government ocean pacific

Service-led Leadership

Cook Islands communicator Thomas Wynn was in Dunedin to speak at the Otago Polytechnic Distinguished Alumni Awards.

Talking points

Good leaders have served, and served well – with a strong values base.

How do we change the world? Do something.

Our greatest successes happen around the kitchen table.

Creating a space at the table especially for people we disagree with.

Island nations – we have to depend on each other.

Leadership is either the answer or the problem

Power is the most dangerous drug available. The antidote is accountability.

Definition: Our grandchildren will be able to enjoy a better quality of life.

Superpower: Telling someone that they did a good job. The love. Perhaps the ultimate superpower is to care enough to do something.

Activist? Yes, nothing changes without activity. And that means stepping out of comfortable into uncomfortable.

Motivation: Desire to be better.

Advice: Don’t be a spectator – be a participant.

marine mammals ocean

Captaining Direct Action



We need to capture the moment that we find them hunting or killing whales because that’s what speaks to people’s imaginations. If they can actually see what’s happening, then people get upset and hopefully they will be upset enough to stand up with us and fight the governments on this.

Sustainable Lens caught up with Capt Wyanda Lublink on a resupply stop as part of Sea Shepherd’s Operation Nemesis patrol of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary.


Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. Each week we talk to someone making a positive difference. We try to find out what motivates them. What it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective. Tonight’s sustainable lens is that of Captain Wyanda Lublink and I’m on the motor yacht…


Wyanda: Motor vessel


Sam: Motor vessel, Steve Irwin, the Sea Shepherd’s Steve Irwin. Thank you very much for joining me. Thanks for letting me on the ship.


Wyanda: No problem, you’re very welcome.


Sam: Let’s start with some questions about you then. Where did you grow up?


Wyanda: I grew up in the Netherlands, many, many years ago. All my family lives still in the Netherlands. I was the only one that actually moved to Australia 10 years ago.


Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?


Wyanda: When I grew up, I had no idea what I wanted to be. My parents were butchers, so I definitely did not want to be a butcher. My dad was also into marketing, and at that stage, my sister went to a marketing course, so I decided to do the same. Because you’re young, you have no clue what the world is about, so you just follow in your dad’s footsteps, basically. That’s what I did. I went to study international marketing management.


Sam: Did you enjoy it?


Wyanda: Well, the study itself had a few nice aspects, but most of all, I really enjoyed being a student. A student’s life is different from the real world out there. I did enjoy the four years of university. I didn’t so much like the studying, but that comes with it.


Sam: Did you use that marketing?


Wyanda: I did use it for a little while. Because I studied international marketing, during your university years they want you to go abroad for at least half a year. We had to choose a study abroad, which mine brought me to Pontypool in Wales in the United Kingdom where I did half a year of … I’m not over fond of being a student. I came back to the Netherlands to continue studying. Third year we have to do a practical training we call it. I had an opportunity to do it in Poland which was special in those years because we’re talking about 93, I think. It was a long time ago. I really enjoyed that. I did a marketing research in Poland.


Then, in my last year in university, when you do your final project, I decided to do it internationally as well. Which was just over the border, I went to Germany. I did it there, another marketing research. Because I really enjoyed the travelling, as soon as I finished my university, I didn’t even wait for graduation day, I was on a plane to the States. I worked in a children’s camp for a while in the kitchen, summer camp for children. It’s a very popular thing in the States. I did that for I think it was for 10 weeks. Then, I travelled the United States, which I absolutely loved.


Sam: Somehow you got from there to the Navy.


Wyanda: I did. There was a few years in between. When I came back from America, I really liked travelling so I got the travel bug. I went back to the Netherlands because my money ran out. I actually worked in the field of marketing for a little while, for a year. I already knew I wanted to go see Australia and New Zealand and Indonesia. I worked for a year. I had three jobs, got as much money as I could, went on a plane to Australia for a year, including a few months here in New Zealand. Really enjoyed what I did in Australia.


I wasn’t a scuba diver before, but when I backpacked around Australia, I did a diving course. Absolutely fell in love with the underwater world. I went to Australia, I visited New Zealand for three months. Went back to Australia, started working dive school, worked my way up to dive master. Over-stayed my visa, got an extension, luckily, for the time that I spent in New Zealand, I could extend my time in Australia. Then, it was time to go back.


I was supposed to be a month in Indonesia as well, but I only had enough money for a week. I did change my flight back to the Netherlands. I knew already then, that my heart was in Australia, and I really wanted to go back. When I went back to the Netherlands, I looked into emigrating to Australia, but Australia has got a very strict point system, and I did not have enough points because I didn’t have any work experience after I graduated because I only travelled. I said to myself, “Okay, I’ll get my work experience and then I’ll try again.”


In the meantime, I fell in love with a guy in Holland and he was in the Dutch Navy. I really needed a job that didn’t put me behind a desk with all my travelling experiences. I needed a job that I could travel. He just came back from a deployment in South America, in the Caribbean and told me all about that. I thought, “Oh wow, that really sounds amazing. That’s what I want to do.” I applied for the Royal Dutch Navy, the Royal Air Force, and the Army. Eventually, I chose a job in the Navy, and that’s how I joined the Navy, the Dutch Navy.


Sam: What did you do in the Navy?


Wyanda: I was a little bit older than the average person. A lot of the Navy officers, they join when they’re 17 or 18 and they still go through the five years of academy. I was already 27, and I already had a university degree, so they put me in a class where they needed to train mine warfare officers, so I could go straight for the rank of officer. They really needed people on the mine hunters. For me, it didn’t really matter. I just wanted to do something good for our country, but most of all, I wanted to lead an adventurous life. I did that, nine months at the Academy and a year of probation on a ship, which was a mine hunter. That’s what I did.


You start as a watch keeping officer on the mine hunter and you look for mines. Which is in these waters, especially Australia and New Zealand, there’s not so many around. If you look at Europe, the North Sea, the Baltic Ocean, they’re still full of mines from the first and second world wars. We were actually doing quite a good job by finding these mines and blowing them up. Which thinking back, I did destroy a lot of wild life by blowing up mines. Because you would find a mine, and it’s really hard to see if it’s from the first or second world war.


It’s really hard to see if it’s a mine or a rock because it’s overgrown with under water life and fish are swimming and starfish and lobster. Then, if you know for sure it’s a mine, you need to blow it up because otherwise accidents might happen. I did destroy a lot of wild life. Yeah, I kept doing that for four years, the mine warfare department, or six years, I think it was. Yeah six years. I had a contract for six years. I extended my contract for another year in the Navy. Then I wanted to extend it more because I didn’t know what to do after the Navy.


Sam: You were having a good time.


Wyanda: I was having a good time, again. Then I became a full commissioned officer, I went on to do frigates. In the meantime, my relationship with the Navy guy broke. We split up because it’s really hard. I was away a lot. He was away a lot. To maintain the relationship is very difficult, so we decided to split up. Then, the whole urge of me wanted to go back to Australia. I wanted to emigrate to Australia. I came back.


I started looking into jobs available in the Australian Navy, because I meet an Australian officer who was on exchange with the British Navy and we did a deployment with them. He said, “Your skills being a mine warfare officer in the Australia Navy, in the Dutch Navy, is what we’re looking for in the Australian Navy.” Therefore I started a whole application with the Australian government to join the Australian Navy. It was what they were looking for. It took me two and a half years, but they did recruit me in the Australia Navy. I quit the Dutch Navy and joined the Australian Navy.


Sam: Moved to Australia?


Wyanda: Moved to Australia.


Sam: How long did you last in the Australian Navy?


Wyanda: I did my initial time, which was two years. Then, I left. I wanted to travel, because Australia is so beautiful and my idea was to travel from Sydney to Broome, because somehow I had it in my head that I wanted to live in Broome, I don’t know why. I put everything in storage, packed my car, left Sydney, went along the coast, I drove from Sydney to Melbourne. Got to Melbourne, went north of Melbourne, found a little place that was called Kangaloola Wildlife Shelter. Got started talking to the owner, she was a wildlife carer and she obviously cares for wildlife. She rescues a lot of Australian native wildlife. Anything Australian native, apart from snakes, because she wasn’t allowed to handle snakes. I got really inspired by her so I wanted to volunteer there for a week because she does take volunteers.


After a week, I said, “Can I stay a little bit longer?” I wanted to stay longer and longer and longer. I ended up staying for three years, living in the bush, very sustainable, I would say, because we just depended on rain water. We had no electricity. We had a generator going for when it gets dark to have our lights and some kind of electricity. All we lived for was the animals we rescued. We did rehab, and if possible, we let them go. If they wouldn’t be able to go back into the wild, they had to be put down most of the time. Absolutely loved it.


Sam: Sounds very pleasant but not at sea.


Wyanda: It was definitely not at sea. After three years living in the bush, which was by far until I got to Sea Shepherd the best job I ever had. I was a volunteer, it cost me more money than I would be making. I wasn’t making anything, but it didn’t cost me anything either. Because the wildlife shelter is I didn’t have bill. I didn’t have my house, I just had my car. We used the caravans, the whole wildlife shelter just consisted of caravans. Just building more yards for the animals. It cost me vet bills, basically. Because wildlife sanctuaries in Australia I don’t know how it is in New Zealand, but they don’t get money from the government whatsoever. We need to support everything we did financially. We did it ourselves.


After three years, I thought, “I love what I do, but it’s heartbreaking if you’re passionate about animals. Because so many animals needed to be put down.” You get in contact with so many people that don’t care about animals. It was getting really difficult, and I really missed the ocean. After three years, I decided it was time to move on, packed my car. After I left the Australian Navy, I got my master five skipper’s ticket in Australia.


I started driving up the coast to Queensland, because if you like boats, and in the meantime, I was also a diving instructor. The best place to find a job is Queensland in Australia along the great barrier reef. I did that, and I ended up on a small island called Magnetic Island.  Visited for four days, got a job offer on a really beautiful sailing yacht, a schooner, doing tourist trips. Took that, ended up staying there. Ended up doing the job for a year. Although, it was absolutely stunning and the job was great, you took tourists out in this really nice sailing boat and snorkelling. They would go snorkelling. I would have one deck hand help me with everything. The weather’s always nice, it’s just south of Cairns.


After working at the wildlife shelter for three years, I thought I don’t do anything that helps the world. I make people happy that can go on the trip. Okay, I like what I’m doing, but I don’t do anything sustainable or I don’t help anyone in need. Even if I would not do my job as a skipper, surely they could get somebody else to skipper the yacht. I’m not saving anything. I looked into how can I use my skills as a quite experienced person at sea and my love for animals and rescuing animals, how can I combine them?


I visited my parents back in the Netherlands, and they like to watch Whale Wars. Most people like Whale wars. I was looking at it. I knew it existed. I never really thought about it, Sea Shepherd. My mom made a comment, “I can see you do that.” I thought, “You know what, I think she’s right.” I looked online and found the application form, filled it out. This was in the beginning of 2013. I thought, “They’re never going to ask me.” They sometimes have famous people on the ships that go to Antarctica. I thought, “It’s going to be plenty of people that they want.” I applied in March, in July I was on the way to South Africa to join my first ship, the Sea Shepherd. That’s how it happened.


Sam: Was there something about Sea Shepherd that attracted you?


Wyanda: I think it’s the fact Sea Shepherd is all about saving marine life. I mean it’s four years later now. Now, I’m a captain of a Sea Shepherd. I’ve learned so much about the organisation that I did not know then. The fact that what you see on TV, I was an ex-Navy officer, and I had so much in the Navy. I know, for myself, how much I like that part of it, and they’re saving wildlife. This is exactly what I want.


Everybody when they look at Whale Wars, they can see the fight with the Japanese whaling fleet and the collisions that happen. It is exciting. Although it’s not always what a whole Southern Ocean campaign is about, but it’s part of it. I thought I need that kind of … I enjoy that kind of action. I just love the fact that they’re saving wildlife that nobody else cares about.


Sam: You find yourself on a ship in South Africa, but heading for Antarctica.


Wyanda: No, they were on a secret mission. They were preparing for it then, the secret mission. It’s a smaller ship, it’s called the Jairo Mora Sandoval. It was named after a Costa Rican activist, conservationist who protected the turtles in Costa Rica. A very young guy, Jairo Mora Sandoval. He got killed by the poachers. He got shot trying to save the turtles.


We named the ship after him, in honour of him. The ship was in Richards Bay, South Africa near Durban. They were doing it up because it had been sitting on the slip for two years. They were doing it up and they prepared a mission to Liberia. I was going to be first officer, with only five crew. Because it’s a small ship. I was going to be first officer on that campaign to Liberia. A lot of things happened.


We were supposed to leave five days after my arrival in South Africa. Six weeks later, I still find myself sitting on the ship in South Africa, being a deckie. Which there is nothing wrong with being a deckie, but it’s not really how I imagined it. Because I need to be out at sea and not doing rust repairs or something like that. I went to Mozambique to do some diving. I said, “Let me know when you’re ready for the trip and I’ll come back.” Then, Peter Hammersted called me and  – Peter Hammersted was our recruiting officer then. He’s one of our most famous Sea Shepherd captains. He said, “Would you like to go to Antarctica instead to do a Southern Ocean  campaign?” I said, “Oh yeah, I’ll do that.” Two months later, I joined the Sam Simon in Melbourne.


Sam: When you joined the organisation, is there an induction process about what their philosophy is and so on?


Wyanda: No, not so much. I think everybody that wants to join Sea Shepherd as a volunteer, I think, in general, they do know what we are about. What we stand for, what our philosophies are, what we want. I think 99% of the people do realise, especially going to the Southern Ocean campaign that as soon as we leave Melbourne going to Antarctica, you do actually risk your life going to the Southern Ocean  because it’s definitely not an easy campaign.


Another thing is anybody joining the ship that has no idea what we’re doing, the crew that comes on the Southern Ocean campaign is chosen to go on that campaign. It’s not just a deckie that joins, a deckhand that joins a week before a campaign to the Southern Ocean and can stay. The Steve Irwin did one more campaign in Australia. For the rest of the years, she’s been preparing for Southern Ocean campaigns.


A lot of the deck hands, the galley team, the engineers, they have to work at least three months on the ship while in Melbourne, alongside. We get a whole bunch of volunteers through from those volunteers that come through, we need a recruiting officer together with the ship’s manager and heads of departments. They choose the crew members that they think will fit the most and will do their best and give it their all. They’re the ones chosen to go to Antarctica.


Obviously, being a bridge officer or an engineer, we don’t have as much choice as for deck hands or cooks. We need to get the right team because once we’ve let go of the lines in Melbourne, it takes two or three weeks to go to the Southern Ocean. You can’t just say, “You’re a rotten apple. We don’t want you. You don’t do your job very well. You can swim home now.” It just doesn’t work. You need to work together three to four months.


Sam: Because no matter what you’re doing with this ship, you’re running it as a proper ship. You’re properly registered and all of those sorts of things. People have to be appropriately qualified.


Wyanda: Yes and no. In the past…we are a private ship. We’re not commercially run. Officially, we don’t need any captain’s papers or chief engineers or bosons or … because we are private. If you run commercially, you need to have your papers. You need to have a proper skipper’s licence to run a ship this size. Because we are becoming such a big movement now, it’s not just Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Australia anymore, that’s the American part. We have chapters in so many countries in the world now.


We’re so big. The Sea Shepherd exists 40 years this year. We’ve gone really big. We’ve become really well known, so we have a lot more volunteers coming in and applying. We have a lot more people applying that have actual papers so we get more choice in choosing people that have the experience. Which is absolutely great. We don’t necessarily need people with the papers. What we want most is passion, which is way more important than paperwork.


Sam: Just in case anybody doesn’t know, you can give us Sea Shepherd 101. Who is Sea Shepherd?


Wyanda: Sea Shepherd was originally founded by Paul Watson in 1977. For people that don’t know, Paul Watson, he was co-founder of Greenpeace in 1971. They started Greenpeace because they really wanted to do something. They really wanted to make changes. One of the first, most important campaigns was against the seal slaughter in eastern Canada. Eastern Canada, people go out on the ice when the pups are born and they bash them with base ball bats, just for the fur. It’s absolutely horrible. That’s what one of the first campaigs was.


Paul Watson’s idea was not quite the same as the rest of the founders of Greenpeace. After awhile, he decided the way Greenpeace was taking, it was not what he anticipated. He said goodbye to Greenpeace and he started Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in 1997. He bought a ship and he really wanted the direct action part, it’s very important. He wanted to do that and Greenpeace was not really all about that. We still fight for the same.


They don’t have the direct action as much as we do. He bought a ship and he actually went after illegal fishermen and poachers. He became quite well known. For some people, they might say, he did not become known for the right reasons because he did sink vessels. He never killed anyone. He never hurt anyone. He took the law in his own hands, so to speak. There’s all these laws out there about illegal fishing and not killing whales in the Southern Ocean whales sanctuary, but nobody enforces these laws. He did that. He became well known. He always had this passion about whales.


Once he started going down to the Southern Oceans to protect the whales, his first campaign was in 2002, and the second campaign was in 2005, which were basically the foundations for how we could run the campaigns now. He became well known in Whale Wars and Animal Planet picked up on it and started making this reality show. Once it came on TV, Whale Wars, this is where it all went. It all became really big.


Sam: These treks in the Southern Ocean are to cover the Japanese whaling programme?


Wyanda: Yes. What a Japanese whaling fleet is doing is … Because everything below 60 degrees south in the Southern Ocean is called the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary. It was established by the international whaling commission and all the whales are protected. It doesn’t matter what species. If we’re talking, minke whales or humpback whales or fin whales, pilot whales. Actually, pilot whales are dolphins. Nobody is allowed to kill anything, according to the international whaling commission. We also have the Antarctic Treaty, which also says all the species are protected.


The only reason organisations are allowed to kill is for scientific research. This is where the Japanese saw money. They were commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean before the moratorium of commercial whaling in the Southern Ocean. Of course it’s big money for Japan. Japan is the only country that keeps whaling in the Southern Ocean. They thought, “If we can do it for scientific reasons, then we just come up with a scientific research programme.” They came up with JARPNI and II, which is a scientific research programme. They had a self-allocated quota of 1,035 whales that they needed every season for scientific research. The majority, 935 Minke whales, 50 humpback whales, but also 50 fin whales and fin whales have been endangered for quite a while. That’s 1035 whales every single season.


They told themselves they’re allowed to kill for scientific research. Sea Shepherd has been following them for quite a few years now. They realised never any proper results were being published. Where was all this research for? What were they doing with it? 1035 whales a year. It’s massive. It turns out that scientific research was just a whole lot of bullshit actually, to cover up commercial whaling. Because they can’t do any commercial whaling, that is illegal.


For a few years, Sea Shepherd was able to locate the Japanese whaling fleet. They would catch them in the act and when they were actually killing whales, so we know what kind of system they have. They kill a whale with one of their harpoon ships. They shoot off this harpoon. It takes the whale 20 or 30 minutes to bleed out and die, which is absolutely horrible. For them, it doesn’t matter if it’s the male or the female. If it’s the female, they often have the young so the young will hang around as well, so they have that one too.


They have it done alongside the harpoon ship. From the harpoon ship, it needs to go onto the big factory ship. It’s called Nisshin Maru and it’s a massive big ship. We call it the slaughterhouse because they then take the dead whale onboard. They take the dead whale onboard and it goes onto the deck. It’s like a slipway on the back of the Nisshin Maru, and once they have it onboard, they clean out the guts and everything. They put big hoses in and all the blood and everything gets washed out. They start cutting it up. We have proof, we have recorded everything. They start cutting it up, all the guts and everything goes back in the ocean. They cut it up in nice pieces. It goes down below in the freezer hold. We’ve never seen any scientific research being done on them.


Sam: Despite their ship’s got a big sign on it that says “research”.


Wyanda: It did, not this year.


Sam: It doesn’t?


Wyanda: It’s gone. It’s gone. It does still say that on the harpoon ship, but the Nisshin Maru does not have it. I think they finally painted it over.


Sam: Then all the meat goes down below in the freezer hold. Obviously, we can’t see inside the ship, but then, it comes back to Japan at the end of the season and it goes into storage and it’s being sold in the market. They want have the kids to take it to school. We’re talking about highly contaminated meat as well. There’s so many mercury levels and other not so good stuff in the ocean.


Wyanda: What is your job in going down there?


Sam: What we’re trying to do, apart from informing the world what is happening, because media is a very big part of a campaign like this. What we try to do from the start we want to locate the Japanese whaling fleet. First of all, we would like to stop the killing. They have the Nisshin Maru, which is the factory ship or the slaughterhouse. They have three harpoon vessels. Those three harpoon vessels are very manoeuvrable, very quick ships. They do 22, 24 knots, and they come in very well at high speed.


All the ships that Sea Shepherd have, that we had to buy with donated money, because we don’t get anything from the government, they are always a little bit slower and not always highly manoeuvrable. They don’t turn very quickly. What we try to do is get in between the harpoon ships and the whales if necessary. We will use our ship, I will use the Steve Irwin for it. Or I will have the small boats in the water. Because they are high speed and they’re very manoeuvrable. The guys in the small boats know it can be very dangerous.


In the past, the Japanese running fleet would stop hunting when we arrived. Over the years, because we frustrated them so much, they did not manage to get the quota anymore. They were losing a lot of money. They actually started whaling right in front of us. Once they actually shot off a harpoon right over the heads of the guys in the small boats. It could have easily killed them.


If we do not manage to stop the actual killing, then we want to stop the off-loading of the whale onto the slipway of the Nisshin Maru. When we leave Melbourne for campaign, we always say, the captains say to each other, “We’ll see you on the slipway of the Nisshin Maru.” Because that’s our goal. That’s where we want to be. If we can stop the transfer of the whale onto the factory ship, then we can stop the killing. Because the rule of the whaling fleet is that the whale needs to be offloaded in four to six hours.


The only reason a whale needs to be offloaded in between four and six hours is otherwise the meat’s off, the animal’s been dead for too long. In scientific research it should not really matter that much. If we can block that transfer, if they cannot transfer whale off to the Nisshin Maru, they can’t kill any new ones. That’s always a very big one to try and stop the transfer.


Wyanda: How do you manage that risk? Are there rules?


Sam: Being a ship at sea, there’s always rules that you need to follow. At least Sea Shepherd can say, we’ve never, ever, in all our campaigns, not just the Southern Ocean campaigns, we’ve never hurt anyone who we fight against. We can’t always say that from our enemies, so to speak. There is a very big risk involved. Obviously, you don’t become a captain on a Southern Ocean campaign overnight. You don’t go down to the Southern Ocean as a captain on a ship you’ve never been before, without knowing what Sea Shepherd stands for and what we do. I started in 2013, and I did become a captain within a year.


This is my first Southern Ocean campaign, as a captain. I’ve done two Southern Ocean campaigns before. One was an anti-whaling campaign. Obviously, we do talk about what we can do and what we can’t do before we leave as captains. The main thing is we have one thing, we have one goal and that is protect the whales. The crew knows that, the crew has a choice. They’re volunteers. They have a choice. They can be on the ship or they cannot be on the ship.


Obviously, although priority number one for me is to stop the whales from being killed. My second or third is I protect the crew as much as I can. I want to take them all back to port safely. Of course, I don’t want to sink the ship or damage the ship. My most important thing is saving the whales or any marine life I’m protecting. Whatever kind of campaign I’m on. Then the life of the crew. They know that. Everybody knows that, because otherwise, they wouldn’t be here. They’re also passionate.


We turn off the heating down in the Southern Oceans to save fuel. Nobody complains. If I would do that in the Navy, where we’re all just doing our job because we need to pay the bills, I cannot imagine turning the heating off. Being somewhere in Norway or whatever because they would complain. Here we just put on another jumper, we walk a little bit faster to keep warm. They don’t care. If it saves us days to spend more days in the Southern Ocean looking for the fleet, they say, “Go for it”.


Sam: You’re in Dunedin calling in on the way back to Australia, having You’ve been at sea since December, is it?


Wyanda: Yes. We left Melbourne the third of December last year. We spent 83 days at sea. We have been contemplating filling the ship up with fuel and food and everything and going back down. Deep down in all our hearts that’s what we want to do. Because the Ocean Warrior, our second ship of Sea Shepherd is still down there, trying to chase the Nisshin Maru.


We also know where the Japanese fleet was located last. It’s over 3,000 miles away from Dunedin, which takes us at least two weeks to get there. That’s going down with good weather. It could even be longer. Instead, we’re starting to get to the end of the whaling season. The end of the whaling season is mid-March. It’s the end of February. If it takes us two weeks, we get there mid-March. Then, it’s really hard finding the Japanese whaling fleet. We might get there and they might be on their way up.


Sam: Don’t ships have to have a transponding thing on saying where they are?


Wyanda: Ships over a certain size need to have this, but as soon as those ships, like the Japanese whaling fleet, leaves territorial waters they turn it off.


Sam: So, you’re out there, going backwards and forwards trying to find them.


Wyanda: Yeah, as I told you, they have a self-allocated quota for 1035 whales. The area that on the scientific programme that they used to have until 2014 was not really a very big area down in the Southern Ocean. It was the Ross Sea, which is Australian. New Zealand has a part of territory waters there. There is a part that is French, but in 2014, the international court of justice and the Hague ruled that what they were doing was illegal, so they came up … That year, Japan did not go down to kill any whales. They came up with a new research programme in 2015 and we couldn’t go down because we didn’t have enough money to protect the whales. The self-allocated quota went down to 333, only Minke whales. Which for us is a massive win.


The plan is for 12 years. The number they don’t kill for one year, they can add on to next year. Even if we had managed to save 333 whales this year, they can add it on to the quota for next year. That will go on for another 10. Last year, they had 333 Minke whales. They killed them. The majority being pregnant females. We’re talking at least 500 Minke whales that they killed.


They also extended the search area to at least twice the size. This is massive. We’re talking about half of the Antarctic continent that we have to circumnavigate to try and find them. It’s like finding a semitrailer in the size of Australia. It’s really, really difficult. Lowering the number to 333, in all the years that we have been defending the whales in Antarctica, they never really managed to get much more than that number. For us to say we saved 333 lives is really not going to happen.


The most important thing that we can do now is, of course, I tried to save those 333 whales. Because it’s still too many. For us, we need to put pressure on the government, the Australian government, the New Zealand government, whoever owns territory waters there. Or whoever feels like those animals should be protected in the whale sanctuary, we need to convince the people that it needs to stop. There’s only one group of people that can do that and that’s the government. The rules are in place. It’s very easy. It’s the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary.


Sam: Are the governments, are the navies down there doing the same things?


Wyanda: The Navy is not down there. Australia does have a custom built or purpose built ship. It’s an ice breaker. A few years ago, it was an election promise that they would send a ship down there. They never did. They flew a plane over where we were, but the plane can’t interfere. It can’t do anything apart from taking photos. It is important but they never did anything. Australia is not doing anything, as in the Australian government doesn’t do anything.


When we found the Nisshin Maru on the 15th of January this year, it was the day after Prime Minister Abe of Japan was actually in Australia. A lot of people say that we timed this, I don’t know why they even think that is possible. If I could time finding the whaling fleet, I would time it day one we arrived in the Southern Ocean. The prime minister of Japan and the prime minister of Australia they were slapping each other’s backs and they’re so happy with the good friends they are and the trade agreements they have and how well they can fill each other’s pockets. Yeah, our government basically says, “We’re very disappointed that you’re whaling again in the Southern Ocean,” that’s basically it.


Sam: The Japanese variously call you eco-terrorists and so on.


Wyanda: And pirates.


Sam: Pirates. You play that up yourself. You’re wearing a skull and crossbones.


Wyanda: If you look at our logo, we’ve done it. Paul Watson did that on purpose. Because they said, “You know, you guys are pirates.” If you look up the definition of pirates, it’s a ship at sea that doesn’t belong to a flag state. If we were pirates, we’re not allowed to fly the Dutch flag. We’re not pirates because we are registered in the Netherlands. Most of our ships are registered in the Netherlands. The Brigitte Bardot, I believe, is still registered in Australia.


If you have a good look at our logo, it is a skull, but it has a dolphin and a whale. Our crossbones are actually the trident of Neptune, the god of the sea. It’s not really skull and crossbones. Yeah, it’s a very well known logo. We have been asked to take down our pirate flag of the ship, to take it down in port. I said, “You know, it’s not a pirate flag, so we don’t have to take it down. We are not pirates.” I don’t care if they call us pirates. I don’t care if they call us ecoterrorists. Really honestly, you know, they can call us names whatever they want. It doesn’t hurt me. I think it makes us better anyway because we’re proud of what we stand for.


Sam: I was going to say, from your marketing background, it’s a good thing.


Wyanda: It’s a good thing.  They talk about us. That’s all we want. The most important thing that we can do this campaign we knew that it was really hard to stop the killing of 333 Minke whales. The most important thing for us to do was to show the world that they are whaling again in the Southern Ocean. Because a lot of people thought that Japan had given up, but they haven’t, they still do it. It’s a smaller number, which is great, but it’s still not small enough. It’s got to be zero.


We still know it’s commercial whaling. All we wanted to take away from this campaign is let the world know that they are still doing this. We still need to pressure the governments. There’s still a lot of people out there that never heard of Sea Shepherd and what we stand for. That was the most important thing. That’s what we wanted to show. That’s what we wanted to take away.


Of course, we wanted to keep that number zero. It’s so difficult. We just have two ships. They have the factory ship. They have the three harpoon vessels. Now they also have what they call a krill observation ship, but it’s just another security vessel to find and spot the Sea Shepherd vessels. Because as soon as they know where the Steve Irwin is, one of the harpoon vessels will be on our tail at all times.


We cannot out run them. We’re too slow. We had a harpoon vessel with us for 36 days after we found the Nisshin Maru. For 36 days, this ship has not been able to kill one single whale. Look at the running costs of our ship during campaigns, about $5,000, Australian dollars a day to run one ship. Our crew, the volunteers they don’t get any wages or anything.


The minimum cost to run a harpoon ship is at least $5,000 times 36 days. Then, there’s one harpoon ship continuously looking for the Ocean Warrior. That’s another $5,000 a day going down the drain. That’s two harpoon ships that can’t kill any whales. It’s just such a waste of money. It’s money that’s being paid by the Japanese people. It’s their tax money that’s going there.


Sam: Do you have supporters in Japan?


Wyanda: We do. We even have crew members on the ship from Japan. Yes, we do. There’s another very big campaign on land in Taiji where they capture and kill lots of dolphins that are being brought into the cove. We do have a lot of Japanese there fighting our cause as well. Yes, we do.


Sam: When you’re close to a ship, do you talk to them over the radio in Japanese?


Wyanda: No, we don’t. I tried to talk to them. I tried to communicate to them in English this year. That was when we got the harpoon ship following us. They do not respond on radio. Maritime language is English, it’s not Japanese. We all speak English. Most of us do anyway. I told them  that they were killing illegally in the Southern Ocean sanctuary. That they should stop their actions and go home. I was going to report them, which I did. There’s no reaction. The captains have been told not to talk to us, obviously.


Sam: You’ve got the advantage of a helicopter.


Wyanda: Yes, we do, which is really good. Because that was our means of finding when the whaling season has started. It was Franz, the helicopter pilot that found the Nisshin Maru. He has a cameraman and photographer in the helicopter at all times, when I send them out on a search pattern. They were able to get the photos and the videos that we’ve been able to send out to the world this year. It’s really important because the area now is so big. With a ship like the Steve Irwin being not so fast, we need that.



Sam: Do you need an incident, as well? What do you need to do to capture the imagination?


Wyanda: The most important thing is that, I guess, we can tell the world that Japan needs to stop killing whales in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary. If we don’t have anything to support this, we can’t show that this is happening, although everybody knows that it’s happening, but a lot of people would rather close their eyes and not think about it. If it can bring out the images and they’re very graphic, that opens people’s eyes. Does it mean it needs to happen? Yes, we need to capture the moment that we find them hunting or killing whales because that’s what speaks to people’s imaginations. If they can actually see what’s happening, then people get upset and hopefully they will be upset enough to stand up with us and fight the governments on this.


Sam: We’re on the Steve Irwin. Tell me about the Steve Irwin.


Wyanda: The Steve Irwin was built in 1975. She’s actually quite an old lady. She was a fishery inspection vessel from Norway, from protecting the oceans in Europe, she’s now in protecting wildlife all around the world. It’s a very comfortable ship. She’s not new, but over the years, she built up a lot of character. She’s the flagship of the fleet. Paul Watson used to captain this ship quite a lot when he was still out at sea.


For me, being on the Steve Irwin, as captain, it was actually quite an honour. It is not a lot of captains have been here. There’s Paul Watson and Chief Jacob Arte, he’s one of the well known captains within Sea Shepherd. He took her down to the sea, down to the Southern Ocean the last time. Now it’s me. It’s an amazing ship. She’s very comfortable. She’s very stable. She handles the ocean very, very well. This is very important in the Southern Ocean because we all know about the screaming sixties and ferocious fifties. The sea state can change in no time. You really need a ship that can handle the sea quite well, and the Steve Irwin can.


Sam: What’s next for you?


Wyanda: My next step is to go home. We’re leaving on Monday, going back to Melbourne. Then, I go home and take a break. I want to see my dog. Then, I’m going to go see my parents in the Netherlands. It’s been awhile. I’ll take a break, and then, the campaign I did before the Southern Ocean campaign, operation was Operation Jeedara. It was a campaign in Australia to protect the great Australia bight from drilling of big oil companies in the great Australian bight. It was BP that wanted to drill, now BP has pulled out. It’s Chevron that still wants to drill for oil and Statoil. The great Australian bight is one of the few wonders we’ve got left in the world. It’s full of wildlife. The sea states there can be massive. Because there’s nothing between Antarctica and the great Australia bight in Australia.


We did that, we had media on board. We made a documentary that is going to be launched in April, the end of April. I will be there with Jeff Hanson, which is the Sea Shepherd Australia director. Bob Brown our ex Greens leader and one of the aboriginal Mirning Elders that was with us on the campaign. We’re going to launch this documentary. That will be my next, next thing with Sea Shepherd, which is not on ship, but it’s on land.


Then, they’ll just call me and let me know when I may need to step on the ship before. It could be the Steve Irwin. It could be the Brigitte Bardot. It could be the Sam Simon. It doesn’t really matter. We don’t necessarily have the same ship at all times. We have to be flexible. They just tell you, “We need you here.” You can either say yes or no. I’ve come to the stage where I don’t really say no anymore. Because I love what I do. I think our cause is absolutely great. There’s not so many captains that do this kind of thing or that can afford to do this. I can. I think it’s right.


Sam: Is it a juggle, managing a ship and managing a campaign? Or are they the same thing really?


Wyanda: There is a campaign leader on land. It’s Alex Cornelissen. He’s the Sea Shepherd global director in Amsterdam. He’s a campaign leader. We have a whole media team on shore that helps us. Helps us spread the word, once we’ve found the Nisshin Maru. It is a juggle, already to manage a ship in the Southern Ocean with 35 other crew members. The good thing is that we want to be there. We all are so passionate. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Managing a ship is difficult as in you are in the Southern Ocean. You are so far away from the world. If something happens and the weather is so unpredictable and it can be quite dangerous.


The career isn’t really the hardest thing. It’s just doing the campaign and trying to find the Japanese whaling fleet. Communications with the Ocean Warrior, Captain Adam Meyerson, he’s on the ocean where it’s sometimes very difficult because you are in Antarctica and although we do have satellite phones, we do have internet, it doesn’t always work. Our communications to land and to other ships is difficult. Everything together we have the two captains, we have onshore help, the campaign leader. The whole media team behind us obviously. We have a team on board but also media team on the shore. One in Australia, one in the Netherlands. It doesn’t matter what time it is, for us, there’s always somebody available media-wise to help us to get the word out what we need or what we want to get out.


Sam: You have certainly got the attention and emotion perhaps of the community, the huge queues on the wharf yesterday.


Wyanda: Yes, absolutely. I understood that 80 to 90% of New Zealanders are behind what we do. We know in Australia we have the support of over 80% of what we do of the Australian people and still the government is not listening.


Sam: Are the governments opposed or just not engaging?


Wyanda: That’s a difficult question, they’re definitely not engaging. I think for them, it’s just not important enough because it doesn’t matter what you do with animals and in protecting lives. There’s no money in it. We all know the only reason they want to be friends with Japan is because they want to fill their own pockets. This is how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.


Sam: Okay some questions to finish with. Do you have a go-to definition of sustainability?


Wyanda: I think awareness. People get aware of what’s happening in the world is very important. If they don’t know that if we don’t live sustainably then it doesn’t matter what you do. Obviously, I think that the life in the ocean … What Paul Watson says is true. If the oceans die, we die. If the oceans die, we die. If we can’t fish sustainably, the ocean’s going to be empty by 2050 and life on Earth won’t exist as we know it.


Sam: Are you opposed to all fishing?


Wyanda: I’m not opposed to all fishing. I’m not opposed to sustainable fishing. I’m not against Eskimos up in northern Canada that kill seals for a living, but they use every single piece of it. They use the skin. They use skin for boots and everything. They don’t have other means. They can’t go to the supermarket. I’m against the illegal fishing, of course, illegal scientific research. I’m against massive corporations that are being sponsored by crime syndicates. That do have a few legal boats out in the ocean, but they do have some illegal boats. Those illegal boats often they catch onto the legal boats. That’s how it gets mixed up and they get away with it. Because our ice fish campaigns were really … they really broke open that whole … Nobody actually knew about it. It really got so much attention to what was happening. No, I’m not against all kinds of fishing.


Sam: We’re writing a book about these conversations. We’re calling it “Tomorrow’s Heroes” in that we’re asking people to describe their super power. What is it that they’re bringing to the fight for the positive future. What’s your special super power?


Wyanda: Mine or Sea Shepherd’s?


Sam: We’ll get to yours first, then we’ll ask Sea Shepherd.


Wyanda: My super power, I think it’s passion and being able to motivate the crew to keep doing what they’re doing out at sea, so we can help create awareness in the world.


Sam: What’s Sea Shepherd’s?


Wyanda: I think Sea Shepherd’s power is very close to mine. It’s being able to have so many passionate people trying to help reach a goal. Which is defending helpless marine life forever in the world by using the ships as direct action. Direct action is the key for Sea Shepherd. There’s plenty of organisations out there that fight for the same worldwide funds, Greenpeace. Greenpeace went down in the Southern Ocean, the last time they went down was 2008. This is our eleventh campaign. We keep going. Direct action is the key. If you don’t actively defend the animals out there, losses don’t change overnight.


Sam: I think you’ve just answered this question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Wyanda: Yes, I do.


Sam: Why?


Wyanda: Well, because I and the rest within Sea Shepherd, we stand up for what is right. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we stand up for the law. Although, like with this campaign, the laws are in place, but there’s nobody to enforce them. We want to make sure that it is being done.


Sam: How far would you push that?


Wyanda: Alex Cornelissen, he is the Sea Shepherd Australia, sorry Sea Shepherd global director. I told him I’ll do whatever is necessary to protect the whales. That’s what Sea Shepherd does.


Sam: Would you risk the life of your … You’re already risking the life … putting people out in little boats in the Southern Ocean. How far can you push that?


Wyanda: As I said before, every crew member when they step onboard a Sea Shepherd ship going to sea, they know they’re going to risk their life, at some stage, protecting the animals. Obviously, especially in the Southern Ocean, this is a very important thing. It can be very likely a few years ago, the Bob Barker during one of the operations in the Southern Ocean got sandwiched between the Nisshin Maru and the Sun Laurel. The Sun Laurel is the re-fueling tanker that they charter for the whole whaling season. The Bob Barker is only half the size of those two ships and they had to throw out a mayday because the Nisshin Maru was pushing so much that it nearly capsized. It’s a big risk we’re taking. Over the years, the Japanese whaling fleet has become more aggressive towards us because they’re not able to meet their quota. They are losing a lot of money.


I told my crew clearly before I left that I am willing to take those risks, if they don’t appreciate that, they are not willing to take it, they are okay to leave the ship, before departure, obviously, but nobody leaves. How do you manage that? Obviously, I need to assess the situation if we do get a confrontation. We did not really have a confrontation this year, so I didn’t have to think about what I was doing. It is something that is on my mind constantly down in the Southern Ocean. How am I going to handle what kind of situation. What I think with all my sea going experience and being an ex-Navy officer, I think we are kind of trained to make decisions on the spot.


Sam: Not get too excited perhaps.


Wyanda: No, and I know a lot of crew … There’s a lot of crew … In the past, a lot of crew wanted to join because of Whale Wars. Because that’s what they wanted, the direct action, the confrontations. Of course, there’s always crew disappointed that we did not have a confrontation this year. That’s not why we go down there. I go down there to protect the whales, not to have a confrontation with Japanese whaling fleet. Which is linked together. If I could stop the Japanese whaling fleet from killing any whales without a confrontation, I would do so. Because it’s still also my responsibility to get a crew home, safely and in one piece.


Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Wyanda: The animals, the whales, absolutely.


Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years? Are you going to keep doing this?


Wyanda: I will keep doing this. Honestly, I can’t see myself doing anything else at the moment. I’ve done this since 2013 now. I never thought that I … the same as with the wildlife shelter, I would go there for a week which turns out two weeks, four weeks. I loved it and I stayed for three years. Now, I do this. My passion has always been water and animals. Now I combine these.


I never thought I would be a captain in the Sea Shepherd. Because in the Navy I didn’t have no ambitions, whatsoever. I just wanted to do something that I enjoy and now I’m here. I love it. Yes, I think I’ll be doing this for a while. It’s an organisation that does what I stand for. We have the same, I think we have the same view of life, and that’s being so nice on a ship. Because when I was at the shelter and me being so passionate about saving animals, I never met people who thought the same as me.


Well my boss at the wildlife shelter, Klina, she thought the same. I love animals. Most of the time more than people. I never thought there was so many people out there that thought the same. Then I joined Sea Shepherd and I came onto the ship and the people thought the same. I thought, “Wow, this is amazing.” A whole world opened up.


My challenge would be, for me, I’m ready to go back down next year to the Southern Ocean to defend the whales. As I said, Sea Shepherd can ask me to go to any kind of campaign. If it’s defending whales or sharks or dolphins or sea urchins or whatever, it doesn’t really matter for me. I’m here to do what they want me to do. I will defend turtles or whales with the same passion as I’ve gone to the Southern Ocean or defend kangaroos and koalas.


Sam: Perhaps somewhere warmer and calmer water.


Wyanda: Yeah that would be nice at times. I think we have been very lucky this campaign, we’ve had quite nice weather. Even the transit down and back up here to New Zealand. Of course I look at the weather forecast, but you can’t always outrun the weather. I think we’ve been kind of lucky. We did not have waves higher than five or six metres which is not too bad considering.


Sam: What can you operate in? What can you put the little boats out in?


Wyanda: The small boats, if we pitch too much, we can’t launch small boats, so sea state of a metre and a half I would reckon that’s going to be nearly impossible.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur, what would you have happen?


Wyanda: I think there’s two things that I need to do, that I  would like to have happen. First of all, I want to end animal cruelty in the world. I think a lot of that connects with religion. I think if we could get rid of religion, we can get rid of a lot of shit that happens in the world, so to say.


Sam: What’s the smallest thing that would make the biggest possible difference towards that?


Wyanda: I think if people would respect each other a little bit more, regardless of religion, or regardless of what you stand for. The smallest thing that could produce change or help us is the smallest donation of whatever kind for Sea Shepherd that is going to help us to try and change the world. I know we won’t change the world overnight. I know Japan is not going to give up whaling next year or the year after, but even a donation of 50 cents towards Sea Shepherd will help us fight our fight and will keep us going in the next years.


Sam: Lastly, you’ve just answered this as well, but I’m going to ask it anyway, because then it’s going to get you a free hit. Do you have any advice for our listeners?


Wyanda: Advice for your listeners, I think, regardless what you believe in, I think it’s good to stand up for what you believe in, within you’ve got to look at the law and what’s allowed obviously. It would be good for people to open their eyes and realise the things that are happening in their own back yard. A lot of people do not know about all the illegal, unreported fishing and over fishing of the oceans. They need to have a look at what they actually put on their plates. Where does it come from? How has it been caught? Have a look at that and then decide again what you eat.


I don’t want everybody to become vegans, although our ships are vegan. Not everybody needs to become vegetarians but have a good look at what is actually happening out there. Not just seafood, but any food that you put on your plate, that can make such a big difference. If you realise that we can’t keep going like this. We can’t have so many billion people in the world and keep eating what we’re eating. It’s impossible.


Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.


Wyanda: You’re very welcome.





You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics. Brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We’re broadcast on Otago radio and podcast on On sustainable, we’re building up a search blog of conversations with people from many different fields who are applying their skills to a sustainable future.


In our conversations we try to find what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of Captain Wyanda Lublick of the Steve Irwin, from the Sea Shepherd organisation. He’s been chasing the Japanese whaling fleet around the Antarctic. We’re off tomorrow to Melbourne.


Wyanda: Melbourne, yes.


Sam: Then to home.


Wyanda: Then I go home.


Sam: You can follow our links on Sustainable Lens to find us on Facebook. You can listen to Sustainable Lens via iTunes and various other places for free. That was Sustainable Lens. I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you enjoyed the show.


ocean science

Sharks! A sign environmental regulations are working





The Environmental Revolution…we put in all this legislation because we recognised all those problems. Here we are 40, almost 50, years later, and we’re seeing the top predator in our coastal ocean recovering. I would argue that that is a sign that we’ve been doing some things right.



Dr. Chris Lowe, Professor of Marine Biology and Director of The Shark Lab at California State University Long Beach.


Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens, Resilience on Radio. A weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher, and me, Samuel Mann. Shane’s not here tonight because I’m at the California State University of Long Beach. There’s big signs up everywhere that just say The Beach. So we’re at the beach.


Each week we talk with someone making a positive difference, and we try to find out what motivates them, what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens, appropriately for the beach, is that of Dr. Chris Lowe, Professor of Marine Biology and Director of the Shark Lab here at California State University Long Beach. Thank you very much for joining me.


Chris: Sure. It’s a pleasure.


Sam: Big picture things first. Where’d you grow up?


Chris: I grew up in Martha’s Vineyard, a little island off Cape Cod. My mom’s family had been on the Vineyard for a couple hundred years. We were whalers and sea captains and commercial fishermen and things like that. So I grew up fishing. Something I did everyday as a kid. I loved it. Then I learned to dive. First in my family to go to college, and they couldn’t understand why I wanted to be this strange animal called a marine biologist. Why didn’t I want to be a fisherman or a carpenter or something? I kind of broke the mould. I was the black sheep of the family.


Sam: Did you always want to be a marine biologist?


Chris: Probably since I was about eight. I really … I just found marine animals fascinating, and I just love learning about them.


Sam: Where’d that come from?


Chris: You know, I think it was I was just naturally drawn to them. I was fascinated by them. I would catch these different fish. I remember the first shark I caught. I was eight. I didn’t know what it was, and it actually forced me to go to this place called a library. I wasn’t a big reader, but that actually got me interested in reading. I spent a lot of time in the library learning about sharks, and that was it. I kind of knew what I was going to do, even though I didn’t know what that was and nobody in my family could tell me what it was.


Sam: Did you have a mentor or somebody that inspired you on that?


Chris: You know, I did. We had a shellfish hatchery on the island, and I met one of the marine biologists that was running that. He kind of took me under his wing and kind of got me interested in marine biology, and that was my first kind of mentor as somebody who did this for a living.


Sam: So you took yourself off to college.


Chris: Yeah, so I got a Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology at a place called Barrington College, which was in Rhode Island. Then that led me to Central America, where I worked for a couple years building field stations. Then I came to Cal State Long Beach, actually, for my Master’s degree to work with a guy named Don Nelson. He was kind of a world pioneer in shark behaviour, and he started the Shark Lab here at Cal State Long Beach back in 1969. Don used a lot of technology, I’ve always been a technology fanatic, and he used a lot of technology to study sharks. A lot of the technology that’s used all around the world today was developed here at Cal State Long Beach.


Sam: When you went off to do your B.S. in Marine Biology, is marine biology like studying everything but underwater?


Chris: It was and that was good because what it did was it gave me a big broad perspective. I was learning about algae and invertebrates and all these things that weren’t necessarily my favourite, but I still found them interesting, and it gave me that kind of breadth. I had a better understanding of what sharks eat, for example. I think that was very important, part of my early career, was to have such a broad base in the study of all those different things.


Sam: What did you enjoy the most?


Chris: You know, we did a lot of salt marsh work, and I love slugging around the mud and doing beach transects and things like that. Even though I wasn’t working with sharks, I still loved that part. We were out in the field a lot, and that was the part that really kind of got me going. It even got me interested in things like chemistry and math and all the things that I didn’t think were important in marine biology, I learned to appreciate more.


Sam: You’re still doing a lot of field work?


Chris: I do.


Sam: There’s a group of students behind you cleaning off the boat. You’ve been out recently.


Chris: They’re getting ready.


Sam: Oh, are they?


Chris: We’re preparing for our summer field season, and they’re getting the boat ready to go. They’ll spend a whole summer living out at Catalina Island working on orange sharks and game fish and things like that.


Sam: What’s the question for this summer’s work?


Chris: Well, we have about eight projects running this summer, so that group that’ll be out at Catalina will be tracking horn sharks, which are kind of like Port Jackson sharks in Australia. Cute little sharks. They feed on things like sea urchins and crabs, and we believe they’re actually a keystone species for the kelp beds. I have a grad student who’s going to be using new devices we call Smart Tags that we clamp on their dorsal fin. It’s like a backpack that we put on their dorsal fin. It measures acceleration in three dimensions, and it has a gyroscope so we get a compass heading. We get a temperature and a depth that they’re at, and we can then put a transmitter on them and then follow them around and see where they go.


One of my grad students has been calibrating the Smart Tag in the lab by feeding sharks different types of meals, and we can actually identify what they’re eating based on their movement signatures.


Sam: How they’re wiggling?


Chris: Yeah.


Sam: Swimming differently or something.


Chris: Well, when they’re feeding. For example, when a horn shark eats a sea urchin, what it does is it has to pull all the spines off the sea urchin in order to get to the shell. When they do that, they get a lot of up and down, bouncy movements. So we can tell when they’re eating an urchin because they do that up and down, bouncy thing. But when they’re eating a crab, that becomes minimal, and it’s more side to side. We can begin to tease out those signatures and identify what they’re eating, so the goal would be in the field, we won’t have video cameras and somebody watching, but we can use the acceleration signals to figure out what are they doing during the day? What are they eating at night?


Sam: Do you have a pile of students frantically getting equipment ready at the moment?


Chris: I do.


Sam: Testing a lot of gear that’s not behaving.


Chris: Exactly. We’re getting ready for field season because we’re coming into the season when all the fish are going to be active. Our waters are going to start warming up. Productivity blooms in the spring. This is a big time of year for us, and summer is our big field season. In addition, we have a lot of fishers, just recreational fishers, that volunteer for us. They love it because they get to fish in a marine-protected area. But the coolest thing is we share the data with them. So they get to see not only all these big fish that they normally wouldn’t get to catch because it’s protected, but they’re involved in the science. They get to see how we collect the data and begin to understand why we do what we do, and they become awesome ambassadors because they go out and fish with their buddies, who are fishing in non-protected areas, and they tell them about the things that we’re finding. That’s how we’re changing, hopefully, the way fishing is done in southern California.


Sam: In terms of the big question, the really big one: why sharks?


Chris: I think a lot of it has to go back to when I was a kid. That fascination of seeing that animal that looked different than every other fish that I’d caught and not knowing what it was. Then really digging in and learning more about them. The more I learned, the more I realised well they’re just a fish, but they’re a very different fish. That kind of set me off on this path. I’ve studied sharks and stingrays and skates and, basically, the whole gamut is interesting to me. Unfortunately, there’s no money to do shark research, and that’s where my love of fishing comes in because … There’s actually a lot more funding to study game fish, fish that people like to eat, or fish that people like to catch, so a lot of my research has focused around that.


Then also the fact that I grew up fishing. I love to fish. My family’s living came from fishing, and I want to see that continue.


Sam: You probably hate this question but I’m going to ask it anyway. What’s been the ongoing impact of Jaws?


Chris: That is a major one, right? I think it’s had some good impacts and some bad. The bad impacts, of course, are people are afraid of sharks. The good impacts are that people are interested in sharks. Jaws only transitioned into Discovery Channel Shark Week. When you think about it, there’s an entire network that was dedicated, originally, from programming about sharks. The entire Discovery Channel Network started with that. When you think about it, it’s pretty remarkable. I mean, there are tonnes of books out there on sharks and snakes and whales and dolphins and things like that, but how many have their own week of programming?


Sam: Is it an irrational fear?


Chris: I think so. I mean, much of my job is dedicated to providing people with science-based information about sharks to help convince them that they’re not thin, mindless, feeding machines that people have imagined them to be. That’s hard to overcome because mass media has contributed a lot to that. I’m in the process of writing a book for the general public talking about how what we’ve learned about sharks over the years, the science behind what we’ve learned about sharks, and a little bit about why I think people think the way they do about sharks. A lot of it comes back to how our brain works.


In the early days when we would have to go out and fend for ourselves, hunter/gatherers would encounter dangerous animals. Then sometimes they’d have to fend them off, sometimes people would be killed, but they’d come back and they would talk about these vicious animals they encountered. People who weren’t in the field, maybe people who were just hanging around the camp, would intently listen about these things, and these stories would be scary because this was a scary event. What happens is your brain gives you a little happy juice when those things happen. That’s why people go to horror flicks because they get off on a little bit of being scared. But evolutionarily, it’s good for us to be scared. You remember those things. You paint that picture in your head. The tough part now is for us to convert that image that people have in their heads that have come from that scary stories and begin to give them some reality.


The other thing is, people are not aquatic. We don’t feel at home in the aquatic environment because we’re not aquatic, which adds another layer of fright to it. I can relate it back to wolves or bears or mountain lions. 150 years ago, we killed all those animals. We saw them as potential threats. They worried us. Sometimes they hurt people. They killed people, so we killed them. We’ve eliminated all the land predators. About 25, 30 years ago, we realised that that was not a good idea because ecologically, all the things they fed on were no longer being controlled. Like deer on the east coast. We’ve spent a lot of time and money bringing those things back, and a lot of that’s required science to learn more about wolves and their behaviours. That information’s got out into the public. The cool thing is, if I were to take the average person out and we were to go walking through Yellowstone and we were to see a wolf, and people were to see that, they would go, “Wow! That’s awesome! Look at that wolf!” If I were to ask, “Are you frightened right now,” they would go, “No because I learned all about wolves.”


Now the funny thing is, now imagine it’s night. It’s completely dark and I play back a wolf howl. Now they’ll know that’s a wolf, but if I ask them if they’re scared, they’ll go, “Yes.” If you ask why, they’ll go, “Well, I can’t see it.” Humans are very visual. We rely on our vision to reassure us. Here’s an example of an animal that most people will go, “I’ve learned a lot about wolves. They’re very caring. They’re group-oriented. They’re not potentially dangerous.” All those sorts of things. But that part of our brain that tells us I am no longer in control. I am no longer in my comfort zone. I’m at night. I’m not a nocturnal animal. I can’t see this animal coming. All of that programming changes. This is a difficult thing to convince people that sharks pose very little threat to them. It’s hard to get out of your head.


Sam: I’m a distance ocean swimmer.


Chris: Yeah.


Sam: I swim along and the way to deal with it, is you just pretend it’s not happening.


Chris: Exactly. But that’s hard to do, right? These are things that I think we’re making progress. Let me give you another good example. Whales. Okay, 100 years ago, 150 years ago, people were scared of whales. Whales were dangerous animals. They killed people. Now remember, most people never saw a whale, but whalers that would come back from these voyages where people would be killed by whales would talk about these horrible events where somebody was killed. They would paint these pictures. Now, you know the other part of the psychology is when somebody’s telling a story about something scary and people listen, they tend to embellish. What happened is these stories get scarier and scarier as time goes on. Moby-Dick, for example.


Okay, so by the end of the ’70s, most whales in most oceans had been hunted to the verge of extinction. Scientists are trying to do work on them. We’re trying to educate the public. Whales become protected in many coastal waters and many international waters. There was a lot of educating done about whales. What do we know about whales now? They’re mammals like us. They nurse their young. They’re highly intelligent. They’re very social. I think what really happened was whales got a very good PR agent back in the early ’70s, and they did a great job at changing people’s perspective about whales. Now, if we were to go out and somebody were to jump in the water and a whale to swim by, most people will go, “Oh, that’s a whale. That’s awesome!” They wouldn’t be scared at all.


How do we go from that with whales-


Sam: At the same time, when sharks got a very bad PR agent, from their perspective.


Chris: Exactly. So we’re in the process of rebranding.


Sam: They’re also, for some cultures, tasty.


Chris: That poses another problem. In many ways, that was a double whammy. People were afraid of them. They were scared of them, and they didn’t have a problem with fishermen catching them. In fact, they were doing double good. Not only are you eliminating threat, but you’re providing people with a meal. We quickly learned that this is where, one of those places, where sharks are different than other fish. So a shark and a tuna, two very different beasts. Tuna? 20 million eggs in a spawn. A shark may only produce one young every three years. How many tuna can you take before you completely deplete the population? By the way, that tuna can reach sexual maturity in two years. That shark may not reach sexual maturity until it’s 22-years-old.


Sam: Which is a lot closer to mammalian type reproduction.


Chris: They’re more like people. What we learned, literally in a 40- or 50-year period, very rapidly, is that you cannot fish sharks, rays, like we fish other fish. They’re more like people. They’re very easily over fished. When you do over fish them, it can take decades, or even a century, for their populations to come back. These are things that have been difficult to educate the public on mainly because of that fear. They saw that as a double good. You’re keeping the waters safe for us humans because you’ve eliminated the predators. Much like land predators, we have a lot of educating to do.


Sam: Are they indicator species? Are they keystone species? Do they represent the health of the ecosystem?


Chris: Well, most sharks are either intermediate or top predators, which means on the food pyramid, there are fewer of them. Their populations are most easily impacted, but they’re never very abundant. The top predators are usually the apex. The ones at the very, very tippy top are never super abundant because there’s never enough food to support them. So they’re easily impacted. White sharks are a good example of an apex predator that’s probably been impacted worldwide for over a hundred years. Now, there’s no direct commercial fishery for white sharks. There’s never been one. There’s been a recreational fishery, a trophy fishery for them here and there, but their numbers are so low that they could never support a commercial fishery.


Their teeth are incredibly valuable. Their jaws are valuable. Their fins. Their meat is perfectly edible and valuable, but they’re just not abundant enough to support that. Nonetheless, we saw their populations, what we think, go down from over fishing, mainly of the babies. A baby white shark is about a metre and a half long, about five feet long at birth. A female will give birth from anywhere to 2 to 14 sharks that size. One of the things that we’ve learned in the last 10 years is that a lot of these young white sharks like to hang out off our coastal beaches. Here in southern California, we have probably one of the largest nurseries for white sharks in the Northeast Pacific.


When I was a grad student here at Long Beach back in 1989, I never heard of that. We heard about adult white sharks up around the central California coast in the fall but never heard about a baby white shark ever. Then about 10 years ago, it started to happen. Fishermen started catching them on the piers. They’d catch them on the beaches. We’d get footage of people seeing them just literally right outside the wave break. Last year, we tagged 22 off Huntington Beach in a single summer. The numbers have just been going up and up and up.


What happened was this got me thinking about, “Okay, wait a minute. We’ve been telling the public that shark populations have been going down. How can this be? This doesn’t make any sense.” I didn’t believe my own data, so for a year, we collected more information, and we looked at more data, and we collected historic records, and the data all showed this trend of numbers going up. There were even other scientists who were saying, “No, the population’s going down.” We kept saying, “But this doesn’t match. You can’t have more babies without more mommies. Things have to be going up.” Then I started to ask questions. Well, how can the white shark population go up? Let’s just say, for example, that I’m right and the population is going up. How could that be?


Well, the white sharks have been protected in California for 20 years. In 1994, the state of California passed legislation to prohibit capture of white sharks. Mainly because they recognised the importance of white sharks in the ecosystem, and they recognised their vulnerability to over fishing. So for 20 years, they’ve been protected. There had been fishery interactions. Commercial fisheries have caught juvenile white sharks, and they landed them prior to 1994. But many of those commercial fisheries have gone away. They’ve either been banned, their use have been banned in certain locations, or the fisheries just went extinct because they couldn’t make a living anymore.


Just protection alone might have allowed some of the population to come back. However, that’s not enough to explain the trajectory that we saw. So what else does the population need to recover? Well, it needs food. So what do adult white sharks eat? They eat marine mammals. Then I started looking at marine mammal populations. Then is when the bells really started to go off. Our coastal seal and sea lion populations are some of the biggest carnivores we have in our coastal oceans. They’re warm-blooded like us, and they eat fish like gangbusters.


When you looked at their populations, to give you an example, in 1920 it was estimated that there were as few as 2,000 California sea lions in all of California and Baja. By 1920, they had been hunted to what biologists thought was the verge of extinction. If a fisherman saw a sea lion, they simply shot them. They viewed them as competitors. In 1973, the Marine Mammal Protection Act goes into place, and we see a steady uptake in California sea lion population. In the mid-1980s, there’s a dip. That dip was because of the last strong El Nino we had. Because the food got pushed offshore, a lot of sea lions starved. Then after that, in the mid-90s, when we heavily regulated commercial fishing in California, we see the greatest influction. Population was estimated to be growing at a rate of 6.5% per year at a time when we were telling the American public that we had fished out our ocean. We eat the same things sea lions eat, so if we fished out the ocean, how is this population growing at a rate of 6.5% per year?


Now population estimates for California sea lions are somewhere between 220,000 to 470,000 animals. They went from the verge of extinction to maybe the most that have ever been on the planet, in less than a hundred years. They did that because we protected them. Is it any surprise that the white shark population’s recovering if there’s all that adult white shark food out there? Now the question is, how does the sea lion population grow that fast? They need food, too. We’ve been telling the public … On the news, we hear about over fishing is a big problem and pollution is killing all the fish and we’re taking too many. How are they getting enough food? We’ve done a lot in the last 40 or 50 years to better manage our fisheries, to better manage our water quality.


In the US, we had what I call the Environmental Revolution, which occurred in the late ’60s. So Rachel Carson and all these other kind of alarm sounders about all this environmental damage that we had done through the US Industrial Revolution, which happened from the ’20s through the ’60s. As a result, we passed the US Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Wetlands Protection Act, the Magnuson-Stevens Act. In California, we passed the white shark protection. We banned the use of nearshore gill-nets. We passed the Marine Life Protection Act. We put in all this legislation because we recognised all those problems. Here we are 40, almost 50, years later, and we’re seeing the top predator in our coastal ocean recovering. I would argue that that is a sign that we’ve been doing some things right.


Now the interesting thing is, if you look in many of our coastal environments like southern California, we have 22 million people that live within 60 miles of the coastline. Every single one of those people flushes the toilet every day. All that water goes out five pipes. In the ’70s, California had the worst water quality that existed probably anywhere in the country. We were discharging raw sewage, basically, offshore. We had the industrial waste going into that wastewater treatment. Clean Water Act forced a massive restructuring of that. Now in southern California, we have complete secondary, in some cases tertiary, wastewater treatment. We have some of the best wastewater treatment that exists anywhere in the world, basically accommodating a huge population density. We have cleaner water now than we did fourty years ago, with three times more people.


Sam: Is this a sign that southern California can be sustainable?


Chris: I think so. I think so. I would argue that the steps to sustainability are recognising that there’s a problem, which is what has happened. People had to get disgusted with the air quality. People had to get fed up with the water quality. People had to be upset about over fishing. Enough so that it forces governments to do things. In addition, all those things, all that legislation comes at a cost. We, as citizens, pay taxes to cover those things. New technology has to be developed. That is a really important step to this process because the way you make water quality sustainable is you have to develop new technology to clean that water, to recycle that water, reuse that water. The only time that technology gets developed is when you have a problem.


I think the key in these steps are you recognise there’s a problem, people do something about it, and then we develop new technology that helps us remediate or deal with those problems.


Sam: It seems like this is a good news story. We should be celebrating it. So why aren’t we? Is it, perhaps, there’s a fear that if we get it too right, the sharks will come back?


Chris: Well-


Sam: We’ll be afraid to go back in the water again?


Chris: Well, yes and no. What I’ve been telling people is there are things that we should be definitely cheering about. We’ve solved a lot of problems and the recovery of that … Bringing back top predators is a sign that the ecosystem’s getting healthier. However, there are going to be challenges that come with that, and that is we’re going to interact with these animals more, and sometimes those are going to be negative interactions. The tricky part is, I would argue two generations of Americans have had the benefits of unfettered access to the ocean, to use it for all our recreation needs without worry of having to interact with those predators. But we’ve spent a lot of time and money trying to bring these animals back, and now that they’re coming back, we’re going to have to learn to share.


In my opinion, the way we do that is through education. People in many places have not learned to recognise and manage risk well. I think that’s particularly true in the United States. Okay, you go to Disney Land. You expect to be able to get on a ride and that ride will be safe. There are inspectors. There are all these strict codes that they have to adhere to to ensure that when you go there for fun and recreation, you will be safe in the park. When you go in the ocean, that disclaimer doesn’t hold true. That’s the part that people have forgotten. Even though we use the ocean for recreation, there are risks that we have to assume ourselves. Nobody else is responsible for those but ourselves.


When you go in the ocean, you could be bitten by a shark, but the likelihood is already so ridiculously low, that it is not worth worrying about. Nonetheless, you have the choice about whether you want to go in the water or not. Now if there are sharks sighted in that area, you have the choice as to whether you want to take that risk or not. I think what we need to do, and what I need to do as a scientist, is provide the best science-based information that we have about sharks and their behaviours to give people information so that they can make good, educated decisions on what they’re going to do and how they’re going to use the ocean.


Sam: Is there media society interest in this too? There’s certainly the lots of interest in shark tourism and the people wanting to go and feed the sharks sort of stuff. Is there interest in the work you’re doing?


Chris: I think there is. I think it’s growing. I think people’s attitudes towards sharks are changing, and I think the more science we use, the less fear. It’s like anything. The less you know about something, the easier it is to be afraid of it. The more you learn about it, the less you may fear it. One of my life’s goals are to provide the public with good science-based information about sharks to help alleviate those fears. The other thing is if people aren’t afraid of them, they’re going to care more about them, and therefore, they’re going to do more to protect them. I think we’re seeing that. In other words, I think what we’re seeing now with sharks is the same thing we saw with whales back in the ’70s and ’80s. We’re seeing a change in attitude where people are going from, “Kill them. They’re scary animals that could hurt me,” to “You can’t kill sharks. They’re important. We need to protect them.”


Unfortunately, that pendulum can go too far that way. To the point where people don’t think it’s right that a fisherman should be able to catch and eat a shark. They argue that shark fisheries aren’t sustainable, and that simply isn’t true, either. This is, again, where we have to use science to provide the public with the best information because we don’t want people wanting to protect animal fur for just those reasons that, “Oh, we needed to protect them 20 years ago, but now the populations are back. But we should still protect them.” In many ways, I think we should still be able to harvest and eat sharks, but we have to do it smartly. We have to do it sustainably.


Sam: Do sharks have personalities?


Chris: To a certain extent.


Sam: You can tell them apart by how they behave?


Chris: Yeah. In many ways, they’re not that different from people. You’ll meet people who you know who love to bike. That’s their favourite thing. If you give them all these different options of how to get around, they would prefer to bike, and they’re really good bikers. They’re good riders. They know how to ride well. They can ride in any conditions. They can mountain bike. They can street bike. We find very similar sorts of trends with sharks. There are some sharks that like to eat this one type of prey. If you watch them, they’ll feed primarily on that, and they’re really good at it. But they won’t eat other things, or other sharks may be more effective at eating those things and have learned to feed more effectively on a different prey. In that sense, we do start to see kind of trends or some people could call it a personality. But those sorts of things are common in sharks and other fish.


Sam: Do they have complex societies?


Chris: They do have pecking orders. They have clear pecking orders. They’re, to a certain degree, social, but I don’t think we fully understand all that. They do have networks. We have seen studies where some species will hang out together, individuals will hang out together, and they form, what could be, social groups. We don’t know about that just yet. You know males and females quite often separate at certain times of the year, and they occupy different habitats. The only time they come together is to mate. We’ve seen, what could be, cooperative hunting in some species. So there’s probably some of that, but not as much as we’d see in mammals, for example.


Sam: When you have students come in, what are they wanting to do now? Is it that they’re people that, like you, think, “I’m going to study sharks. That’s what I’m going to do.” Or do people find their way here by accident, perhaps a mix of those things?


Chris: A majority of the students that want to come work with me for grad school, that’s the primary thing they want to do. They want to study sharks. My wife, who’s a marine mammalogist, studies seals, and she argues that it used to be dolphins. Everybody wanted to become a marine biologist to study dolphins. Dolphins are out now; sharks are in. That’s part of that people losing that fear of sharks and wanting to know more about them and study them more. So that’s increasing.


I think the thing that I’ve noticed the most since being a professor, and looking back at my career, was my reason why I wanted to be a scientist was I wanted to learn about the animals. That generation that I was in, that’s what drove them to be scientists. This generation, if you were to ask them that big picture question, why do you want to be a scientist, why do you want to be a biologist, why do you want to be a marine biologist, and their answer is different. It’s “I want to protect things.” It’s amazing. This is a generational thing. Then I say, “Well, aren’t you just interested in learning,” and they go, “Well, of course, but we have problems to solve.” As an ecologist, it’s interesting for me to see that regime shift in philosophy. Why they want to be a marine biologist is to learn to conserve things.


Sam: Does that mean you have to include policy and such that in your feature?


Chris: Yeah. Absolutely. I teach a class in fisheries ecology in conservation, and the whole point of the class is to get them to understand that we have 8 billion people on the planet, and they all need to eat. Fish is an important food that we need to feed the masses with. Fishing isn’t going to go away just because some populations have been over fished. We still have to find ways of having fisheries, making them sustainable, and to do that, we need people who have good training and backgrounds. That might mean studying fisheries from different angles. What I mean by that is there are some people who are more interested in the beast, studying the fish and its ecology and its life history and its population dynamics. But there are another group, I call that group the more social group, who begin to understand when you regulate a fishery, you don’t regulate the fish; you regulate the people.


In order to do that, you need people who have good training in sociology, who have good training in psychology, who have good training in policy, and in regulations. Because you’re managing people, not a fish population.


Sam: I’m thinking of the Maui’s dolphin in New Zealand, which seems to be on a relentless march to extinction, despite the obvious solution being stopping fishing in a couple of reasonably small areas.


Chris: Right.


Sam: Perhaps that’s not a wicked problem, but are there areas where you do have wicked problems? Those things that you just can’t untangle?


Chris: Well, I think the biggest one, the biggest challenge … While I’m excited and I think what we’re seeing are signs that are really good here in California, and maybe in the US, the biggest one is global climate change. The problems that we have solved are regional problems. But global climate change, that’s different. That’s not the state of California saying, “We’re going to do this to try to reduce carbon emissions,” and those sorts of things. Or the US saying, “We’re going to do this,” or even a bunch of nations saying, “We’re going to get together and do this.” This is everybody on the planet pitching in to do something. That is hard. That is really hard. That’s going to take more than climate scientists. That’s going to take more than biologists and fisheries biologists. That’s going to take more than economists. That’s going to take everybody. I think that is a big, big problem.


Sam: How sensitive are the sharks and other fish to climate change?


Chris: Well, we’re trying to figure that out now. We’re already seeing shifts in populations that we are pretty convinced are attributed to these global climate change issues. Rising sea temperatures and things like that. But we don’t know exactly how those populations will be affected. They have the ability to move, so that automatically gives them a little bit of buffer. But other animals that can’t, like sessile invertebrates and things like that, they’re kind of screwed. But nonetheless, those are integral in the food chain, and somewhere along the line, they’re going to impact sharks. I see that as our biggest challenge now.


With the Maui’s dolphin, and here in California and Mexico, we had the Vaquita dolphin, where we have a limited area, the animals are definitely on the track for extinction. But you run into these challenges where you have these subsistence fisheries, you have these small scale artisanal fisheries, and you can’t shake your hand and say, “Oh, it’s the big industry that’s doing this.” You’re talking about people who are living on like $5,000 a year and putting them out of business. So we have to be more creative. We’ve done it in other places. We’ve done it at certain scales. The tricky part is quite often populations that are under these impacts, it’s more than just fishing that’s driving these issues.


I did a lot of work in Hawaii, and the Hawaiian monk seal is one of the most endangered marine mammals in US waters. However, it’s also one of the most isolated marine mammals. The Hawaiian Archipelago that they use is some of the most isolated areas in the entire planet, and yet its population is still declining even though humans have the least amount of interaction with that species. In some cases, you’ve got to wonder is it just evolutionary if the clock has run out on the species. We might have accelerated the clock a little bit, but their ticket was punched a while ago.


Now, the US government invests a lot of money in trying to keep that population going, but all the while, we have all these other populations that are really just getting hammered, but they’re not as charismatic as a seal. What do we do about those? Plants that are going extinct at unbelievable rates. But how do you get the public to rally around a plant? Or a toad?


Sam: No. Most large animals have the advantage of being charismatic megafauna. Sharks don’t, perhaps, have the charismatic, but at least-


Chris: Well, they do. They do. Maybe not as much as a dolphin or a whale.


Sam: There was a cute one in Finding Nemo.


Chris: Exactly. Whales, sharks, and things like that are … People can kind of rally around those species. But it’s all the others. What worries me is that there are a lot of conservation groups, there are a lot of NGOs, that will selectively pick those species because they know they can get funding for them. Yet, some of these other species are ignored. Who’s going to look out for those?


Sam: Is there something that ordinary people can do, perhaps in their purchasing, that would help? Can we avoid shark fin [crosstalk 00:41:03]?


Chris: Sure. In fact, I think this is the education component. We have to have multiple lines of defence when it comes to protecting species. We have to have federal protection. We have to have state protection. We have to get grass roots. We have to get people educated so that they understand why these regulations are in place and what they can do to minimise their impacts. Then after that, it’s really the consumer. The consumer has all the power. If people don’t buy a certain species of fish, or if they don’t buy shark fins, fishers won’t catch it.


Once we get past the marketability issue, then we have to get back to bycatch issues. Those are things where fishers are catching things while they’re trying to catch something else, and those things get just discarded, and that poses another problem. But I look at those as technical issues. Those are where we just have to find better, smarter ways of fishing that are less impactful, less stressful, less destructive. If we can develop all this other technology, why can’t we do that?


Sam: What’s your go-to definition of sustainability?


Chris: I would say the ability to keep doing what we’re doing with the population that we have now. I realise everybody has probably a different definition of that, but for me, it would be the ability to keep doing what we’re doing with the population we have now. With a growing human population, the game changes, I think. Because what I worry about … The reason why I think we’ve been able to be sustainable with agriculture, with some of our fisheries and things like that to date, has largely been based on technology. If our human population growth grows faster than our ability to remediate or to modulate those things through technology, then it’s game over.


Sam: Does the premise of sustainability of us living on the land … but we’re not very good at thinking about people on other bits of land, cumulative effects of what we’re doing, other countries, and even worse, at looking into the future. I would put under the sea even further away than that.


Chris: Yes. I would agree. I think things are getting a little better, though. You know the whole global economy thing? I think people are starting to think more globally. You know what I think changed that? Was our ability to go into space. For people to be able to see the earth from space, from people to be able to go online and see what the ocean temperature is anywhere on the planet at anytime. To see storms and clouds and things like that, and you can go on any computer, you can go on any smartphone, and you can see that anywhere on the planet anytime. I think what’s that done is it’s changed many people’s perspective. It’s made it more global and less regional.


Now there are obviously lots of humans out there that don’t have access to all that technology and may not have that same perspective. But I think that technology has helped change some of that. We still fight that it’s my inalienable right to take what I need to survive and forgetting the fact that you multiply that by 8 billion.


Sam: We’re writing a book of these interviews. We’re calling it Tomorrow’s Heroes. Trying to look at what people are doing now that we’re going to look back at hopefully and say, “That was awesome,” and we’re describing it in terms of people’s superpowers. How would you describe your sustainable superpower? What is it that you’re bringing-


Chris: I would say my superpower will be my students. I think a lot of the work that I’ve done has been, I hope, has made a contribution to the field. I do a lot, as much as I can, as a scientist to not just stay in my little scientific world but to get out to the public. What I’m trying to do is train my students to be more that way, to be a less selfish with their data and their knowledge and try to make it more accessible to the public.


Sam: What’s the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Chris: I think the biggest success that we’ve had has been in getting our science in the hands of the public. I’ll give you an example: some of the work that we’ve done on catch-and-release fishing. We’ve done some studies on different species of fish, and we’ve demonstrated that if anglers handle fish properly and they put them back in the ocean, like the regulations require, that those fish will recover rapidly. I think the key success for me was … In fact, it was very discouraging because when we had the data and we gave it to managers, managers said, “We can’t use this for regulations,” and we kept saying, “Why? This is great. We’ve shown if you bring a rockfish up and its swim bladder over inflates and you recompress that fish, it can survive that.” They go, “Well, we won’t pass a regulation because fishers won’t do it.” It was very discouraging to have such encouraging, supporting data and not have it used by managers.


Then what I started doing was giving talks at fishing clubs and just telling fishermen at what I had learned, and here are some things that they can do. Then they started inventing things, like devices to get fish back down. Before I knew it, they were actually going to managers saying, “We think you should put regulations in place, and we want credit for it.” It kind of changed my perspective on that. I used to think that I did science to help managers improve management, and I began to realise well maybe I’m doing the science for the wrong people. Maybe my science needs to go directly to the public, and when it comes to fisheries, who better than the fishers?


Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Chris: Not really. I consider myself to be an educator.


Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Chris: I love what I do. I love solving a problem. I love developing new tools that help us do something that we couldn’t do before. I love seeing my students get excited about what they do, and I love seeing them develop those skillsets. This comes back to my superpower hero, my students. I have students that have, so far, surpassed me in their careers, and that just is awesome. For me, I’ve done my job. Done my job. The next generation of student that I’m trying to develop are hybrids. They have computer science backgrounds or engineering backgrounds, but they have training in biology, and they have training in policy and all those areas. That’s what it’s going to take to make this planet sustainable.


Sam: Do you make much use of citizen science?


Chris: Actually, quite a bit, but it’s tricky because … We spend a lot of time training as scientists to be able to do what we do, and you can’t expect to pick somebody from the general public and just have them do what we do. However, the fishers that help us with our fishing science, that’s a perfect example, I think, of a really good citizen science project. All I’m asking them to do is be a fisher.   Catch me a fish. So they’re going to catch the fish, and they’re going to do what they do. Then we’re going to sample the fish, and they get to watch and help us with that. Then we let that fish go. Then we show them the data. But what if you handled this fish this way? Well, let’s do another experiment. Now we’re going to handle the fish, and we’re never going to touch it with your bare hands. We’re going to use a shammy cloth, so we’re not going to rub off any mucus. Then we’re going to measure all the same things, and we’re going to put it back. Then we’re going to show them the data. “Oh, you know, if I don’t hold the fish that way, look at the blood chemistry. The blood chemistry shows that the fish is responding better.” Or we recaptured that fish and there were no marks on the fish, so that means there’s less stress.


For them to see the data is very different than if I publish a paper and I say, “We did this study, and this is what we did.” They never believe us. They always go, “You science eggheads, you don’t know what you’re doing. You don’t know how to fish.” But if they’re involved in it, they see us, they watch us do it, they’re part of it, they believe the science. If they believe the science, they change their practises. If they change their practises, they convince their friends to change their practises.


Sam: What’s the biggest challenge you’re looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Chris: I would say the biggest challenge … You mean environmental challenge? Science challenge?


Sam: Both.


Chris: I would say the biggest environmental challenge we face is global climate change, without a doubt.


Sam: Not just the challenge of climate change but that’s also the big scientific question.


Chris: It’s how do we measure its effects, and simultaneously, how do we convince people to change their behaviours? Quite often, one helps the other. If we can measure some of these effects, then we have a better likelihood of convincing people, number one, that global climate change is real, and number two, that things that they do can make a difference. The examples I can use are water quality, marine mammals. All of those are examples. These are problems that we recognised, we found solutions, and look at … Things come back.


Sam: Isn’t it interesting how we mix the doom and gloom, because clearly climate change is a doom and gloom story, but we need to leave enough of a positive story.


Chris: Or else why would people want to change their behaviour? If they think it doesn’t matter anymore, that we can’t reverse it, that we can’t make things better, why would anybody change their behaviour? My theory on the doom and gloom is that it catches people’s attention. Like going back to the evolutionary parts of our brain. People are programmed to pay attention to things that can harm us. We listen to those things. We pay attention to those things. What the media has learned is that that makes news.


Now what we have to start to do is seed in some positive things, some things that we’ve done well. The funny thing is US agencies are horrible at that. NOAA has done some amazing things, but they are horrible about bragging about it, and they need to. Because if they can’t convince the public that we can reverse some of our fishery trends, or we can reverse some of our ocean problems, then why should people care?


Sam: Two more questions. If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur by tomorrow morning, what would it be?


Chris: How big?


Sam: However you like. I have a follow up question.


Chris: Okay, well if it’s a big wand, it’s a really big wand, it would be a big CO2 reduction. That would be a big one.


Sam: Okay. What’s the smallest thing that we could do that would have the biggest impact on that?


Chris: Smallest thing. Unfortunately, I don’t think there are small things when it comes to that. These are big things. It’s more than just magically sucking up the CO2 and making it disappear because it’s going to come right back. I think the biggest thing that we need to solve, as a society, is a renewable energy issue. That is our number one thing.


Sam: Tim Flannery’s talking about third wave technology, I think that’s what he calls them. Essentially carbon scrubbing, and a big part of that is seaweed farming to suck up carbon dioxide.


Chris: Sure.


Sam: But the area to which he’s talking about is massive, but it’s still a … Is that a doable thing?


Chris: Yeah. I think there are a lot of really smart people out there thinking about these ideas, and that is a good scrubber approach. Kind of a remediation approach. But at the same time, we have to stop using fossil fuels. We have to wean ourselves off that. We’ve over paved everything, which doesn’t help. You lose water that way, and you gain and you reflect heat. There have been really good moves to try to eliminate some of the concrete and go back to planting plants that are low-water tolerant, that can handle low-water conditions, those sorts of things. I think it’s going to be a bunch of small things, not one very big thing that makes a difference.


Sam: Lastly, then, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Chris: Yes. My biggest advice, the same advice I give my students, is you should always be asking why. That comes down to voting on issues. That comes down to listening to what scientists say. How do you know that? Why? Those are the most important things. Because if people ask those questions, that drives that change faster. That gets people motivated to do things because if nobody can answer those questions, then that means somebody needs to try to do that. Even scientists need to be asked, “How do you know that? What’s your evidence for that? Convince me.” If we can convince sceptics, that’s going to be good science.



This conversation was recorded at Long Beach in June 2016.


Dream a little

Bronwen Golder

I’m an advocate for balance, for a recognition of different values that are weighed equally. An advocate for cultural and environmental values that are considered equal to economic values.

Bronwen Golder is Director of the Kermadec Initiative, part of the Global Oceans Legacy programme of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Bronwen worked as a corporate banker in New York, then spent 20 years working internationally for WWF before returning home New Zealand to lead the campaign for the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

Talking points

The Kermadecs is an extraordinary underwater world, and the wonder of it is that it is basically untouched, near pristine. Too often in the conservation community we talk of conservation battles – protecting the last of a habitat, or the last of a species, and the Kermadecs is one of those places that is untouched – it gives us the opportunity to pursue a campaign that’s about the conservation of celebration, positive conservation to protect areas that are there as they have been for a very long time. Those undisturbed spaces are increasingly precious.

We have a changing baseline – the more and more we disturb it, the more we think that’s normal.

Because in the ocean environment we have these areas that are essentially untouched at scale, they function at scale – as healthy systems.

The minute you start to erode that scale or healthy system you start to erode the whole system.

It’s an incredible opportunity to do something positive in the conservation sphere.

I’d hate to be here in 20 years…saying we’re trying to protect the last 10% of the Kermadec marine ecosystem.

I’d hate for future generations not to have any fish to eat because our oceans have become unproductive.

(what did you learn as a banker) The skills about how do you assess risk, and what are the questions that you should be asking based on the information that you have, a level of critical thinking….you make a recommendation, and that recommendation can have risk lying within it, but you have to be confident that you can manage that risk.

Ethics is what you bring as an individual to the work that you do. You always bring that personal lens.

A lot of the economic development work ended up being connected to the environment. People such as the Yellow Eyed Penguin Trust, those people who 25 years ago looked at their local environment, identifying the things that were really special.

Ecoregion planning – planning at the scale of ecosystems.

My most rewarding time at WWF was seeing change happen – when you help to make change happen.

One of the things I’m most proud is of is designing and developing an approach to conservation planning and implementation, change makers…bringing together a group of people and thinking about what do we aspire to, then working to identify what we need to trigger, what are the the things we needed to leverage on the way to achieving that goal.

Working with colleagues and stakeholders to really leverage change, and to inspire change. Because those are the things that over the long term are sustainable. Those are the things that people buy into, and they sustain beyond you.

I often thought that my job was to become unnecessary. And that process was absolutely formulated around the idea that we inspired others to embrace the conservation agenda.

The Kermadecs will be a sanctuary for our children, and their children. To help form and reinforce their ethics, their sense of a healthy planet.

We have two values systems challenging each other. One is we have this near pristine marine environment, and we should be celebrating it as a natural space, protecting it for nature and for science and to ensure we have healthy oceans. The other is we need to grow our economy, there are minerals there, we don’t know how much, but it’s important that we find out. There’s a cultural clash there.

I’m not anti-exploration, I’m not anti economic development in the marine environment, our campaign has never been against anything. What I would argue is that there are areas of our ocean space that should be protected. And there are areas that should become a negotiated space.

We should be looking at full protection of a meaningful percentage of our marine space.

We haven’t been able to break through the sense that we should be looking for what we can exploit before we look at what we can protect. I think some levels of protection have to come first.

We’re looking for leadership from government, a recognition that management of our ocean does include protecting some of those places, in perpetuity from any form of destructive activity.

If there are activities that are going to disturb other areas of similar environment, it’s actually more acceptable if some of that area is protected.

I find the dialogue with industry at the moment a very constructive one, because from both sides – from the conservation side and on the extraction side – we’re recognising that the balance is not right. Because we don’t have balance, neither use – a protective use, or an extractive use – is being sanctioned.

(Letters to George) Getting people to think about really is that they want the next generation to find when we’ve all left.

What is the planet that we leave them? and what are the messages that we leave them with so that they take it on for the next generation?

Whether we fish our ocean or whether we protect it, we all have the same level of responsibility and accountability for what we leave.

I asked them to dream a little.

When you can bring science together with community, together with government, together with industry, to work towards a vision, that’s a very powerful thing.

What keeps me awake at night, is why don’t we seem to have that national vision, that commitment to something extraordinary that the generation of 2050 can inherit? Why aren’t we having that conversation about our ocean space? Why is our ocean space just a conversation about conflict? Why do we have a polarisation between those who want to extract resources and those who want to protect it, rather than a collective vision for our marine environment?

I’ve been intent within the Kermadec campaign to focus on the positive. To focus on celebrating a really special place.

(Motivation?) George. The next generation, and the one after that, and the one after that.

(Activist?) I’m an advocate for balance, for a recognition of different values that are weighed equally. An advocate for cultural and environmental values that are considered equal to economic values.

(Challenge?) There’s an awful lot of hope, how do we bring that together so that we really light the fire?

(Miracle?) Prime Minister convenes a forum of top ocean thinkers and stakeholders, and say “you have six months to come up with a plan that recognises and respects all values of our society in terms of this ocean space”. Then tomorrow he can create the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary.

(Advice for listeners?) To be involved. To care enough to have a voice. We’re all making changes, but sometimes we forget that protecting the environment is part of the sustainability equation. Advocating for nature within our political environment is a really important thing. Nature needs a louder voice.

conservation biology marine mammals ocean

Dolphin Research Australia

Dolphin Research Australia - Isabela Keski-Franti and Liz Hawkins

Every little step, every little change that you make is huge.

In the last of the Sustainable Lens #whaleofasummer series we are joined by Dolphin Research Australia‘s Dr Liz Hawkins and Isabella Keski-Franti. They talk about research, education and Indigenous Management Frameworks

As well as academic performance, students have to have character strength, they have to have a feeling of citizenship – they have to belong.

Students have to remember that they belong in the ecosystem.

Children are very curious, they want to know what is around them, it’s a matter of providing them with opportunities

One of our traditions is to give something back to our host, so how can we show gratitude and respect for nature and place?

(On kids fund raising to adopt a dolphin) It’s the interconnectedness of everything, that makes them understand the importance of saving an animal, that even though they don’t have a direct connection but they are doing something – this is empowering them in becoming a citizen – an active citizen in their community.

If you want to live in the dolphin’s world you would need to lose your eyes

Everybody can make the changes, everybody has a right to be different

There is a role for all of us – if you do what your character strength is

Making the change through connecting with children – helping them shift the status quo of our society.

To talk about an inter-generational future, we need to connect with our children and help them make connections with their ecosystem – this is activism. We need to be part of the ecosystems and working together.

We create our world, our reality, dependent on the changes we make.

(Isabela on challenges for the future) I find myself in a really good place. I am really doing what I love – what I feel connected with. I am an optimistic person. I live every day at a time. I have hope for the future, and I think my work with children helps a lot. And I’m working with people who are passionate about it. This helps a lot, and I’m blessed to be working with people that have great integrity, ethics and works as a team. So I can’t see challenge right now. Life is exciting.

(liz on challenges for the future). It’s always challenging keeping an NGO afloat – making science sexy to attract and attracting community support.

Every little step, every little change that you make is huge. So don’t feel overwhelmed by the news or what is happening around you. Focus on every little change that you make on a daily basis.

(Am I an activist?). I don’t like labels to be honest because I think they limit us. I like to think of myself as…everybody can make the changes, bit everybody has a right to be different. You don’t have to either be one thing or another. There is a place for everybody.
(I was very busy designing our dolphin education programme and someone asked me to a protest about oil seam coal mining)…I would like to be there, but I didn’t find it in me to be there because I was so excited about designing our programme, my insight was I didn’t have to be there – there is a place for everybody. We need the role of all of us – we do what our character strength is.
If I am making the change through connecting with children, helping them shift the status quo of our society – the focus inter-generationally speaking, for the families and our future – I see this as an activism. If others want to be more actively participating in manifests…I think that’s perfect we need all these ecosystems working together,

This is the last in the Sustainable Lens #whaleofasummer series recorded during the Biennial Conference of the Marine Mammals Society.

conservation biology marine mammals ocean

Whale rights

Philippa Brakes

What are those things that qualify human beings as having rights? What are the things that qualify an entity as a person? It’s extraordinary, a corporation can be a person and can have rights, and yet there are lots of species that might be able to suffer quite extensively but yet don’t yet have rights.

Philippa Brakes works with Whale and Dolphin Conservation ( where she leads the ethics programme. She is the co-author of Whales and Dolphins: Cognition, Culture, Conservation and Human Perceptions.

She talks with us about the role of the WDC in advocacy. We talk charismatic megafauna, personhood and the declaration of rights for cetaceans. She says that scientific whaling isn’t. And what is being done about. And we talk about the challenge of marine renewable energy installations.

Very much like us: long lived, slow reproducing mammals that just happen to live in the sea. They have complex social groups…but they’re very different to us too. Their world is usually one of sound, whereas ours is predominantly one of sight.

As an eleven year old we visited a zoo in Thailand and saw an elephant in chains…..and I went on and on about it…eventually my father said, “If you feel so strongly about it, why don’t you write to the King of Thailand” so I did. And that was the beginning of my career of feeling that I needed to represent those who don’t have a voice.

While I’m massively concerned about the conservation and sustainability implications of some of the things that are going on in the modern age, I’m also very concerned about the welfare of some of the individuals.

Individual behaviours have population level effects…but it is not really taken into consideration in conservation models. For socially complex mammals the individual is going to be really important in the future.

The spatial scales of other species who can transmit and communicate with each other across ocean basins…we can’t help but consider things from our own perspective. If you could talk to your friend who was 10, 15, 20 kilometers away, that makes your sense of scale quite different.

Whales and dolphins are not well adapted to life in captivity

If we focus on populations, knowledge rather than genes becomes the currency if it’s influencing fitness

Things are going in the right direction with whaling, but there’s still a lot more to do. They’re quite diminished from 150 years ago, so we need to be looking at protecting their environments better rather than looking at how many we can sustainably remove from populations.

(On a Minke whale from the area targetted by Japan’s whalers being found near Australia’s Great Barrier Reef) It’s important that we don’t get into the game of saying “they’re our they’re our whales we can do with them what we like”. The whales are their own entity, they should be allowed to go about their business unharassed.

The scientific evidence is such that it can be argued that some whale and dolphin species qualify on the basis of personhood.

We rightly have rights for my 4 year old daughter, yet we wouldn’t say here decision making is at the level of qualifying her as upstanding member of our society yet…just because an individual is granted rights doesn’t mean that they have associated responsibility. This comes up as a confusion ‘does that mean that Orcas shouldn’t hunt Hector’s dolphins?’.

Personhood is a legal term based on certain traits – communication, cognition, meta-cognition, all of those aspects – no-one wants to call them people.

The legal recognition qualifies them to not suffer psychologically, or physical trauma for any extended period. The right not to be subject to abuses.

(Am I an activist?). I wouldn’t call myself an activist, I’m an advocate. I’m a scientist who also works in the policy end of the debate.

This is the sixth in the Sustainable Lens #whaleofasummer series recorded during the Biennial Conference of the Marine Mammals Society.

conservation biology marine mammals ocean

Saving whale habitats

Sarah Courbis

Not so much about saving the animal as the ecosystem where they live – habitat destruction is the biggest threat to almost every animal on the planet

Dr Sarah Courbis is a Research Associate at Portland State University, specialising in whales and mammals in Hawaii.

This is the fifth in the Sustainable Lens #whaleofasummer series recorded during the Biennial Conference of the Marine Mammals Society. Sarah’s attendance at the conference was provided by the Conservation Council of Hawaii and Honua (Hoe-New-ah) Consulting.

We don’t need to anthropomorphise to make them interesting

They are really amazing social animals with lots of cool behaviours and intricate relationships

(Am I an activist?). I wouldn’t say that. I do have opinions. But as a scientist it is really important for me to go into a situation and do my research without having a desired outcome – I just want to see what’s true. Whether or not that supports my opinion, maybe I’ll need to change my opinion. I don’t think activist is a good way to describe my approach to things, but I would say I am an environmentalist, and I do think that it is important that we do understand and take care of our environment – and I’m hoping to do my little part to help that.

conservation biology marine mammals ocean


Tara Whitty

I don’t come in saying “hi guys, I know you’re struggling to survive, let’s save the dolphins”.

For me it has become as much about understanding and helping these communities as it is about helping the animals.

Tara Whitty describes herself as an aspiring ecologist, conservationist, do-gooder and wanderer. She is also a PhD student at the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Tara has developed an interdisciplinary approach, “mapping conservation-scapes,” synthesizing methods from ecology and social sciences. Conservation-scapes are the set of factors composing a conservation situation, encompassing: how human activity overlaps with and impacts organisms; sociocultural and economic drivers of human activity; and governance structure and potential for management. Tara is applying these conservation-scapes to developing an understanding of Irrawaddy dolphins in Malampaya Sound (The Philippines) and Guimaras Strait, Philippines; Trat coastline, Thailand; Mahakam River, Indonesia.

Talking points:

The over-arching issue is how do we look at fisheries management in a way that might contribute to dolphin conservation.

Socio-ecological systems: Systems that involve links an interactions between complex human systems and complex natural systems

I hesitate to distinguish between human systems and ecosystems. Ecosystem based management explicitly states that humans are part of ecosystems.

I’d like to see an set of social-environmental metrics…so we can rate sites based on social cohesion, community engagement, strength of enforcement…develop sets of profiles.

We can learn from areas such as public-health, they’ve had a long history of balancing collecting information and taking action.

The dolphins are not doing OK, they are being caught as by-catch at an unsustainable rate

Sometimes I would forget I was working on dolphins, because I was looking at very entangled issues of fisheries management, and those will take a long time to fix. Even if it doesn’t save the dolphins, it’s worthwhile doing it but you’re going to hopefully improve the ecosystem as a whole, including to improve human livelihoods. But realistically speaking I don’t think it is going to happen in time for these dolphins unless some serious triage efforts happen quickly.

Tara Whitty was in Dunedin as as part of the Biennial Conference of the Marine Mammals Society. Her talk was titled “Mapping conservation-scapes of Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) and small-scale fisheries in Southeast Asia: An interdisciplinary approach”.

After we recorded this session, Tara was awarded the J. Stephen Leatherwood Memorial Award for the most outstanding student presentation on marine mammals of South and Southeast Asia, with particular emphasis on conservation. Congratulations Tara.

This is the fourth in the Sustainable Lens #whaleofasummer series recorded during the Biennial Conference of the Marine Mammals Society.

conservation biology marine mammals ocean

Whaley wicked problems

Andy Read

Inaction is failure

Andy Read describes wicked problems as the basis of the situation of much of marine mammal conservation globally. But, he says, the wickedness of problems is no excuse for standing by while species go extinct.

Dr Andy Read is the Stephen Toth Professor of Marine Biology at the Duke University Marine Laboratory, in Beaufort, NC, USA. He is interested in the life history and population dynamics of threatened and endangered species, the application of spatial analysis to marine ecosystems, the intersection of oceanography and foraging ecology and the development of new approaches to conservation.

Trying to understand patterns and processes in an environment you can’t see…this mysterious world that exists in three dimensions. I found that fascinating, and still do.

Climate change is felt most keenly at the poles, we can work there to understand over shorter time periods ecological changes…as a signal of what’s coming in other places, we should be very concerned.

Wicked problems are complex, difficult to characterise, you don’t know how to intervene and if you do you don’t know if you’ve been successful or not – we have lots of those.

Tricky conservation problems keep you up at night – how to balance the needs of social justice and feeding 60 million desperately poor, with the ecological needs of 80 dolphins who are the last of their species.

Truly wicked problems are ones that don’t have answers, if they did they wouldn’t be wicked.

There are no technology solutions to wicked problems

So we’re concerned about the viability of the Mekong river dolphins, but if you think about the problem we need to solve, it’s food security for 60 million desperately poor people living alongside the river.

(We look for) strategies that benefit human communities and are as least damaging as possible to the environment

There are no solutions, just good or bad bad options

The conservation community was afraid of action, and we lost an entirely family of mammals (the baiji or Chinese river dolphin)

The more each of us thinks about how each of our actions impacts the sustaining systems, the better off we’ll be. We have to do this all the time, and it’s a challenge as we’ve evolved to be deliberately not good at making connections.

There is something innate about being human that we appreciate the complexity of the natural world – when we simplify it as a result of careless inactions it becomes a less beautiful place.

Conservation is a normative discipline, we believe that the loss of biodiversity is a bad thing. We should do everything we can to minimise that loss of biodiversity caused by human activity and to restore it where we can. In way, yes I’m an activist, but I feel all people working in conservation are activists – it’s a normative discipline and we accept that part of our science.

Dr Read was in Dunedin as a Plenary Speaker at the Biennial Conference of the Marine Mammals Society. His plenary talk was titled “Conservation of marine mammals in the twenty-first century: challenges and opportunities”

This is the third in the Sustainable Lens #whaleofasummer series recorded during the conference.

conservation biology marine mammals ocean

Succeeding at marine mammal conservation

Barbara Taylor

Threats are now largely invisible, it’s no longer the graphic carnage…now it’s more indirect but no less a threat to the species.

NOAA’s Dr Barbara Taylor argues that we need a new approach to marine mammal conservation. Principal current and near-future conservation challenges include direct human-caused mortality (via fisheries by-catch in small-scale fisheries and hunting) and an indirect reduction in population growth due to habitat degradation from over-fishing, environmental contamination, and global climate disruption.

Dr Taylor was in Dunedin as a Plenary Speaker at the Biennial Conference of the Marine Mammals Society. Her plenary talk was titled “All the ingredients—how to succeed at marine mammal conservation”.

This is the first in the Sustainable Lens #whaleofasummer series recorded during the Biennial Conference of the Marine Mammals Society.

communication documentary ocean science

Whalers turned citizen scientists

Tess Brosnan

The story of how whalers have become passionate protectors is the story of the change we all need to make

Tess Brosnan describes herself as a humble reporter on a quest to package science stories better. Tess has almost completed her Masters in Science Communication. Her film Whale Chasers, tracks the story of Cook Strait whalers who are now passionate about the future of whales and every year undertake the Cook Strait Whale Count. This is, Tess tells us, an iconic example of Citizen Science. We talk about science communication, documentary film-making, citizen science and hopeful tourism.

In her thesis, Tess describes how citizen science is helping to bridge the gaps between two communities who need to better understand each other. Hopeful tourism is a new discipline which aspires to do the same, rejecting prevailing tourism ideology. There is much evidence of a desire for more meaningful experiences which contribute to fulfillment of life purpose, rather than exploitation of people, animals and environment, materialism etc. There is also an immediate need to reduce human impact on our ecosystem, and for fine-scale monitoring to protect this ecosystem. It is here that citizen science may prove to be the perfect new form of tourism, mitigating human destruction, helping science, and instilling joy, knowledge and stewardship into those who participate.­­­

Film-making 101: don’t squeal when you see a whale

I’m not an activist, I’m a packager, I can be more useful by remaining neutral

Whale Chasers premiers at the Regent Theatre on the 25th October as part of the Science Teller Festival.

Shane’s number of the week: 95. Ninety five percent certainty that climate change is a result of human activity according to IPCC.

Sam’s joined up thinking: A European Commission report this week puts a price on the underpresentation of women in the ICT industry. The European Commission estimates that bringing more women into the ICT industry would boost European GDP by €9 billion. That ICT suffers underrepresention is not new, the challenge is what to do about it. This week I’ve been considering the new landscape of qualifications for computing and wondering if the new structure will help. I’m reminded of the computing for social good discussions we had with Mikey Goldweber and ask if we’re still missing the boat.