Paleobiologist and Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals

Paleobiologist Dr. Nick Pyenson crouched down on beach sand by a fossil dolphin skeleton. Two other people are next to him.
Dr. Nick Pyenson wraps up a long day excavating a fossil dolphin skeleton with colleagues in Panama. Courtesy of Aaron O'Dea, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

Dr. Nick Pyenson is a curator in the Department of Paleobiology in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, with special expertise in the evolution of marine mammals. Nick grew up in Quebec and Louisiana and was lucky enough to have relatives who supported his avid interest in fossils and natural history. In college he took a variety of field courses in botany, stream ecology, and human paleoecology (the latter which took him to Africa), convincing him that science and the outdoors (and especially with international travel), was a good way to spend time. After earning his doctorate from the University of California/Berkeley in 2008, he was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia before joining the Smithsonian in 2010.

At the Smithsonian, Nick tends to the world’s largest collection of fossil marine mammals, and he contributes to it with field programs around the world, including most recently on Vancouver Island in Canada, and with South American collaborators in the Atacama Desert of Chile. Nick thinks that marine mammals – such as whales, sea cows and sea lions – are ready-made vehicles for enhancing a deeper understanding of the fundamentals of evolutionary biology and the earth sciences. He is especially interested in using digital tools that can expand fieldwork, outreach, and natural history collections all at the same time.