Scripps Alum Named to Whaling Commission Post


Former Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, student Ryan Wulff has been appointed Deputy United States Commissioner to the International Whaling Commission (IWC).

As U.S. Deputy Commissioner to the IWC, Wulff is the primary advisor and alternate support for the U.S. Commissioner of the IWC. While the Commissioner role remains vacant, Wulff became the acting U.S. Commissioner on Sept. 28. Wulff is responsible for developing U.S. positions on IWC related issues, leading bilateral and multilateral meetings with other governments, and guiding U.S. policy on whaling and whale conservation related issues. Wulff works with a range of stakeholders including federal agencies, NGOs, tribal governments, and native communities.

As a top representative to the international body responsible for conserving global whale populations, this new role is fitting for Wulff, a former Scripps Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (CMBC) student who received a master’s degree in 2006.

Wulff says he has loved whales since he first saw killer whales and dolphins as a small child on visits to Marine World in Vallejo, CA. Wulff studied marine biology as an undergraduate at Brown University and spent several years working for the Pacific Whale Foundation in Maui, where he served as a whale-watching guide, and assisted with scientific field research, including tracking humpback diving behavior and photo identifying dolphins.

Wulff decided to pursue a career in policy and came to Scripps to pursue a master’s degree at CMBC, a research and education hub at UCSD that brings together faculty and students in biology, climate studies, economics, communications, and other fields in order to understand and address the problems facing marine environments. The Masters in Advanced Studies (MAS) is an intensive interdisciplinary degree program at Scripps designed to train future leaders in marine conservation and climate change issues.

After receiving his MAS in 2006, Wulff was awarded the prestigious Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship from NOAA. He now serves as a senior policy advisor at NOAA, where he works primarily on Endangered Species Act and IWC issues.

“The entire year that I spent [at Scripps] prepared me to work at NOAA and in international and domestic marine policy issues,” said Wulff. “The most important thing I learned at CMBC was how to go through a rigorous multidisciplinary approach to marine policy issues taking into account informatics, economics, biology, ecology, and communications. Working for the federal government, it is rare to approach an issue just from one angle, so having that multidisciplinary background has been extremely helpful going forward in my career.”

“Ryan’s accomplishments perfectly symbolize the goals of the MAS and CMBC,” said marine biologist and CMBC founder Nancy Knowlton.  “I am so incredibly proud of what Ryan has achieved, and glad that our program helped contribute to the career of this incredibly talented individual, who has made and will continue to make many important contributions to the health of our ocean.”

Wulff’s master’s project developed methods for communicating science to policymakers and lay audiences.

“There are specific aspects of the capstone project that I’ve repeatedly used as I’ve made presentations on both domestic and international scales, as I’ve had to brief high-level political and international audiences unfamiliar with technical language,” he said.

As most whaling occurs outside IWC control, U.S. efforts are focused on conservation initiatives to address other threats to whales, such as ship strikes, ocean noise, marine debris, bycatch, entanglement, and climate change. Wulff is chair of the Whale Watching Working Group at the IWC, which has developed a five-year strategic plan to use the IWC as advisory body to promote responsible whale watching.

As one of the first graduates of the CMBC MAS program, Wulff has blazed trails for future students, many of who have followed in his footsteps in pursuing careers in governmental policy. Wulff says that he is grateful for professional and personal relationships fostered in his time at Scripps, and notes that his achievements would not have been possible without the strong network he developed at the institution. 


­– Amanda Nicole Netburn

Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.