[MARMAM] Peter Best

Robert Best r.b.best.00 at gmail.com
Tue Apr 28 04:58:14 PDT 2015

To the Marine Mammal Research Community

Dear All

It is with great sadness that we need to let you know that Peter Best passed away on Wednesday 22nd April after a long illness. His colleagues have kindly written the following summary of his career.

“Described as the world’s foremost authority on the whales and dolphins of the Southern African region, Peter was born in London in 1939 and was educated at Bradfield College, Berkshire, England where he obtained his A levels in 1957. Before going to University he spent two summer seasons on the Antarctic whaling factory Balaena as a chemist’s assistant, and a winter at the Saldanha whaling station, near Cape Town, where he collected biological specimens and in particular obtained detailed information on the little known Bryde’s whale being taken there. He achieved his Bachelor of Arts Honours degree from Cambridge University in 1962, and worked as a whale research officer with the Fisheries Development Corporation of South Africa in Cape Town between 1962 and 1969. In 1971 he received his Doctor of Philosophy from Cambridge University on “Studies of South African Cetacea with special reference to the sperm whale (Physeter catodon)”, one of the earliest Cambridge graduate degrees based on fieldwork away from the University (another was Jane Goodall’s on chimpanzees). Between 1969 and 1984 he was employed as a Professional/Senior/Chief Professional Officer at the Sea Fisheries Research Institute, in Cape Town, where he oversaw marine mammal research. In 1985 Peter joined the staff of the Mammal Research Institute of the University of Pretoria, first as an Antarctic/Senior Research Officer between 1985 and 2004, and as an Extraordinary Professor thereafter.

Peter was a leading figure in Southern African, Southern Hemisphere and global marine mammal research. Amongst his international colleagues, Peter was seen as amongst, if not the best, cetacean field biologist in the world. His field experience was extensive and included, amongst other field research, specimen collection at whaling stations in South Africa and at sea in the Antarctic; whale-marking off South Africa and in the Indian Ocean; participation in sighting surveys of large whales in the Antarctic and in the Western Indian Ocean, and at sea and aerial surveys of fur seals off the South African west coast and Namibia. However, Peter is probably best known for his extensive aerial surveys of southern right whales off South Africa where he undertook fixed-wing surveys between 1969 and 1987 and photographic surveys by helicopter between 1979 and 2004 and continued to oversee this programme until 2014. This, now 36-year- long, research programme has resulted in one of the longest time - series of large whale research information in the world, tracking the remarkable recovery of this population. His interests in right whale biology extended to photogrammetry, genetic and satellite tracking studies. Through student supervision, Peter initiated shore based surveys of migrating humpback whales off both the east and west coasts of South Africa, an intensive photo-identification project on Heaviside's dolphins between 1999 and 2001 and more recently a study on southern right whale feeding off the South African west coast. During his tenure with the Mammal Research Institute, Peter supervised seven PhD and five MSc students.

Peter was a respected and valued member of a number of research committees and fora, amongst others the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission, 1971-1982 and an invited participant thereafter (including as Vice-chairman of the Scientific Committee in 1982 and 1983); the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)/Species Survival Comission (SSC) Group of Specialists on Whales between 1971 and 1975, the IUCN/SSC Group of Specialists on Seals between 1983 and 1986 and the IUCN/SSC Group of Specialists on Cetaceans from 1985 onwards. He was a charter member, and later honorary member of the Society of Marine Mammalogy, an Associate Editor of Marine Mammal Science between 1985 and 1995, and a member of the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s Committee of Scientific Advisors from 2003 onwards. He published over 160 papers in peer-reviewed journals. Peter’s 338-page seminal “Whales and Dolphins of the Southern African Subregion” was published by Cambridge University Press in 2007, the same year that he was the Conference Chair of the 17th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, held in Cape Town.

Amongst the numerous awards Peter received were the Cape Times Centenary Medal in 1993, the Gold Medal of the Zoological Society of Southern Africa in 1998, the Gilchrist Memorial Medal in 2005 and the University of Pretoria’s Commemorative Research Medal in 2008. In 2004 Peter was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of South Africa.

Peter married Margaret Ann Ralph (Maggi) in June 1974 and is survived by her, their son Robert and daughter Alison.”

Peter’s funeral service will be held at 15h00 on Wednesday, the 29th April at St Andrews Church, 77 Kildare Road, Newlands, Cape Town.

Our wish is for any memorial donations to be made to the Whale Unit of the University of Pretoria’s Mammal Research Institute (please contact Ken Findlay kenfin at mweb.co.za for details).

The Best family 

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