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The Biology and Conservation of Marine Mammals

This course will provide students with a broad overview of issues involved in the empirical study, conservation and management of marine mammals, with a focus on marine mammals common in the southeastern U.S. (Bottlenose Dolphin, Northern Right Whale, Florida Manatee and Pygmy Sperm Whale). Course material will serve the needs of those students who may be interested in a career in marine science, as well as those who wish to be intelligent consumers of information on marine mammal issues, including conservation, management, coastal development and public policy.

Course Topics

  • “Who” are marine mammals?
  • Evolution/origin of marine mammals
  • General anatomy and physiology with an emphasis on adaptation to the marine environment
  • Ecology and population biology
  • Behavior: social, reproductive, feeding, intelligence and culture
  • Law, public policy and the politics of human/marine mammal interaction
  • Husbandry: captive management, public display, research and rescue/rehabilitation
  • Exploitation of marine mammals: historical and current—from whaling to ecotourism
  • Effects of human activities on marine mammals—sound, pollution, coastal development and fisheries
  • Conservation—stock assessment, take reduction and recovery plans
  • Careers in marine mammal science

Hands-On Activities (list may expand or change)

  • In the lab:
    • Species identification via skeletal characteristics
    • Examination of dolphin cranial structure, especially as related to sonar production and intelligence
    • Necropsies (subject to availability of specimens)—expert demonstrations on cetacean, manatee and/or pinniped specimens, as well as gross examination by students
  • On the water: field trip to Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, including boat tour of estuarine system, dolphin spotting and data collection
  • On the road: field trips to the Charleston Museum, the National Marine Fisheries Lab and the National Marine Mammal Tissue Bank

Course Details
4 credits
Open to all undergraduates; POD required
Enrollment limited to 18 students
Fee = regular university tuition + approximately $650
Instructor: John H. Schacke, Ph.D., Georgia Dolphin Ecology Program

For more information: john.schacke@usg.edu, 706-583-2096 or 706-335-2528.