Over the past three years I’ve been tracking an uptrend in risk analysis in what might seem an unlikely field, wildlife conservation. But on further thought, this makes perfect, straightforward sense. At-risk animal populations could use some analytical help sorting out the live-or-die questions.
The first benchmark occurred when the World Conservation Union began to use Palisade’s Monte Carlo software to train field biologists concerned about disease control in the WCU’s projects around the world. At the time I was told that "there are hundreds of conservation projects that need to account for the risk of disease."
Then just about the time I had come to the conclusion that I could head toward the seafood department in the supermarket primed for decision making under uncertainty and confident of my choices, I became aware that an economist friend of mine who studies fish populations was running not only statistical analysis of food fish populations but using the Monte Carlo features in Excel to forecast the results of various "harvesting" scenarios on the populations of my favorite fish, the Atlantic cod.
Today, I learned that a very rare marine mammal, the Hector’s Dolphin, which inhabits micro territories off New Zealand, is the latest beneficiary of environmental risk analysis. Before a Hector’s Dolphin ever comes into its watery world it faces some significant risks. The world’s smallest dolphin–it’s about five feet long–the Hector’s Dolphin gives birth to large babies at the very slow rate of every two to three years. And once born, it, like most other dolphin species, risks entanglement in a commercial fishing net. Dr. Liz Slooten, University of Otago, has become an authority in modeling the effects of marine mammal bycatch on their populations and is now focusing her risk analyses on the endangered Hector’s Dolphin. It may be the smallest dolphin with some of the smallest numbers, but it’s no small fry to her.