Humboldt State University Marine Mammal Stranding Program

A Member of the NOAA Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program

Marine Mammal Education and Research Program (MMERP)


MMERP was established in 1996 by director Dr. Dawn Goley and her graduate students. As the name implies, the mission of MMERP is to serve as an educational resource for our community and to conduct scientific research on local marine mammals. We have built a community of researchers to study the biology, ecology and conservation of northern California marine mammals. Since 1996, over 400 undergraduate students have had the opportunity to work closely with marine mammals along the coast and contributed to our growing understanding of marine mammal science in Northern California.  Graduate students in MMERP have conducted research on the foraging behavior of habrbor seals, the foraging ecology and population structure of gray whales, the distribution and ecology of Steller Sea Lions, and on the stranding patterns of marine mammals in Northern California. Our current research projects include the HSU MMERP, Gray whale behavioral ecology, and Steller Sea Lion population dynamics in collaboration with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), and Northern Elephant Seal behavioral ecology (in collaboration with the Costa Lab at UCSC and the Bureau of Land Management).


Gray Whale Biology

Gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) are baleen whales that feed on small invertebrate prey during the summer months. They typically migrate between their winter breeding grounds in Baja California, Mexico to the northern summer feeding grounds in the Bering and Chukchi Seas in Alaska. When Dr. Goley was hired at HSU in 1996, it was becoming clear that some gray whales did not travel the entire distance to the northern feeding grounds, but foraged along the Pacific coastline from northern California to Southeast Alaska. This group of whales Is the Pacific Feeding Group (PCFG). The HSU MMERP has been working with collaborators along the Pacific North West coast line to track the movements and behavior these whales for the last 20 + years. Each gray whale has a unique pigmentation pattern, which allow researchers to identify individuals throughout their lives as they travel between regions. Our collaborators include the National Marine Mammal Laboratory and the Cascadia Research Collective.

Steller Sea Lions

The MMERP partnered with the ODFW and the National Marine Mammal Lab to study the population dynamics of Steller Sea Lions on their rookeries in northern California and southern Oregon. Steller Sea Lion populations in the northeastern Pacific are healthy, yet populations along the Aleutian Islands have declined in the past. We have been a part of a collaborative program with NMML and ODFW to monitor the local Steller Sea Lion rookeries during the summer breeding season to support conservation efforts in the north Pacific.  

MMERP Alumni

Check out where some MMERP graduate and undergraduate alumni are now!

Stephani (Holzwarth) Gordon

Before becoming a filmmaker Stephani Gordon spent twelve years as a marine field biologist, most of it at sea or on remote islands- an ideal training ground for the challenges of documentaries. She has filmed for PBS, National Geographic, NOAA, National Park Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, and other organizations. Her films take viewers into the heart of wild and remote places and share the experience of working as a field researcher in these intact ecosystems. She has a Masters of Biology from Humboldt State University, and a Master of Fine Arts from the Science and Natural History Program at Montana State University. Stephani lives in Portland, Oregon, where she runs Open Boat Films. See her Vimeo channel here.

Erin Moreland

Erin earned her Bachelor of Science Degree at HSU and was an intern for MMERP before heading to Western Washington to earn her Master’s degree. She is currently working with the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle. See her page here.

Ryan Jenkinson

Ryan earned his Master of Science Degree at HSU studying Gray Whale foraging behaviour, and PhD at UCDavis studying Kelp Forest Ecology. He conducted his Post-Doc at HSU conducting research on the Marine Protected Areas and is now working with National Geographic. See more about his work here.

Allison Fuller

Allison began working with MMERP in 2007 as a Biology undergraduate student. She joined Dr. Goley's lab as a graduate student in 2008, her work focusing on the distribution, movement patterns and differential haulout use of Steller sea lions in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Allison defended her thesis in late 2012. 

Since graduating from HSU in 2012, Allison has been working as a Wildlife Biologist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service Common Murre Restoration Project in the San Francisco Bay Area and then began working as an environmental consultant. Allison's research interests continue to be centered on the breeding biology, habitat use, and conservation of marine vertebrates on the west coast. 

Misty Niemeyer

Misty Niemeyer is the Necropsy Coordinator for Marine Mammal Rescue and Research with the IFAW Marine Mammal Rescue & Research (IFAW MMRR) team. While Misty is part of the team that provides response for all stranded marine mammals on Cape Cod and the south coast, Misty’s primary role is as the Necropsy Coordinator. Misty also coordinates the Outreach Program and is part of the training team which has included local and international trainings. Prior to working with IFAW, Misty worked for NOAA Fisheries Service in Woods Hole for five years studying right whales as an aerial survey and ship board observer. She also worked as a right whale observer in Georgia and Florida, as well as a field biologist in Hawaii working with Hawaiian Monk Seals. Misty is originally from southern California and received her degree in Biology with a marine emphasis in 2002 from Humboldt State University where she first began studying marine mammals including gray whales and harbor seals off the coast of Northern California.

MMERP Interns

A special thanks to all of the MMERP interns who have contributed to our knowledge of marine mammals. We would not have a program without you. It has been so wonderful to work with all of you! 

We love hearing updates about your adventures! Please send updates and stories to Dr. Goley

Here is a wonderful shot of Cynthia Christman, Misty Niemeyer, Becky Shae and Correy Acevedo – all MMERP alum - working for NOAA studying marine mammals in Barrow Alaska! They are standing under bowhead whale bones and spelling out HSU!

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