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The White Sharks and Whales Expedition

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WDC's own Erich Hoyt has won the ECS Conservation Award

We are celebrating the award of the European Cetacean Society (ECS) conservation award for 2013

The following is the speech given by WDC’s friend and colleague Mark Simmonds.

Erich Hoyt of WDC“There is amongst us here today a quiet, modest and altogether rather unassuming person who is also somehow simply by their presence able to add a certain positive quality to any meeting. This person brings a quality of reflective calmness, deep thoughtfulness and some even deeper philosophy.

Someone recently compared a conversation with this person to being gently ‘licked behind the ear’. My feeling is that such erotic fantasies are generally best kept to yourself but my damp-eared friend had a point, and many of us have benefitted from this year’s award recipient’s gentle wit and great wisdom. A seemingly simple conversation with this person can often help you make better sense of a mad world and even make you feel a lot better about yourself. (If we could bottle some of the magic that this person oozes, we would probably be able to sell it to great profit in health shops all around the world.) 

When Mandy McMath helped to establish this award she was very keen that it should recognise not only a significant contribution to conservation but that this should incorporate education and outreach. There are few who can compete with the outreach achieved by the recipient of this year’s award.

He occupies a unique niche as a teacher who is able to speak to a global audience and he effortlessly rides the electronic-superhighway blogging and twittering and pumping out ebooks as he goes.  He is a profoundly successful translator of science into both wonderful prose and concrete conservation action; he is also a scientific practitioner himself; and a champion of animals both very large and surprisingly small.  

As many of you know, to be successful in the ecological sphere it is helpful to be bearded (something that you ladies and many of you statisticians have been failing at for sometime), and preferably bespectacled and he (and there is a clue) meets this essential requirements too.

In a moment I am going to say his name for those of you who do not recognise him yet; but please hold the applause (but please also be coiled like springs, ready to explode when I conclude). I need to tell you a little more and I also need to relay one special message.

So, I am speaking of yesterday’s key note speaker – Erich Hoyt –

[there is an outbreak of warm applause at this point led by the council members and Mark ask again for quiet]

….a US/Canadian refugee who escaped some years ago across the Atlantic following his heart to make his home in that remote and frozen northern frontier zone of the United Kingdon, sometimes known as Scotland. He has, in fact, worked in many countries (he noted fifty yesterday) and as he told us yesterday and he recently helped to open up cetacean research in the Russian Far East through the FEROP project.

There is not enough time to describe all his other achievements but here are a few:

Erich actually wrote the first book on whale watching published in 1984– ‘The Whale Watcher’s Handbook’ – produced well ahead of this activity being widespread and popular – and has since championed the concept of responsible whale watching; his is actually the face that launched more than a thousand ships!

Erich has also produced the definitive text on Marine Protected Areas for cetaceans – and in fact he has done this twice. The second volume being so hugely expanded that many shelves have collapsed under its intellectual weight and many Easy jet flights have been pleased to charge excess baggage for it.

On your selves many of you will also find a book that may well have brought whales into your lives as it has for many people: Orca- A Whale Called Killer.

Erich’s writing  has fans in very high places and the famous ethnologist and Nobel Laureat, Niko Tinbergen, referred to a Orca- A Whale Called Killer as
“One of those rare, genuine books about a wild animal.”

And this book is still in print 3 decades after it was first published – making it almost older than Erich.

He also wrote

  • Creatures of the Deep
  • The Earth Dwellers
  • Sharks and Whales
  • Seasons of the Whale

And equally importantly Erich has several Children’s books to his name. The latest of these Weird Sea Creatures in now avalable in all good book shops and of couse via

Despite all this activity he has almost single-handedly reversed the population decline in Scotland and somehow found time to produce four offspring of his own.

He has also ‘given birth’ to some 500 papers, article and scientific reports.

It is a truly remarkable output.The WDC staff at the ECS conference 2013

I am fortunate enough to know Erich well enough to know that what he has done is far from effortless. Beneath the maple syrup is a steely intellect and his inspirational writing and speaking only results from the painstaking care and many revision of texts.

He is not new to awards – his writing skills have been recognised by many. His publisher proudly notes that he has 15 magazine and book awards  to his name including the Outstanding Book of the Year Award from the American Society of Journalists & Authors.

However, Erich this is an award from your peers in the conservation sphere and thus far more important; this Erich is the ‘Mandy’.

Erich is also a great facilitator of key collaborations – frequently bringing together stakeholders and sparring NGOs and uniting them with common purposes to great effect (although I doubt even he would claim responsibility for the recent highly productive union between Tethys and WDC, that some of you may have noticed).

[There is a slight pause at this point and some giggling.]

I have yet to find anyone who says an ill word about Erich and in the intensely political sphere of cetacean conservation this too is remarkable. (So maybe we can get him drunk tonight and see if we can get him to upset someone.)

Erich is the Senior Ressearch Fellow at the Whale and Dolphin Conservation [Society], where he is the Senior Research Fellow and this excellent organisation is guided by another fine and gentle-man in the form of its CEO, Chris Butler-Stroud, who is unable to be here but asked me to relay the following on his behalf:

“Erich represents the epitome of conservation science. As a scientist he is meticulous and thorough, not only does he publish his research and analysis, but is always striving to translate his work into practical and effective conservation policy.

He has acted as a mentor to a huge number of students and colleagues and has inspired a whole generation of conservationists to step up and defend cetaceans and the marine environment.

Today, Erich is a continuing inspiration to his WDC colleagues and we all wish to pass on our best wishes and congratulations”

And I would personally add that Erich’s name is now recognised as a stamp of quality on any paper, report or book. (So no pressure there Erich!)

So, ladies and gentlemen – are you poised?

Please make a huge noise to salute a man who (to quote him back at him) ‘thinks big, cleverly and out of the box’; someone who whether you know it or not will have affected your life; a writer born of other writers; the renown and respected author, researcher and emeritus-campaigner, the eponymous polymath, accidental therapist, cetacean champion and ant-friend, now call to the stage the recipient of the 2013 ECS Mandy McMath, Conservation award, my suitably bearded and bespectacled friend:  ERICH HOYT.

[A long standing ovation followed.]

Erich then accepted the award from Peter Evans, last year’s recipient, and gently thanked everyone.”