Oscar Merne...an appreciation7th Feb 2013
It was with much sadness that the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group learnt of the recent passing of Oscar Merne on the 17th January after a long illness. Oscar was a founding member of the IWDG, and while he never held a position within the group, he maintained in his own words “…. an informal watching brief on behalf of the Wildlife Service”. During the early years he was always somebody that the fledgling IWDG could turn to for sound advice, or when we needed “the ear” of the NPWS. Oscar was at the meeting in December 1990 which established the IWDG and attended the first official IWDG meeting in University College, Cork in March 1991.
Although birds were his passion, Oscar had a wonderful appreciation for all natural history and was a regular reporter of cetacean sightings to IWDG. Indeed many of Oscar’s earliest sightings pre-dated the IWDG by several decades, dating back to summer cruises in 1967 and 1968, some of which had on board a very young Peter Evans.
Oscar worked as a research ornithologist since 1968 till his retirement in 2004 with the (now) National Parks and Wildlife Service. For the first ten years he was responsible for the development of the Wexford Wildfowl Reserve on the North Slob. He then moved to NPWS Research HQ where he had responsibility for bird research and conservation throughout Ireland. Implementing the European Union Directive on the conservation of birds was a major responsibility from the 1980s onwards, particularly the establishment of a comprehensive network of Special Protection Areas (SPAs) to cater for the needs of species of conservation concern and migratory species. To this end, he was heavily engaged in developing and carrying out programmes of surveying, censusing and monitoring potential SPA sites.
Oscar retired in 2004, and continued to pursue his passion for bird research and conservation, carrying out his own research and conservation projects, assisting BirdWatch Ireland, not to mention travelling to far-flung destinations to see wild places and their wildlife on several continents.
On hearing of Oscar’s passing the IWDG sent Dr Peter Evans of the UK based SeaWatch Foundation an email to inform him. Saddened, he recounted one of their early seabird surveys in 1969, when their team set out from Dunquin on a currach to Great Blasket Island, where they were going to spend two days surveying the island’s seabird colonies. Also on this trip was Éamon de Buitléar, (RIP). The survey completed, they waited as planned for their boatman to collect them, and they waited, and waited. No boatman came. By the following morning there was still no sign of their boat and they were now running out of food and water and were quite concerned. You see Oscar had invited his wife Margaret who had recently had a baby who naturally had to come too. Peter to this day feels that the infant may have saved the team, as the only thing they had in abundance other than scientific equipment was the child’s nappy supply, which they used to make an S.O.S. distress signal that alerted a passing freighter to their plight. Shortly after they were rescued by lifeboat.
The story shared the front page of the main national papers with Neil Armstrong who had just taken man's first step on the moon. These were different times.
Oscar will be missed by all who knew him. His conservation work has enhanced all our lives and his legacy lives on in the many reports, articles and memories he has left behind.
Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, February 2013.