Culture and Conservation: Fishing for Change

Our chosen theme for the 25th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals is ‘Culture and Conservation: Fishing for Change’. In framing this theme, we aim to capture the topical areas of studying marine mammal cultures and consideration of both human and animal cultures in conservation and management. We wish to highlight the breadth and depth of both the pure and applied aspects of the Society’s endeavors, and focus on one of the most significant threats to marine mammals - interactions with fisheries.


Interactions with fishing gear remain the most significant threat to marine mammals globally. From the poles to the tropics, serious injury and mortality of individual marine mammals continues in even some of the most well scrutinized fisheries, leading to population declines and recent and imminent extinctions. The Yangtze River dolphin is gone; and the vaquita, Maui’s dolphin, North Atlantic right whale all face extinction from interactions with fishing gear. While these interactions can be pervasive where marine mammal populations overlap with fishing activity, entanglement in lost or discarded gear reaches almost all marine mammal populations. Further, some species have learnt to take advantage of foraging opportunities around fisheries and aquaculture, posing entanglement risks as well as the cultural spread of risky behaviour. Habitat modification and fish stock declines can lead to ecological changes, both of which can indirectly impact marine mammal populations. Interactions with fishing gear can also result in devastating animal welfare outcomes.

Approaches to reduce fisheries-related marine mammal mortality include measures that aim to change human behaviour (Marine Protected Areas, spatial and temporal fishing closures, incentives for altered gear use, development of alternative sources of income), the nature of the interactions (the use of bycatch reduction devices and other fishing gear modifications), or animal behaviour (the use of acoustic deterrents devices). While a combination of these approaches has been successful in some instances, obtaining adequate information on impacted populations, maintaining reliable reporting of interactions, establishing adequate governance and enforcement, sourcing affordable mitigation technologies, and recognizing the cultural importance of certain species and fisheries, all remain important conservation and management challenges. 


Seeking solutions to these compounding impacts ties together topics such as acoustics, animal welfare, behaviour, conservation, distribution and habitat use, education, health, human dimensions, policy development, population biology and taxonomy. 

In 2024, in Perth, Western Australia, we hope to:

  • identify and communicate actions to reduce fishing related marine mammal mortality,  
  • provide an opportunity for management agencies and individuals responsible for marine mammal entanglement responses to upskill, 
  • support capacity building of Indigenous and developing country participants through skill-based training, workshops and meeting facilitation, 
  • bring together scientists, managers, policymakers and Traditional Owners for meaningful information exchange and collaborative opportunities.

Our aims relate directly to the Society for Marine Mammalogy mission statement “to promote the global advancement of marine mammal science and contribute to its relevance and impact in education, conservation and management” and specifically address the 2019 Barcelona declaration goal of “using science, education and policy to reduce the deaths of marine mammals in fishery interactions.” We envision the outcomes of the conference to be closely connected to the identified key actions (i.e., reducing marine megafauna bycatch and incidental mortality through entanglements and reducing their competition with fisheries) for achieving the United Nations Sustainability Goal 14, Life Below Water.


You will need to identify a topic for your abstract submission. Each topic is accompanied by a brief description to help you decide which is most relevant for your submission. There are 11 major topics from which to choose, or rather, 10 broadly defined topics and an ‘other’ should you feel it does not fall within the bounds of the other 10. We realise that these are not all mutually exclusive, so please just submit your abstract under that topic which you feel best suits your research.

Among these are two new topics about which we are particularly excited: ‘Out of the blue’ encourages sharing of unexpected or unprecedented, interesting events relating to marine mammals, and ‘Science on a shoestring’ invites submissions and awards attention on innovative marine mammal science being completed on a low budget.

Research pertaining to the study of the form, function and structure of marine mammals and their features, including aspects of outward appearance.

Studies of marine mammal behavior as an evolutionarily adaptive trait or in the context of anthropogenic influences and research that focuses on culture in marine mammals. This may include studies closely tied to behavior, cognition, and psychology.

Research on climate change effects on marine mammal populations, species and their habitats. Studies may relate to movements, vital rates, polar ecology, or changes in metocean conditions and physical habitat alteration.

Research on the status, conservation, and management of marine mammals, their habitats and ecosystems. Research pertaining to non-fishery related management, law andpolicy, industrial activity and impact assessments can be submitted under this topic.

A broad topic of empirical and applied research in all areas of marine mammal ecology and evolution. Studies relating to population biology (e.g., studies on population abundance, demographics, and genetic structure) and interactions between populations and their environment(e.g., habitat and distribution, trophic interactions), as well genetics, genomics and eDNA should be submitted under this category.

Research relating to direct and indirect marine mammal interactions with large- and small-scale (commercial, recreational, or artisanal) fisheries. This topic may include studies on behavior and welfare, social, economic, institutional, and cultural issues, management applications, legislative and policy frameworks, and fisheries technology.

Research relating to animal welfare and health of both wild and captive animals. This may include studies investigating unusual mortality events, live strandings, disease transmission and toxicology. Additionally, we encourage submissions on standard operating procedures on health assessments and incident responses that ensure good animal welfare outcomes.

One of our new abstract submission and conference session categories for unexpected or unprecedented, interesting events relating to marine mammals. Surprise us!

Another new abstract submission category that encourages submissions of innovative science that has been conducted on a low budget. The topic of the research can fall into any of the other abstract submission categories.

Research that describes, explains, or predicts human behavior in relation to marine mammals. Studies in this topic may relate to social, cultural and economic value placed on marine mammals. Abstracts relating to outreach, education and citizen science should be submitted in this category.

If you feel your research does not fit into any of the broadly defined major topics, you can use this option to submit your abstract.


The artwork embodies the spirit of this conference and serves as the logo inspiration. The centre of the artwork represents coming together on the banks of the Swan River (Derbyl Yerrigan), to share knowledge and ideas (kaartdijin). The crescent or ‘U’ shape icons represents people, both men and women, sitting in a meeting circle. Fish (djildjit), a net and human hand capture the theme of our conference, “Culture and Conservation: Fishing for Change”. Spears and boomerangs represent traditional cultural fishing practices, and symbolise the need to recognise lessons from the past while striving for sustainability into the future. The endangered and endemic Australian sea lion (manyin) and iconic bottlenose dolphin (kwilena) swim around the meeting circle as locally occurring species but also represent marine mammal species across the globe. Marine mammals hold immense cultural and spiritual significance to traditional custodians, and some of these stories will be shared at the conference. Finally, the two outer circles symbolise the home origin of delegates, connected to the inner circle by physical travel routes and virtual access paths.