What We Do
We conduct research on whales, dolphins, and sea turtles within the western North Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea. We provide the scientific knowledge needed to manage, recover, and conserve protected marine species. Our team follows the guidelines of the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act, as well as numerous other federal laws and international policies. Our scientists spearhead cutting-edge research collaborations with internal and external stakeholders, both regionally and internationally. Our key research objectives include:
- Characterizing population structure and investigating shifts in distribution and demography
- Estimating population size, density, and evaluating trends in abundance
- Understanding animal movements and behavioral responses to oceanographic conditions and climate change
- Identifying anthropogenic threats and quantifying individual and population-level impacts
- Assessing the health, causes of illness and mortality of marine mammals and sea turtles
Our field-based research includes vessel and aerial surveys (including small uncrewed aircraft systems– drones), capture-mark-recapture sampling, passive acoustic monitoring, satellite telemetry, tissue collection, water samples, prey, habitat, and environmental data. Our laboratory-based research employs molecular genetics, including genomics and environmental DNA, stable isotopes, skeletochronology (bone dating), and diagnostic health assessments. Our scientists also apply state-of-the-art analytical tools and modeling approaches to generate scientific products and decision-support tools to answer complex research and management questions.
The Marine Mammal Branch conducts research on more than 20 species of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) including endangered populations of sperm whales, North Atlantic right whales, Rice’s whales, and sentinel species such as bottlenose dolphins. Our research focuses on understanding distribution, abundance, health and status of marine mammal populations. We also want to understand and mitigate stressors including anthropogenic (human) threats. Our team collaborates with many partners including other federal agencies, state agencies, universities, and the marine mammal stranding network. Our main goal is to provide scientific products and expertise for the management and conservation of marine mammals and their habitats.
The Sea Turtle Branch conducts research to better understand the population status, spatial ecology, demography, and human threats to sea turtles in the Southeast region. Our individual strengths and collective expertise assist with the collaboration between internal and external stakeholders. This collaboration allows our team to provide timely scientific data, advice, support towards effective research, conservation plans, and the overall management of sea turtles in the marine environment.
Jenny Litz, Ph.D.