Dolphin Guru Stephen McCulloch Fired; Uproar Ensues
The context of the controversy suggests several possible explanations for FAU's harsh response to the Sea Oaks snafu and consequent Fisheries Service penalties (penalties which "several knowledgeable sources" told the Vero News amounted to "a slap on the wrist").
According to the Vero News, "Harbor Branch was founded as an independent, bootstrap institution by non-academics, and McCulloch fit in and performed outstanding service for the organization. Now that HBOI is part of FAU, though, his lack of academic credentials may be a sore spot in some people's minds."
McCulloch's personality may also be a factor. For all his brilliance -- or perhaps because of it -- he has a reputation as headstrong and proud. As one individual close to area dolphin research (who asked not to be identified) very diplomatically told New Times, "Steve is irreplaceable to the dolphin research community and the Indian River Lagoon. And from time to time, it has been evident that he knows this."
We also note that top leadership at HBOI has recently changed hands, as has that of FAU, and is under interim direction. It maybe that new and transitory leadership -- within a university that has only just emerged from a long year of public relations disasters -- is gun-shy of bad publicity and overreacted. If that's the case, firing McCulloch may only compound the problem.
That's just guess work, though. What we'd like is to hear FAU explain in more detail why it was necessary or wise to fire McCulloch and to hear his side of the story. His only public comment so far has been this statement to the Vero News:
For now, I am following a university process and wish to be respectful and responsible to all those involved. I remain positive and confident that once all the facts are made transparent, that I will be fully vindicated so that I can return to serve our community, the State and the region as I have for the past 15 years ... Regardless the outcome, this discussion needs to be more about Protecting Wild Dolphins and Whales and our shared ocean heritage than about any one person, organization or one stranding event. We all need to work together towards these important goals which will eventually define us to future generations.
Here's video of McCulloch talking about and showing images of dolphin rescue work at Harbor Branch:
(We want to thank our brethern-in-ink Jim Waymer at Florida Today and, especially, Steven M. Thomas at Vero News for their fine reporting on the McCulloch affair.)
Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers public affairs and culture in Palm Beach County and elsewhere. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.