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Earth Island Reports

Our Dear Friend, Mark Berman

Earth Island’s International Marine Mammal Project and the dolphins and whales of the world have lost a dear friend and colleague with the passing of Mark Berman on May 13, 2016. We at IMMP are devastated by this loss. Berman was an integral part of the Earth Island family for more than two decades, and we will sorely miss his friendship and dedication.

photo of a man on the swimstep of a boat, orca swimming up to him Mark Berman with Keiko following his release to an open sea pen in Iceland.

Berman committed his life to helping whales and dolphins, with particular emphasis on opposing captivity of these wonderful animals. His early victories included first-ever legislation in South Carolina in 1992 banning all captivity for dolphins. He blocked numerous plans for import of live exotic dolphins into the United States, and organized demonstrations against captivity all around the world, leading to closures of many captive facilities and scrapping of plans for new ones. In the Solomon Islands, he helped end the country’s reign as the largest source of live dolphins for trade, and in 2010, he successfully negotiated a moratorium on dolphin slaughters there.

For Berman, this work was far more than a job. He knew almost every captive orca by name, and the details of their sad life stories.

Without Berman, IMMP would never have taken on the historic effort to save Keiko, the orca star of the movie Free Willy. Berman helped make the fictional film come true for Keiko. He was part of every facet of Keiko’s odyssey from a small tank in Mexico, to a rehabilitation center in Oregon, to an open sea pen in Iceland, and ultimately, to the open Atlantic Ocean in Norway. Thanks to Berman’s efforts and the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation, Keiko became the first captive orca whale ever returned to his home waters.

For more than two decades, Berman directed IMMP’s International Monitoring Program, which oversees more than 550 tuna companies committed to fishing by methods that do not involve the deadly, intentional chasing and netting of dolphins. Berman travelled to all corners of the world to make sure that companies took the required steps to keep dolphins safe. The program has reduced dolphin mortality as a result of tuna fishing operations by 80,000 to 100,000 dolphins every year since it began.

“I had the privilege to work literally side-by-side with Mark for 25 years, taking on some of the most pressing threats to dolphins and whales in our age,” David Phillips, director of IMMP and Berman’s close friend, said. “From stopping dolphin-killing tuna fleets, to saving Keiko, to confronting the brutal dolphin kills and captures in the Solomon Islands and Taiji, Japan, Mark worked tirelessly and fearlessly. It was never about glory or ego. He did it all because he lived to keep dolphins safe, wild, and free.”

Berman’s passing has been felt far and wide. In June, the world’s largest tuna industry conference, INFOFISH, ground to a halt in Thailand for a moment of silence in recognition of Berman’s years of dedication to dolphin conservation.

Cece Neber of Warner Brothers, who worked closely with Berman on the effort to save Keiko, wrote to IMMP: “No one will ever forget Keiko because of Mark’s non-wavering efforts on his behalf. What incredible energy he had. What incredible faith he had that will live forever.”

Berman was also a special presence around the Earth Island offices. He was known for his many kindnesses and humor. He regularly brought back chocolate, rice cakes, and other treats from his latest far-flung ventures. Berman’s intense work ethic, endless phone calls, and dogged determination led to his nickname, “The Bermanator,” a title that made him smile.

“Mark was at intervals demanding, hilarious, noodgy, outraged at injustice, generous with his time and his snacks, supportive, fearless, and loving,” said Chris Clarke, a former editor of Earth Island Journal. “He changed the world with the force of his will and his personality. He could be combative and build consensus at the same time, in the same sentence. I loved him.”

There is no doubt that Berman, if he were still here, would insist that his work continue full steam ahead. To that end, IMMP has established The Mark Berman Fund to assist outreach and action to protect dolphins and whales and keep them wild and free.

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