Cetacean conservation: why maths matters

Time for questions

Greg Donovan

Conservation science can be said to have an additional requirement to ‘pure’ science – that is the need not only to do the best science possible and recognise its limitations – but the need to be able to influence decision makers and others of the need to take action to achieve the holy grail of good conservation status for populations and their environment. Almost inevitably, taking action will have socio-economic implications. The science itself is an essential, but not the only, factor that will be taken into account when politicians and managers make their decisions. The onus on conservation scientists is to quantify in an honest and rigorous manner the state of the relevant science – which often may involve complex modelling as well as baseline information on parameters such as abundance – but also then to find a way to present this in a fair way to an audience of stakeholders that is not familiar with that complexity. This, for many of us can be a greater challenge than undertaking the field and analytical work itself; we are generally more comfortable presenting our results to our peers. Successfully doing this requires, of course, excellent science, but also an understanding of the perspectives of stakeholders, many of whom hold the short-term economic and social factors as the most important and who understandably may be resistant to change; respect, not arrogance, is essential as well as patience and persistence. Time-scale is especially important for long-lived animals such as cetaceans with slow dynamics in a world of politics that is essentially short-term from election to election.