MEDIA-DRIVEN “pop” science about aspects of animal life is of limited contribution to long-term conservation, an international whale and dolphin conference has heard in Galway.
Such “short, sharp” sound bites do have a role, but can deflect attention from the need to support sustained collection of data and to maintain continuous monitoring, according to International Whaling Commission head of science Greg Donovan.
“Unfortunately, the nature of short-term research contracts is such that scientists are often under pressure to produce results, but there is nothing to replace the long, hard slog of collecting data,” he said.
In the case of protection of marine mammals, mitigation measures were of limited value without repeated monitoring of their effects. Yet when budgets were cut, “monitoring was the first to go”, Mr Donovan said.
The Cork-born scientist was keynote speaker yesterday at the 26th European Cetacean Society Conference in Salthill. The event was hosted by the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group and Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology and involved more than 500 marine mammal biologists from around the world.
Speaking on the conference theme of “communication” , Mr Donovan appealed for greater collaboration between scientists, and for ethical behaviour that ensured stakeholders – such as fishermen – were not demonised.
“Most fishermen I have come across don’t want to catch cetaceans deliberately; they know their gear and can often come up with very good ideas to avoid by-catches,” Mr Donovan said.
Dr Peter Evans, scientific director of the Seawatch Foundation and research fellow at Bangor University in Wales, noted that whereas several decades ago dolphins and seabirds had been by-catches of the now outlawed practice of salmon drift-netting, the new “threat” was from pelagic gill-netting and pair trawling.
He stressed the importance of proper management of special areas of conservation (SACs) to ensure competing interests did not conflict. “It is crucial that SACs are established for the right reasons, and that governments do not change their minds on the basis that they want to develop particular areas.”
An increase in depredation by seals, rather than humans, in Irish waters was the subject of one of more than 70 papers presented at the conference.
Photo Courtesy: George McCallum,http://whalephoto.photoshelter.com/index