors exacerbate the effects of climate change affecting the river ecosystem and disrupting present patterns of plant and animal distribution. The development of eRNA (meta)barcoding method could significantly improve not only the detection and monitoring for marine mammal population of the St Johns River but has the greater potential to be applied to any species, worldwide.

Topic B: Research/Projects - Advancing Diversity, Equity, Inclusiveness, Belonging, Accessibility and Justice (DEIBAJ) in Marine Mammal Science

Expanding access through Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Inc. (WDC’s) Marine Mammal Conservation and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Fellowship Program

Asmutis-Silvia, R.

Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Inc. (WDC)

There is an imminent need to ensure that marine science is representative of all communities, especially those who are most impacted by marine-based research and policy decisions. WDC will run a 12-week paid internship to provide the development of transferrable skills (e.g. presentation skills, project management, etc.) and exposure to the components of a marine conservation organization. WDC will also create an additional 10-month paid DEI fellowship opportunity to move from exposure to experience in conservation and research. The fellow will gain credible experience in data collection, stranding response, formal and informal education, marine policy development, and project management. Specifically, the fellow will manage a project working with the WDC’s DEI Advisory Council which includes representatives from diverse backgrounds and regional marine conservation and research organizations. The goal of the project is to create a shareable pathway for WDC and its partners seeking to make this field more accessible and representative of all individuals.

Marine mammal fellowship to enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion

Moore, D.

Mississippi State University, College of Veterinary Medicine

This project proposal seeks to provide and broaden participation in marine mammal science/medicine by offering a Marine Mammal Fellowship program to two Black third/fourth year veterinary students at Mississippi State University. The proposal plans to: a). provide diverse marine mammal veterinary medical experiences at U.S. marine mammal facilities, b). enhance direct exposure to the marine environment and concerns that threaten the species, c). develop long term mentorship opportunities and encourage engagement and sustained participation in the marine mammal community and d). make shareable the experience with other minorities to highlight unique opportunities to underserved veterinary communities. Two students will be selected for the fellowship program and they will participate in an immersive marine mammal veterinary medical experience at multiple facilities under the supervision of the Principal Investigator (PI) or other clinicians.

2023 Grant Awards

Grant Awards by Fiscal Year: 2024 | 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011Previous Years

Projects Funded by the Marine Mammal Commission in Fiscal Year 2023

Topic A: Research/Projects - Marine Mammal Health in a Changing Climate

Monitoring Florida manatee population health in a changing ocean: An evaluation of a practical surveillance system for a sentinel species

Burgess, L.

Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life, New England Aquarium

Over the past two decades, nine mass mortalities of the Florida manatee (Trichechus manatus latirostris) have been documented, resulting in the deaths of more than 2000 animals. Currently, an unusual mortality event (UME) along the east coast of Florida remains under investigation but appears to be related to the drastic loss of seagrass in the Indian River Lagoon (IRL). Manatees are increasingly at risk from both environmental and anthropogenic threats, including extreme cold temperatures, harmful algal blooms, dietary shifts to macroalgae, and watercraft strikes, which are compounded by habitat loss and destruction, and climate change. The ability to monitor physiologic responses of manatees to threats and identify changes, potentially before deleterious population consequences are observed, could greatly enhance management and mitigation efforts. Health assessments of wild manatees using capture techniques provide an enormous amount of valuable data; however, there remains an urgent need for a rapid surveillance tool to monitor and detect changes in manatee health at the population level (increasing sample size and accessibility in a cost-effective way). This project builds upon the development of a diverse panel of manatee fecal hormone assays to help monitor population health by providing indicators of stress, metabolic regulation, and reproduction, as well as a comprehensive endocrine reference dataset (seven different hormones) representing manatees in diverse known health states (+200 individuals sampled between 2003–2021). This project aims to critically evaluate the utility of using these new techniques to analyze manatee fecal samples as an early warning alert system to assess manatee population health.

Determining the relationship between prey, body condition and pregnancy in bowhead whales to predict the effects of climate change

Christiansen, F.

Aarhus University

The bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) is the largest predator in the Arctic and important for the marine ecosystem. With climate change having its most pronounced effect in the Arctic, it is important to understand how this will affect the bowhead whale, and consequently the Arctic marine environment. To address this knowledge gap, this project aims to determine the relationship between prey, body condition, and reproduction in bowhead whales in a major feeding area south of Disko Island, Greenland, during the spring of 2024. By using unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) photogrammetry methods and biopsy sampling, changes in body condition (relative fatness) of bowhead whales will be measured through the feeding season relative to sex and pregnancy status. Long-term zooplankton data will be used to relate the rate of increase in body condition of bowheads (measured by the UAV) to the prey density in the area. Long-term fine-scale movement data from archival tags and regional movement data from satellite tags will be used to build a bioenergetic model of bowhead whales to relate prey density to foraging behaviour, body condition, and reproduction (pregnancy). Finally, from existing climate models (predictions of sea ice coverage and sea surface temperature), how changes in prey availability caused by climate change will be assessed to determine the effect on future body condition of bowhead whales, and its consequences on reproduction (pregnancy). With many marine top predators facing similar threats from climate change, this project will help guide current research and highlight the sensitivity of Arctic predators to environmental changes caused by climate change.

Bridging research efforts to optimize body condition evaluation in two beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) populations: Blubber stratification and use of “omics” techniques to identify biomarkers of body condition

Lair, S.

Université de Montréal

The East Beaufort Sea (EBS) beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) population is stable and of critical importance to the Inuvialuit and Inuit people of western Canada and Alaska. At the southernmost portion of the species range, the endangered St. Lawrence Estuary (SLE) beluga population is declining and faces multiple threats to its recovery, such as prey limitation, toxic contaminants and ocean noise. Despite their differing status, both beluga populations face a common threat: environmental perturbations resulting from climate change, which have the potential to negatively impact the EBS population and compound the existing threats to the SLE population. While both beluga populations have been studied extensively for four decades, knowledge gaps persist, including the ability to accurately and effectively evaluate body condition (BC). Bridging knowledge gathered for each population can remediate this. EBS beluga morphometrics and tissue samples will be collected through veterinarian-led post-mortem examinations performed as part of a health assessment over the 2023 and 2024 subsistence hunts. Longitudinal information collected on blubber stratification will help to better understand blubber morphometrics in relationship with BC in belugas. The utility of skin and outer blubber lipidomic and transcriptomic as biomarkers of BC will be assessed using the EBS belugas as a proxy for the SLE population, for which samples in free-ranging animals are limited to biopsies. This project aims to develop a minimally invasive method to assess body condition in SLE belugas. Given the rapidly occurring and inevitable impacts of climate change on marine mammal populations, this collaborative project will optimize the collection of data needed to inform the future management of these two populations.

Baleen biochemistry to understand North Atlantic right whale health in the context of climate change

Lysiak, N.

New England Aquarium

North Atlantic right whales (NARWs) experience a myriad of stressors, including human interactions that lead to mortality, serious injury, and morbidity. Their reproductive rate is depressed, with many adult females experiencing longer calving intervals in recent years. The result is a population in decline. Simultaneously, climate change and ocean warming have caused shifts in both Calanus finmarchicus and NARW distribution. While NARWs are a well-studied population, there are major knowledge gaps in the extent to which anthropogenic and natural stressors impact individual health, nutritional state, and fecundity. Baleen is a tissue that holds multi-year, individual ecological and physiological records, accessible through measuring carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes and hormones (progesterone, estrogen, testosterone, cortisol, corticosterone, and thyroid) in longitudinal samples. This study aims to analyze baleen plates to create comprehensive biochemical records from each individual whale that will be compared to its known sighting and reproductive histories. This dataset will enable an assessment of: 1) how anthropogenic interactions impact the health and reproduction of individuals, 2) how climate change has influenced the nutritional state and reproductive success of the NARW population.

Developing a standardized assessment protocol for visual characterization of skin lesions associated with freshwater exposure in common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus)

Mintzer, V.

Galveston Bay Dolphin Research Program

Exposure to low salinity water is an emerging critical health issue for bay, sound, and estuarine dolphin populations. As a result of global climate change, the intensity and frequency of storms causing heavy precipitation and flood events is increasing. This will lead to more frequent freshwater fluctuations and corresponding low-salinity events in estuarine systems. The need to advance the assessment of skin lesions as an indicator of health issues associated with freshwater exposure has been identified in the literature. This project aims to hold a collaborative workshop to create a standardized protocol to visually assess the skin condition of common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) using photographs taken during photo-identification surveys. With the input of federal managers, veterinary pathologists, and field researchers, a standardized method for identifying and quantitatively assessing freshwater skin disease, and other relevant associated conditions, will be developed. By standardizing the visual assessment of severity and progression of skin lesions associated with freshwater exposure in free-ranging dolphins, this protocol will be an important first step to advance knowledge of climate-driven salinity fluctuations affects on marine mammal health.

Physiological impact of climate change across decades on the sentinel species of Antarctica, the crabeater seal (Lobodon carcinophaga)

Tift, M.

University of North Carolina, Wilmington

The western Antarctic Peninsula (wAP) has experienced some of the greatest rates of warming in the world due to anthropogenic climate change. The effects of environmental warming have already been observed on species such as Antarctic krill, and these changes are expected to intensify as temperatures continue to increase. Crabeater seals are particularly vulnerable to shifts in Antarctic krill as they are extreme specialists with their average diet consisting of more than 87% krill. Additionally, crabeater seals are an ice-obligate species, meaning they require sea ice for resting, mating, and molting. The ability of the crabeater seal to withstand both environmental stressors and shifts in their major prey species is not well understood. Current modeling predicts crabeater seals may shift their habitat further south along the wAP to avoid decreased sea ice concentrations and krill abundance. However, the physiological response of crabeater seals is unknown. This projects aims to gain an insight into how crabeater seals have been affected by these stressors by examining hormones in inert tissues such as whiskers and teeth. A novel method to measure stress (cortisol, corticosterone) and reproductive (estradiol, testosterone, progesterone) hormones from historical crabeater seal teeth collected from 1950-1990s using liquid chromatography tandem mass spectrometry will be developed. Additionally, the same reproductive and sex hormones in whiskers collected from crabeater seals in 2007, 2022 and 2023 will be analyzed. These hormones will be related to sea-ice concentration and krill abundance from the National Snow and Ice Data Centre and KRILLBASE, respectively. This analysis provide a better understanding of the physiological response of crabeater seals to environmental stressors. Additionally, this study will help to predict how crabeater seals will respond to future perturbations not only in the wAP, but across Antarctica.

A decadal assessment of gray whale prey, body condition and vital rate response to environmental change

Torres, L.

Oregon State University

It is critical to understand how climate change will impact the availability of prey to marine mammals, and consequently how these changes will impact predator health and population vital rates. Photogrammetry of images collected from Unoccupied Aircraft Systems (UAS) has become a popular and effective approach to quantify body condition of baleen whales as a proxy for foraging success under the assumption that environmental variability regulates prey availability to which whales respond physiologically. This project aims to prove this assumption and justify calls to monitor environmental conditions associated with body condition, which would enable responsive conservation management. Gray whale foraging data collected from 2016- 2026 along the Oregon, USA coast will be analyzed, including paired environmental (e.g., broadscale: climatic indices; mesoscale: upwelling indices; fine scale: insitu data), prey availability, and individual body condition data, with associated demographic information. Analysis of this unique dataset will allow for the assessment of how health (body condition) and vital rates (growth and pregnancy rates) are influenced by climate-driven variability on prey availability to improve the understanding of environmental drivers, vulnerable demographic units, and time lags of population response. Analytical methods will be developed using artificial intelligence to quantify relative prey abundance from recreational echosounder data, which is often collected but rarely utilized. This research will improve not only gray whale population management, but also inform health surveillance methods, population assessments, and conservation management of other baleen whale populations in the face of climate change.

Out of Cycle Award

Support for southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) unusual mortality event emergency response in Argentina September – October 2022

M. Sironi & M. Uhar

Instituto de Conservacion de Ballenas

Between September – October 2022, at least 30 dead adult and juvenile southern right whales were documented in Argentina. This award supports the emergency response to this unusual mortality event, including surveys for stranded whales, necropsy response, and analysis of samples to investigate cause of death.

2022 Grant Awards

Grant Awards by Fiscal Year: 2024 | 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011Previous Years

Projects Funded by the Marine Mammal Commission in Fiscal Year 2022

Topic A: Research/Projects

Quantifying humpback whale health across Hawaii and Southeast Alaska in the face of climate change

Bejder, L.

University of Hawai’i Manoa

Between 2013 and 2019, marked declines in humpback whale (HBW) abundance and reproductive success were documented throughout the North Pacific. These declines coincided with a trifecta of climatic events, including the longest lasting marine heatwave globally exacerbated by strong El Niño and positive Pacific Decadal Oscillation phases. These events were responsible for abundance declines across entire trophic chains, including important HBW forage species such as Pacific herring and krill. This project aims to improve our understanding of HBW population health (i.e. body condition) via Unoccupied Aerial Systems (UAS; drone)-photogrammetry of the Hawaii Distinct Population Segment of HBWs. Maintaining this large-scale, longitudinal effort is critical to elucidate effects of climate change on marine ecosystems, with emphasis placed on quantifying intra- and inter-annual variability on whale health. Findings will inform decision- and policy makers on the effects of climate change on whale populations and ecosystem health.

Linking climate indices to southern right whale body condition and vital rates

Christiansen, F.

Aarhus University

Climate change is predicted to lead to changes in ocean productivity, which is likely to impact marine top predators, including baleen whales. Southern right whales (SRWs, Eubalaena australis) are still recovering from last century whaling, and changes in prey availability resulting from climate change are likely to impede the recovery of the species by negatively affecting female body condition and vital rates. The aim of this study is to determine the relationship between various climate indices and SRW body condition and reproductive rates. Annual variations in female body condition will be related to four different climate indices (SST anomaly around South Georgia, Oceanic Niño Index, Antarctic Oscillation and Antarctic sea ice anomalies), while accounting for the body size and the timing in the reproductive cycle of the females. A second model will be developed to predict SRW calving intervals from maternal body length and condition. By combing the two models, changes in ocean productivity resulting from climate change will be examined in relation to SRW body condition and vital rates. This will further the understanding of how climate change indirectly affects the reproductive success of baleen whales, and capital breeding marine mammals more broadly.

Initiation of long-term evaluation of the effects of climate change on Indigenous marine mammal hunting in the Chugach Region using traditional ecological knowledge

Cunningham, R.

Chugach Regional Resources Commission

Climate change is affecting subsistence harvesting through changes in species abundance, distribution, and health. Subsistence practices must continue to be shared with younger generations to ensure continuation of traditional Alaska Native marine mammal use. Co-management is an important part of ensuring that marine mammals are used by future generations, and involvement of the people who live around and depend on marine mammals contributes critical and integral data to the management process. Chugach Regional Resources Commission (CRRC), a Tribal natural resources management entity, is comprised of seven regional Tribes. There are over a thousand represented Tribal Members in Prince William Sound and lower Cook Inlet, known as the Chugach Region of Alaska. The region is experiencing detrimental impacts from extreme tides, coastal erosion, glacial melt, and ocean acidification. Evaluating the effects of a changing climate from a firsthand, Indigenous viewpoint will ensure a better understanding of general health, body condition, population sizes, hunting seasons, behavior, and activity of marine mammals. The project research will inform future research prioritization and strategies to prevent and reverse harm to the marine ecosystem and species.  Assessment of how changes affect marine ecosystems, marine mammals, and Tribal users will allow a better understanding of how to manage the resources. This project is the first standalone phase of a comprehensive plan to inform new co-management strategies for the Chugach Region in partnership with Federal agencies.

Quantifying the impacts of a marine heatwave on individual growth and reproductive success in a recovering population of killer whales

Durbin, J.

North Gulf Oceanic Society

Understanding how climate change is impacting, or expected to impact, marine mammals is a critical aspect in developing management measures that reduce risk from direct human impacts and increase recovery potential. Marine mammals can be considered as sentinels for detecting ecosystem changes, especially top predators that reflect the integrated status of the trophic levels that support them. This project will focus on elucidating the impacts of climate change on the apex marine predator, specifically a population of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in the northern Gulf of Alaska that is still recovering from declines after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The abundance of these Alaska Resident killer whales (fish predators) declined in Prince William Sound and adjacent coastal waters during a multi-year heatwave (intense 2014-2016, warming conditions continued through 2019), with correlated declines in survival across pods. This heatwave led to abrupt and prolonged changes across trophic levels in the Gulf of Alaska, including declines in commercial catches of Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha), known prey for Resident killer whales in this region. This work will investigate additional sub-lethal effects on killer whales that might be more prolonged, specifically effects on reproductive success and interacting effects on female size. A 40-year (1984-2023) photo-identification dataset will be used to investigate temporal trends in fecundity, specifically examining changes during and following the heatwave. Drone-based aerial photogrammetry will be used to investigate changes in the size of adult females relative to their growth years. These two elements will be combined to investigate the relationship of female size on reproductive success and to test the hypothesis that prolonged and ongoing climate impacts on these killer whales disrupt their slow reproductive schedules, which may have been exacerbated by a reduction in female size and subsequent fecundity.

Understanding the impacts of climate change on the reproductive performance of humpback whales around the Antarctic Peninsula using long-term multidisciplinary data

Friedlaender, A. S.

University of California Santa Cruz

Understanding the effects of climate change requires longitudinal and cross-disciplinary data. The NSF Palmer LTER program offers an exclusive opportunity to leverage unique data to study the impacts of interannual and long-term climate change on the reproductive performance, demography, and vital rates of recovering humpback whales around the Antarctic Peninsula. The goals of this project are to use the largest (n=~2,000) and longest-term data set of biopsy samples, collected since 2009, to determine the annual pregnancy rates of humpback whales around the Antarctic Peninsula, 94% of which represent a single breeding population (G), that breeds off of Central/South America. Leveraging in situ and remotely collected environmental data on sea ice cover, prey availability, primary productivity, and climatic indices collected as part of the LTER program, this project will aim to test for relationships among these and annual pregnancy rates for these whales. The results of this work will directly address management efforts within both the International Whaling Commission and Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, and these data will directly support the development of how environmental change impacts this population and can be used to also evaluate the impacts of human activities such as the growing commercial krill fishing industry. Because of the large sample size, continuous long-term time series, and rigorous methods that have been developed, these data and this project represent a model system for quantifying the impacts of human-induced climate variability on cetaceans in a rapidly changing environment.

Enhancing Pacific northwest sea otter reintroduction strategy by accounting for climate change

Laufer, A.

Sea & Shore Solutions, LLC

Sea otters are a keystone species in coastal ecosystems, directly supporting rocky subtidal habitats and submerged aquatic vegetation. Their absence from Oregon, since extirpation from the fur trade, has had detrimental impacts on these nearshore environments. As sea otter reintroduction efforts progress in the Pacific Northwest, understanding the potential impacts of climate change on the species will support evidence-based planning and help avoid a second unsuccessful reintroduction. This project will supplement the recently completed Oregon Sea Otter Restoration Feasibility Study with estimates of climate change’s potential impact on the Pacific Northwest nearshore environment, how impacts may alter sea otter feasibility, and critical implications for reintroduction efforts led by the Elakha Alliance. The sea otter population model will be leveraged to estimate sea otter survivorship under each climate change future by assessing three primary ecological factors that influence sea otter distribution, abundance, and overall health: availability of prey, bathymetry, and waters sheltered from ocean surge. Results will visually illustrate how climate change and related environmental changes in Oregon’s nearshore and estuarine environments may influence sea otter survival. Process and results will be synthesized and published alongside the existing Oregon Sea Otter Restoration Feasibility Study, so the Elakha Alliance and partners can inform reintroduction strategy and recommendations using data and best available science.

An international virtual fishing gear marking system to reduce whale entanglements

Sawicki, K.

Sustainable Seas Technology

Climate‐driven factors have altered the foraging environment and habitat use of marine mammal species worldwide. As our oceans warm, lethal, and chronic marine mammal entanglements in pot fishing gear are likely to continue and increase, especially in areas with recovering whale populations and thriving commercial fisheries. Regional fishery transition to subsea buoy retrieval systems1 (SBRS) or adjuncts (which remove vertical lines from the water column and store the entirety of active fishing gear at depth) can eliminate this danger. Management strategies utilizing these technologies require utilizing a system accessible by enforcement agencies to replace the function of traditional marker buoys at the sea surface. This requirement has driven our past work to design a virtual multi‐manufacturer (interoperable) gear marking portal. This project will support the physical build of this cooperative data‐sharing effort to produce the Ropeless Manufacturer’s Workgroup Hub (RMW HUB), which will bring to fruition their past collaborative activities. The RMW HUB will allow regional regulatory and enforcement bodies to determine their specific needs and preferences for data access and reporting without creating duplicative and costly programming changes between the manufacturer’s applications. This system will allow fishermen to locate equipment quickly and avoid activities that may cause unintended gear loss. Results from this project will enable federal and regional management bodies to create data management products and craft regulatory changes to allow ropeless fishing in areas where it is needed to conserve species such as the North Atlantic right whale.

Advancing ship strike and blue carbon management strategies for the protection of whales

Self, D.

Greater Farallones Association

Ship strikes are a major threat to whales across the globe, including endangered species like blues, fins, and humpbacks, particularly near ports with heavy shipping traffic. Vessel speed reduction (VSR) mitigates the risk of lethal ship strikes, while also reducing harmful air emissions—including greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—from the global shipping industry. While whale populations are threatened by climate impacts related to food scarcity and changing ocean conditions, they are also increasingly considered part of the climate solution. In quantifying the blue carbon capacity of the habitats and oceanic processes in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (GFNMS), Greater Farallones Association (GFA) has identified whales as a blue carbon process with considerable capacity to sequester carbon. Understanding and communicating the role of slowing ships to reduce emissions and conserve whales—while simultaneously communicating the role of whales in carbon sequestration—will advance the protection of threatened and endangered whales from ship strikes, bolster the need to protect whales as a carbon mitigation strategy, and further help the global community meet carbon emission reduction goals. This project aims to bring the topics of blue carbon and whale conservation to the forefront of global ocean climate dialog and bridge knowledge gaps for policy makers.

Topic B: Conferences, Symposia, Workshops, Meetings, and Publications

Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology Summer Marine Mammal Intensive Learning Experience (SMMILE) for Hawaiʻi High School Students

Pacini, A.

University of Hawai’i

This educational program will provide an opportunity for underrepresented, minority high school students to learn about marine mammal science, marine protected areas, and conservation. View report here.

2021 Grant Awards

Grant Awards by Fiscal Year: 2024 | 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011Previous Years

Projects Funded by the Marine Mammal Commission in Fiscal Year 2021

Topic A: Research/Projects

Assessing the status of two coastal cetacean species in a marine biodiversity hotspot off the west coast of India

Bopardikar, I.

Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER)

Two non-migratory cetacean species, the Indian Ocean humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea) and the Indo-Pacific finless porpoise (Neophocaena phocaenoides), occur along the Sindhudurg coastline off western India.  Both species are vulnerable to chronic anthropogenic pressures from co-occurring human activities that could result population-level impacts, including documented fisheries entanglement. This study aims to assess the population densities, space use, and spatiotemporal occurrence patterns of humpback dolphins and finless porpoises along the Sindhudurg coast, India using passive acoustic monitoring. This information is urgently needed to develop effective local and regional conservation strategies for these species to mitigate increasing anthropogenic pressures.

Whales from space: Designing a standardized workflow to annotate whales and confounding features in very high resolution satellite images to assist the development of  automated whale detection systems

Cubaynes, H.

British Antarctic Survey

Monitoring whales is of broad interest to government agencies, academic, and commercial institutions around the globe. However, it is difficult to monitor animals in remote regions and during seasons when traditional survey platforms are not effective or are cost prohibitive. The recent advancements of very high resolution (VHR) satellite imagery and recent trials to use this emerging technology show tremendous potential for monitoring cetaceans. To use this novel technology to its full potential, an artificial intelligence (AI) approach is needed to automatically detect cetaceans in large volumes of imagery. However, automation requires a large annotated dataset of whales and confounding features to train and test the algorithms. This project aims to develop a standardized workflow for annotating images and creating a database of annotations, which will facilitate collaboration across research groups towards the development of an operational system for whale detection in VHR satellite imagery.

Initiation of a long-term Guadalupe fur seal (Arctocephalus townsendi) population monitoring program

Elorriaga-Verplancken, F.

Pacific Marine Mammal Center

Guadalupe fur seals were exploited to near extinction in the 1800s and early 1900s. This is the only pinniped species inhabiting the California Current System that is protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) as “threatened” and catalogued as “endangered” by Mexican law. One of the main threats for this species is that it only has one established breeding location, at Guadalupe Island, México, increasing its vulnerability to climate change and stochastic natural and anthropogenic events. This project aims to initiate a long-term Guadalupe fur seal population monitoring program that will provide tools for improved management and conservation of this species and enhance collaborations among scientists, students, government agencies, and fishing communities in México and the United States. See link to workshop report.

Advancing whale conservation and outreach with sustainable infrastructure for WhaleMap

Johnson, H.

New England Aquarium

Many research and conservation activities rely upon knowledge of the distribution of baleen whales. The software system WhaleMap is the only existing tool that provides an efficient and effective means of collating and displaying whale survey results from the entire east coast of the US and Canada in near real-time (within ~1 day). Since its launch in 2018, WhaleMap has improved conservation outcomes for baleen whales, especially the endangered North Atlantic right whale, in numerous ways including informing more efficient monitoring efforts and directly facilitating all dynamic risk mitigation actions in Canada. It also serves as a critical outreach and engagement tool by making the latest whale survey results available to a diverse group of stakeholders including those from industry, research, government, non-governmental organizations, and the general public. The goal of this project is to develop the infrastructure to maintain WhaleMap in perpetuity by migrating the system from its current host institution, Dalhousie University, to the New England Aquarium (NEAq) and integrating the database with existing NEAq databases and resources, including curation expertise, infrastructure, and network platforms.

Migratory patterns and overwintering areas of the world’s rarest whale, the North Pacific right whale (Eubalaena japonica)

Newsome, S.

University of New Mexico

The North Pacific right whale (NPRW) is one of the world’s most endangered cetacean species, comprising of two recognized populations: the endangered western population (n=low hundreds of animals) and the critically endangered eastern population (n<35 animals). Important gaps exist in the basic knowledge of this species––overwintering areas, migratory routes, and locations of calving grounds––but the extreme rarity of these whales precludes traditional approaches to acquiring this knowledge. This project aims to assess the historical and contemporary distributions of NPRWs via bulk tissue and compound-specific (amino acid) carbon (δ13C) and nitrogen (δ15N) stable isotope analysis of baleen and skin to disentangle isotopic variation associated with movement across oceanic isoscapes from potential shifts in diet composition (trophic level). Results will enable reconstruction of the historical migratory patterns of NPRWs from the analysis of baleen samples, as well as quantify potential shifts in distribution and resource use between historical and contemporary animals by incorporating isotope data from skin tissue. Improving the understanding of the historical ecology of this species during a period of commercial exploitation, when genetic diversity and population size were higher than today, will provide necessary context for interpreting contemporary findings and improving management efforts of current populations. Results of this project will better inform monitoring efforts, including along migratory routes and on calving grounds.

Design for an International Virtual Fishing Gear Marking System to Reduce Whale Entanglements

Sawicki, K.

Sustainable Seas Technology, Inc.

Marine animal entanglement in pot fishing gear has been a global concern for several decades. Research on the adaptation of “ropeless” devices for use within trap fisheries over the last two decades has identified “removal of end lines” as a promising mitigation measure that would lower entanglement risk to critically endangered species. This innovative gear, coupled with regulatory measures, will likely reduce both fishing gear loss and entanglement‐based mortality of marine animals. This project aims to contribute to the development of a virtual multi‐manufacturer (interoperable) gear marking system to replace traditional marker buoys at the sea surface. This system will allow fishermen to locate equipment quickly while also providing gear information to enforcement entities, enabling fishing with gear that can improve the protection and conservation of marine mammals through minimizing entanglement risk. This project will coordinate collaborative activities for seven leading ropeless fishing gear manufacturers and gear marking developers to create a comprehensive plan for data management, requirements, and integration parameters to develop an international virtual gear tracking system.

Preventing Whale Entanglements through Gear Innovations in the California Commercial Dungeness Crab Fishery

Wells, G.

National Marine Sanctuary Foundation

The Preventing Whale Entanglements through Gear Innovations in the Commercial Dungeness Crab Fishery project will test modified and innovative new fishing gear for the California Dungeness crab fishery. At least eight commercial fishermen will engage with Foundation staff and researchers in testing four pop-up gear types and a low-tech sleeve option during the 2021-2022 open fishing season. This project aims to further the conservation goals of the MMPA by reducing whale entanglements in fishing gear and line along the California coast and addressing threats to marine mammals including humpback whales, gray whales, blue whales (endangered), fin whales (vulnerable), sei whales (endangered), and killer whales.

Topic B: Conferences, Symposia, Workshops, Meetings, and Publications

Internships Program for Diversity and Inclusion in Marine Mammal Science

Cox, T.

Savannah State University

Marine mammal science, similar to other ocean sciences, is a field traditionally characterized by a lack of diversity. This is partially due to the culture of unpaid internship opportunities and a lack of scientists trained to mentor under-represented minorities. This proposal addresses this issue by establishing a network of Minority-Serving Institutions and research organizations with well-trained mentors committed to strengthening the pipeline of minorities into marine mammal research. Efforts will leverage existing partnerships and forge new collaborations to train interns in marine mammal research as well as increase interns’ professional skills and confidence. Key components of this proposal are: 1) early undergraduate participation (freshmen and sophomore), thus targeting students during a critical time in their STEM career; 2) paid academic year internships that will introduce interns to the research environment; 3) virtual programming that will provide opportunities for career development/ soft skill training, build cohort comradery, and train interns in marine mammal research; 4) paid summer internships with post-internship mentoring; and 5) training for mentors in effective mentorship approaches specifically targeted for minority student populations. By developing this critical infrastructure for STEM training for young undergraduate minority students and addressing the needs of these students entering the marine mammal field, this pilot program will improve the pipeline leading to improved diversity in marine mammal science.

Sixth International Conference on the Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life

Sisneros, J.

University of Washington

Support provided for the Sixth International Conference on “The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life” held in Berlin, Germany from 10-15 July, 2022. The conference focuses on important issues of anthropogenic sounds that have substantial impacts on marine mammals. This international conference is intended to introduce participants to the most recent research on the effects of man-made noise on aquatic life, and to foster discussion of regulatory issues. Emphasis will be on the cross-fertilization of ideas and scientific findings across species and for different noise sources. The meeting will also afford a unique opportunity for participants to learn about issues facing decision takers, while industry and government regulators obtain the latest data from the scientists.  Funding for this conference will support bringing students, younger faculty, representatives of low income countries, and a few key speakers to the meeting who most likely could not attend otherwise.

Effects of Sound in the Ocean on Marine Mammals (ESOMM 2021)

Nowacek, D.

Duke University Marine Laboratory

Support provided for the 7th meeting on the Effects of Sound in the Ocean on Marine Mammals (ESOMM-2021), which will be held in Beaufort, North Carolina, USA. This long-running meeting, originally organized through NATO, has brought together researchers, program managers, and regulators to consider the impacts of Navy sonar as well as other ocean noise sources on marine mammals. All previous meetings have occurred in Europe, but this 7th meeting will occur for the first time in the United States, providing an opportunity for more U.S. federal government representatives and U.S. scientists to attend this event than in previous meetings. This international meeting will include discussions of goals of conservation and management regulations of primarily U.S. (MMPA) and European (MSFD) systems, although participants from other countries will be in attendance.

Support for the 24th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Palm Beach, Florida, 1 – 5 August 2022

Moore, K.

Society for Marine Mammalogy

Support provided to the Society for Marine Mammalogy for student travel – specifically international student travel – to the 24th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Palm Beach, Florida, 1 – 5 August 2022.  The Society for Marine Mammalogy holds biennial international meetings with the goal of enhancing collaboration, sharing ideas, and improving the quality of research on marine mammals within the scientific community.

Support for Funds to Publish Conference Proceedings of the Eleventh International Conference on Marine Mammals of the Holarctic, 1-5 March 2021

Burkanov, V.

North Pacific Wildlife Consulting, LLC

Support provided for translation services, as well as travel for students and international researchers, for the Tenth International Conference on Marine Mammals of the Holarctic, including real-time translation (Russian to English) of conference presentations, and dual-language printings of conference proceedings. The bilingual proceedings represent a key mechanism to disseminate important scientific results of marine mammal research – especially of such research conducted by Russian scientists, whose results only infrequently are published in English-language scientific journals.

2020 Grant Awards

Grant Awards by Fiscal Year: 2024 | 2023 | 20222021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011Previous Years

Projects Funded by the Marine Mammal Commission in Fiscal Year 2020

Topic A: Research/Projects

Mortality reduction of vaquita, Phocoena sinus, through removal of abandoned, lost, or discarded fishing gear (ALDFG) and deterrence of illegal fishing in the Vaquita Protection Refuge

Gonzalez Olimon, C.

Cat Action Treasury, Inc.

Vaquitas are at extreme risk of extinction, with an estimated minimum population of fewer than 20 individuals.  This project aims to reduce fishery-related mortality of vaquita by deploying teams of local fishers to locate and remove ALDFG  (primarily gillnets) that are a direct entanglement threat to the surviving vaquitas. It is anticipated that the presence of these gear-removal teams will have a complementary deterrent effect on illegal fishing.

Evaluating the efficacy of using broad-scale ship speed restrictions in the U.S. East Coast Exclusive Economic Zone for reducing large whale mortalities

Knowlton, A.

New England Aquarium

Lethal vessel strikes of large whales are of considerable concern along the U.S. East Coast, especially for the endangered North Atlantic right whale and the threatened Atlantic humpback whale populations. Although numerous voluntary and mandatory measures have been put into place to protect right whales, the effectiveness of these mitigation measures has been reduced by changing right whale distributions and variable surveillance efforts. In addition, humpback whales are facing an Unusual Mortality Event and many of these deaths are due to vessel strikes. This project will involve in-depth data processing to create vessel transits and estimate vessel speeds from the AIS data points, assessing the present risk based on speed and the probability of a lethal strike within the U.S. East Coast Exclusive Economic Zone (USEC-EEZ), and estimating the percentage change in the risk of a lethal strike assuming reduced vessel speeds. General patterns of large whale distributions within the USEC-EEZ will be used to evaluate where such speed reduction might be most effective at reducing risk (e.g., on the shelf). Findings will be provided to U.S. agencies, such as NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Coast Guard, and shared internationally with Canada and the International Maritime Organization via U.S. delegates for consideration as a tool for addressing the threat of ship traffic to large whales.

Evaluating the utility of Protected Species Observer data to address cetacean management and conservation

Redfern, J.

New England Aquarium

Protected Species Observers (PSOs) are commonly used worldwide to monitor and protect marine mammals and sea turtles during anthropogenic activities. These observers play an important role in species monitoring and mitigation, but they also collect a broad suite of data that have the potential to expand our understanding of species distributions, the effectiveness of mitigation measures, and the effects of industrial activities on protected species. The Massachusetts and Rhode Island (MA/RI) wind energy areas (WEAs) off the southern coast of Massachusetts and Rhode Island represent an important opportunity to evaluate the use of PSO data because collection of PSO data in these areas has occurred in the same time window as collection of systematic, line-transect aerial surveys. This project will summarize the PSO data available in the MA/RI WEAs and compare the PSO data to data collected by aerial surveys. The results of this project will include recommendations about how PSO data can be collected to provide the greatest conservation value for protected species and recommendations about how PSO data can be utilized for regulatory/management and scientific purposes. These recommendations will help inform the development of a protocol that standardizes the collection of PSO data and enables the use of PSO data in scientific analyses that evaluate the effectiveness of management and mitigation efforts for future activities regulated under both the ESA and MMPA for the conservation of protected species.

Systematic analysis of injuries sustained by rorquals (humpback, fin and minke whales) from documented entanglements off the U.S. East Coast

Robbins, J.

Center for Coastal Studies

Entanglement in fishing gear is a documented source of human impact on baleen whales; however, the frequency of events can be challenging to assess. This project will conduct a systematic analysis of injuries on rorquals witnessed carrying gear off the U.S. East Coast, focusing on over 400 cases involving humpback, fin and minke whales observed while entangled since 2001. Those with suitable image data will be scored as to the nature and body location of injuries relative to gear configuration and gear deployment history. The results of this study will be submitted for publication with an image-rich guide to entanglement injuries to assist practitioners in accurately identifying entanglement injuries in rorquals. These methods will allow comparison to scar-based entanglement rates among North Atlantic right whales, but will also be applicable to a wider range of species and populations worldwide.

Protecting the sentinels of the Peruvian Sea: Electronic monitoring and mitigation measures to reduce cetacean bycatch in the most important fishery of Peru

Vargas, E.

World Wildlife Fund, Inc.

Bycatch in fisheries is a conservation threat to several species of marine mammals in the waters of Peru, including dusky dolphins, Burmeister’s porpoises, longbeaked common dolphins, and common bottlenose dolphins. This project will focus on development of a monitoring and mitigation pilot project that will support the use of digital logbooks, remote electronic monitoring (REM) cameras, and best practices for handling and releasing bycaught cetaceans. These actions will be developed with the participation of the fishing vessel crew, and will be reflected in the preparation of an instruction manual for companies and their crew, which will allow registering, quantifying and establishing mitigation measures to address the cetacean bycatch in these fisheries.  Results of this pilot project will be presented to the Peruvian government (Ministry of Production of Peru and the Institute of the Peruvian Sea) along with policy recommendations to minimize bycatch.

Support for surveys and necropsies of gray whales in México during an Unusual Mortality Event

Urbán Ramírez, J.

Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur

In 2019, there was a significant increase in the number of gray whales stranded along the west coast of North America, ranging from Mexico to Alaska. Immediately preceding this increase in strandings, the number of calves born in the lagoons of Baja California in January 2019 was unusually low.  These changes resulted in the declaration of an Unusual Mortality Event of gray whales by the National Marine Fisheries Service. As with previous events at the end of the 1990’s this event is likely to continue into 2020 if it is linked to changing environmental conditions in Arctic seas. To ensure adequate data are collected in 2020, field researchers along the west coast of North America are increasing efforts to count whales, assess their nutritional condition and necropsy stranded animals includes government and academic entities in Mexico and Canada.

Characterizing the occurrence of manatees in northwestern Cuba and their interaction with fisheries

Alvarez-Aleman, A.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute

Commercial fishing in Cuba is an enormous industry, occurring on 69,881 km2 of the insular shelf. Furthermore, nearly 9,000 privately-owned boats operate from 196 fishing ports, of which 38% hold government permits to use large-scale fishing gear. Sharing Cuba’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters with this industry is an astonishing assemblage of marine mammals, the majority of which have remain unstudied both in terms of general species data and fisheries interactions. Manatees are known to have become entangled and poached from fishing nets in northern Cuba. This project will gather data on the interaction between fisheries and manatees in the Fauna Refuge Lanzanillo-Pajonal-Fragoso, Villa Clara, where vital marine habitats and heavy fishing activities overlap. Scoping trips to fishing ports and marine protected areas will be conducted to document interactions between fishing activities and manatees. Four surveys for manatees will be conducted in a marine protected area within Villa Clara in northern Cuba where illegal fishing and poaching is threatening the species’ survival. To better understand poaching in this region, information will be collected from fishing ports within Villa Clara to determine if a link exists between the fishing industry and the illegal take of manatees. This project will engage fishermen and coastal communities to work toward our ultimate goal of reducing fishery-related injuries and mortality of at-risk marine mammals.

Topic B: Conferences, Symposia, Workshops, Meetings, and Publications

Resource user outreach on Molokai for cooperative conservation and long-term management of Hawaiian monk seals

Jenkinson, R.

Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources

Hawaiian monk seals in the Main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) are exposed to a variety of threats including entanglement, disease, fisheries interactions, and even intentional killings, which limit the species recovery. This project will enhance the conservation and recovery of Hawaiian monk seals in the MHI by mitigating interactions between the public and seals via continued outreach and information dissemination programs along the shoreline and at targeted fishing tournaments. Increased shoreline monitoring for seals and in-situ fisher outreach will occur on Molokai, and the continued support and promotion of barbless hook use will be encouraged.  This project will help increase monk seal management efforts, decrease seal disturbances and/or take, and an increase awareness of the conservation planning process by the public, particularly through relationship-building and outreach on Molokai.

Best Management Practices for reducing ship strikes in the San Francisco Bay region

Carver, M. C. and Morten, J.

Greater Farallones Association

San Francisco Bay region is home to seasonal feeding grounds and known aggregation areas for many species of endangered whales, including blues, fins, and humpbacks. Also, in the waters in and surrounding San Francisco Bay are large commercial vessels, thousands of which transit these whale-rich areas every year. Vessel Speed Reductions (VSR) efforts have demonstrated great success as a mitigation measure to reduce the risk of lethal ship strikes, as well as ocean noise and greenhouse gas emissions. Building upon prior work supported by the Marine Mammal Commission, Greater Farallones Association, and NOAA’s Greater Farallones and Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuaries will convene a working group with regional partners to develop Best Management Practices for reducing ship strikes in the San Francisco Bay Area region. The ship-strike reduction Best Management Practices guidelines, and its collaborative development, will serve as a model for other sanctuaries, ports, and management agencies to reduce ship strikes across the country.

Creating momentum for integrated conservation measures of narrow-ridged finless porpoise

Lee, Y.


Currently listed as Endangered at International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List, the narrow ridged finless porpoise (NRFP), Neophocaena asiaeorientalis, is experiencing a decreasing population trend, with the main cause of decline attributed to fisheries bycatch. Recent interviews conducted by WWF-Korea indicate that as many as 5,000 finless porpoises are being caught in Korean stownet fisheries each year. To create momentum for currently fragmented national conservation efforts of the species and initiate necessary actions to mitigate threats faced by the species, a national platform is needed for stakeholders, including fisheries, to formulate a common understanding regarding the conservation of the species. Furthermore, a platform is needed to inquire and explore various means to safeguard the species with international expertise. WWF-Korea will create a platform for discussion and planning by holding a full day symposium with national stakeholders, including fisheries, and international experts for the conservation of the species. The symposium will contribute to the conservation management goals of the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) by promoting an active discussion of measures to mitigate bycatch through knowledge and information sharing. Furthermore, with IUCN World Conservation Congress to take place within 2021 (tentative due to COVID-19), planned action is needed to address motion 110 which notes the decreasing population of the species and the need to form a working group.

A cooperative training workshop on seal-fisheries interactions for fishermen, scientists, marine mammal stranding network personnel and fisheries managers

Nichols, O. C.

Center for Coastal Studies

Marine animals routinely experience contact with fishing gear, whether it is gear currently in use or discarded, derelict gear. These interactions can lead to unintended injury, illness, and mortality to marine mammals. Platforms for communication among the various sectors involved in solving this complex problem are limited. These discussions are critical if practical solutions are to be implemented that may be utilized to further understand and mitigate these interactions. The Center for Coastal Studies will work with partners to convene a two-day workshop to share expertise between fisheries managers, field biologists and fishermen to address concerns about fisheries interactions with seals along the northeast U.S. and mid-Atlantic coastline. The goals of the proposed workshop are 1) to improve communication and increase cooperation between various stakeholders; 2) share lessons learned from previous community conversations; 3) introduce new technology and tools that may be useful for all sectors; and 4) broaden the discussion to include scientific and fishing community partners from the northeast Atlantic.

2019 Grant Awards

Grant Awards by Fiscal Year: 2024 | 2023 | 20222021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011| Previous Years

Projects Funded by the Marine Mammal Commission in Fiscal Year 2019

Topic A: Research/Projects - Focal Area: Impacts of a changing ocean on marine mammals of importance to Alaska Natives

Integration of Local or Traditional Knowledge and western science using a Bayesian approach for fully informed models

Auger-Méthé, M.

The University of British Columbia

As climate changes, access to species with significant cultural and subsistence value for Indigenous people in the Arctic is changing, resulting in negative effects on overall community health. Wildlife management decision are increasingly being made with climate change in mind and are often required to consider Local and Traditional Knowledge (LTK) in the decision process.  This study aims to develop an analytical framework via Bayesian statistics that integrates LTK and western science information on wildlife habitat and behavior. LTK interview data will be merged with satellite telemetry data collected from seals in Alaskan waters. The project objectives are to: (1) document LTK about ringed, bearded, and spotted seals from knowledge holders in Kotzebue, AK and Point Hope, AK; (2) analyze the LTK to convert it into a form that can be incorporated into a Bayesian statistical framework; and (3) assess the methodology via feedback from LTK holders. This approach will provide communities with information on species that hold cultural and subsistence importance using an approach that formally includes LTK.

Topic A: Research/Projects

A priority-setting exercise to identify key unanswered research questions in marine mammal bioenergetics

Ortiz, I. and McHuron, L.

The University of Washington

The development of Population Consequences of Acoustic Disturbance (PCAD)/ Population Consequence of Disturbance (PCoD) models to assess the potential impact of disturbance on marine mammals has primarily relied on the use of bioenergetic models.  The goal of this project is to conduct a priority-setting exercise, using a horizon scanning approach, to identify key unanswered questions within the field of marine mammal bioenergetics that can help direct future research efforts.  This exercise is designed to be conducted in coordination with a Marine Mammal Bioenergetics Workshop that will bring together individuals who are either well-grounded in marine mammal metabolic physiology or are actively involved in developing PCoD bioenergetic models. Project outcomes include identifying key unanswered questions in marine mammal bioenergetics, and will provide a roadmap for researchers and other organizations in directing future high-priority research efforts.

New and immediate research priorities to inform gear modification proposals for the 2019 North Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team Meeting

Werner, T.

New England Aquarium

Ropes used in pot and gillnet fisheries cause fatal entanglements of protected and endangered species, including baleen whales. In the case of the endangered North Atlantic right whale (NARW) (Eubalaena glacialis), these entanglements are the principal threat to population recovery.  This project will investigate research priorities, identified by the Atlantic Large Whale Take Reduction Team process, related to modifying rope and lobster fishing gear to reduce NARW entanglement risk. The research priorities to be investigated are: 1) Test reduced breaking strength rope with offshore fishermen; 2) Model configurations of pot gear that have different numbers and spacing of weak links; 3) Compare ease of different splices and rope attachments sliding through NARW baleen; 4) Review entanglement cases since 2010 to assess gear part, gear type, rope length, and fate relative to all cases from 1980-2016.

Collection of auditory evoked potential hearing thresholds in minke whales

Houser, D.

National Marine Mammal Foundation

Auditory capabilities of mysticetes are poorly understood. This project aims to collect auditory evoked potential (AEP) hearing thresholds for a mysticete, the minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata). The minke whale AEP hearing thresholds will provide the first direct measurement of hearing in a mysticete and will contribute to the development of a mysticete audiogram. This multi-year project is jointly funded by the Chief of Naval Operations Energy and Environment Readiness Division, Office of Naval Research, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Marine Mammal Commission.

Topic B: Conferences, Symposia, Workshops, Meetings, and Publications – Focal Area: Impacts of a changing ocean on marine mammals of importance to Alaska Natives

Life without ice: perceptions of environmental impacts on marine mammals and subsistence users of St. Lawrence Island

Larsen, J.

University of Alaska Fairbanks

The Bering Sea, which provides habitat for approximately 30 marine mammal species, is undergoing rapid environmental change. Changes in the timing and abundance of subsistence hunts and harvests have been recorded, as well as shifting distributions of fish and marine mammal stocks; however, research is lacking on how stakeholders are affected by these changes.  This project will conduct interviews with marine mammal subsistence users on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska with the goal of capturing the perceptions of experts as well as community residents on how environmental change is impacting marine mammal subsistence harvests. The research component of this project is focused on 5 research questions as they relate to marine mammals: 1) what marine mammal subsistence resources are depended upon most in these communities? 2) In what ways have these species changed? 3) How are households responding to changes? 4) What does the future of subsistence look like to users? 5) What are the attitudes toward anthropogenic activities in the region as it relates to food security and community livelihoods?  In addition to researching perceptions, the investigators will engage in community outreach efforts focused on the community’s concerns about the preservation of St. Lawrence Island culture and language. Student led projects will be developed to focus on documenting marine mammal subsistence culture through storytelling and art, and results incorporated into a Yupik curriculum during the 2019-2020 school year.

View publication.

Topic B: Conferences, Symposia, Workshops, Meetings, and Publications

Support for the development of an action plan for the critically endangered Ryukyu Islands Dugong population

Taishaku, H.

Toba Aquarium

Support provided for an IUCN Sirenia Specialist Group workshop at the Toba Aquarium in Ise City, Japan, to develop an action plan for the world’s northernmost dugong population in the Ryukyu Archipelago. This population is considered to be at serious and imminent risk of extinction.  The action plan will summarize the latest information on dugongs and their habitats in the archipelago and outline future protection and enforcement needs. The plan will be provided to the Nature Conservation Section, Environment Department, Okinawa Prefectural government to inform the conservation of dugongs and their habitats in the Ryukyu region. See link to action plan.

2018 Grant Awards

Grant Awards by Fiscal Year: 2024 | 2023 | 202220212020 | 2019 | 2018 | 2017 | 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011Previous Years

Projects Funded by the Marine Mammal Commission in Fiscal Year 2018

Topic A: Research/Projects – Focal Area: Community-Driven Conservation Approaches to Address Threats to Marine Mammals

Low-cost solutions to cetacean bycatch in small scale fisheries and potential fisher-level barriers to implementation

Berggren, P.

Newcastle University

Bycatch in gillnet fisheries is considered the most significant threat globally for cetaceans, yet there are many challenges presented by potential mitigation measures (i.e. cost, reduction of target species catch, etc.). This project will begin to address these challenges by testing the effectiveness of two novel low-cost mitigation methods in Peru and Argentina, while concurrently carrying out fisher-level workshops to identify barriers to mitigation strategies.

Evaluation of the Effectiveness of Protected Areas for Mediterranean Monk Seal Juveniles Protection

Fernández de Larrinoa, P.

Fundación CBD-Habitat

The endangered Mediterranean monk seal population of the Cabo Blanco peninsula has seen signs of recovery due to established protection measures, which are up for renewal in 2019. This project will utilize GPS-tagged juveniles to inform an information gap essential to the renewal of No Fishing areas, a conservation measure that protects monk seal critical habitat.

Developing solutions to the critical threat of bycatch in illegal fisheries for Caspian seals (Pusa caspica)

Goodman, S.

University of Leeds

Bycatch in illegal, unmanaged, and undocumented (IUU) fisheries is poorly understood. This study uses combined ecological and social science approaches to determine the magnitude, drivers, links to illegal wildlife trade, and mitigation opportunities in relation to the bycatch of Caspian seals (Pusa caspica) from illegal sturgeon fisheries and poaching in the Russian area of the Caspian Sea.

Topic A: Research/Projects

Proposal to sample the holotype specimen of Megaptera indica (Gervais, 1883) at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Paris)

Baldwin, R.

Five Oceans Environmental Services Ltd

Several lines of evidence suggest that humpback whales in the Arabian Sea/Northern Indian Ocean comprise a discrete, isolated and non-migratory population that merits a taxonomic revision.  Morphometric analyses, as well as bone sampling and DNA analyses of samples, will be conducted on the type specimen at the Paris Natural History Museum (Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle). These analyses should allow for a conclusive resolution on the taxonomic status of Arabian Sea humpback whales. A new taxonomic designation will encourage greater awareness of Arabian Sea humpback whales and enable a clearer understanding of the conservation needs for this species/subspecies, including its future in the face of climate change and other threats. This information would provide justification for intensified conservation efforts at national, regional and global levels.

Investigation of the recent mass stranding of 68 common dolphins in Golfo Nuevo, Península Valdés, Argentina


Instituto de Conservacion de Ballenas

Funding was provided to facilitate an immediate emergency response to a mass stranding of 68 Atlantic common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) at El Doradillo beach in Golfo Nuevo, Peninsula Valdes, Argentina. Activities supported include, 1) establishing an investigation committee, including a network of local experts, working in collaboration with advisory groups such as the International Whaling Commission Stranding Expert Panel; 2) thorough recordings of stranding event history, including potential human-related factors; 3) performing detailed and systematic necropsies and extensive sample collection following well-established protocols (Pugliares et al. 2007 and Young et al. 2007); 4) preparing a list of differential diagnosis and prioritizing sample shipment to diagnostic laboratories for cause-of-death investigation; and 5) archiving duplicates and non-priority samples to support ancillary and life history research.

The final report is available from the Commission upon request.

Topic B: Conferences, Symposia, Workshops, Meetings, and Publications – Focal Area: Community-Driven Conservation Approaches to Address Threats to Marine Mammals

Community Action to Protect Southern Resident Killer Whales in the San Juan Islands, Washington

Robertson, F.

San Juan County

Within the core habitat for the endangered Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW), the presence of vessels impacts the whales’s ability to navigate, detect prey, and communicate. This study aims to significantly increase boater compliance with existing vessel regulations and guidelines through community outreach efforts and compliance assessments.

Reducing Whale Strikes through Industry Engagement

Wilson, R. & Carver, M.

Greater Farallones Association

Vessel Speed Reductions (VSR) efforts have demonstrated to be successful as a mitigation measure to reduce the risk of lethal ship strikes to endangered whales in California waters.  This project will work to improve compliance with VSR zones during periods of peak whale abundance in four national marine sanctuaries through industry engagement, collaboration with key partners, and evaluation of project effectiveness.

Topic B: Conferences, Symposia, Workshops, Meetings, and Publications

Support for Translation Services as well as Student and International Travel Expenses for the Tenth International Conference of Marine Mammals of the Holarctic, Archangelsk, Russia from October 29 – November 3, 2018

Burkanov, V.

North Pacific Wildlife Consulting, LLC

Support provided for translation services, as well as travel for students and international researchers, for the Tenth International Conference on Marine Mammals of the Holarctic, including real-time translation (Russian to English) of conference presentations, and dual-language printings of conference proceedings.

Support for the 2019 World Conference on Marine Mammal Science, Barcelona, Spain, 9 – 12 December 2019

Pabst, A., Moore, K.

Society for Marine Mammalogy

Support provided to the Society for Marine Mammalogy for student travel – specifically international student travel – to the 2019 World Conference on Marine Mammal Science, 9 – 12 December 2019 in Barcelona, Spain.

Fifth International Conference on the Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life

Sisneros, J

University of Washington

Support provided for the fifth International Conference on “The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life,” 7-12 July 2019, in Den Haag, The Netherlands. Funding is specifically for bringing students, younger faculty, representatives of third world countries, and a few key speakers to the meeting.

2017 Grant Awards

Grant Awards by Fiscal Year: 2024 | 2023 | 20222021 |2020 | 2019 | 201820172016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011Previous Years

Projects Funded by the Marine Mammal Commission in Fiscal Year 2017

Topic A: Research/Projects – Focal Area: Populations at Extreme Risk

Enhancing Scientific Knowledge about the Endangered Antillean Manatee in Cuba

Alemán, A. & Powell, J.

Sea to Shore Alliance

The endangered Antillean manatee subspecies faces numerous and increasing threats in Cuban waters. This project aims to increase monitoring efforts to better understand the species’ habitat use in high-risk areas as well as investigate population connectivity across the region by including data from Cuban manatee populations – vital steps towards responsible management.

View publication.

Assessing the distribution and abundance of the franciscana dolphin and mapping its threats in northern Sao Paulo (Brazil): moving towards conservation in practice

Danilewicz, D.

Grupo de Estudos de Mamiferos Aquaticos do Rio Grande do Sul Instituto Aqualie

The franciscana dolphin, the most threatened cetacean in South America, is often caught as bycatch in northern Brazilian fisheries. This project aims to identify core habitat use areas and estimate abundance of the species in order to inform future research and conservation efforts.

Molecular systematics, taxonomy, and conservation of a critically endangered cryptic lineage of balaenopterid whale from the Gulf of Mexico (Balaenoptera cf. B. edeni)

Leslie, M.

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History

The Gulf of Mexico population of Bryde’s whales is potentially a different species than Bryde’s whales elsewhere. If so, this resident population of less than 50 whales could be critically endangered. This project aims to resolve evolutionary relationships between this and other species in the baleen whale family by collecting genome-wide DNA, performing genetic analyses, and estimating divergence rates in order to aid management efforts in U.S. waters.

Revisiting the demography, ecology, and threat risks of the critically endangered Taiwanese humpback dolphin (Sousa chinensis taiwanensis) after a decade of conservation inaction

Wang, J.

CetAsia Research Group

Fewer than 75 Taiwanese humpback dolphins remain along an isolated stretch of western Taiwan. Although population declines are likely, little conservation action has taken place in recent years. This study aims to collect data on the abundance and rate of fishing-related injuries in this population to determine the severity of the decline and inform future management decisions.

Southern right whales as a model system to investigate the vocal behavior of North Atlantic right whale mother-calf pairs

Parks, S.

Syracuse University

Passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) is an effective conservation tool for studying North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) and can be used to identify when right whales are in certain areas and inform management actions.  One challenge to current PAM is a gap in our understanding of the sound production by mother-calf pairs in this species. This project aims to determine whether southern right whales (E. australis) can serve as a useful model system to obtain better, and more robust, sample sizes for the acoustic repertoires of North Atlantic right whales.

View publication.

Developing and testing of an inexpensive GPS radio buoy system for early notification of marine mammal entanglements

Siemann, L., Patel, S., and Davis, F.

Coonamessett Farm Foundation, Inc.

Large whales, like the endangered North Atlantic right whale, regularly encounter fishing gear and may become entangled in fishing lines. This project aims to detect entanglement events in real time and ultimately reduce injury and mortality from these events through the use of an inexpensive warning system based on a new GPS radio buoy design. This study also has applications for tracking, locating, and recovering lost gear, potentially minimizing ghost gear.

Topic A: Research/Projects

Characterizing Depredation in Northeast U.S. Sink Gillnet Fisheries

Bogomolni, A.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Fishery interactions are a critical concern for marine mammal population and ecosystem health.  These interactions need to be better understood and costs of interactions minimized to maintain sustainable fisheries and fishing practices. This collaborative team aims to document gray seal fishery interactions in sink gillnet fisheries in order to find possible solutions to this issue. See link to project update.

Topic B: Conferences, Symposia, Workshops, Meetings, and Publications – Focal Area: Populations at Extreme Risk

Protect the Mediterranean monk seal (Monachus monachus) in the peninsula of Karaburun and Sazan Island of Albania

Korro, K.

Royal Albania Foundation & Agriculture University of Tirana

The Mediterranean monk seal, the most endangered pinniped species in the world, has been documented in formerly restricted locations in Albania that are now open for increased tourism and fishing activity. In light of these new threats to the species, this project aims to increase local awareness and stakeholder involvement in the region to encourage protection.

Topic B: Conferences, Symposia, Workshops, Meetings, and Publications

Revision of and development of content for a beaked whale identification and research website

Andrew Read

Duke University Marine Lab

Revision to the content of the Smithsonian Institution’s beaked whale identification website.  This collaborative effort between Duke University Marine Laboratory and the Smithsonian Institution will combine specimen collection information and field data in a publicly-accessible website to increase knowledge of, and enhance the ability of users to identify, species of beaked whales.

22nd Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada

Society for Marine Mammalogy – Treasurer

Society for Marine Mammalogy

Support for student travel – specifically international student travel – to the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s 22nd Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, convened in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, October 23-27, 2017.

2016 Grant Awards

Grant Awards by Fiscal Year: 2024 | 2023 | 20222021 | 2020 | 2019 | 20182017 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011Previous Years

Projects Funded by the Marine Mammal Commission in Fiscal Year 2016

Topic A: Research/Projects

Noise Field Characterization in the Habitat of the East Taiwan Strait Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphin during the Pile Driving Activity of Demonstration Offshore Wind Farm

Chen, C.

National Taiwan University

Characterize the sound field during demonstration pile driving and associated activities in the east Taiwan Strait Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin habitat, and identify dominant anthropogenic sound sources in the dolphin habitat during the construction of wind turbines. Implications of the sound field from wind turbine construction and associated activities in relation to humpback dolphins’ hearing and communication will be examined, including loss of communication space and masking. Link to final report.

Acoustic detection of North Pacific right whales combined with biophysical sampling using a Saildrone

Crance, J.

Marine Mammal Laboratory

Integrate an autonomous passive acoustic recorder into the keel of the Saildrone to monitor for the critically endangered North Pacific right whale. Passive acoustic data on marine mammal presence will be integrated with concurrent oceanographic and zooplankton data to better understand marine mammal habitat and ecological processes. See link to project report and link to publication.

Topic A: Research/Projects - Focal Area: Bycatch

Ropeless fishing: Testing an innovative prototype for preventing whale entanglements

Werner, T.

New England Aquarium

Evaluate the potential use of a rope-less fishing system for use in pot fisheries targeting crustaceans and benthic fishes. The performance of flotation spools will be evaluated under actual fishing conditions involving an offshore lobster pot vessel. Testing of this innovative prototype is being conducted to minimize and ideally prevent fatal entanglements of large whales.

A pilot study of alternative gears and fishing strategies that can limit Atlantic humpback dolphin (Sousa teuszii) bycatch in the Republic of Congo

Collins, T.

Wildlife Conservation Society

Identify and test artisanal fishing alternatives (gears and area/time exclusions) that could permanently reduce the bycatch risk for S. teuszii in Conkouati-Douli National Park.

Towards an effective bycatch mitigation strategy for Franciscana dolphins in Argentina

Bordino, P.

Fundación AquaMarina

Evaluate the use of pingers as a deterrent to reduce bycatch of Franciscana dolphins in artisanal fisheries in Argentina. Challenges and obstacles that need to be overcome for pingers to be adopted at a larger scale by artisanal gillnet fishermen in the region will be identified, and lessons will be provided to guide the potential adoption of pingers on other gillnet fisheries throughout the range of this species.

Topic A: Research/Projects - Focal Area: Cook Inlet Belugas

Improving our understanding of Cook Inlet beluga foraging occurrence

Castellote, M.

Marine Mammal Laboratory

Characterize beluga feeding echolocation characteristics to be used for the description of feeding occurrence in Cook Inlet. Feeding areas or feeding periods with high levels of anthropogenic noise will be identified in order to better understand the potential impact of human activities on a critical behavior (foraging) for the recovery and survival of the endangered Cook Inlet beluga.

See the link to publication. The final report is available from the Commission upon request.

Topic A: Research/Projects - Focal Area: Ice-Dependent Marine Mammals

Using Next Generation Sequencing technology to assess population structure in a highly abundant subspecies, the Arctic ringed seal (Phoca hispida hispida)

Lang, A.

Ocean Associates, Inc.

Evaluate the population structure of the Arctic subspecies of ringed seal in part to determine if listing Arctic ringed seals as threatened throughout their range was appropriate. Although sampling sites are limited to the Bering, Chukchi, and western Beaufort Seas, genetic analyses will advance understanding of population structure within the Arctic subspecies and thus of the vulnerability of ringed seals within these regions to localized depletion.

See link to publication.

Topic B: Conferences, Symposia, Workshops, Meetings, and Publications

Fourth International Conference on the Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life

Popper, A.

University of Maryland,
College Park

Support for the fourth International Conference on “The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life,” convened in Dublin, Ireland, July 10-16, 2016. Funding helped bring students, younger faculty, representatives of third world countries, and a few key speakers to the meeting. Link to meeting proceedings.

2011 Grant Awards

Grant Awards by Fiscal Year: 2024 | 2023 | 2022 | 2021 | 2020 | 2019 | 2018201720162015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | Previous Years

Projects Funded by the Marine Mammal Commission in Fiscal Year 2011

Topic A: Research/Projects

Ecological and socioeconomic aspects of small cetacean and artisanal fisheries interactions in Southeast Asia

Ballance, L. and T. Whitty

Scripps, University of California San Diego

The overall goals of the project were to develop a rapid means of assessing bycatch in artisanal fisheries while collecting needed data on relevant social, economic, and cultural aspects of artisanal fishing communities, and contribute to our understanding of the ecology and conservation of four populations of Irrawaddy dolphins in Southeast Asia.

Please contact the Commission for further information on this project.

Ecology, status, fisheries interactions, and conservation of coastal Indo-Pacific humpback and bottlenose dolphins on the west coast of Madagascar

Cerchio, S.

Wildlife Conservation Society

Coastal dolphins in western Madagascar are threatened by both direct hunting and by-catch in artisanal fisheries. This project investigated the current and potential extent of these interactions through basic research on dolphin behavior, ecology, and population structure of two species, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus), as well as on-the-ground interviews with local fishermen throughout the region.

Final report.

Prospects for breeding poorly-known species of small cetaceans in captivity

Curry, B.

Barbara Curry

Prospects for breeding poorly-known species of small cetaceans in captivity are evaluated.

Final report.

Cooperative research between U.S. and Mexican agencies to develop an effective vaquita-safe shrimp trawl for use in the upper Gulf of California, Mexico

Gearhart, J.

National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Fisheries Science Center’s Mississippi Laboratory’s Harvesting Systems Unit

Cooperative research between U.S. and Mexican agencies to develop an effective vaquita-safe shrimp trawl for use in the upper Gulf of California. The technical report from testing at traditional fishing grounds in the Upper Gulf of California under typical environmental conditions of the local commercial fishing season, and comparing its performance to that of the “RS-INP” prototype is available.

Responding to oil spills in Arctic environments: A National Academy of Sciences Review

Roberts, S.

National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences

U.S. Arctic waters north of the Bering Strait and west of the Canadian border encompass a vast area that is sparsely inhabited with a wide variety of ecosystems found nowhere else, this region is vulnerable to damage from human activities. As oil and gas, shipping, and tourism activities increase, the possibilities of an oil spill also increase. How can we best prepare to respond to such an event in this challenging environment?

Final report.

Cooperative research between U.S. and Mexican agencies to develop an effective vaquita-safe shrimp trawl for use in the upper Gulf of California, Mexico

Servin de la Mora, L. E.

World Wildlife Fund – Mexico

Cooperative research between U.S. and Mexican agencies to develop an effective vaquita-safe shrimp trawl for use in the upper Gulf of California. The technical report from testing at traditional fishing grounds in the Upper Gulf of California under typical environmental conditions of the local commercial fishing season, and comparing its performance to that of the “RS-INP” prototype is available.

Using the Amazonian manatee as a “flagship species” for the conservation of the Lower Rio Negro Region, Brazilian Amazon

Tofoli, C.

Instituto de Pesquisas Ecológicas (Institute for Ecological Research), Brazil

Project objectives were to: integrate scientific information about the manatee with the traditional knowledge of the local communities; design a non-invasive population estimation method using side-scan sonar; identify and monitor habitats and landscape used by the Amazonian manatee; verify threats to the species; develop environmental awareness and outreach programs with local communities.

Final report.

Assessment of ringed seal population status and bycatch in commercial fisheries in Lake Ladoga, Northwest Russia

Trukhanova, I.

Biologists for Nature Conservation, Russia

Trukhanova, I.S., E. Gurarie, and R.A. Sagitov. 2013. “Distribution of Hauled-Out Ladoga Ringed Seals (Pusa hispida ladogensis) in Spring 2012.” ARCTIC 66 (4).

The final report is also available from the Commission upon request.

Anthropogenic and physiological data reconstructed from whale earwax plugs

Usenko, S. , Trumble, S.

Baylor University

Robinson, E. M., S. J. Trumble, B. Subedi, R. Sanders, and S. Usenko. 2013. Selective Pressurized Liquid Extraction of Pesticides, Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers in a Whale Earplug (earwax): A Novel Method for Analyzing Organic Contaminants in Lipid-Rich Matrices. Journal of Chromatography. A 1319 (December): 14–20.

Trumble, S. J., E.M. Robinson, M. Berman-Kowalewski, C.W. Potter, and S. Usenko. 2013. Blue Whale Earplug Reveals Lifetime Contaminant Exposure and Hormone Profiles. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, August 2013. Project summary.

Topic B: Conferences, Symposia, Workshops, Meetings, and Publications

Third International Conference on Acoustic Communication by Animals

Au, W.

Acoustical Society of America

Support for the Third International conference on acoustic communication by animals. The emphasis of this conference is the integration of information across animal taxa, and enabling exchanges between young investigators and more established investigators in the field. Also to consider acoustic communication, its mechanisms, and the detection of acoustic signals, particularly in noisy backgrounds.

Conference website.

Publication of Right Whale News

Hain, J.

Associated Scientists at Woods Hole

Right Whale News is an independent newsletter providing timely information; a forum to express viewpoints and encourage discussion; and a bulletin board of book reviews, publications, people, and events. It is published in February, May, August, and November; and may on occasion include additional special issues.

Fourth International Science Symposium on Bio-logging

Hindell, M. and K. Evans

University of Tasmania, Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies

Support for student participation in the 4th International Science Symposium on Bio-logging. The symposiums aims were to: Advance the use of bio-logging technology to understand the behavior, physiology and ecology of animals and their place in the environment, including the effects of climate change. As well as Promote diversity, quality, originality and cross-disciplinary partnerships in the development of observation systems that integrate biological, ecological, physiological and physical data.

Symposium website.

Second International Conference on Marine Mammal Protected Areas (ICMMPA 2)-
Endangered spaces: Endangered species

Mattila, D.

National Marine Sanctuary Foundation

Support for the Second International Conference on Marine Mammal Protected Areas, held from November 7-11, 2011.

Conference proceedings.

Development of a booklet on marine mammal guidelines for the Bering Strait region, Alaska

Sheffield, G.

University of Alaska Fairbanks

This booklet project seeks to address the public’s most frequently asked questions and provide a common cohesive and public information source for all marine mammal users in the Bering Strait region. The booklet will compile accurate, reliable, and current information on the requirements, current status, and regulatory framework for all peoples that utilize marine mammals throughout the Bering Strait region.

A marine animal necropsy training and stranding response workshop in India

Srinivasan, M. and R. Sridhar

Madras Veterinary College, Tamil Nadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, India

Support for on-going efforts to develop a marine mammal stranding response network in India and support for a workshop, at Madras Veterinary College in Chennai, India in late 2011. Workshop goals included establishing stranding response networks, teaching participants to safely respond to strandings, and developing a standardized approach for collecting, archiving, and sharing data across regional areas.

The final report is available from the Commission upon request.

Third Annual Meeting of the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences

Wallace, R.

Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences

Support for graduate students attending the 3rd AESS conference presenting work focused on conservation, health or stability of marine ecosystems, or conservation of marine mammals.

19th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Tampa, Florida, 2011

Wells. R.

Society for Marine Mammalogy

Support for student travel to the 19th Biennial Conference on Marine Mammals.

U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System and the Integrated Ocean Observation Committee

Young, J.

Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Workshop on attaining an operational marine biodiversity observing network.

Workshop report.

Symposium on Population Consequences of Acoustic Disturbance to Marine Mammals

Zimmermann, L.

Consortium for Ocean Leadership

Held in October 2011 the symposium reflected an interactive, synthetic process over the past three years that has engaged 30 experts from 20 institutions worldwide. Participants discussed translation of the National Research Council’s 2005 conceptual model on population-level consequences of sound into formal, species-specific, and ultimately transferable mathematical structures.

Copies of presentations are available.