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Dr. Jeanette Thomas was world-renowned for her expertise and research relating to marine life.
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Celebration of Life Set for Jeanette Ann Thomas

July 25, 2018

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Update (July 25): A celebration of life for Western Illinois University-Quad Cities Biology Professor Emerita Jeanette A. Thomas will be held Aug. 11. For more information, visit


Update (July 19) - From Vandemore Funeral Home:

Dr. Jeanette Thomas, 66, of Geneseo, passed away suddenly at her home on Monday, July 16, 2018. No funeral services are scheduled at this time. Per her request, Jeanette's body was donated to the Anatomical Gift Association in Chicago to assist with future medical study and research. Cremation rites will be accorded at a later date. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation in her memory to the charitable organization of your choice. Vandemore Funeral Home & Crematory, Geneseo is assisting the family with these arrangements.

Jeanette was born on March 23, 1952, in LaHarpe, IL. She was a remarkable woman, traveling the world doing research from ice floes in the Antarctic and from tuna boats off the coast of California, as well as Hawaii. While teaching at Western Illinois University, she offered classes at the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and the Niabi Zoo, Coal Valley. She was editor of the Aquatic Mammals journal for ten years.

She will be sorely missed by her family, friends, colleagues, and the community. Her memory lives on in her legacy.

She is survived by her beloved husband, Rael Slavensky; cherished children, Galen and Julienne Thomas-Ramos; dear brothers, Brian (Dottie) and Carl Thomas and treasured nephew, Eric Thomas.


MACOMB/MOLINE, IL -- Western Illinois University-Quad Cities Biology Professor Emerita Jeanette A. Thomas, 66, of Geneseo passed away suddenly July 16 in Geneseo. Funeral arrangements are pending with Vandemore Funeral Home in Geneseo. Thomas retired from WIU in May 2014 after 25 years of service.

Thomas, a native of nearby Blandinsville (IL) and a 1973 graduate of Western Illinois with a bachelor's degree in zoology and botany, returned to her alma mater in 1989 as an associate professor of biology. That year she helped establish a graduate program in marine biology in cooperation with Shedd Aquarium.

"The Western Illinois University community mourns Jeanette's passing," said President Jack Thomas. "We extend our deepest sympathies to Jeanette's family, friends and colleagues."

In 2001, Thomas developed Western's post-baccalaureate program in zoo and aquarium studies to train students for careers with captive animals. Her classes were taught via distance learning and by travel to the Shedd Aquarium and include marine mammalogy, mammalogy, bioacoustics, animal behavior and biological studies in zoos and aquaria. Thomas' mammalogy course was one of the first teleclasses offered by WIU, and she was one of the first permanent faculty at the WIU-Quad Cities campus (formerly at the Regional Center). Through numerous grant funds, she established Western's Laboratory of Sensory Biology, including branch labs at the WIU-QC Regional Center and at Shedd. Through the lab, Thomas coordinated the International Biological Sonar Conference, which was held in May 1998 in Portugal.

In Fall 1996, Thomas and Ken Ramirez of Shedd co-taught Western's first animal training class at the aquarium. She also led classes at the Niabi Zoo in the Quad Cities.

She was the 2005 WIU Distinguished Lecturer, presenting her research on the effects of human-made noise on marine mammals. She served on numerous departmental, college and University committees, including chair of the WIU-Quad Cities Faculty Council (1999-2002). Thomas earned Faculty Excellence Awards, was named the College of Arts and Sciences Outstanding Researcher and was an Alumni Achievement Award recipient at Western.

Thomas received more than $1 million in research grants from organizations including the Office of Naval Research, the National Science Foundation, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), National Marine Fisheries Service, the Department of the Interior Minerals Management Service, Shedd Aquarium and the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute as well as from WIU's University Research Council and Foundation.

Thomas had served as the editor of Aquatic Mammals, an international journal of the European Association for Aquatic Mammals, as past-president of the Society for Marine Mammalogy; and was a 10-year scientific adviser for the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission. She was the senior editor of four books and the co-editor of one book on sensory abilities of marine mammals. Thomas also was a presenter and facilitator of professional conferences worldwide.

She earned her master's degree (1977) and Ph.D. in ecology and evolutionary biology (1979) from the University of Minnesota. As a doctoral student, she began her worldwide research when her study of underwater vocalization of Weddell seals took her to the Antarctic. Thomas continued her research, traveling to the South Pole in six different field seasons.

She conducted post-doctoral research at Minnesota (1979-80) and at the Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute (1980-85), San Diego, CA, where she was the director of the bioacoustics laboratory. At Hubbs-Sea World, Thomas conducted research using a towed array of hydrophones for the U.S. Tuna Foundation, measured the underwater hearing of beluga whales, examined responses of beluga whales to noise from oil platforms and conducted studies on the rehabilitation of sea otters fouled with crude oil. From 1985-89, Thomas was a senior scientist at the Naval Ocean Systems Center in Hawaii, studying echolocation and masked hearing abilities of false killer whales and hearing of the Hawaiian monk seal.

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