Hues of blues and vibrant greens reflect off the calm, clear waters of Lake Bled, a fairytale of a place located in the upper region of northwestern Slovenia. It is this quaint community of Bled, nestled in the foothills of the Julian Alps and famous for its cream cake, that set the stage for nearly 200 scientists from over 40 countries to present their recommendations for whale management policies at the International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee meeting in May.
The Scientific Committee (SC) is the body that advises the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on whale stock management and conservation measures. Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) Founder, Greg Kaufman is an Invited Participant to the SC and serves on several subcommittees including: Whalewatch, Southern Hemisphere whales, Small Cetaceans, Photo-ID and Non-deliberate Human Induced Mortality on Cetaceans. He also serves as the international whalewatch representative to the IWC’s Conservation Committee. Part of PWF’s presence at the IWC is to help ensure scientifically based management of the world’s whale populations.
PWF has been instrumental in providing a comprehensive assessment of the impacts and value of whalewatching. Greg is a team member for the IWC’s Modeling and Assessment of the Whalewatch Industry (MAWI) that will undertake a workshop in the next six months to define a long-term assessment on global whalewatch operations. Since 2010, Greg has also been involved in drafting an international Strategic Plan for Whalewatching. This plan is undergoing further review with an expected international roll-out in the next few years.
A dozen papers authored, co-authored, or using PWF data were presented to the SC this year. One of the most highly regarded papers was focused on photo-identification of Bryde’s whales in Latin America. This work, long thought to be near impossible to conduct, was co-led by PWF Ecuador researcher, Cristina Castro who collected and compiled the data. Barbara Galletti also presented research funded by PWF on Chilean blue whales, focusing on a small population found off the coast of Chiloe Island.
This year was historic in that the IWC allowed the creation of a working group comprised of members of the Scientific Committee and Conservation Committee, ensuring for the first time that conservation measures will rely upon scientific advice and not purely political concerns.
Despite the positive achievements at this year’s SC, members were left somber with the recent loss of Dr. Carole Carlson, a pioneering whale scientist, naturalist, conservationist and PWF Board Member. Dr. Carlson served on the Whalewatch Sub-Committee of the IWC since 1994, and organized and conducted multiple international whalewatching workshops.
One calm afternoon, traditional boats called pletna took members of both committees to an islet in the lake’s center where the Church of the Assumption of Maria is located. The evening commemorated Dr. Carlson’s commitment to the development of whalewatching guidelines throughout the world, and her dedication to education and scientific programs on behalf of whales and their natural habitats.
Many of her close colleagues said a few words, including Greg who made a very moving speech about his dear friend and the vision they shared. “Dr. Carlson was a visionary, a guardian of the sea, and an engaging advocate for public education and whale conservation. Her contributions are a living legacy to the protection of whales and their ocean home.” It was remarkable how Carole affected so many people. As the sun set over the still ice-capped mountains, a sense of hope embraced the gathering knowing that efforts will continue to be made in her memory to conserve and protect the world’s whales and our ocean environment.
Watch the Memorial for Carole Carlson, 14th May 2017, Bled, Slovenia.