Cetacean Society International

Whales Alive!

Vol. VI No. 2 April 1997


Stephen Leatherwood


The cetacean conservation community suffered an enormous blow when Steve Leatherwood died after a long illness in January 1997. Steve was the chairman of the Cetacean Specialist Group and worked with many different individuals and organizations to secure a better future for whales and dolphins.

In recent years, Steve is probably best known for his efforts to help Asia's beleaguered cetaceans and particularly for spearheading the work to save the baiji, the rarest dolphin in the world, from extinction. Even during the last few weeks of his life, Steve was eager to continue to play his part in this fight.

For those of us lucky enough to have worked with Steve we have lost an inspirational colleague and precious friend. He touched so many people's lives and was dearly loved and respected.

My memories of working with Steve are all very happy ones. He specialized in tackling seemingly impossible challenges with an unfailing enthusiasm and an infectious sense of humor. During a river dolphin survey in Nepal, one of our rafts hit a submerged tree and tipped over - all four occupants including Steve ended up in the river. As we laid everybody's wet clothes out to dry and assessed the damaged equipment, everyone, including the Nepalese field workers, seemed a bit depressed. However, Steve announced that the incident was far from being a disaster, since everyone was uninjured and the equipment was replaceable, we should not feel upset but look at the funny side of it and then get on with looking for Nepal's surviving river dolphins! That evening we sat around a camp fire surrounded by our wet steaming gear, eating vegetable curry for the fourteenth time in a row and laughed solidly for hours. Steve had an amazing ability to inject happiness into the lives of people around him.

Steve's optimism and positiveness was one of his most appealing qualities - he had a knack of turning situations around for the better which made him a fantastic person to work with and a gifted leader. No hurdle or obstacle was too great for him - he moved ahead, carrying people with him, making progress and never losing sight of the important goals he set out to achieve.

Steve reached out to people he worked with and offered them honesty and friendship - it didn't matter whether he was working with fishermen on a remote whalers island in the Philippines or negotiating delicate conservation agreements across a conference table with Chinese Government officials.

Steve has left us with a legacy of important whale and dolphin conservation initiatives which he set up and believed in wholeheartedly. Our commitment to him, and to the cetaceans he cared so much about, is to devote our energies to ensuring the success of these initiatives, both now and into the next millennium.

Alison Smith
Conservation Director
Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS)

Editor's Note: The next American Cetacean Society's "Whalewatcher" newsletter will be devoted entirely to the life of Steve Leatherwood and ACS is looking for stories, anecdotes, and photos. Please send to: Maura Leos, 922 Syida Drive, Pacific Grove, CA 93950 USA, 408-375-0475,


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