Acclaimed biologist Dr. Roger Payne, author of Among Whales, received the 2006 Earthwatch Film Award for his documentary, A Life Among Whales. The film chronicles his quest to understand and conserve the world’s whales—an important topic for those who believe in protecting the environment and organic living.

“Like all large animals, whales are threatened by human competition and habitat degradation,” says Dr. Payne, founder and president of Ocean Alliance. “But their most immediate challenge is that whaling is increasing exponentially. We need to restart the ‘save the whales’ movement. This, and the other environmental crises that mankind has generated, are not insurmountable problems; they represent the most singular opportunity for greatness ever offered to any generation in any civilization.”

“Documentary films help broadcast the inspiring power of nature,” says Ed Wilson, president and CEO of Earthwatch, an organization that recruits ordinary people to join scientific expeditions around the globe and one of the world’s largest nonprofit supporters of marine mammal research. “This is particularly important when dealing with marine issues, as so few people get the chance to witness this unique environment first hand. As we mark our 35th year, Earthwatch is increasing its focus on improving awareness and management of our oceans. Dr. Payne’s life work is a stellar example of how to engage the public in addressing these issues. From whales burdened by toxic chemicals to coral reefs overcome by climate change, we know the larger part of our blue planet is in trouble.”

Dr. Payne is best known for his studies of whale behavior, especially early recordings of humpback whale songs, and for his theory that the sounds of fin and blue whales can be heard across oceans. He is concerned about the efforts of whaling nations, such as Japan, to shift the balance in the International Whaling Commission and potentially overthrow the moratorium on commercial whaling.

“Unless we get off our chairs and start persuading responsible nations to support whales, the whaling nations will have a majority in the International Whaling Commission in a year or two,” he says. “That will enable them to institute new laws, like throwing out the conservationists who are currently allowed to observe meetings and lobby delegates.”