GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 8, 2013

Whale Center cuts back mission — again

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — The Whale Center of New England has steered cautiously through financial dilemmas for the past two years since the founder had to leave the helm, first closing its doors, then reopening and reducing hours, but always maintaining a goal to hire a full-time scientist.

Now, its board of director has determined that’s an objective that is unattainable.

”Despite the efforts of its volunteer leadership and the generous support of several local businesses over the past two years, the Center’s Board of Directors has concluded that the center cannot afford a full-time scientist,” the center wrote in a prepared statement issued earlier this week.

With the hopes of hiring a full-time scientist nearly slashed, the Whale Center is reducing its already reduced hours and is exploring potential strategic partnerships. At the end of 2012, the Whale Center announced that it needed $80,000 in donations to get through 2013, but directors soon realized that kind of funding was out of reach.

”When it became clear that such funding was unlikely, the Board of Directors made the difficult decision to not staff whale watch boats and to seek a partner for a potential merger,” the center’s statement said. The statement as not attributed to any individuals, and people previously affiliated with the Whale Center did not return calls for further inquiry into potential partnerships.

The Whale Center, known for its work in cataloging and photographing mainly humpback and right whales, was founded in 1980 to study the whale population off the Massachusetts coastline. The facility on Harbor Loop, containing a full-size whale skeleton, has wowed visitors over the years, and naturalists from the center have ridden aboard whale watch vessels to gather research about our whale population and educate visitors on board.

The center first showed signs of severe financial struggle in early 2012, about a year after founder and longtime director Mason Weinrich stepped down from his position due to illness. Weinrich had worked at the center as a full-time scientist, focusing much energy not just on research, but on writing and grant funding as well.

The center shut its doors in what seemed like a final decision in March 2012, but reopened last July with reduced and wavering hours after a burst of support and funding through the spring, running dependently on volunteers.

A new full time scientist at the center would have continued Weinrich’s work in scientific grant funding and writing.

But, the Whale Center statement noted, “without a scientist on board, the center’s ability to fulfill its mission of research, education, and conservation cannot be assured.”

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.