Board of Directors
Sam Ridgway, President
Sam Ridgway, DVM, PhD, DACZM is president of the National Marine Mammal Foundation. He is one of the founders of the Navy Marine Mammal program starting in 1961 and has 48 years of experience in marine mammal medicine and research. Sam joined the National Marine Mammal Foundation in 2007. Colleagues often call him the “father of marine mammal medicine” because of his development of dolphin anesthesia, medical technology, and discoveries aiding marine mammal care.
Dr. Ridgway has served on the Scientific Advisory Committee to the Marine Mammal Commission, on four different committees of National Research Council/National Academy of Sciences, and was elected a Fellow of the Acoustical Society of America for his studies on hearing of marine mammals and as a fellow of the American College of Zoological Medicine for his work on marine mammal medicine. His many awards include: the Distinguished Alumnus Award, Texas A&M University, College of Veterinary Medicine; the Lifetime and Clinical Medicine Awards from the International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine; Lifetime Membership Award, Society for Marine Mammalogy, the Kenneth S. Norris Lifetime Achievement award of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, the ZooMarine Award of the European Association for Aquatic Mammals; and, two Navy awards, the Gilbert H. Curl Award, and the Lauritsen Bennett Award.
Dr. Ridgway earned Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degrees from Texas A&M University. He earned his PhD in neurobiology from the University of Cambridge in England. In the 1960’s, Dr. Ridgway pioneered dolphin anesthesia, medical technology, and methods for studying trained dolphins swimming freely in the open sea (his discoveries have been published in more than 275 papers in leading scientific journals such as Science, Nature, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America and Scientific American).
Today, he wants to seize a unique moment in time. Now it is vital to preserve animals with experience in human/computer communication. With many years of human interface and learning, these animals offer a unique opportunity. They offer a great advantage in understanding the large dolphin brain. How this unique “mind” interacts with other animals and the ocean environment is a major challenge of our time.
Chris Ott, Secretary/Treasurer
The Founding director of the National Marine Mammal Foundation in 2007, Chris Ott has managed the business of the Foundation since its inception. During that time the Foundation has steadily grown from a hand full of employees to more than twenty with continued steady growth projected well into the future. He brings his experience as an owner and/or operator of small businesses in San Diego for many years and as a retired Navy Captain.
Dr. Smith has served as the Executive Director for the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) since 2010 and as Director of Medicine since 2009. In her role as Executive Director, Smith provides leadership to the NMMF team, guides nonprofit development, and oversees scientific advancement. Her vision for the NMMF is to grow the organization into a world-renowned national marine mammal center that strives to continuously advance medicine and science, enhance marine mammal conservation efforts, and provide humanitarian services. She leads a team of more than sixty staff, including veterinarians, scientists, behaviorists, technicians, and educators, all working toward a mission to protect the health and life of marine mammals, humans, and the oceans.
As Director of Medicine, she provides mentorship and leadership to a robust field-ready veterinary team of marine mammal veterinarians and technicians. She is currently collaborating on conservation medicine projects with the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), including the comprehensive study into the health of wild dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Additionally, she provides consultation services to marine mammal organizations and engages the team in collaborations with marine mammal scientists around the world. Dr. Smith has mentored more than fifty veterinarians and veterinary students in routine and critical care of marine mammals, focusing on bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions. She also served as Principal Investigator on clinical research projects focused on advancing health care for managed and wild dolphins, with a special focus on diagnostic imaging. Prior to joining the NMMF, Smith provided progressive medical care and led clinical research for the highly acclaimed Navy Marine Mammal Program.
Dr. Smith obtained her Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from Tufts University, during which time she also completed a veterinary thesis in aquatic biomedicine through collaboration with the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole. She then completed an internship in aquatic animal medicine at the New England Aquarium, followed by a National Research Council fellowship in collaboration with the Navy Marine Mammal Program. She has also completed Executive Education coursework in nonprofit strategic management at the Harvard Business School and financial stewardship at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Marilee Menard is the former executive director of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, an international organization of parks, aquariums, zoos, research facilities, and professional groups. She retired at the end of 2012 after 21 years as the head of the organization. Alliance members fund and support marine mammal studies and collaborate on research with the National Marine Mammal Foundation. The Alliance is also a supporter of Aquatic Mammals, the oldest international scientific, peer-reviewed marine mammal journal.
The NMMF Board of Directors is a volunteer group. The personal opinions of individual board members may not represent those of the NMMF.