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Chicago Zoological Society’s Randall Wells, Ph.D., Nominated for Prestigious Indianapolis Prize

The Chicago Zoological Society is proud to announce that Randall Wells, Ph.D., senior conservation scientist for the Society and director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, based in Florida’s Mote Marine Laboratory, has been nominated for the biennial Indianapolis Prize, the world’s leading award for conservation. The Indianapolis Prize is given every other year to an individual who has made extraordinary contributions to conservation efforts for animal species.

Wells, who has dedicated his life to studying dolphins, has been spearheading the world’s longest-running study of a wild dolphin population, which consists of up to five generations of bottlenose dolphins that reside in Sarasota Bay year-round. The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program is now in its 43rd year, and Wells and his team of researchers focus on many aspects of dolphin biology, including health, behavior, genetics, environmental change, and adverse interactions with humans. The data collected are repeatedly used in scientific studies, as well as public policy decisions that can help protect marine animals.

The program is unique in many respects: nowhere else in the world can researchers work with a group of wild dolphins in their natural habitat where the medical and behavioral history of each individual is so well known. “Discoveries” take place over years and decades, and much of what is known about coastal bottlenose dolphins comes from the Sarasota study. In addition to its pioneering research, the program provides unique education and training opportunities to researchers around the world and helps establish dolphin conservation research programs in other countries.

The study in Sarasota is just one aspect of the interdisciplinary program. For example, joint studies with Argentine and Brazilian researchers have found that the highly threatened franciscana dolphins of the coastal waters of South America have very small ranges, just like Sarasota Bay dolphins do. This has led to very different protection strategies than when it was believed that populations inhabited much larger ranges.

In addition to Wells, 38 other conservationists were nominated for the prize. An international nominating committee composed of renowned professional conservationists and local representatives reviews all nominations and selects six finalists, who will be revealed in spring 2014. The prize jury will then determine the winner, who will be announced in mid-2014 and honored at the next Indianapolis Prize Gala to be held September 27, 2014, in Indianapolis. The winner will receive an unrestricted $250,000 cash award. Five other finalists will each receive $10,000.