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The return to the sea: The evolution of marine mammals

Both morphological and molecular data tell us that the ancestors of the marine mammals were terrestrial, and that their various marine lifestyles have evolved independently at least seven times! Each lineage shows shared as well as unique evolutionary solutions to the challenges of living in water affecting their breathing, locomotion, feeding and giving birth. Join the experts to learn about these solutions and how we know what we know about their triumphant return to the sea. This short course is co-sponsored by the Berkeley Natural History Museums (BNHM) and the California Science Teachers Association (CSTA).

Saturday, March 5, 2011
2050 Valley Life Sciences Building

See an August 1, 2011, UCMP blog entry about the short course and find links to the latest research from speakers Dan Costa and James Estes.





Welcome, logistics, and introduction by Judy Scotchmoor


Setting the stage — Dave Lindberg


The fossil record of marine mammals: Evolutionary lessons from Deep Time
Nick Pyenson, Curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History
A review of the broad outlines of what we know about the evolution of marine mammals from their fossil record, and then a focus on three discrete case studies that highlight important ecological transitions and evolutionary transformations that have occurred over the past 50 million years.
Nick Pyenson home page. We are working with Nick to develop a full website on the evolution of marine mammals — we'll keep you posted!
The evolution of whales


The Killer appetites: An evolutionary tale of seafood predation and digestion by marine mammals
Terrie Williams, Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, UC Santa Cruz, and Director of the Marine Mammal Physiology Project, Long Marine Lab
It has taken 50 million years for cetaceans and pinnipeds to evolve into the largest, most efficient predators in the oceans. High-speed swimming, remarkable breath-hold capabilities and an enormous gastro-intestinal tract combine to make marine mammals elite eating machines. But these voracious appetites have come at a cost. Many marine mammals are currently endangered or threatened; many others are in direct conflict with the human desire for seafood. Williams will discuss the biology of these marine predators and how their appetite has contributed to their vulnerability to anthropogenic disturbance.
Terrie Williams home page, a place for students, teachers, and kids. And you can meet that orphaned monk seal!


Marine mammals: Passengers or drivers in a changing ocean?
James Estes, Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, UC Santa Cruz
There is growing evidence that large animals, and large apex predators in particular, play important roles in the workings of nature. These creatures are also being lost at an unprecedented rate, a phenomenon that is being termed "trophic downgrading." Estes will argue that trophic downgrading is humankinds' most pervasive influence on global ecosystems. That argument will be prefaced by an introduction to the relevant ecological theory (no math, just concepts), a review of some of the more striking examples, and an overview of what we know and don't know about the ecological function of marine mammals in ocean ecosystems.
James Estes home page


Break for lunch (on your own)


Animal oceanographers: Using marine mammals to tell us about their environment
Dan Costa, Professor of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, UC Santa Cruz
Top predators integrate resources over time and space, and depending on the particular species they represent, different components of the marine environment. The habitat utilization of top predators has been studied using electronic tags to follow their movements and foraging behavior. In addition these tags provide information on the physical characteristics of the water column (temperature and salinity) at a scale and resolution that is coincident with the animals' behavior. In addition to data on the animals' behavior, these tags are providing physical oceanographic data where/when other currently available technologies have been unsuccessful. These data are informing us on how these important top predators are likely to respond to climatic change, as well as about how the ocean environment is changing.
Dan Costa home page; his research program; TOPP (Tagging of Pelagic Predators), a great place to explore!
— Additional reading (all pdfs): Diving physiology of marine vertebrates; Seals in the service of science; Approaches to studying climatic change and its role on the habitat selection of Antarctic pinnipeds


Marine mammals and the naked apes — exploitation, mystery, and understanding
David Lindberg, Professor of Integrative Biology and Faculty Curator of the UC Museum of Paleontology, UC Berkeley
Humans and marine mammals have a complicated and often ambiguous relationship. For most of history, we have hunted them, eaten them, and treated them as oceangoing general stores packed with resources that sustain and supplement human existence. The Industrial Revolution is said to have been lubricated by whale oil. However, in spite of this carnage humans also hold marine mammals in special reverence and have featured them in their mythology, art, and culture. Today special legislation and global treaties protect them. We have tried to communicate with them to learn their secrets and they are prominently featured in our media and entertainment industry. What do we really know about these alien species and how might our relationship change as we enter a period of unprecedented rates of globalization and climate change?
Dave Lindberg home page


Open questions

And of course remember to explore:
Golden Gate Cetacean Research
The Marine Mammal Center
Understanding Evolution
Understanding Science

About the speakers

Dan Costa is a Distinguished Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California at Santa Cruz and holds the Ida Benson endowed Chair in Ocean Health. After completing his Ph.D. at UC Santa Cruz in 1978 he did postdoctoral research at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography where he gained experience with the first time depth recorders. His research focuses on the ecology and physiology of marine mammals and seabirds, taking him to every continent and almost every habitat from the Galapagos to Antarctica. He has worked with a broad range of animals including penguins, albatross, seals, sea lions, whales and dolphins and has published over 250 scientific papers on them. He was Chief Scientist for two U.S. Southern Ocean GLOBEC winter cruises and has been one of the pioneers in using animals as ocean sensors. As a program manager at the Office of Naval Research in the early 1990s he initiated their program on marine mammals and underwater noise and in 2000 he co-founded the Tagging of Pacific Predators program, a multidisciplinary effort to study the movement patterns of 23 species of marine vertebrate predators in the North Pacific Ocean. He is an internationally recognized authority on tracking of marine mammals and birds.

James Estes spent most of his career as a research scientist with the US Geological Survey but is now a professor at UC Santa Cruz. Although much of his research has focused on sea otters and coastal ecosystems, he is interested in the ways in which large animals shape their environments. He has edited two recent books on this general issue — Whales, whaling and ocean ecosystems, University of California Press, 200,6 andTrophic cascades; predators, herbivores and the changing dynamics of nature, Island Press, 2010. He is a Pew fellow in marine conservation and recipient of the USGS Schoemaker Award for excellence in science communication. He also teaches ecology at UC Santa Cruz and serves on the Board of Governors for the Wildlands Project.

David R. Lindberg is Professor of Integrative Biology and Curator in the UC Museum of Paleontology at UC Berkeley. He is the author of over 100 scientific papers and three books on the evolutionary history of near shore marine organisms and their habitats. His primary teaching comprises three courses — marine mammals, non-vertebrate zoology and a two-semester, co-taught phylogenetics course. Prof. Lindberg has conducted research and field work along the rocky shores of the Pacific Rim for over 30 years. In addition to his research and teaching, Prof. Lindberg is actively involved in K16 outreach projects at the UC Museum of Paleontology, focusing on the use of broadband to increase access to scientific resources, and the training of teachers in principals of evolutionary biology.

Nick Pyenson is the curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. He primarily is interested in understanding the evolutionary causes and consequences of ecological transitions; especially the ones that occurred during the evolution of marine mammals in the sea. Nick's investigations have covered a broad range of disciplines, including geology, biomechanics, anatomy and taphonomy. He has conducted paleontological fieldwork on every continent except Antarctica, and has active field programs in British Columbia, Canada, and with collaborators in Chile.

Terrie M. Williams is a Professor of Biology at the University of California in Santa Cruz, and has been studying large mammals for over 30 years. She obtained her Ph.D. in Environmental and Exercise Physiology from Rutgers University (1981) and completed her post-doctoral studies at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Research Department of the San Diego Zoological Society. She was Director of the Valdez Sea Otter Rescue Center following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and co-founder of the Center for Ocean Health at Long Marine Lab (UCSC, Santa Cruz, CA) where she held the first Endowed Chair in Ocean Health. Her research expeditions have taken her around the world to study the survival strategies of Weddell seals in Antarctica, Steller sea lions, sea otters, and killer whales in Alaska, as well as cheetahs, lions and elephants in Africa. Her primary question is how do large (> 21 kg) animals survive in a rapidly changing world? Recognizing that the key to survival for both humans and animals is food, she and her colleagues have used miniaturized instruments carried by wild animals to record the hunting strategies of both marine and terrestrial predators. With her team, she is working with aquariums, zoological parks, research scientists and wild animals across the globe to ensure healthy environments for both people and wildlife.