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Nicholas Pyenson

Research Geologist and Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals, Smithsonian Institution

Nicholas D. Pyenson is a research geologist and curator of fossil marine mammals at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History. He received his Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley, and completed his postdoctoral fellowship at the University of British Columbia. As a paleontologist, his scientific research focuses on the repeated and convergent evolution of marine life, including hallmark traits of iconic species such as sea turtles, sea cows, and especially whales. His scientific expeditions have taken him to every continent, his discoveries have been exhibited in major museums across the Americas, and he is the author of over 60 scientific publications, including several in the prestigious journals Science and Nature. His writing and media coverage of his work frequently appear in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, National Geographic, The Economist, and also NPR, CBC, and the BBC. Along with the highest research awards from the Smithsonian, he has also received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers from the Obama White House in 2017. The Pulitzer Prize winner E. O. Wilson called his first book, Spying on Whales (Viking, 2018) “the best of science writing,” and it has been included many compilations of the best science books of 2018. A paperback edition will be published by Penguin Press in 2019, along with forthcoming Russian and Chinese translations.


  • –present
    Research Geologist and Curator of Fossil Marine Mammals, Smithsonian Institution