Whale watching pioneer/advocate remembered

She was one of the first people I met when I moved with my wife and our one-year-old son Henry from distant Washington, DC to Cape Cod two decades ago to join the International Fund for Animal Welfare. I was the enthusiastic new boss – a young political animal who knew nothing about whales. She was the wise-woman whale-whisperer, whose reputation as the single best whale watching naturalist on the planet was already rippling well beyond her home base with the Center for Coastal Studies and the Dolphin Fleet in Provincetown, Massachusetts.

I called her “Dottore”; she called me “Senator”. We hit it off immediately; and she spent the next decade patiently midwifing me into the global gypsy-band of NGO, scientist, government, and marine business leaders working to promote responsible whale and dolphin watching worldwide.

Working from sea to shining sea in her own country, from the Eastern Caribbean to the Far East, from Argentina to Iceland, from Oman to Oslo and deep in the trenches of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, Dr. Carole Carlson personally pioneered, drove and defined the development of this fast-growing form of ecotourism, which now generates more than two billion dollars in annual income for coastal communities and businesses in more than 120 countries and territories around the ocean planet.

She was spectacularly effective inside Japan, Iceland, and Norway, the last three countries still killing whales for commercial purposes in the 21st century. As I write, news comes via AP that Japan’s Antarctic fleet has just slipped back into port from its latest sojourn having harpooned and processed 333 minke whales.

Government bureaucrats back at Japan’s Fisheries Agency will dutifully celebrate another successful (if illegal) season of subsidized slaughter, but even they know the war to end whaling is already won – both in international court and the court of Japanese public opinion. Like the market for what it produces, Japan’s whaling is dwindling to insignificance. Meanwhile, from Hokkaido to Okinawa and all around the Japanese islands, world class whale and dolphin watching is taking off. And that sector of Japanese ecotourism began with feasibility studies conducted by Carole Carlson and Japanese colleagues working with IFAW.

She was sharp and sassy and fun, with a slightly wicked laugh and, when she needed it, a withering glance. Her nose for crap of any kind was finely tuned; her tolerance of it in others and her restraint in calling it out were non-existent.

We had booked a catch-up visit several times over the past year, but we kept pushing it off for when she felt better. Her fight against cancer was valiant, and showcased her strength. Heartfelt messages and posts have poured in from around the world over the past week. We all miss her, but also already draw strength from her example.

If you missed the chance to meet her and never got to experience a whale watch with Carole first-hand, the video above as captured for IFAW by two of her biggest fans Mick McIntyre and Kate Clere of Second Nature Films gives a peek of the magic. The whales she cherished, studied and saved, and all her friends and admirers at IFAW and worldwide, wave Dr. Carole Carlson a fond, grateful farewell.

Ciao, dottore, ti amo!


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Azzedine Downes,IFAW President and CEO
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Beth Allgood, Country Director, United States
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Cynthia Milburn, Director, Animal Welfare Outreach & Education
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Faye Cuevas, Esq.
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