Remembering Doug Coughran

Doug Coughran, a dear friend and colleague from Perth, Australia, passed away on March 15, 2018, surrounded by his family. He will be sorely missed by CCS and by friends from around the world. Doug dedicated much of his life to make the lives of whales better in his role as a wildlife officer for Western Australia, and in so doing, made the lives and safety of the people around him that much better as well. Doug found strength in his family and friends as well as his observations of the natural world. His curiosity extended from whales to the pardalotes nesting in his courtyard garden, and he worked to publish many of these observations.

Doug was first exposed to CCS’s disentanglement techniques at a seminar in Brisbane in 2000, which motivated him to come to Provincetown in 2004 for an extended stay, under a Churchill Fellowship. The fellowship offered a rare opportunity to exchange ideas and advance the tools, techniques and safety margins of disentangling whales caught in fishing gear. Doug essentially joined us as part of the team and worked alongside us during disentanglements and research cruises. That friendship endured to the end. His optimism and curiosity were infectious – a fine quality for long and sometimes difficult days at sea as well as in the realm of management and policy.

In September of 2004, Doug helped us work on the humpback whale, Andreas, in the Great South Channel, east of Cape Cod. The whale was badly entangled in a trawl of lobster gear and the disentanglement was not an easy one. Throughout the operation Doug was keenly observant and attentive to the needs of the whale and the rest of his team. Just before sunset, as the last of the rope began to peel off Andreas, Doug had a smile from ear to ear. At moments like that, Doug was wont to say “magic” to express his love of the natural world and his work. Since that moment, with each new sighting of Andreas, our memory of Doug on that day has been first in our minds.

On his return to Australia, Doug set about formalizing whale entanglement response as well as new techniques of humane euthanasia of stranded large whales. He also joined the Global Whale Entanglement Response Network, sharing his expertise with colleagues dealing with similar challenges, from New Zealand to Newfoundland, from Hawaii to South Africa. In 2010 he was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia as a practitioner and educator of whale disentanglement.

On a subsequent visit to Cape Cod, during the brutally cold winter of 2007, Doug’s curiosity and love of the natural world was not diminished. On a hike along Cape Cod Bay in search of right whales, Doug experienced, for the first time, the odd sensation of a cold-numbed face. He was smiling ear to ear, touched his cheeks, and declared: Magic!

Our heartfelt condolences go out to Doug’s wife Dawn and their two sons, Jason and Brendon. Funeral services for Doug will be held in Perth in early April, and a memorial for Doug will be held at CCS this coming June.