Golden Ark for the Marine Biologist, Petra Deimer

On Friday, 30th March 2001, Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands awarded the Golden Ark to the President of the Society for the Conservation of Marine Mammals (GSM – Gesellschaft zum Schutz der Meeressäugetiere), Petra Deimer, at the Soestijk Palace. The award was in recognition of the biologist and journalist’s tireless efforts, both nationally and internationally, towards the protection of whales, dolphins, seals and their environment. The decoration was created by Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands in 1971 and has ever since been awarded to 320 people in the world of nature and species conservation.

“In these fast-moving times in which our seas are polluted and plundered, eco-systems destroyed, wild animals sold off and working animals abused, this honour will give me renewed strength,” Petra Deimer said. “I accept the Golden Ark with the deepest gratitude and will think of it as a request to continue my efforts for the survival of the animals, like Noah in the biblical story.” In her activities, which often include political conservation and public relations work, she is especially supported by her husband, Hans-Jürgen Schütte, by her fellow members of the GSM, by the International Fund for Animal Welfare and – quite often – by some authorities.

A good friend of Petra Deimer’s describes her thus:

The perfect animal conservationist creates a certain picture in our minds. Obviously, such a person would need to really have a heart for animals. In addition, excellent expertise, preferably a relevant degree in biology, ecology or veterinary medicine. This person should also have a talent for politics – a diplomatic voice but a will of steel. The ability to cope with much pain and suffering, and a willingness to invest time and passion would be other necessities. He/she must also be prepared to force their will on others and yet still manage to be liked. Impossible?

No. With Petra Deimer this picture has been given a character and a name. She is a woman who will stop at the side of the road for any toad or such-like to carry it to safety. A woman who doesn’t warn the rabbits in her garden near Hamburg of the approach of a fox because she learnt during her biology studies to accept that this is the way nature works. And a woman who constantly flies around the world to attend international conferences too numerous to count in order to fight for the rights of endangered species.

This frenzy of activity for animal and nature conservation has brought with it many and varied positions. She is president of the Society for the Conservation of Marine Mammals, a member of the International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) Scientific Committee, a member of the German government’s Species Conservation Advisory Committee, an advisor to the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), to name but a few. Added to this, she has written six books, several television scripts and countless articles on whales, dolphins, seals, environmental problems, and even on parrots. She is one of the first points of contact for the media and for the authorities, especially when the subject matter is whales and dolphins.

In the same way as an animal’s behaviour is moulded by its experiences, Petra Deimer’s life was moulded into protecting whales by what she experienced 25 years ago when she accompanied local whalers of the coast of Madeira during work on her thesis on sperm whales. This example of a businesslike, very bloody slaughter awoke in her a storm of emotions which “I’ll never forget as long as I live”.

The consequences of this experience were twofold. Firstly, she became a professional whale conservationist and secondly, she concentrated her efforts on persuading the manager of the Madeiran whaling station to cease his activities, which he eventually did. Eleuterio Reis changed the habit of a lifetime in a very special way. He became a leading figure in the field of whale protection and became the director of Madeira’s newly- founded whaling museum.

Petra Deimer’s entry into the world of politics was achieved through a petition she initiated against the import of whale products into Germany. Josel Ertl, the Minister of Agriculture at the time, encouraged her to go a step further and submit a proposal within CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species). The proposal was accepted. At the CITES member-states conference in New Delhi in 1981, trade in the products of sperm, fin and sei whales was internationally banned. After this success, Brian Davies, the former head of IFAW, suggested working together against the mass slaughter of baby harp seals in Canada. Petra Deimer became chairperson of the Control Committee for Young Seals (Kontrollausschuß Jungrobben), which was established to oversee the German industry’s voluntary ban introduced in 1983.

The list of conventions and committees at which Petra Deimer has served as an advisor and a delegate over the past 20 years is long. In addition to the IWC and CITES, she travels regularly to meetings of ASCOBANS (Agreement on the Conservation of Small Cetaceans in the Baltic and North Seas). She is involved with the Bonn Convention for Migratory Species and works tirelessly for Europe’s most endangered marine mammal, the monk seal, in Greece and Madeira.

Prior to receiving the “Golden Ark” from Prince Bernhard at the end of March, Petra Deimer was awarded the “Konrad Lorenz Medal” in Vienna in 1993 and in 1983 the Bruno-H.-Schubert Foundation Award. In 1982 she was awarded the “WWF International Award for Conservation Merit” which was presented by the Honorary President, HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Petra and her husband, the television journalist Hans-Jürgen Schütte, who is also heavily involved in nature conservation, gather strength for their political and conservation work on their travels – whether on their yacht in the Baltic, with the sperm whales off the Azores and Madeira or on working cruises to the whales, dolphins and penguins in the Antarctic.

Her friends know that Petra Deimer lives with her conscience; she feels that she owes several people and all animals on this earth a favour. Her friends, however, also value the fact that Petra likes to do herself a favour now and again. She enjoys good food and wine in the company of like-minded, close friends……

Walter Karpf
For further information, please contact the GSM on +49 4106 620601 and 4106 4712