Public Release: 

Whale, dolphin, sea lion experts meet in San Francisco

Scientists address challenges to survival in a changing ocean

NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region

From December 13-18, 2015 in San Francisco, California, USA up to 3,000 scientists engaged in marine mammal research, policy makers, government regulators, and educators will gather together at the world's largest conference of its kind, sponsored by the Society For Marine Mammalogy. The "21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals: Bridging the Past Toward the Future" will take place at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square.

Early Monday, December 14th, the meeting launches with a plenary session outlining current and future directions marine mammal science. See the conference schedule links at the end of this release. Additional press releases and media availabilities will be issued during the week.

Top experts from various scientific disciplines related to marine mammals - which include whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, polar bears, sea otters, dugongs and manatees - will share their latest research findings and engage in discussions of current and emerging issues, and their implications for species survival. Human activity-related threats include habitat destruction, fisheries entanglement, ship strike, ocean noise, climate-related and chemical changes in our oceans; changes to species' range, health and population size are already evident. One small porpoise species, the vaquita, is at great risk of extinction due to unsustainable entanglement (bycatch) in fishing gear, if urgent management action is not put into place.

Society for Marine Mammalogy President Nick Gales, noted, "This conference is happening at a time when we are witnessing unprecedented scales of human-related threats and changes throughout the world's oceans, and not all species will adapt quickly enough to survive them. We've brought our best minds together to work on how our global membership of scientists can inform and support the development of solutions to these problems, and hope to emerge with novel, effective and evidence-based options for marine mammal management."

Top experts such as Sue Moore, Ph.D., whose work with California gray whales in their Arctic feeding grounds led to the discovery that the shrinking ice pack was sharply reducing their food supply, resulting in a massive die-off of grays in 1999-2000, will present on her work.

Other experts will address topics including: Acoustics, Anatomy, Behavior, Climate Change, Conservation, Distribution and Abundance, Education and Communication, Ecology, Evolution, Genetics and Genomics; Medicine and Toxicology (e.g., infectious disease, strandings, pathology), Physiology, Population Biology, and Sensory Biology, Shipstrike Mortality, and other conservation issues. Human Dimensions include Policy and Management, including protected species; Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), and international governance.

The Society for Marine Mammalogy, founded in 1981, is a non-profit entity whose mission is to promote the global advancement of marine mammal sciences.

Why You Should Cover SMM2015:

The Society for Marine Mammalogy holds biennial international meetings at different venues around the globe to enhance collaboration, share ideas and resources, and improve the quality of research on marine mammals within the global scientific community. The 21st Biennial Conference marks the meeting's first return to San Francisco since its founding in 1981: it is a rare and unique opportunity to interview scientists from around the globe, for current coverage and make connections for followup stories.

The meeting will focus on marine mammal conservation in a changing world and bring together leaders in the field from approximately 30 countries and every continent, from the Arctic to Antarctica and all areas in between, engaging marine mammal scientists of many disciplines, policy makers and others, enhancing collaborations and training the next generation of scientists and practitioners, fostering international partnerships and collaborations. In addition to keynote lectures* and oral presentations, there will be over 1,000 poster presentations and topical workshops on "hot" topics in marine mammal science.

ENVIRONS: The waters off San Francisco, and the California coast, Mexico and the Pacific Northwest are part of the California Current Ecosystem, one of the top four most biologically productive and diverse "hot spots" on the planet. The region boasts one of the greatest diversities of marine mammals anywhere in the world, with over 36 species: more than 22 species of cetaceans (dolphins, whales); six species of seals and sea lions; and two otter species. This region also hosts one of the largest concentrations of marine mammal scientists at area universities, research institutions, NGOs and government agencies.


*See conference schedule; opening plenary session and Conservation Award begins Monday morning, DEC 14th.




[Correction] Monday DEC 14, 12:30 - 1:30 pm: MEDIA BRIEFING in Union Square 5 Interview Room on new study published in Science this week on impacts of domoic acid (DA) poisoning on sea lions. This same toxin is the reason for San Francisco's Dungeness crab fishery closure. The pre-briefing talk will be on Monday December at 11:45 am in Imperial Room B. The press briefing speakers will include:

France Gulland (, The Marine Mammal Center: The West Coast Context: how this relates to crab fishery closures and potential implications.

Peter Cook (, 831-535-2686), University of California Santa Cruz and Emory University: Brief summary of key findings in paper.

Kathi Lefebvre ( Testing for domoic acid in wildlife.

Tuesday DEC 15, 6:00-8:00 pm, MEDIA MIXER, Grand Ballroom. Media are invited to join researchers at a cocktail reception during the Tuesday evening poster sessions. Researchers from around the world will be attending the posters describing their research. This is a unique opportunity for one-on-one access to them!


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