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ESEP
Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics

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ESEP 20:25-32 (2020)  -  DOI: https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00191

OPINION PIECE
From science only to science for conservation: a personal journey

Bernd Würsig*

Department of Marine Biology, Texas A&M University, Ocean and Coastal Studies Bldg., 200 Seawolf Pkwy., Galveston, TX 77553, USA
*Corresponding author:

Long-term studies of whales, dolphins, and porpoises (the cetaceans) in nature abruptly began about 50 yr ago, preceded by several decades of terrestrial animal studies, often of charismatic large mammals. Fifty years ago, intensive whaling was still occurring, and arguments against whaling largely centered around impending extinctions due to over-hunting, not the idea that cetaceans should not be killed due to natural or inherent goodness. In the 1970s, several USA and other government agencies promulgated rules to help control pollution and other insults to nature, often effective in the short term but not in stopping an overall decline in the health of nature. While there appeared a general societal awakening towards greater appreciation of nature and intrinsic animal rights, researchers largely stayed focused on their research, with little attention to using knowledge to increase ecosystem and animal health. Attitudes of direct scientific involvement in calling for environmental action have changed, as it is becoming increasingly (but not universally) appreciated that researchers who know the problems are well-suited to alert governments, industry, and society to them, and loudly call for action. I have no good answers for how to accomplish large-scale rapid reversals of environmental declines. One laudable action is to be an active vocal part of appropriate web-based conservation advocacy groups. Involving the young of all genders and races for a groundswell of support is likely most effective in generating a new world view of so much respect for nature that we radically alter our present ways of subjugating and diminishing it in the name of supposed human progress. Above all, we scientists must no longer dither with opinions on environmental problems and urgent needs for action; we must proclaim them intelligently, forcefully, and as broadly as possible.


KEY WORDS: Environmentalism · Cetacean research · Whaling · Attitudes · Inherent goodness · Advocacy · Biophilia


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Cite this article as: Würsig B (2020) From science only to science for conservation: a personal journey. Ethics Sci Environ Polit 20:25-32. https://doi.org/10.3354/esep00191

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