Whelan Receives 2024 CANR Honorary Alumni Award

Gary Whelan will receive the 2024 CANR Honorary Alumni Award during the annual ANR Awards on Friday, March 1.

Gary Whalen headshot

Gary Whelan, of Shaftsburg, Michigan, will receive a Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) Honorary Alumni Award at the March 1 ANR Awards Program.

The CANR Honorary Alumni Award is given to someone who has made a distinctive contribution to the CANR on a state, national or international level; has relieved the suffering of disadvantaged people; or contributed to any unique program that benefits humankind.

Whelan received a bachelor's degree in fisheries science from the University of Wyoming and a master’s degree in fisheries management from the University of Missouri. Whelan’s career as a fisheries biologist has spanned over 40 years, including serving over 35 years with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in a variety of roles. Most recently, Whelan served as the DNR’s program manager responsible for the division’s research section and Fish Health Program. In this role, he was responsible for managing all aspects of the Fisheries Divisions’ research program, overseeing operations at seven research stations and various Great Lakes survey and assessment vessels. He additionally assisted with habitat management concerns and handled emergency response issues related to the Fisheries Division. 

Whelan is credited with helping to guide state, regional and national fisheries management efforts through a range of fish pathogen challenges, such as bacterial kidney disease, whirling disease (a trout parasitic disease) and viral hemorrhagic septicemia. He has strived to see that fish and aquatic health issues are elevated in recognition and understanding at those levels. Whelan also produces a one-of-a-kind, twice-yearly national summary of fish and aquatic animal health with the help of many colleagues across the country.

His efforts in analyzing and mitigating the effects of hydropower projects on Michigan rivers have resulted in large improvements in habitat conditions, as well as associated fisheries, and have become a model for other states.

Nationally recognized for his instrumental work in fisheries and wildlife, Whelan is an adjunct faculty member at MSU. Whelan’s contributions to MSU and the CANR have been evident through his service on various boards and committees, his continued collaboration with faculty and students, and his notable work with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. Whelan has used his personal and professional time to advance the goals of both the CANR and the Michigan DNR and is noted as the embodiment of integrity service and leadership. Utilizing his expertise and standing relationships within the Spartan community, Whelan has co-authored 31 publications with MSU faculty or graduate students, with an additional 19 co-authored oral presentations since 2015.

In one of his many notable professional achievements, Whelan took part in developing the partnership between the Michigan DNR and MSU, leading to the formation of the Partnership for Ecosystem Research and Management (PERM). This partnership involves dozens of MSU faculty who have devoted their careers, research and outreach towards providing solutions for timely issues affecting the natural resources within Michigan and the Great Lakes. Whelan’s involvement in the cultivation of this partnership has been instrumental in building a network between MSU faculty and the Michigan DNR. The findings from PERM have also been crucial in improving existing surveys for the DNR and its overall success has inspired other U.S. states and Canadian provinces to adapt similar programs in their respective areas.

Since 2006, Whelan has been a member of the Janice Fenske Fellowship Board of MSU, which oversees the Janice Lee Fenske Excellence in Fisheries Management Fellowship. This fellowship was created in celebration of Jan Fenske, the first female biologist for the Fisheries Division who served the DNR for 27 years and whose passion for the environment was evident and respected. Whelan was a founding member of the board and has served as the fellowship mentor for four recipients, further demonstrating his positive impact on the MSU community.

Whelan has relatedly served on the Board of Advisors for the Quantitative Fisheries Center in the MSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. In this role, Whelan advocated for faculty expertise to support fishery management decision making, while also supporting modules to enhance the education of agency biologists. 

In 2022, Whelan received a Special Recognition Award for Outstanding Contributions from the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. The AFWA highlighted Whelan for being an engaged, trusted and respected fisheries professional whose contributions to the field have been truly impactful. In 2020, Whelan received a Meritorious Service award from the American Fisheries Society, North Central Division. The year before, in 2019, he was named a Fellow of the AFS. This recognition highlights individuals who have made outstanding contributions to the diversity of fields related to AFS, of which he is a lifetime member.


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