The Mexican Marine Mammalogy Summer School: training new generations and strengthening our scientific society
Karina Acevedo-Whitehouse1,2,*, Fabiola Guerrero de la Rosa1,2, Juan José Alava3, Geraldine Busquets Vass1,4, Frank Cipriano5, Raúl Díaz-Gamboa1,6, Fernando R. Elorriaga Verplancken1,4, Cara Field7, Concepción García-Aguilar1,8, Diane Gendron1,4, Alejandro Gómez Gallardo1,9, Claudia J. Hernández Camacho1,4, Valentina Islas Villanueva1,10, Armando Jaramillo Legorreta1,11, Paloma Ladrón de Guevara1, Sergio Martínez Aguilar1,12, Ibiza Martínez Serrano1,13, Luis Medrano1,14, Dilia R. Meza Castro15, Sally Mizroch16, Adrián Mungia-Vega17, Seth Newsome18, Christian Ortega Ortiz1,19, Aurora Paniagua-Mendoza1,20, Mario A. Pardo1,21, Larissa Rosa de Oliveira1,22,, Hiram Rosales Nanduca1,12, Diego Ruiz Sabio23, Jorge Urbán1,12, Lorena Viloria1,12
First proposed in May 2012 during the annual members’ meeting of the Mexican Society of Marine Mammalogy (SOMEMMA), the oldest Marine Mammal Society in the world, founded in 1979, we have now completed the fourth biennial Marine Mammalogy Summer School (E3M) in La Paz, Mexico.
The E3M has been tremendously rewarding for both students and instructors. So far, we have trained nearly 200 undergraduate and 100 graduate students. Seeing so many students interested in learning about marine mammals has been inspiring to us, particularly at a time when nearly 20% of the 50 species of marine mammals that inhabit Mexican waters are endangered, and one, the Vaquita, is facing extinction.
Akin to the species we study, the E3M has adapted and evolved from a four-day course focusing on basic biology of marine mammals to a two-module (regular and advanced) eight-day Summer School. We now offer our students 70 hours of lectures, hands-on wetlabs, and fieldwork training, nearly 20 subjects ranging from evolution and systematics to social dimensions of marine mammal conservation. Being held in the Gulf of California, the richest region in marine mammal species in Mexico, means that students have a unique opportunity to see a diverse community of odontocetes, mysticetes and pinnipeds during the fieldtrip, and acquire some hands-on experience in a wide variety of fundamental and cutting-edge techniques used to study and sample them.
We feel proud of what our Summer School offers. We have kept enrollment prices low, which has allowed us to attract participants from different parts of Mexico, the US, and various countries from Europe and Latin America, including students from non-coastal areas where marine mammalogy is rarely or never taught. At a cost of only $120 USD including accommodation, E3M is one of the most financially accessible specialized short courses in the world. E3M provides a unique learning opportunity. Because the E3M is not linked to a specific university or research center, but rather to SOMEMMA and the larger marine mammal scientific community it serves, various researchers from different parts of Mexico, as well as from other countries participate as instructors, bringing a wealth of knowledge, experience, and different teaching styles that have helped engage our students. Many of the instructors tend to be at the back of the room during their colleague’s lectures, which has helped make the lectures very casual, accessible, and dynamic. It is common for questions posed by the students to be answered by different colleagues, which helps students understand concepts from different perspectives. These interactions have allowed the instructors to interact in unique ways that help strengthen ties among us and in some cases have led to new collaborations and students visiting each other’s labs to complete additional training.
A key aspect that makes these courses affordable and effective is that organizers and instructors give their time and effort for free. Organizing the summer school takes a full year and involves raising enough funds to cover the cost of airfare for the participating instructors, hiring a ship, and ensuring accommodation for students and instructors. Our venture has not always been easy given the current economic situation, with deep budget cuts and scarce funding opportunities, especially for training programs. However, the institutions of our instructors have helped greatly via access to facilities, equipment loans, motorboats, crew members, and volunteer support staff. In particular, support from CICIMAR (Interdisciplinary Center for Marine Sciences of the National Polytechnic Institute), WWF (World Wildlife Fund), Museo de la Ballena-Centro de Rescate (Whale Museum and Rescue Center), CICESE-ULP (Center for Scientific Research and Advanced Studies of Ensenada, La Paz Unit), various Mexican autonomous universities (Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán), Ecology Project International, and CONACYT (National Council for Science and Technology), has been essential for helping the E3M become what it is now.
‘Exciting’, ‘Life-changing’, ‘Inspiring’, ‘Incredible’, ‘Marvelous’, ‘Heart’; these words have been used by students and invited instructors to describe the E3M. It certainly has been for us, and it has been especially encouraging to see so much interest in our field of study. After all, one of SOMEMMA’s statutes is to participate in the training of undergraduate and graduate students in marine mammalogy. While this has been accomplished for decades through our biennial conference and individual mentoring, younger members of SOMEMMA and the wider marine mammal scientific community we are benefiting from communal teaching and sharing our personal experiences in the field. In the process, as instructors, we are also learning about subjects that we are not specialized in.
We hope our experience with the Mexican Marine Mammalogy Summer School inspires other scientific societies to follow suit. At a time characterized by scarce funding, limited opportunities, individualism and fierce competition, it is heartening to see how community efforts based on sharing resources and knowledge can help motivate and mentor new generations of marine mammalogists to become interested in science, conservation, legislation, and management, all in a collaborative and collegial framework. We expect these next generations will greatly expand our understanding of marine mammal biology and help to contribute with new methods and conservation applications in benefit of the sustainability of marine ecosystems in Mexico and beyond.
1 Sociedad Mexicana de Mastozología Marina (SOMEMMA), Mexico. 2 Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, Querétaro, 76230, Mexico. 3 Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4, Canada. 4 Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas, La Paz, Baja California Sur, 23096, Mexico. 5 Genomics/Transcriptomics Analysis Core, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California 94132, USA. 6 Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Mérida, Yucatán, 97100, Mexico.7 The Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito, California, 94965, USA. 8 Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas, Ensenada, Baja California, 22860, Mexico. 9 Univerisdad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, La Paz, 23080, Mexico. 10 Universidad del Mar, Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, 71980, Mexico. 11 Comisión Nacional para el Conocimiento y Uso de la Biodiversidad, Ensenada, Baja California, 22860, Mexico 12 Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, La Paz, Baja California Sur, 23081, Mexico. 13 Universidad Veracruzana, Xalapa, Veracruz, 91090. 14 Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Cd. de México, 04510, Mexico. 15 Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas (CONANP), La Paz, Baja California Sur, 23090, Mexico. 16 Blue Sea Research, Seattle, Washington, USA. 17 The University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, 85721, USA. 18 Department of Biology, The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 87131, USA. 19 Universidad de Colima, Colima, 28040, Mexico. 20 Red de Varamientos de Mamíferos Marinos de La Paz & MMARES, AC. Mexico 21 Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas, Unidad La Paz, La Paz Baja California Sur, 23059, Mexico. 22 Universidade do Vale do Rio dos Sinos, Sao Leopoldo, Brazil. 23 Museo de la Ballena y Ciencias Marinas, La Paz, BCS, 23000, Mexico.
* Author for correspondence: firstname.lastname@example.org
Aloha SMM Community-
One of my responsibilities for the Society is to bring to the membership options for the venue for our 2023 Biennial (as a reminder 2021 will be in Florida). As we have in the past, we are reaching out to the membership to engage with groups who may wish to host the conference in their region. This challenging but important honor is vital to our scientific, conservation and educational mission, so we hope several groups will step up to the opportunity.
We are open to hear from any geographic location, but are especially interested in venues outside of North America. We would also strongly encourage expressions of interest from regions/countries that have not previously hosted the conference. For a list of past conference locations, follow this link.
We will simultaneously be exploring venue options through our contracted conference organizing company. This might allow us to find a more cost effective location, but would require organizing and scientific committees to work remotely from the site with occasional travel to the venue. So if your group is interested in hosting a conference, but do not happen to be around facilities that could support it, this could be an opportunity for you.
Please do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions about this opportunity or what hosting the conference entails at email@example.com. It is hard work but there is a lot of support from the Society and previous conference organizers. Our Society benefits from having several choices and these efforts are focused on finding the most cost effective model for holding a conference to ensure it is as accessible as possible to our entire membership.
I would like to receive expressions of interest by Friday August 23 so that there is sufficient time to work with each group in the lead up to the conference. Conference venues will be presented and voted on by the membership at the closing members meeting in December.
Thanks in advance to everyone who considers this opportunity/request
Charles Littnan, PhD.
Would you like to get a head start on your marine mammal literature review and understanding of the remarkably diverse marine mammal species found globally? If yes, consider becoming a Wikipedia ® marine mammal species page curator. The Society for Marine Mammalogy Education Committee is looking for committed, passionate, and detail-oriented undergraduate/graduate students, recent graduates, early-career scientists and active members from Marine Mammal Student Chapters (regional and international) to help us update species information on Wikipedia® pages.
In recent years, Wikipedia® has become the go-to resource for marine mammal information and the SMM is keen to keep it accurate and as current as possible. The assigned student/s will review and update Wikipedia® pages by updating the literature individually or in pairs and then working directly with species experts to obtain feedback.
The students will receive assignments from and report to the SMM Education Committee Chair, Dr. Mridula Srinivasan. Entries will be updated or published only after approval by the Education Committee Chair and SMM. This is an exciting opportunity for students interested in pursuing a marine mammal science career. Student curators will have access to and network directly with global marine mammal experts, and contribute to disseminating the latest and best information to the general public, students, enthusiasts, and professionals.
Please contact Mridula Srinivasan (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested in joining this effort.
During the year of the biennial conference, the Society for Marine Mammalogy gives out two awards for student papers published in Marine Mammal Science. The awards are F. G. Wood Award and the John R. Twiss, Jr. Award.
The Wood Award was established in honor of Forest G. Wood, a founding member of the Society for Marine Mammalogy and is given for the best student paper published in Marine Mammal Science during the period between the Society’s Biennial Conferences. The award includes an opportunity to deliver a session presentation on the topic of the award paper at the Biennial Conference, and funds to cover costs of participation in the Conference (registration, travel, lodging, meals, and necessary incidental expenses). Judging of eligible papers is be done by the Editor in consultation with the Board of Editors. There was a total of 33 eligible papers evaluated. The winner is this year is Hannah Cubaynes for her paper entitled, “Whales from space: four mysticete species described using new VHR satellite imagery.”
The Twiss Award was established in honor of John Twiss Jr., who was the first Executive Director of the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission and is given for the best student paper that describes innovative research related to marine mammal habitat and ecosystem conservation. A committee of four judges, evaluated the top-ranking papers that were eligible. There was a total of 22 eligible papers. The Twiss Award winner receives $500 and a certificate. The winner this year is Guillemette Labadie for her paper entitled, “First demographic insights on historically harvested and poorly known male sperm whale populations off the Crozet and Kerguelen Islands (Southern Ocean)”
Vera da Silva and Bernd Würsig elected as new Honorary Members
In the spring 2019 vote, Members of the Society for Marine Mammalogy voted to elect Vera da Silva and Bernd Würsig as Honorary Members in recognition of their distinguished service to the field of marine mammalogy. Vera da Silva is a Senior Researcher at the National Institute of Amazonian Research (Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia) in Manaus, Brazil, where she has carried out multiple, multi-decadal research and conservation efforts on Amazonian dolphins and manatees. Bernd Würsig is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Marine Biology at Texas A&M, was one of the first to author a paper on the individual recognition of dolphins by marks on their dorsal fins and was President of our Society from 1991–1993. Our Honorary Members are the giants upon whose shoulders we all stand. They pioneered research methods, brought students and colleagues into the field, served their scientific community, and brought their science to bear on critical conservation issues. We thank them for their service and welcome them as new Honorary Members!
The Society for Marine Mammalogy expands its Membership
In the spring 2019 vote, Members of the Society for Marine Mammalogy voted to increase the length of time that a student is eligible for the Student Membership category to include “the year after their graduation from a degree-granting program at an institution of higher learning.” This change will make it easier for students, who represent the future of our Society, to maintain their active membership as they transition to their next life step! Members also voted in support of the proposal to create a new Fellows membership category. “A Fellow is a member who has rendered conspicuous service, or made truly notable contributions to the advancement and diffusion of the knowledge of marine mammal science or the fostering of its practical applications through conservation of marine mammals.” This category of membership is aimed at recognizing Members at all stages of their career, and, thus, expanding our celebration of our Members and their accomplishments! Stay tuned to find out how to nominate a charter member of the Society’s Fellowship!
This is a friendly reminder from your WMMC’19 Organizing Committee that there are 24 hours left before the abstract and workshop submission deadline – April 30, 2019 at midnight, Barcelona time (GMT +1).
Please select from the options below to sign-in to the conference system:
* Please be sure to use the same account to submit an abstract (i.e. ECS, SMM, Non-Member), as you would to register for the conference.
WMMC’19 Organizing Committee