April 27, 2011 — New College of Florida alumnus Scott Baker has been awarded a 2011 Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation to pursue a large-scale study on the genetic diversity and relatedness of dolphin populations in the western Pacific. Baker’s research focus began during his undergraduate studies at New College. He also participated as the lead DNA scientist for the 2009 Oscar-winning documentary, The Cove, an ‘eco-thriller’ about the international dolphin capture trade in Taiji, Japan.
“Through Dr. Baker’s application of ‘seascape genetics,’ we can better understand the distribution and migration of dolphins and other top predators,” said Joshua Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group. “Dr. Baker’s project can help guide policy decisions for creating permanent areas not only to protect dolphins, but other highly migratory creatures as well.”
Baker graduated from New College in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies. As a student, he participated in a pioneering dolphin study in Sarasota Bay — weighing, measuring, tagging, drawing blood and taking tissue samples. Baker was tasked by researchers to help use a seine net for the capture and release of wild dolphins. At 6-foot-4-inches tall, he was able to stand in the bay with his head well above the water to see dolphins below the surface.
“Those kinds of things change your life,” Baker told Oregon State University’s Terra Magazine. “How many people get to have an experience like that — capturing and releasing wild dolphins for a groundbreaking scientific study?”
Baker’s investigations of ‘whale meat’ markets in Japan and Korea have contributed to molecular methods for estimating levels of illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) exploitation of whales and dolphins. He is currently collaborating on two ocean-wide studies of the population structure and abundance of humpback whales. For the documentary, The Cove, Baker used a portable genetics lab to identify the unlawful sale of protected species in the local food market.
Baker is associate director of the Marine Mammal Program and professor of fisheries and wildlife at Oregon State University. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He has been the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Heredity since 2008 and chairs the Executive Committee of the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium. Baker received his doctorate in zoology from the University of Hawaii, Manoa, and did his postdoctoral training at the Smithsonian Institution and National Cancer Institute.
The Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation is a prestigious program that gives recipients $150,000 for a three-year scientific research or conservation project addressing critical challenges in ocean conservation, including communication of project information to increase awareness of global marine issues. Through a rigorous nomination and review process, an international committee of marine specialists selects Pew Fellows based on the strengths of their proposed projects, including their potential to protect ocean environments. For more information, visit www.pewmarinefellows.org.