Dr. Naomi Rose is one of the leading marine mammal scientists and is known worldwide for her amazing work on orcas. Naomi handles marine mammal protection issues in the United States and Internationally. She’s worked with the Humane Society, the Animal Welfare Institute, actively involved in several campaigns addressing the issues with cetacean live capture, trade & captivity and has been a member of the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committe.
Naomi Rose was kind enough to let us interview her on marine conservation:
Why do Whales matter?
I assume you mean cetaceans generally, not just large whales. Cetaceans are important ecologically. Small cetaceans, such as dolphins, are often top predators in their habitats. That means they are key to a functioning ecosystem. Large cetaceans, due to their large biomass, become a major source of food for many species when they die, including scavengers and decomposers (the loss of “whale falls” after industrial whaling decimated populations of large whales almost certainly disrupted deep ocean ecosystems).
To humans, they are important economically – they have a great deal of value as living resources for tourism, whether it’s whale watching or simply as icons (a LOT of whale and dolphin merchandise is sold world-wide). (Whaling is no longer a major industry, even in the remaining countries where it occurs, so this argument does not hold for dead whales. A living whale is worth far more to tourism than a dead whale is to the whaling industry.)
But perhaps most importantly for us, they symbolize the oceans. If we cannot save the whales, we cannot save ourselves.
What’s your “Ocean Conservation/Whales story?” In other words, how and why did you get started in this field?
I grew up watching Mutual of Omaha and Jacques Cousteau. I also loved John Denver. I was watching one of his specials and he had Cousteau on – he went out with the captain on Calypso and there were dolphins playing at the bow. I became fascinated by the visual images of these animals and by the song Denver wrote in honor of that trip (“Calypso”). I was 13 years old and after that, everything I did was to further my goal of becoming a dolphin biologist – the extra-curricular classes and programs I took, the books I read, the TV shows and movies I watched. I was really lucky to know what I wanted when I was that young.
What resources (blogs, books, websites) would you recommend to someone who’s new and interested in this subject matter?
I would recommend the Encyclopedia of Marine Mammals (Perrin et al.); An Introduction to Marine Mammal Biology and Conservation (Parsons); and Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity (Kirby) for books.
I would recommend David Kirby’s TakePart blogs (http://www.takepart.com/); WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation) blogs (www.whales.org); and perhaps Southern Fried Science, although that addresses broader topics beyond whales (http://www.southernfriedscience.com/).
As for websites, WDC is very good, as they only address whales and dolphins. The Society for Marine Mammalogy has some good resources (www.marinemammalscience.org). Voice of the Orcas is also a good resource website (http://voiceoftheorcas.blogspot.com/).
What question did I leave off/what message would you really like to get out there?
How the public is educated about marine conservation is critical. Right now, most people get what they know about cetaceans and their conservation concerns from visiting a marine theme park like SeaWorld and these facilities have a vested interest in misrepresenting the real-world situation. They actually compete with nature (they want tourists to spend their dollars by visiting a theme park, not by going on a whale watch or learning to sail), so they portray nature negatively, and they don’t want to depress people, so they suggest conservation concerns are less critical than they actually are. The marine science community has to insist that the information presented at marine theme parks is accurate, comprehensive, and unbiased. If they sit back and allow corporations – such as SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment – to control public education messaging on marine conservation issues, then they should hardly be surprised when the general public is misinformed about critical marine conservation issues.