Cynthia Smith, Executive Director / Director of Medicine
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 a hundred 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.
Stephanie Venn-Watson, Director, Translational Medicine and Research Program
Stephanie Venn-Watson, DVM, MPH, directs the Foundation’s Translational Medicine and Research Program. This program was developed to help the Foundation acheive its mission to improve both marine mammal and human health through collaborative, multidisciplinary, and translational research.
As a veterinary epidemiologist, Dr. Venn-Watson has worked with the Navy’s marine mammal population since 2001 and joined the Foundation in 2007. She is Chair of the Working Group for Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events and a Board Director for the International Association for Aquatic Animal Medicine. Previously, she was a veterinary epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Project Director for the World Health Organization’s Global Salmonella Surveillance Network. For founding the CDC’s Healthy Pets, Healthy People health education program, Dr. Venn-Watson received the Secretary’s Award for Innovations in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion from the Department of Health and Human Services. For founding the science community education program in South Boston, Gap Junction, she was honored an appointment as an Albert Schweitzer Fellow for Life.
Through the Foundation’s Translational Medicine and Research Program, Stephanie hopes to translate research into applicable medicine that benefits both marine mammals and humans. As part of this effort, she is actively seeking research partners and funders to better detect, prevent, and treat diseases associated with diabetes, aging, and infectious disease.
Dorian S. Houser, Director of Conservation and Biological Research
Dorian S. Houser, Ph.D., directs the Foundation’s Conservation and Biological Research Program. This program strives to understand the overall biology of marine mammals with the goal of improving species conservation. A focus of the program is to determine the potential for humans to impact marine mammals, particularly with respect to sound producing activities.
As a biologist, Dorian has worked with the Navy’s marine mammal population since 1995 and joined the National Marine Mammal Foundation in 2010. His interests include the diving, auditory and metabolic physiology of marine mammals and their use of bioacoustics. He is the recipient of the R. Bruce Lindsay Award from the Acoustical Society of America and is an adjunct professorship at Sonoma State University.
Mike Letourneau, Director of Environmental Compliance
Mike Letourneau, MS, directs the Foundation’s Environmental Program. The program was developed to assure that the Foundation is a good steward of the environment and to realize sustainable solutions, maximize environmental benefits and eliminate unacceptable environmental impacts on public resources. The program uses ecosystem management principles and environmental laws, programs and policies to review, analyze, and evaluate environmental, data, issues, policies and procedures, and develop environmental compliance documents.
Mike started working with the Marine Mammal Program in 1995 and joined the Foundation in 2010 with more than 30 years of experience with the Environmental Protection Agency, National Marine Fisheries Service, environmental consulting firms and environmental laboratories. Mike’s work as a Marine Biologist and Environmental Toxicologist has produced methodologies for efficiently evaluating environmental toxic impacts on aquatic biota, eliminated the bycatch of Dall’s Porpoise by foreign fisheries, evaluated and reduced the impact of noise on aquatic biota, and developed programs for eliminating the input of pollutants to the air and water.
Mike’s goal for the Foundation’s Environmental Program is to assure that Foundation activities reduce or eliminate environmental impacts by working effectively with interested and affected parties, creating and maintaining effective working relationships with Federal, state, local and tribal government agencies, environmental groups, industry, and non-government organizations. Mike’s belief that environmental education is a key element in achieving environmental protections, assures the program uses effective communication that conveys complex technical information and controversial issues that are easily comprehended by professionals as well as the general public.
Erika Putman, Director of Education and Outreach
Erika Putman serves as the Director of Education and Outreach for the National Marine Mammal Foundation. The Foundation supports undergraduate Animal Care and Training Interns, Veterinary Externs, Midshipmen from the Naval Academy, as well as Sea Cadets as part of the education program.
Erika obtained her degree in Psychology from the University of Arizona. After completing dolphin cognition research internships with the University of Hawaii and The Living Seas at Walt Disney World, she accepted a position working with the research program at Disney. Erika spent eight years with that program, working on projects involving artificial language, problem solving, echolocation, and tool use with bottlenose dolphins. She also ran a research internship for college students during her time there. In 2002 she became Coordinator of Volunteer Opportunities at the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program, and has been with the Foundation since its founding in 2007.
Apart from running the internship programs, Erika is working on expanding the education and outreach opportunities for the Foundation to create world-class educational opportunities for both students and members of the public.
Elaine Allen, Animal Training Supervisor
Elaine Allen provides team leadership and behavioral consultation to support the efforts of the Navy Marine Mammal Program’s breeding area. She specializes in creating breeding management plans to assist in the pre and post natal care of their animals. The breeding team creates innovative animal training plans and strategies to support the veterinary staff in an effort to raise calf survival rate statistics throughout the industry.
Elaine started her career on the Southeast coast of the United States in the early 90’s. After working with a wide array of species as a Show Supervisor, she decided to change direction and work in the non-profit field. As a Rehabilitation Supervisor for the Marine Animal Rescue Society she focused primarily on the rehabilitation of orphaned or medically compromised calves. Soon after, she was selected to join the Navy Marine Mammal Program. She has shared her expertise with the program for the past ten years.
Elaine provides expert training support and care while mentoring all aspects of managing a successful breeding area. Her current effort is to share and gather industry knowledge to further raise calve survival rates globally.
Joy Rothe, Animal Training Supervisor
Joy Rothe serves as an Animal Training Specialist for the National Marine Mammal Foundation. She directs animal training and management plans for the U.S. Navy marine mammals under the care of the Foundation. Joy’s training techniques build on the U.S. Navy’s emphasis of creativity and strong trusting relationships between humans and animals. This contributes to the U.S. Navy’s marine mammals being capable of a vast number of remarkable behaviors from voluntarily giving biological samples to traveling to remote locations and working free release in the open oceans.
Joy has a degree in Psychology and has worked for the U.S. Navy Marine Mammal Program since 1984 and joined the Foundation in 2010. She has been fortunate to have worked closely with Dr. Sam Ridgeway on numerous research projects, has helped develop the U.S. Navy’s young sea lion and dolphin training programs, worked closely with the various marine mammal Fleet systems as a Technical Representative, and has extensive experience in marine mammal husbandry behaviors as well as dolphin and sea lion neonatal care and handling. Her other passion is riding horses specializing in dressage.
Joy’s focus for the future of the Foundation’s Marine Mammal Training Program is to bring together some of the best in the field to share specific training techniques, trouble-shoot training or management issues, and create online resources trainers can use anywhere.
Randall Dear, Marine Mammal Research and Animal Care Supervisor
Randall Dear has over 15 years experience working with marine mammals and is an expert in marine mammal research, training, and animal care. He has been with the Navy Marine Mammal Program since 1997 and joined the National Marine Mammal Foundation in 2010. Randall’s work studying the acoustic abilities of beluga whales, dolphins, and pilot whales has been published in The Journal of Acoustical Society of America. His presentation to the International Marine Animal Trainer’s Association on the use of AEPs to measure hearing in marine mammals won 2nd Place in Research Advancement. Randall graduated Summa Cum Laude from Auburn University with a Masters in Business Administration, Bachelors in Marine Biology, and a Bachelors in Marketing.