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Professor Helene Marsh

James Cook University

Helene Marsh

Presentation Title


From carcasses to satellites: the development of marine mammal science




Australian waters support a rich diversity of marine mammals including at least 25 species of whales 20 species of dolphins including to endemics, one sirenian (the dugong) and 11 species of seals and sea lions including 2 endemics. Marine mammals have been very important to Australians for millennia. For examples, Torres Strait Islanders and been harvesting dugongs for at least 4000 years and the commercial exploitation of whales, seals and dugongs persisted from early European settlement through to the second half of the 20th century. Early marine mammal science was fisheries science and largely based on carcass analysis. This approach yielded very important basic information on life history, reproductive biology, diet and movements and is still the basis of our knowledge of some rare species of cetaceans. Modern marine science is based on the study of live animals and uses benign techniques including citizen science and rapidly evolving advanced technologies. The marine mammal scientist of the future will require advanced quantitative skills and the interpersonal skills to work effectively in cross-disciplinary teams across the spectrum of biological, social and physical sciences and with a wide range of major stakeholders.



HHelene Marsh FAA, FTSE is a marine conservation biologist with some 40 years’ experience in research into species conservation, management and policy with particular reference to tropical coastal and riverine megafauna. The policy outcomes of her research include significant contributions to the science base of the conservation of marine megafauna in Australia and internationally at a global scale (IUCN, UNEP, Convention for Migratory Species) and by providing advice to the governments of some 14 countries. Helene chairs the Australian Threatened Species Scientific Committee, a statutory committee that makes recommendations to the federal Minister for Environment and is a member of the Reef 2050 Plan Independent Expert Panel. She is past President of the international Society of Marine Mammalogy and Co–chair of the IUCN Sirenia Specialist Group. She is on the editorial boards of Conservation Biology, Endangered Species Research and Oecologia. See


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