Conservation Experts Launch a New Community-Based Program to Save Endangered Aquatic Mammals

Operation GRACE Answers the Call for Urgent Action to Protect Dolphins and Porpoises at Risk of Extinction

For Immediate Release

A breakthrough conservation program launched today by the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) aims to save threatened and endangered dolphins, porpoises, and whales from extinction. The program, named Operation GRACE: Global Rescue of At-Risk Cetaceans and Ecosystems, applies the NMMF’s unique veterinary perspective and conservation expertise to protect and conserve at-risk aquatic mammals. Through science, medicine, community engagement, and compelling storytelling, Operation GRACE aspires to assist coastal partners with new approaches to marine mammal conservation.

The NMMF is excited to announce that Dolphin Quest, with a donation of $250,000, is a founding philanthropic supporter for Operation GRACE. Dolphin Quest has a long history of supporting conservation and scientific efforts to benefit marine mammals, and they have now turned their sights to saving the most critically endangered dolphins, porpoises, and whales on the planet. Their landmark contribution was made in honor of their good friend and colleague and NMMF’s President Emeritus, Dr. Sam Ridgway, who passed away last year. The funds will specifically help the NMMF and Operation GRACE build veterinary capacity for species conservation projects worldwide.

Funding support from the Scott & Jessica McClintock Foundation, YAQU PACHA e.V. – Organization for the Conservation of Latin American Aquatic Mammals, Society for Marine Mammalogy, MacArthur Foundation, and NMMF Grants Program has helped build the foundation and establish critical collaborations for Operation GRACE. With the generous philanthropic contribution from Dolphin Quest, Operation GRACE is now fully launching.

“Our planet is in the midst of a human-induced mass extinction crisis. One million species are at risk, and thousands more have already disappeared,” said Dr. Cynthia Smith, NMMF President & CEO. “With Operation GRACE, we are applying our expertise in conservation medicine to efforts aimed at gathering critical data to protect at-risk dolphins, porpoises, and whales. We are collaborating with species experts all over the world and applying an evidence-based, holistic approach to prevent marine mammal extinctions. In order for this to work, we need all hands on deck. We are so grateful to have the support of Dolphin Quest as we launch Operation GRACE. Our founding president, Dr. Ridgway, was passionate about species conservation, so receiving this donation in his honor makes it very special to our team.”

Drs. Rae Stone and Jay Sweeney, co-founders of Dolphin Quest explained, “Marine mammal conservation is woven into the fabric of Dolphin Quest’s culture. We are honored to join forces now with the NMMF, to bring our expertise and resources to the urgent work of saving the world’s most at risk dolphin and porpoise species.”

Dolphin Quest also recently awarded grants to seven conservation projects in seven countries through their Conservation of Threatened or Endangered Small Cetaceans Fund.

The extinction of the Yangtze River dolphin in China, and the catastrophic decline of the vaquita porpoise in Mexico, inspired the creation of Operation GRACE. Dr. Forrest Gomez, NMMF Director of Conservation Medicine and Operation GRACE, explained the decision to launch the rescue program.

“Despite heroic measures by the conservation community to rescue the vaquita porpoise from extinction, only about 10 animals remain. We feel a strong sense of urgency to help prevent a situation like this from happening again. We aim to work swiftly with local partners, species specialists, and conservation leaders to apply our unique skill set to help however and wherever we can,” said Gomez.

Through Operation GRACE, the NMMF aims to drive sustainable conservation impact with the following actions: (1) fill critical data gaps for threatened and endangered dolphins, porpoises, and whales; (2) apply veterinary expertise to the rescue, rehabilitation, and conservation of at- risk cetaceans; (3) conduct wild aquatic mammal health assessments to identify the threats facing at-risk cetaceans; (4) create innovative remote sampling techniques for porpoises, dolphins, and whales; (5) build medical databases to help answer critical species-specific questions; and (6) work to align collaborators to integrate local communities, experts, and organizations for holistic conservation approaches. The team is addressing high priority conservation challenges with a 360-degree view of the animals, their ecosystems, and the human communities that rely on them.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) sounded the alarm for a broader, more integrated approach to the conservation of at-risk dolphins and porpoises. Many species and populations that are only found near human activities are rapidly declining due to known but unsolved problems – primarily accidental drowning in fishing gillnets, in addition to other human-induced threats.

Dr. Gomez continued, “In reality, the solutions to these problems are complex and always include the human dimension. Wonderful people around the world are working hard to try to preserve the animals of their childhood. To see positive outcomes in our lifetimes, we must act swiftly in concert with local communities and from all angles of the problems. We must put our differences aside and work together in an effort to force multiply for the benefit of at-risk species and their heavily impacted habitats.”

To become a philanthropic supporter of Operation GRACE’s endangered species efforts, contact us here.


More information on Operation GRACE can be found here. Information about Dolphin Quest’s conservation efforts can be found here. The 2020 IUCN resolution urging greater collaboration between in situ and ex situ conservation actions can be found here and the Report calling for urgent conservation actions for small cetaceans can be downloaded here.


About the National Marine Mammal Foundation
The National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization recognized globally as a leader in marine mammal science, medicine, and conservation. Their team of experts is answering critical questions about the health of the world’s marine mammals and the ecosystems they rely on. The NMMF has a mission to improve and protect life for marine mammals, humans, and our shared oceans through science, service, and education. They advance their mission by conducting innovative research and collaborating with the world’s top scientists and institutions to translate their research into applicable medicine and species conservation. The NMMF provides technical, medical, and scientific expertise to help solve problems related to conservation medicine, human-made environmental change, and endangered species recovery.

About Dolphin Quest
Dolphin Quest’s mission is to advance marine mammal science, education and conservation through public programs, advanced veterinary care, community outreach and critical conservation research. Dolphin Quest inspires the next generation of ocean stewards through innovative interactive experiences with dolphins that create a powerful connection to nature. Through scientific discovery in collaboration with leading university scientists, Dolphin Quest advances the knowledge and preservation of ocean environments and their inhabitants. Since the 1980s, Dolphin Quest has been a primary supporter of the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program’s wild dolphin health assessments, which enables marine mammal research and health assessments around the world. Dolphin Quest commits its expertise and resources to saving the most vulnerable marine mammal species, whose very existence is imperiled by human impact on our marine ecosystems.

Kristina Martz
Executive Operations Officer

Rae Stone, DVM
President and Partner