A warrior for wildlife
TRIBUTES are flowing in for the northern suburbs wildlife expert recognised internationally for his pioneering work into disentangling whales from fishing rope and nets.
Doug Coughran, who retired about a year ago after decades of service with the former Department of Parks and Wildlife and receiving an Order of Australia Medal, died earlier this month from prostate cancer aged 66.
His wife Dawn said he had enjoyed filming on Rottnest over the past couple of years with friend and wildlife documentary maker Leighton De Barros, of Sea Dog TV International.
Retirement had also brought time for more bird photography, “one of his loves”.
“He was a member of Birdlife Australia – they’re going to miss him,” she said.
“They are sending him a medal, which he knew about, but he never got to see it unfortunately.
“He will be sadly missed by his family (including sons Jason and Brendon) and people all over the world – he was a member of the International Whaling Commission.”
Mr De Barros said the film about Rottnest they had been working on – Rottnest Island, Kingdom of the Quokka for Nat Geo Wild Australia – was in postproduction.
An accompanying book which Doug co-authored will be dedicated to him. He made a discovery about the behaviour of one of the island’s bird species.
“Doug observed and recorded for the first time the pied oyster catcher eating blue bottles,” Mr De Barros said.
From page 1 Filmmaker Mr De Barros said he first met Doug for the making of a documentary on the wildlife officer’s whale disentanglement team.
“We became close friends after that film which brought him and his team’s work to the world,” Mr De Barros said.
“His work on the most humane way to euthanise a whale was recognised by the International Whaling Commission.”
Mr De Barros, in a tribute to his mentor and friend, said that Doug had a huge heart, had saved about 70 whales and coauthored 18 scientific papers.
“He was an incredible wildlife photographer and naturalist,” he said.
“He taught me things I never knew right up until the day he passed away.
“We had an amazing time (at Rottnest). He was indefatigable. He loved the island and as a child swam and roamed there.
“Doug was reserved, but underneath he was ecstatic as it proved to him that whales can survive being rescued from entanglements and verified his life’s work.
“His contribution to the conservation of the marine environment in Western Australia is significant and he will be sorely missed.”
Doug Coughran (wearing a snorkel mask) and his whale rescue team move in to cut a whale free. Inset: An underwater view of a whale entangled in marine debris.
Whale rescue team leader Doug Coughran.
Doug Coughran behind the camera at Rottnest.