Randall Wells directs the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, the world’s longest-running study of a wild dolphin population. He began studying bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida, as a high school volunteer at Mote Marine Laboratory in 1970, engaging in behavioral studies as well as dolphin tagging during capture-release operations. Wells received his Bachelors in Zoology from the University of South Florida in 1975, his Masters in Zoology from the University of Florida in 1978, PhD in Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1986 and he was awarded a post-doctoral fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in 1987. He has worked with the Chicago Zoological Society since 1989, where he is currently a Senior Conservation Scientist, and he manages Mote Marine Laboratory’s Dolphin Research Program. Wells is a Professor of Ocean Sciences (adjunct) at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Professor of Marine Mammal Science (adjunct) at the University Florida, through which he supervises masters and doctoral students.
Wells’ current research program uses a collaborative approach to examine the behavior, social structure, life history, ecology, health, and population biology of bottlenose dolphins along the central west coast of Florida, with studies focusing on five concurrent generations of a locally resident 160-member dolphin community. Recent research topics include the effects of human activities on coastal dolphins, such as boat traffic, fishing activities, human feeding of wild dolphins, and environmental contaminants. Wells has been involved in the development, refining, attachment, testing, and deployment of dolphin tags, including telemetry tags, since 1970. Wells has served as principal or co-principal investigator for more than 150 funded marine mammal research projects. He has led or been a principal investigator for bottlenose dolphin health assessment projects in Sarasota Bay, FL, Beaufort, NC, St. Joseph Bay, FL, Brunswick, GA, Mississippi Sound, and Barataria Bay, LA. In addition to bottlenose dolphin research, Wells has engaged in surveys to define the distribution of the highly endangered vaquita in the Gulf of California, studies of the behavior of: spinner and pantropical spotted dolphins in Hawaii, Guiana dolphins in Brazil, blue, gray, and humpback whales, ranging, social, and dive patterns of Franciscanas off Argentina and Brazil, the effects of industrial activities on bowhead whales in the Beaufort Sea, the impacts of boat traffic on manatees in Florida and Belize, and the reintroduction and follow-up tracking of captive, rescued, and rehabilitated bottlenose, Risso’s, and rough-toothed dolphins and short-finned pilot whales back into their native waters. He has participated in conservation consultations on: baiji and finless porpoises in China, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins in the Solomon Islands, and Irrawaddy dolphins in Cambodia.
Wells has authored or co-authored 4 books, more than 170 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters, 84 technical reports, and 13 popular or semi-popular pieces. He has been presenter or co-author of more than 500 presentations at professional meetings or invited public or university lectures. Wells was President of the international Society for Marine Mammalogy during 2010-2012. Wells also serves on the NOAA/USFWS Atlantic Scientific Review Group, and he is past-chair of the NOAA/USFWS Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events. Wells serves on IUCN’s Cetacean Specialist Group and Reintroduction Specialist Group.