What goes on at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute? Point Loma Assembly hosts guest speaker with the answer

Point Loma Assembly president Cecilia Carrick presents a $3,225 check to the Peninsula Shepherd Center — funds raised from the Jensen’s Wine Tasting event Dec. 12 at the Assembly Hall, 3035 Talbot St.
(Savanah Duffy)

Point Loma Assembly members braved heavy rains on Thursday, Jan. 9 to gather at the hall and hear about last year’s highlights, learn about Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute (HSWRI), and partake in wine and hors d’oeuvres.

The evening began at 5 p.m., with board president Cecilia Carrick listing PLA’s 2019 accomplishments and its philanthropy group’s grants to local organizations. Grants included, but were not limited to, $2,500 to Cabrillo National Foundation for its STEM program for underserved communities of girls and $2,000 to the T. Claude and Gladys B. Ryan Family YMCA (formerly Peninsula YMCA) for its summer swim program.

Carrick ended with an especially exciting grant: $3,225 to the Peninsula Shepherd Center — funds raised from the Jensen’s Wine Tasting event that took place Dec. 12. “I thank Jensen’s for the lovely job they did,” she concluded. “They have become a real neighborhood partner.”

The evening’s spotlight was next turned on a presentation by Dr. Pamela Yochem, HSWRI’s executive vice president and chief science officer, who was allotted 30 minutes to inform guests about the nonprofit organization and how it fulfills its mission “to return to the sea some measure of the benefits derived from it.”

Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute

Yochem said the Institute was established in 1963 by Milton C. Shedd, one of the visionary founders of SeaWorld, before SeaWorld even opened for business. Shedd reached out to scientists at UC Los Angeles and Scripps Institution of Oceanography — most notably Dr. Carl Hubbs — for advice and mentorship regarding marine science and conservation.

Today, HSWRI headquarters sit in the old Atlantis Restaurant next to SeaWorld San Diego, where staff is charged just $1 per year for use of the building. Though SeaWorld is one of the Institute’s corporate sponsors, roughly 85-88 percent of its funding comes from individuals.

Before diving into the four core areas of research (ocean health, animal behavior, wildlife populations and sustainable seafood), Yochem emphasized the role of education at the Institute. “Although we’re not a degree-granting institution, so we don’t have a formal education program, we feel very strongly that we must encourage life-long learning,” she told those gathered. “That’s why we work with Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics (STEM) programs and provide hands-on learning opportunities for students.”

Dr. Pamela Yochem, executive vice president and chief science officer at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, makes a presentation about how the Institute fulfills its mission ‘to return to the sea some measure of the benefits derived from it.’
(Savanah Duffy)

Ocean Health: HSWRI further works to promote global health by halting disease transmission, encouraging ecosystem resilience, and offering rapid first response to marine life strandings. It is part of California Oiled Wildlife Care Network (taking care of animals after oil spills), and is also part of a national program that studies flu viruses in unusual hosts to determine the role and significance of wild birds and marine mammals in generating and perpetuating flu viruses that pose a risk to human health.

Animal Behavior: A big part of the Institute’s work is studying animal behavior, Yochem explained, in particular, how animals use sound, in the hopes of minimizing entanglement, reducing noise impacts, and warning marine animals of hazardous situations.

One example, she said, was the long-line fishing boats in Alaska that were attracting pods of killer whales, who could tell by the sound of the boat’s backhaul that large loads of black cod were available for munching. According to Yochem, the whales would take many individual bites out of fish that were being pulled in, rather than just eating a couple of fish whole. Kind of like those sushi restaurants that feature conveyor belts filled with platters that allow guests to pick and choose what they want as the sushi passes in front of them.

The Institute addressed this issue by studying the hearing curve of male and female killer whales, and making adjustments to the boats’ gears so the sound of their backhaul could only be heard by whales within five kilometers, rather than the prior 15 kilometers.

Wildlife Populations: A third area of research is wildlife populations, with an emphasis on studying the conflicts that can arise between humans and marine animals in the ocean, and how to solve and prevent these issues. Scientists examine human-caused problems, she said, but also environmental and climate change concerns, “from pole to pole, and every habitat in between.”

Traditional techniques such as tagging, aerial surveys and counts are used to locate animals, but newer technology — drones, image analysis and artificial intelligence — is used as well. Advances in tagging technology provide scientists with critical information like water temperature and salinity, which reveal why certain animals may be in a specific ocean location.

Sustainable Seafood: When it comes to addressing “the growing need for high-quality protein in the world through advancing sustainable seafood,” Yochem said Institute scientists: 1) replenish wild stocks of fish that have been overfished or had their nurseries destroyed through coastal development; and 2) look at sustainable ways for aquaculture farming. “All our methods must be environmentally non-degrading, economically viable, socially acceptable and technically appropriate,” she stated. “We’re looked to as leaders in this area.”

— To connect with Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute, 2595 Ingraham St., call (619) 226-3870 or visit


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