Dolphin Guru Stephen McCulloch Fired; Uproar Ensues

Categories: Broward News


Stephen McCulloch has gone into seclusion since FAU fired him last February from his job as program manager of the Marine Mammal Program at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. We haven't been able to reach him or his attorneys.

See also:
- Navy Tests Could Kill Dolphins by the Thousands Off the Coast of Fort Lauderdale

Famously self-taught and -- judging by public reaction -- charismatic, McCulloch was let go by the school (which absorbed Harbor Branch in 2007) after a late-December Vero Beach dolphin rescue gone wrong. McCulloch had to improvise and ran afoul of federal regulations. His supporters -- many of them prominent in the scientific community -- question the school's decision.


McCulloch came to his mission by an unusual path. Graduate of a military academy, in the early '70s, according to the Vero News:

[he] turned down the chance to attend West Point and took off on a six-month hitchhiking trip across the United States when he was 17. His travels eventually took him south from Virginia to the Florida Keys where he got on what he calls "the dolphin trail," capturing and training marine mammals for public display. Later, after a change of heart he does not readily discuss, McCulloch became a leader in the fight to understand and protect wild bottlenose dolphins.

McCulloch cofounded Harbor Branch's Marine Mammal Research and Conservation program in 1996 and, since that time, has lead more than 200 marine mammal rescues and (the Vero News, again):

10 dolphin health and environmental risk assessments, handling large, powerful animals in open water, managing a fleet of up to 12 boats with as many as 100 personnel without injury to a single participant.

In addition to his aquatic heroics, McCulloch has shown an entrepreneurial flair:

- He was often the public face of Harbor Branch's glamorous rescue work, in public appearances, and on television.

- He helped win state authorization for a series of "Protect Wild Dolphins" specialty license plates from which HBOI derives $1.65 million annually.

- He has pushed for a marine mammal teaching hospital at HBOI, so that dolphins and whales that could not be released back into the wild would remain under care and study at the Fort Pierce facility rather than be surrendered to "managed care" facilities elsewhere in the state.

Perhaps most surprisingly, despite his lack of academic credentials he has been credited as coauthor on numerous papers in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

So why did this seaborne superman get the boot?

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