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WDC provides supportive care to a live-stranded common dolphin. Credit: Andrea Spence/IFAW

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WDCS Member Becomes BBC TV Mastermind

Mastermind winner, Gary GrantThey can use tools, they can recognise themselves in the mirror, they often live in close social groups, some passing on knowledge from one generation to the next, but its not just whales and dolphins that are smart as Aberdeen born doctor and member of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Gary Grant (on right of boat) proved when he was crowned 2012 BBC Mastermind Champion today answering question on whales and dolphins in the grand final.

With other contestants in the famous black chair clocking up the points on subjects ranging from the History of Azerbaijan, to the Life and Works of JMW Turner, Gary, who has long been fascinated by whales and dolphins and their intelligence (and even adopts a dolphin living wild in the waters around Scotland through WDCS) had to be at his best to beat off the tough opposition and eventually triumphed with a score of 35.

As part of the pre final filming, 34 year-old Gary and a BBC TV crew joined WDCS staff on a boat up near his birthplace in the Moray Firth, Scotland to see the pod of resident bottlenose dolphins that live in the waters there, and this proved to be an inspiration for both Gary’s Mastermind success and for joining WDCS.

“When studying for the final, finding out about the number of entirely man-made issues that whales and dolphins have had to face – and still do – over the years, and about the recent and appalling extinction of the baiji dolphin made me determined to help in whatever small way I could”, says Gary. “And besides, whales and dolphins helped me win the final, so I owe them one!”

We now know that some species of whale and dolphin possess special brain cells known as spindle neurons, believed to be associated with emotional intelligence. As these cells were previously thought only to be found in the brains of humans perhaps, one day, it will be a dolphin in the Mastermind hot seat answering questions on Gary?!

Anyway, we couldn’t resist setting the new Mastermind champion some quick questions of our own.

1. Why choose whales and dolphins (cetaceans) as your specialised subject for the final?
I chose them because I’ve always had a love for wildlife of all sorts, and the sheer variety, in some cases size, and above all the intelligence of these animals makes cetaceans particularly fascinating for me. Plus, I thought there were just the right number of species for a good specialist subject!

2. What were you other subjects in previous rounds, and why choose them?
In Round 1, it was the ‘Seven Wonders of The Ancient World’ because I thought it sounded like the sort of high-brow and academic topic the Mastermind producers would like, but there are only seven of them so how hard could it be! Well, pretty hard as it turned out! In the semis I chose ‘The History Of The Monaco Grand Prix’ because F1 is my favourite sport, and I had been to the race in 2011 with my dad.

3. What made you become a member of WDCS?
Finding out about the number of entirely man-made issues that whales and dolphins face.

4. What do the people you work with and family say now that you are ‘famous’?
My friends and family have always called me a geek because I love learning things so becoming Mastermind champion has simply confirmed their suspicions!

5. Do patients recognise you?
I have been deluged with queries asking ‘how I did in the final’ which I wasn’t able to answer. Lots of my patients are viewers of the show – I ended up having to put a sign in the waiting room saying the final is on BBC2, 7.30 on the 11th May to save time during consultations. But even this backfired because the non-quiz show viewers asked “so are you in the Mastermind final then, doctor?”

6. What made you enter Mastermind?
Oddly, I wasn’t really a fan of quizzes but I had the show on in 2008 – just in the background, and I just started playing along out of boredom. I thought, as we all do playing at home, “I could do better than these guys” and so I applied. That year I got to the semi-finals, but unfortunately that wasn’t good enough for me as I am far too competitive a person, so for the last 4 years have been going to every single quiz I can (I even ended up playing for the Scotland national quiz team) in an attempt to improve – solely so I could go back on the show and win it!

7. What did it feel like when you knew you had won the whole competition?
Having put four years hard work into it, I think my first emotion on hearing that I had scored 35 points was just relief! Then that turned swiftly to disbelief, then about three days later I woke up and thought “crikey, I actually won that”.

8. What did it feel like not being able to tell anyone until the Final was broadcast?
This was very difficult because literally scores of my patients kept asking me, and because there were seven months between filming and broadcast; I also had to hide the trophy when certain people came round!

UK viewers can watch Gary win the final on BBC iPlayer.