The SMM2017 Biennial Conference Committee is pleased to announce that Hal Whitehead, Asha de Vos, Nigel Hussey and Scott Kraus will be the plenary speakers at 2017: A Marine Mammal Odysessy. We are also excited to announce that Randy Reeves (Kenneth S. Norris Lifetime Achievement award), Julie van der Hoop (Wood Award) and Alex Karamanlidis (Conservation Merit Award)will also be delivering key presentation at the conference.  

Biographies for each speaker are listed below.


Plenary Speakers



Dr. Asha de Vos is a Sri Lankan marine biologist and educator with a BSc (Hons) in Marine and Environmental Biology from the University of St. Andrews, UK, a MSc in Integrative Biosciences from the University of Oxford, UK and a PhD from the University of Western Australia. Her PhD focused on the ‘Factors influencing blue whale distribution off southern Sri Lanka’ specifically as this area overlaps with one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. This represents a part of the research she has been conducting on this population since 2008. Her project ‘The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project’ forms the first long term study on blue whales within the Northern Indian Ocean. She has published several key research publications on Sri Lankan blue whales, which have led to this population being designated as a species in urgent need of conservation research by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The IWC has since invited key Sri Lankan government personnel to participate in whale ship-strike related meetings to gain a broader understanding of the problem. Asha is also an invited member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Cetacean Specialist Group. Her efforts to bring attention to the unusual Sri Lankan blue whales and the threats they face have been showcased internationally by Channel 7 Australia (2010), the BBC (2010), the New York Times (2012), CNN (2012), WIRED UK (2014), the New Scientist (2014) and TED (2015). She is also a guest blogger for National Geographic. Asha is a TED Senior Fellow, a Duke University Global Fellow in Marine Conservation and was recently selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. She is currently a post-doctoral scholar at the University of California Santa Cruz, where she is working specifically on reducing the problem of ship-strike of blue whales in Sri Lankan waters.

Exploring the underexplored (Monday, october 23 - 9:05 - 9:40 / scotiabank centre)

How does a country overlook the largest animal that has ever lived on the planet? How can a new species sneak up on you along a busy south Asian coastline? How can we build lasting legacies for the sake of our marine mammals and their home? Through this talk I will draw on my experiences working in Sri Lanka to answer these questions. In so doing, I hope I can encourage the audience to consider what we as a community can do to change the current trajectory of marine mammal discovery and protection and why the time is now.



Scott Kraus is Vice President and Senior Science Advisor for the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium in Boston, Massachusetts. Kraus received his B.A. from College of the Atlantic, his M.S. in biology from the University of Massachusetts, and a Ph.D. from the University of New Hampshire. Dr. Kraus has been conducting research on whales since 1980, and has published over 110 scientific papers on marine mammal biology and conservation, fisheries, and oceanography. Kraus’ recent research projects have included studies on the distribution and abundance of marine mammals and sea turtles around proposed wind farm sites, methods for reducing incidental bycatch of cetaceans in fishing gear, exploring visual capacities of cetaceans, and investigating the oceanographic underpinnings of marine mammal concentrations in the new Atlantic Canyons and Seamounts National Marine Monument.

Marine Mammals in the Anthropocene: keeping Endangered from becoming Extinct (Monday, October 23 - 9:40 - 10:15/ scotiabank centre)

Recent marine extinctions suggest that humanity does not have a good record of co-existing with marine mammals. Given continuing human population growth, ocean industrialization will expand, raising questions about the balance between human needs and wildlife. This is a battle which marine mammals are currently losing, but there are actions we can take to change the outcome. First, we scientists should get better at telling our story - why wildlife matters, how marine mammals are a critical part of a functioning ecosystem, why human activities continue to threaten both marine mammals and the oceans, and no, the whales are not saved yet. Endangered species need constituencies and public support, and most don’t have enough. Second, assessment methods for rare species need improvement. Elegant population and viability models may be of limited utility in small populations, because inherently small sample sizes yield large variances, with little ability to detect trends. Other robust biological signals can be better at predicting impending changes in small populations. Third, small populations of marine mammals require more protected habitat, better de nitions of what that means, and prohibitions on harmful activities in those areas. In some marine mammals this may mean protecting migratory corridors, from breeding to feeding grounds, across international boundaries. Fourth, the permitting and funding of rare population conservation and recovery efforts are inadequate, partly because of limited public support. Finally, although counter- intuitive, scientists should work with all stakeholders, including the oil, gas, and seismic industry, the shing industry, wind utilities, and aquaculture facilities, to help them make their activities less detrimental. We do not yet have a collective view of how marine mammals will survive in an industrialized ocean, but if we take these steps, the next generation of scientists will be able to bring this vision closer to reality.




Hal Whitehead is a Professor in the Department of Biology at Dalhousie University.  He holds a BA in Mathematics (1972), Diploma in Mathematical Statistics (1977), and PhD in Zoology (1981) from Cambridge University in England.  His research focuses on social organization and cultural transmission in the deep-water whales, but he also works on their ecology, population biology and conservation. Field work is mainly carried out in the North Atlantic (particularly off eastern Canada), Caribbean and South Pacific Oceans from a 12-m sailing boat. He has developed statistical tools and software for analyzing vertebrate social systems.  He uses individual-based stochastic computer models to study cultural evolution, gene-culture coevolution and mating strategies.  Hal has published 244 articles in refereed journals or books, coedited "Cetacean Societies: Field Studies of Whales and Dolphins" (University of Chicago Press; 2000) and has written "Sperm Whales; Social Evolution in the Ocean" (University of Chicago Press, 2003), "Analyzing Animal Societies: Quantitative Methods for Vertebrate Social Analysis" (University of Chicago Press, 2008), and, with Luke Rendell, “The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins” (University of Chicago Press, 2015).  He has served on the IUCN Species Survival Commission Cetacean Specialist Group since 1983, has been co-chair of the COSEWIC Marine Mammal SSC between 2001-2004, and 2016-.  He received the Marsh Award for Marine and Freshwater Conservation, Zoological Society of London in 2007, and the Conservation Award of the European Cetacean Society in 2016.

Gene-culture coevolution in whales and dolphins (Thursday, October 25 - 9:05 - 9:40 / scotiabank centre)

Cetaceans have excellent social learning skills as well as long and strong mother-calf bonds. These produce stable cultures, and, in some species, sympatric groups with dstinctive cultures. There is evidence and speculation that this cultural transmission of behaviour has affected gene distributions. Culture seems to have driven killer whales into distinct ecotypes. There are ecotype-speci c signals of selection in functional genes that correspond to cultural foraging behavior and habitat use by the different ecotypes. The ve species of whale with matrilineal social systems have remarkably low diversity of mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA). Cultural hitchhiking, the transmission of functionally-neutral genes in parallel with selective cultural traits, is a plausible cause, especially in sperm whales. In killer whales, ecotype divisions, together with founding bottlenecks, selection, and cultural hitchhiking, likely explain low mtDNA diversity. Several cetacean species show habitat-speci c distributions of mtDNA haplotypes, probably the result of mother-offspring cultural transmission of migration routes, destinations, or foraging methods. The signi cance of culture in cetacean lives likely promoted traits - such as prolonged juvenile periods, menopause, brain size and architecture - that increased opportunities for social learning, as well as ef cient processing of socially-learned information. Thus, culture seems to have driven the genetic evolution of cetaceans over a wide range of spatial and temporal scales.



Nigel Hussey is a leading expert on the application of biotelemetry and chemical tracers such as stable isotopes in the study of aquatic ecosystems. Nigel completed an undergraduate degree in Ecology/Geology at Kingston University, London, UK and later following an initial career as an English Language teacher, returned to complete an MSc in Marine Environmental Protection (with distinction) and a PhD in Marine Ecology at the School of Ocean Sciences, Bangor University, UK. Nigel has a keen interest in understanding the ecological role of elasmobranches (sharks, skates and rays) and now has >17 years experience of working with a diverse range of species in remote environments from the ice lands of the high Arctic to the desert of the Sudanese Red Sea, Australia, The Bahamas, Mozambique, Kenya, Southern Africa, Chagos and most recently Ascension Island in the central Atlantic. Over the last 7 years he has published over 70 peer reviewed scientific papers including those in Nature, Ecology Letters and Science. Nigel is currently an Assistant Professor in Biological Sciences at the University of Windsor, Canada and leads the Arctic program for the Global Ocean Tracking Network. His current research addresses three overarching themes; (i) quantifying the spatial and temporal movement patterns of species and determining the mechanistic drivers of observed behaviours, (2) examining how intra- and inter-species variability in interactions shape ecosystems and (3) assessing the impact of climate and human pressures on animal behaviour and biodiversity and their associated effects (positive and negative) on ecosystem structure. Recently and in collaboration with diverse Canadian partners, this work has expanded to include Arctic marine mammals, specifically through developing a field approach to better define the roles of aquatic predators in an ecosystem context. Overall the Hussey Lab examines individual, community and ecosystem level processes with the principal aim of providing data for effective conservation and management strategies. 

Advancing an ecosystem eld approach to understand and manage aquatic predators (Thursday, October 25 - 9:40 - 10:15 / scotiabank centre)

The effective management of aquatic predators, whether imperilled or commercially exploited, requires detailed understanding of their core biology and ecology. The building blocks of demographic data, for example, age at maturity, growth rate, fecundity and mortality are key parameters to model population dynamics while understanding movement behaviour and trophic interactions provide resolution on their ecological role over ontogeny. Ecosystem based management, however, heralds a new era whereby management considers data at the ecosystem rather than individual species level. Consequently, while deriving species level date remains a priority, there is an urgent need to develop research and importantly eld based programs that derive ecosystem data simultaneously rather than amalgamating individual species level data that may misrepresent true ecosystem properties. In this talk, I aim to provide an overview of recent ecosystem eld approaches to derive such data. One such project stemmed from examining two predators, narwhal (Monodon Monoceros) and the Greenland shark (Somniosus microcephalus), but has now evolved into a multi species, interdisciplinary program examining phytoplankton through to top predators, but also includes for example, commercially and culturally important Arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus) and a primary forage sh Arctic cod (Boreogadus saida), while simultaneously measuring a suite of environmental characteristics that shape the entire ecosystem. The Ecosystem Approach to Tremblay Sound (EAT), represents a novel Arctic approach to ecosystem data collection for management in a priority region. It also represents a uniting of diverse stakeholders from government, academia and non-government organizations and provides an ecosystem platform in the eld for science capacity building in the North.



Featured Speakers



(Kenneth S. Norris Lifetime Achievement award)

Randall Reeves was born, raised, and partially educated in Nebraska. He received degrees from the University of Nebraska, Princeton, and McGill. After becoming hooked on whales in the mid-1970s, he began a 40+-year engagement with marine mammal research and conservation, initially as a research associate at the Smithsonian Institution, later based at the Arctic Biological Station near Montreal, and most recently out of his home in Hudson, Quebec. Besides participating in field projects on bowheads and narwhals in Alaska, the Canadian Arctic, and Greenland, on right whales and other cetaceans in the North Atlantic, and on river dolphins and coastal cetaceans in Asia and South America, he has spent a great deal of time in archives investigating the history of marine mammal exploitation. As chair of the IUCN/SSC Cetacean Specialist Group since 1996, he has been responsible for preparing and evaluating Red List assessments, drafting conservation action plans, and advising government agencies, intergovernmental bodies, and non-governmental organizations. He has published numerous journal articles, book chapters, and books on marine mammal conservation and science and is a long-time member of the IWC Scientific Committee and of Mexico’s vaquita recovery committee. Reeves also chairs the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission’s Committee of Scientific Advisers.

Freshwater cetaceans in the 21st century: Will they survive and if so, how? (Friday, October 27 - 15:30 - 16:10 / scotiabank centre)

Of the 36 recognized genera of modern cetaceans, six (17%) either live solely in freshwater systems (obligate freshwater cetaceans) or have at least one species, population, or subspecies that lives permanently in fresh water (facultative freshwater cetaceans). These six genera constitute a heterogeneous group: they belong to ve different families and are morphologically, behaviorally, and ecologically dissimilar in many ways, but are all severely threatened. Of the obligates, the baiji (Lipotes vexillifer) became extinct early in this century; the South Asian river dolphin (Platanista

gangetica) and the Amazon River dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) are extant but in serious trouble, as is the South American tucuxi (Sotalia uviatilis), which belongs to a facultative genus. The other facultatives are the narrow-ridged nless porpoise (Neophocaena asiaeorientalis), with a population that was once widespread in the Yangtze but is now red-listed as Critically Endangered, and the Irrawaddy dolphin (Orcaella brevirostris), a marine delphinid with three Critically Endangered riverine populations. Threats range from damming of rivers to accidental killing in gillnets to deliberate killing for sh bait. Efforts to prevent further extinctions must be informed by rigorous science and spearheaded by local champions who can reconcile social, economic, and political pressures with the ecological requirements of these cetaceans.




(Wood Award)

Julie completed her B.Sc with combined honours In marine biology and ocenagraphy at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Her undergraduate thesis focused on vessel-strike probabilities to North Atlantic right whales in a managed area in Canadian waters. She completed a Summer Student Fellowship at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) on humpback whale movement from an acoustic tracking platform, before assessing trends in large whale mortality in the context of management efforts as a research assistant at WHOI. Julie completed her PhD at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and WHOI, where she combined her interests in movement and physiology, assessing animals’ behavioural, physiological, and fine-scale movement responses to added drag. 

Julie is currently a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Research Fellow at Aarhus University (Denmark), where she continues to ask questions in physiology and movement across species and taxa.

Drag from shing gear entangling right whales: a major extinction risk factor (Friday, October 27 - 8:30 - 9:00 / scotiabank centre)

Lethal and sublethal shing gear entanglement is pervasive in North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) and often incurs substantial energetic costs as animals carry gear for months to years. Our 2015 study measured drag forces on shing gear removed from entangled right whales, suggesting that on average, entanglement increases drag and propulsive power output by 1.5× and up to 3×. These measurements have since been used to (1) estimate energy expenditure from added drag; (2) assess biomechanical compensation in entangled whales as measured with biologging tags; (3) quantify drag, energetic and survival bene ts of partial disentanglement; (4) predict drag forces on shing gear that entangles whales; and (5) estimate the resulting increase in energy expenditure and the critical entanglement duration that could lead to death. Together, our original study and those stemming from it have led to a greater understanding of the sublethal individual and population-level effects of entanglement in shing gear: chronic, lethal entanglements impose energetic demands of a similar order of magnitude and duration of life history events such as migration and pregnancy in large whales.

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