Interview with Mark Carwardine, Zooligist and Conservationist
“North Sailing leading the way in terms of organizing really well runned trips”
by Huld Hafliðadóttir
Asked about his first visit to Húsavík Mark is not sure when excactly, but his first visit to Iceland was in 1981 and he travelled around Iceland a lot in the 1980´s and did come to Húsavík then. His first whale watching tour in Skjálfandi was in 1995 and he refers to a picture taken of him and Hörður Sigurbjarnarson, founder of North Sailing, and Ásbjörn Björgvinsson (at that time in charge of the Húsavík Whale Center).
Mark Carwardine on top of wheelhouse with Hörður, founder of Northsailing
He got to know Heimir (Hörður´s son) in the spring of 1995 in Keflavík where he ran a workshop on whale watching and how to set up a whale watching company. There they spent three days on talking about all the different whale watching companies around the world, what might be suitable for Iceland, what whales are around Iceland and so on and he remembers Heimir being really excited about this. So going from that time when there was no whale watching in Iceland, reaching a peak of 30 different oparatives in between, and today where there are about 9 companies, obviously things have changed dramatically, he says. He also mentions that North Sailing has always been leading the way in terms of organizing really well runned trips and on a big scale.
Asked to share his most rememberable experience in/on Skjálfandi Bay Mark claims there are so many, both from boats and plains. From boats he mentions friendly Minke whales, just swimming back and forth and around the boats,  humpbacks that have breached lots of times in a row, lunge feeding blue whales close to the boats rolling at the surface and from the air for example this week lunge feeding blue whales. Also he says his best views of harbour porpoises have been here in Skjálfandi, but they are incredibly difficult to see anywhere.
Asked about his life, he says it´s hectic, he´s travelling all the time, typically about 8 months of the year and all over the world, mainly for conservation work, but for other work as well, basically anything from anti poaching patrols to save rhinos to try to protect rain forrests to whale conservation or trying to protect sharks, so it´s a variety of different subjects.
“And then in between, when everyone else is sleeping or when I´m flying on a plain or in a train, I´m writing books and articles. So when people ask: where is your favourite place in the world? I would say my bed, but I don´t get to see it very often, I just love having a proper sleep.
And when I´m there [at home] I live a sort of normal life, though I can never remember the names of the roads along side my house. I can remember all the details of a trip out on the sea or in a forrest but I don´t really consentrate in the city and I don´t spend enough time there to really know the names of all the roads. So all my friends think I´m mad. And like everybody else I´ve got a leaking roof and the basement´s flooded and normal house problems.”
Has it always been your plan to work in this field? “Yes, I´ve always loved animals, according to my parents, since I was about five or six. I never wanted to be a fireman or a train driver or an astronaut or all the things boys want to do, I just wanted to work with animals.”
@Mark Carwardine -Mark is a highly respected wildlife photographer
Mark tells that at the time he started his zoology degree so few people did zoology and people said that all he could do with that was to be a zoo keeper or work on a bird reserve, that´s all there was for zoologists. But luckily, Mark just started zoology as all the invironmental movement was really taking off and interest in wildlife was really growing. So when he finished the degree there were loads of possibilities and it was a really big thing, so it is safe to say that he timed it very well.
You´ve always been the right person at the right time, in terms of getting a job, haven´t you? Mark:[laughing] “Yea, kind of! I worked for World Wildlife Fund in England and then I worked for an organisation called The World Conservation Union in Switzerland and then for the United Nations in Kenya and in Pakistan, and then I went freelance and worked for myself ever since, for 20 years.”
And he finds it all interesting and feels very strongly about lots of conservation issues, so there is always a lot to do, another book to write or some subject to write an article about in the newspaper or a tv program, there are so many possibilities, there is never any shortage of work or ideas.
Do you never feel overwhelmed with all this workload? “Yes I do. I´m like a Swan, on the surface very calm and underneath just madly, in a panic. It is quite stressful, I find conservation really stressful because you are always arguing, always trying to convince people and dealing with people that disagree with you. And we´re loosing a lot of conservation battles”, he says and tells that it can be really depressing if one lets it get depressing.
Most of the work he does voluntarily, so he has to try to earn money to live and then do all the voluntary work as well for the conservation, “-so yes, it is quite stressful. And sometimes I do think I just have to stop, but I can´t, because I feel so strongly about it.”
What is your biggest project at the moment? “At the moment I am working [with Stephen Fry] on a television series with BBC on taking Hollywood actors and actresses to learn about conservation, so people like Clint Eastwood and Leonardo Dicaprio and people who already have an interest, (Clint Eeastwood is a keane whale watcher).”
Mark (on the left) with actor Stephen Fry (Picture: Radio Times)
He did the series Last Chance to See with Stephen Fry to get into a big audience and he tells it is really important to catch peoples attention, there is core group of people who love animals and are keane on conservation and then everybody else has to be attracted.
“And then I´m working on a book about my favourite places in the world to watch wildlife and a new field guide on how to identify whales and dolphins and probably a photographic book on the best whale photographs I´ve taken around the world.”
H:All at the same time?  “Yes.. and a few radio programs, a little radio series for the BBCs on animal sounds.”
Is there anything that you wish to do that you haven´t had time for? “Yes, there are lots of things and lots of things I would like to do again and again. There are shark dives that I haven´t done, I really like diving with sharks. I love Mongolia and I really would like to explore Mongolia more and there are a few countries that I haven´t been to.. 16 more to go and then I´ve been to all of them. But, you know, you can say you´ve been to all these countries, but actually you might have only been to little part of them so there is still a vast areas to go to and explore and discover. I´d love to go and explore Kamchatka in Russia, where there is lots of wildlife and not so many people.”
And that is, he says, one of the things he loves about Iceland. “That you´ve got great cities and towns and a lot going on but also a lot of space and wilderness, there are not many places in the world where you got the two together.”
Asked about what brought him to Húsavík this time, who contacted him he says North Sailing. Heimir wrote and asked if he would come over for a week or so and have a look at what´s happening and see how it´s all going. It´s all growing quite quickly and just to put an international perspective on it, compare with other countries and see how everybody is doing, talk to the guides. “And I am really impressed, it´s a fantastic operation, really high class on a world standard.”
So, I guess you´ve never regret your selection of a job?
“No [laughing], not at all. I believe, if you really want to do something you can do it. People say: wow, you are so lucky! But I say: well, why don´t you do the same thing? I mean, if you are really determined and if you decide to take a few risks, give up a job or go and do something in another country, you know, lot of people dream about these things but they are really never going to do it, whereas other people say I´m just going to make the most of it and go and try. Whatever you want to do, he continues, you just have to jump with both feet and then see what happens.”
On his wishes for the future, he says he would like to see the politicians finally wake up and realize that conservation is a very serious subject, important for people as well as everything else. That there are not only some strange bunny huggers in sandals.
Mark Carwardine, with interviewer Huld Hafliðadóttir, on his visit to North Sailing, Húsavík in 2011