Sunday, July 9, 2017

Tribute to DB from Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program (copied from facebook)

Aloha Good People!  This is a beautiful tribute to DB and the impact he made in the monk seal world. This was posted on facebook this morning... I know it has touched so many that are on facebook, and I wanted to give the folks who don't use facebook a chance to read, understand and appreciate this beautiful man.  

This is a little long for a FB post, but not nearly the length that this man's legacy deserves

Earlier this week the monk seal conservation world lost a great man. DB Dunlap is someone that many of you who follow this page may have never heard of, but it’s a name you should really know. I don’t remember a time in my 15 years of monk seal work that DB wasn’t checking on monk seals and an integral part of the conservation effort on Oahu. In the beginning, he was just a guy on his own doing what he thought needed to be done for the seals on the windward side of Oahu. The title of monk seal volunteer is a noble one, but it wouldn’t do DB justice. He grew into something substantially more than that. He was a gifted naturalist, an inspiration to others to take up the cause, he was a vigilant protector of the seals, and he was unmatched in his level of contribution to our scientific efforts. But above all else he was, of course, the Seal Whisperer.

There have already been some beautiful reflections on DB’s contributions to seals and how he touched many people’s lives. I thought I would share a little more insight into his contribution to our science and conservation efforts. I think many of you understand it was significant, but some of the numbers are incredible.

DB was an expert on monk seals and his knowledge came about in the most “old school” of ways. It was not by reading scientific papers or conducting careful experiments and observations. It was not by someone teaching him about the seals. Instead DB learned by sitting and watching his seals- minute after minute, day after day, and year after year. Whether it was from his perch at Makai Pier or looking down at a swimming seal from the cliffs at the Halona Blowhole Lookout, DB watched, learned, and understood the seals. A favorite example of this comes from the daily reports that DB sent the science program. Early reports were incredibly detailed field observation reports that chronicled the activities of whatever seals DB came across. When diving was observed, DB made recorded duration of the dive, did the seal bring food to the surface, was it staying in one spot, etc. These were forwarded to me as the foraging ecologist. I read every one, noted things of interest, and then filed them away. But honestly, didn’t give much as much value to the observations as I should have. That is until the day we got an email from DB who had decided to calculate the average duration of the dives he had observed. I don’t have the exact quote but recall that in his email to us he concluded that based on his work, monk seals dive for an average of 6 minutes. This came on the heels of the HMSRP just completing a foraging study analyzing data collected from moderately priced time-depth recorders deployed on seals. We had calculated the average dive duration to be about 6.1 minutes. It was at that moment that the real value and depth of DBs observations was driven home to me. Well done DB, well done.

DB is in a league of his own when it comes to monk seal related scientific contribution in the main Hawaiian Islands. He outstrips everyone, NOAA staff included, by thousands of reports. He reported over 20,000 lines of data (23% of all the data we have for the MHIs) documenting seal ids, behaviors, interactions, threats, births and more. About 50% of all the Oahu monk seal data has DB’s initials on it. At least 30 of those reports are what we call “survival factors”- some sort of injury or danger to a seal that may need an intervention (like a hooking). He collected data and he saved lives. In fact, he was so prolific his work was the subject of a scientific report by a local university student. It was entitled “Analyzing the Impact of One Volunteer on Hawaiian Monk Seal Conservation.”

Over his years of service to monk seals DB’s impact grew. He became a well-known feature to Waimanlo regulars as he sat on his perch at Makai Pier overlooking Rabbit Island. He was the go to guy for seals showing up between Allen Davis and Hanauma Bay. He inspired others to get involved in monk seal efforts. At times, he ranged widely following his seals across Oahu and engaging and enlisting even more people. In the end, he was a well-known symbol to those who care for monk seals and a leader of a posse of equally dedicated people.

We don’t mourn the loss of the data or vigilance, though those will be nearly impossible to replace, especially by a single person. No, we celebrate DB and the legacy of those many contributions. What we mourn is the loss of a good man with a fierce drive to make a difference. A man, and fellow monk seal scientist, that everyone in the HMSRP respected greatly. DB, wherever you are, thank you for your dedication and rest easy knowing that you made an incredible difference for the seals under your watch and have more than earned your place among the most venerable of wildlife advocates.
Marilyn, we are so incredibly sorry for your loss and thank you for supporting DB in his passion for the seals (and letting yourself get pulled into the effort as well). We are here for you if you need anything.

Mahalo DB.
With respect and gratitude.
The Hawaiian Monk Seal Research Program and NOAA Team

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