News Release
Contact: Sondra Katzen, Public Relations, 708.688.8351,
February 16, 2022                                    

Photo of Randall Wells (credit CZS-Brookfield Zoo)

Chicago Zoological Society’s Randall Wells, Ph.D, Receives
Lifetime Achievement Award from Society for Marine Mammalogy

Brookfield, Ill. — The Chicago Zoological Society CZS), which manages Brookfield Zoo, is proud to announce that Randall Wells, Ph.D., vice president of marine mammal conservation and director of CZS’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, received the Kenneth S. Norris Lifetime Achievement Award from the international Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM). The announcement was made earlier this month during a virtual members’ meeting.

“A Norris Award winner’s career has significantly altered the course of marine mammal science— through their science and deeds they have made our field substantially better and more complete than if they had never turned their energy towards marine mammals,” said Charles Littnan, Ph.D., president of the Society for Marine Mammalogy. “Dr. Wells far exceeds this bar. His contributions to our understanding of dolphin biology, ecology, and behavior, and his commitment to providing opportunity and his knowledge to young researchers is unparalleled. He has inspired generations of researchers and his influence will be felt for generations to come.”

The award, which is named after the SMM’s founding president, acknowledges individuals for their exemplary lifetime contributions to science and society through research, teaching, and service in marine mammalogy. It is awarded every two years and is the highest honor bestowed on members of the world’s leading professional society for marine mammal science and conservation.

"I am truly honored by this award, and humbled by the list of folks who have received it before me,” said Wells. “As someone who was a Norris doctoral student; who worked with him for 12 years, including a stint as his dolphin lab manager at Santa Cruz; and who had the opportunity to see his incredibly insightful mind at work time and time again, unraveling dolphin mysteries, this award has particular meaning to me. I have to credit most of the achievements of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program over the past 50-plus years to the efforts of a superb team of staff, students, and volunteers, as well as the support of the Chicago Zoological Society."

In addition to being the current director of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, Wells co-founded the program in 1970, making it the world’s longest-running study of a wild dolphin population. Over the years, he and his team have made many contributions to knowledge of bottlenose dolphin behavior, social structure, life history, health, ecology, communication, and the effects of human activities on these complex marine mammals. The team also helps rescue entangled or injured dolphins, and has trained more than 400 researchers and students from more than 30 countries in dolphin research and conservation techniques that are now being applied to protect species around the globe.

Highly respected in his field, Wells also has assisted in studies, rescue efforts, and consultations for other marine life, including the highly endangered vaquita in the Gulf of California; spinner dolphins in Hawaii; Guiana dolphins in Brazil; blue, gray, bowhead, and humpback whales; manatees in Florida and Belize; Mekong River dolphins in Cambodia; and franciscana dolphins off the coasts of Argentina and Brazil, to name a few.

He has been author or co-author of several books, more than 290 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, and more than 100 technical reports. Additionally, he has been a presenter or co-author of more than 700 presentations at professional meetings as well as invited public and university lectures.
Wells also has held leadership roles in several organizations—president for the Society for Marine Mammalogy during 2010-2012 and past-chair of the NOAA/USFWS Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events—and serves on the Committee of Scientific Advisors on Marine Mammals for the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, on the NOAA/USFWS Atlantic Scientific Review Group, on IUCN’s Cetacean Specialist Group, and on the Steering Group for the national Animal Telemetry Network.

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About the Chicago Zoological Society
The mission of the Chicago Zoological Society is to inspire conservation leadership by engaging people and communities with wildlife and nature. The Chicago Zoological Society is a private nonprofit organization that operates Brookfield Zoo on land owned by the Forest Preserves of Cook County. The Society is known throughout the world for its international role in animal population management and wildlife conservation. Its Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare is at the forefront of animal care that strives to discover and implement innovative approaches to zoo animal management. Brookfield Zoo is the first zoo in the world to be awarded the Humane Certified™ certification mark for the care and welfare of its animals, meeting American Humane Association’s rigorous certification standards. The zoo is located at 8400 31st Street in Brookfield, Illinois, between the Stevenson (I-55) and Eisenhower (I-290) expressways and also is accessible via the Tri-State Tollway (I-294), Metra commuter line, and CTA and PACE bus service. For further information, visit
About the Society for Marine Mammalogy
The mission of the Society for Marine Mammalogy is to promote the global advancement of marine mammal science and contribute to its relevance and impact in education, conservation, and management. Founded in 1981, the international nonprofit has 2,000-plus members that hail from 56 countries and range from beginning students of marine biology to the world’s leading experts in marine mammalogy.


Sondra Katzen
Media Relations Manager
Office: 708-688-8351
Cell Phone: 708-903-2071


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