It’s over, and, according to everyone who spoke to us, the conference was a resounding success. The first day of “plenary talks” – held in the Dunedin town hall – was excellent. Nine outstanding speakers, mostly international but some local, gave us an overview of conservation successes & failures, distilling the key reasons why. The star of the day was New Zealand’s ex-minister of fisheries Pete Hodgson.
Deservedly hailed as a hero of NZ conservation for being the first minister of fisheries to take dolphin conservation seriously, Pete gave a funny and inspiring account of how he put into place the protected area for Maui’s dolphin. His account of what science made the difference, and how science and politics often collide, but need more to co-operate, made everyone think hard.
This year we celebrated as after years of campaigning the proposed marine reserve for Akaroa was finally approved.
The next four days of the conference were held on Otago University’s campus. With over 348 talks in four concurrent sessions, it was impossible to go to all the ones you wanted to. And there were some really fabulous presentations. So many that it’s hard to single out one or even just a few that were especially good. Terrific, innovative science presented really well by dedicated researchers. Hearing these, and talking to the presenters afterwards, asking questions and sharing ideas – perhaps over a glass of wine, is what conferences offer that is so different to reading each other’s scientific papers.
Two poster evenings, on Tuesday and Thursday, allowed conference goers to view 400 posters summarising research, mostly by students, from all over the globe. Many were excellent, showing that the future of marine mammal science is in good hands. The space available was too tight on the first evening, but a nimble reshuffle by the poster organisers made the second poster evening much more effective and enjoyable. Poster evenings are not passive – the poster author stays with their poster, so they can explain what they did and answer questions. It’s a great way to communicate science.
The last day’s presentations finished at 3pm, and everyone put on their glad rags for the conference dinner and dance. We’d hired Mojo, a band from Queenstown, to get everyone dancing. They did a great job. When the advertised end-time arrived, they were not allowed to stop. It’s great to see very well-known scientists letting down their hair (those that still have hair) prancing around among the students – without too much fear of embarrassment.
All in all, it was a great occasion. Many said it was the best conference they’d ever been to. Also, for many conference goers it put New Zealand on the map. Most were first time visitors. Many said they would be back.
For our team, it was a lot of work to organise, but deeply satisfying. We’re looking forward to some decompression, however!
Marine Science Department
NZ Whale and Dolphin Trust
Steve Dawson PhD
Dept of Marine Science
University of Otago
310 Castle Street
(P.O. Box 56)
Trustee, NZ Whale and Dolphin Trust