Els Vermeulen, PhD

Research Manager and Post-doctoral Research Fellow
Mammal Research Institute Whale Unit
Department of Zoology and Entomology
University of Pretoria, South Africa
Co-founding director Whalefish – www.whalefish.org
PI Sea Search – www.seasearch.co.za

Originally from Antwerp, Belgium, I have been involved in marine mammal research since 2002. My main interest relates to the field of conservation biology and associated management. With the use of science, I aim to understand the causal factors affecting marine mammal conservation in order to establish or improve conservation management strategies. Over the years, my research expertise grew in the areas of population biology, ecology and ethology.

Most of my work has been focussed in the South Atlantic, both in Argentina and South Africa;

While residing in Patagonia Argentina between 2005 and 2012, my research focussed on the abundance and behaviour of southern right whales and population ecology of bottlenose dolphins. Although being primarily a scientist, I strongly believe in a multidisciplinary approach to face the challenges within marine conservation. Therefore I founded and directed a local NGO, engaged strongly in public outreach (e.g. the children´s book “Toninas de la Bahia”) and aided provincial government with the establishments of provincial laws, regulations and educative programmes around the local whale and dolphin-watching and swim-with-whales programmes. Since 2009, I additionally worked as a marine consultant for the marine offshore industry, with expertise in European waters as well as the Mediterranean and South Atlantic.

Due to my broad interest in both science and policy, I joined the Belgian Delegation of the International Whaling Commission in 2011. Furthermore, I became more and more aware of the lack of connections and networking among the different stakeholders within nature conservation. This awareness gave rise to the idea to co-found Whalefish (www.whalefish.org), and NGO with which I aim to enhance educational outreach and improve networking possibilities. Indeed, I strongly believe that in order to achieve our conservation goal, it is not only important “what” we know, but also “who” we know!

Since 2014, I reside in South Africa where I attained permanent residency. Currently I work as the Research Manager and post-doctoral research fellow of the Mammal Research Institute Whale Unit of the University of Pretoria, and as PI of the Cape Town based NGO Sea Search (www.seasearch.co.za). Since my move to South Africa, I have successfully established a national humpback dolphin consortium (SouSA Consortium; www.sousaproject.org), facilitating a national collaboration among researchers to improve scientific data and therefore accurately advise conservation management. Additionally, I am focused on the  ecology, population dynamics and conservation of the South African population of southern right whales, building on a nearly 40 year-long database.

Scientific Publications

Vermeulen, E. 2018. Temporal and behavioral variation in association patterns of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus). Marine Mammal Science. DOI: 10.1111/mms.12481

Vermeulen E, Bouveroux T, Plön S, Atkins S, Chivell W, Cockcroft V, Conry D, Genarri E, Hörbst S, James BS, Kirkman S, Penry G, Pistorius P, Thornton M, Vargas Fonseca A, Elwen S. 2018. Indian Ocean humpback dolphin (Sousa plumbea) movement patterns along the South African coast. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 28: 231-240. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.2836

Fruet, P., Secchi, E. R., Di Tullio, J. C., Simoes-Lopes, P., Daura-Jorge, F., Costa, A. P., Vermeulen, E.,  Flores, P., Genoves, R., Laporta, P., Beheregaray, L. and Moller, L. (2017) Genetic divergence between two phenotypically distinct bottlenose dolphin ecotypes suggests separate evolutionary trajectories. Ecology and Evolution 7:9131–9143. doi: 10.1002/ece3.3335

Vermeulen, E. 2017. Intertidal habitat use of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Bahía San Antonio, Argentina. Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the UK 1-10 doi:10.1017/S0025315417000856

Failla, M., Seijas, V.A., Vermeulen, E. 2017. Occurrence of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) of the Río Negro Estuary, Patagonia, Argentina and their mid-distance movements along the Northeast Patagonian coast. Latin American Journal of Aquatic Mammals 11(1-2): 170-177. http://dx.doi.org/10.5597/lajam00226

Laporta, P., Di Tullio, J.C., Vermeulen, E., Domit, C., Albuquerque, C., Lodi, L. 2017. Report of the working group on habitat use of Tursiops truncatus in the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean. Latin American Journal of Aquatic Mammals 11(1-2):  47-61.

Ott P., Barreto, A.S., Siciliano, S., Laporta, P., Domit, C., Fruet, P.F., Dalla Rosa, L., de Oliveira Santos, M.C., Meirelles, A.C., Marchesi, M.C., Botta, S., de Oliveira, L.R., Moreno, I.B., Wickert, J., Vermeulen, E., Hoffmann, L.S., Baracho, C., Simões Lopes, P.C. 2017. Report of the Working Group on Taxonomy and Stock Identity of bottlenose dolphins in the Southwest Atlantic Ocean. Latin American Journal of Aquatic Mammals 11(1-2): 16-28.

Lodi, L., Domit, C., Laporta, P., Di Tullio, J.C.,  Martins, C.C.A., Vermeulen, E. 2017. Report of the Working Group on the Distribution of Tursiops truncatus in the Southwest Atlantic Ocean. Latin American Journal of Aquatic Mammals 11(1-2): 29-46.

Vermeulen, E., Balbiano, A., Beleguer, F., Colombil, D., Failla, M., Intrieri, E., Bräger, S. 2016. Site-fidelity and movement patterns of bottlenose dolphins in central Argentina: essential information for effective conservation. Aquatic Conservation. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.2618

Vermeulen, E., Holsbeek, L., Das, K. 2015. Diurnal and Seasonal Variation in the Behaviour of Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Bahía San Antonio, Patagonia, Argentina. Aquatic Mammals 41(3), 272-283. DOI 10.1578/AM.41.3.2015.272

Vermeulen, E and Bräger, S. 2015 Demographics of the Disappearing Bottlenose Dolphin in Argentina: A Common Species on Its Way Out? PLoS ONE 10(3): e0119182.    doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0119182

Weir, C., Coles, P., Ferguson, A. …. Vermeulen, E., Vines, J., Williams A. 2014. Clymene dolphins (Stenella clymene) in the eastern tropical Atlantic: distribution, group size, and pigmentation pattern. Journal of Mammalogy 95(6): 1289-1298.

Fruet, P., Secchi, E.R., Daura-Jorge, F., Vermeulen, E., Flores, P.A.C., Simões-Lopes, P.C., Genoves, R.C., Laporta, P., Ditullio, J.C., Freitas, T.R., Dalla Rosa, L., Valiati, V.H., Behereharay, L.B., Möller, L.M. 2014. Remarkably low genetic diversity and strong population structure in common bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) from coastal waters of the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean. Conservation Genetics Doi: 10.1007/s10592-014-0586-z

Vermeulen, E. 2012. Abundance estimates of southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) in Bahía San Antonio, Patagonia, Argentina. J. Cetacean Res. Manage. 13(1): 47–51.

Vermeulen, E., Cammareri, A., Holsbeek, L. 2012. Alteration of southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) behaviour by human induced disturbance in Bahía San Antonio, Patagonia, Argentina. Aquatic Mammals 38(1): 56-64.

Vermeulen, E. and Cammareri, A. 2009. Variation in external morphology of resident bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Bahia San Antonio, Patagonia, Argentina. JMATE 2: 1-6

Vermeulen, E. and Cammareri, A. 2009. Residency, Abundance and Social Composition of bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in Bahía San Antonio, Patagonia, Argentina. Aquatic Mammals, 35(3), 379-386.


Els Vermeulen, Hilda Suarez, Alejandro Balbiano “Toninas de la Bahía, descubriendo a los delfines de Patagonia Norte” – Los Biologos Ediciones, Buenos Aires Argentina. 18pp.