Gerald Kooyman, emeritus professor of biology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, will be the first recipient of a new lifetime achievement award bestowed by the Society for Marine Mammalogy during the society's 16th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals.
The presentation of the Kenneth S. Norris Lifetime Achievement Award to Kooyman, a renowned expert on the diving physiology of air-breathing animals, will take place at a special dinner ceremony Dec. 12 in San Diego.
The 24-year old society selected Kooyman for his ingenious approaches to field work, especially in adapting techniques developed by Per Scholander, director of the Physiological Research Lab at Scripps in the 1960s.
"He's a hero," said James Estes, editor of the society's journal, Marine Mammal Science. "His research has really been groundbreaking. He really changed people's view of how diving animals economize time and oxygen."
Kooyman came to Scripps as a postgraduate researcher in 1968. He is currently a member of Scripps Oceanography's Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine.
But his interest in Antarctic animals began in 1961, when he signed on to serve as a field assistant in a Stanford University expedition to the continent. Once at Scripps, Kooyman devised innovative methods for studying the dive behavior of Weddell seals, returning so frequently he has a mountain in Antarctica named after him.
Kooyman learned that if he led the docile animals to pre-drilled ice holes, the seals would return to the same hole after their dives, making them effective models for study of diving physiology. He would glue small time-depth recorders that he invented onto their fur (the special epoxy falling away in subsequent molts) and wait for them to resurface. His waits would sometimes last more than an hour; the seals frequently reached depths of 700 meters (2,300 feet) and remained submerged as long as 82 minutes.
From these observations, Kooyman was able to describe how the seals efficiently budget their oxygen supply and the mechanisms by which they respond to changes in pressure as they descend and resurface.
Kooyman's travels have led him to study the behaviors of a host of animals. In addition to his work with seals and other pinnipeds, his extensive work recording the behavior of emperor penguins helped him identify them as a harbinger of the stresses placed on Antarctic ecosystems by global climate change.
A component of the Norris Award recognizes a recipient's efforts to mentor younger researchers. Estes recalls being "transfixed" when he first heard the physiologist deliver a lecture some 25 years ago.
"Another part of his being selected is that he is universally liked and well-regarded," he said. "Kooyman's one of the giants."
Prior to the award presentation, Kooyman will deliver a lecture entitled "Mysteries of Adaptation to Hypoxia and Pressure in Marine Mammals" during the first plenary session of the conference, which takes place at the Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego from Dec. 12 to Dec. 16.
The award is named for the society's first president, Kenneth Norris, a professor of biology and natural history at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Norris passed away in 1998.