Mark Carwardine: “Don’t ever french-kiss a Narwhal”… and other words of wisdom

Jan 6 2020

Mark Carwardine joins David Oakes in this episode of Trees A Crowd

David Oakes

David Oakes


Mark Carwardine


Share this episode:

About this episode:

Mark Carwardine is a zoologist, leading conservationist, broadcaster and photographer. He came to prominence through his book and BBC documentary series “Last Chance to See” which he created with Douglas Adams of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” fame. One of Mark’s big passions is diving – he organises whale and dolphin trips in Baja California, Mexico. In this fascinating conversation dusted with the sounds of nearby Canada geese, coots and black-headed gulls, Mark describes his most moving experience, snorkeling with humpback whales, and admiring their five meter long flippers. He talks about his childhood, rescuing animals wherever he found them, and about creating his own mini zoo. He reminisces about an unforgettable moment from his youth; cramming his idols David Attenborough, David Bellamy, David Shepherd and Peter Scott into his old Hillman Imp, which catastrophically broke down on the way to the train station. From the green woodpecker that sits on his office window sill every day, to the narwhals in the high arctic that you absolutely ‘shouldn’t french kiss’, Mark describes the endless joy that nature brings him.

David's thoughts:

Mark has been writing articles for numerous publications for much longer than I’ve been podcasting – indeed, his current column in the monthly BBC Wildlife Magazine is very definitely worth a read – so I wonder how he deals with the pressure of writing one’s thoughts to a deadline! Rather than just repeating him here, you can find his deeper thoughts on issues we discussed buried in the pages of past magazines, so take a peek if you have the time. (I would like to point you specifically in the direction of his Nov ‘18 article on “The Shifting Baseline Syndrome” which is a concern that has haunted me since I spoke to Mark back in October.)

My interview with Mark is a stream of stories – one with many tributaries which I would have loved to explore for longer. I want to know more about the gentleness of a Humpback’s echo location. I want to know whether the experience of the pregnant woman whose baby was detected by a Dolphin impacted the way she raised her child: is the kid’s favourite animal now a dolphin, did it inspire a particular fondness for swimming, is his/her middle name “Flipper”?

Each time I talk to a guest and get an insight into another’s experiences, it unravels into a whole host of further questions. It’s the stories that have made me want to continue this podcast for another year. Mark’s awe-inspiring encounters that Douglas recorded, his “failing” to see a Blue Whale or being “shagged” by a Kakapo; by recounting an encounter we can get people to empathise with the bigger issues at large. A news broadcast may detail the facts, but it rarely aims to make us feel, emote and (even less rarely) entices us to act. And that is what the world needs now, more than ever, in 2020.

At COP25, in Madrid at the tail end of last year, Greta Thunberg and Luisa Neubauer were asked to talk as representatives of the Youth Climate Movement and, in particular, “Fridays for Future”. But, instead of speaking, they handed their allotted time to speakers from developing countries to tell their stories. Those without a voice got to share their realities and concerns which often in previous COPs are lost as the conferences tend to emphasise the dominance of developed wealthy nations. As with the WWF, The Guardian and Mark reaching out to Douglas Adams to reach a broader audience, so too were Greta and Luisa attempting to get the correct stories to the correct ears.

With that in mind, if there is someone brilliant that you think should appear on this podcast, please do let us know.


Handbook of Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises by Mark Carwardine

Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams & Mark Carwardine

Last Chance to See: In the Footsteps of Douglas Adams by Mark Carwardine


Mark being “shagged” by a Kakapo –

Mark “failing” to see a Blue Whale –

Manta Ray caught with a fishing hook in it’s eye –

Giant Birds of Past and Present (in relation to Man):


Mark Carwardine –

World Wide Fund for Nature –

David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation –

Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust –

Zealandia –

Shifting Baseline Syndrome –

Kees Moeliker and the homosexual necrophiliac duck –

Mammoths and Permafrost –

Can the Badger Cull –

Moa (Wiki) –

Saharan Silver Ant (Wiki) –

Vaquita (Wiki) –

Passenger Pigeon (Wiki) –

Sirenia (Wiki) –

Yangtze River Dolphin (Wiki) – 

The “Hillman Imp Four”:

David Shepherd (Wiki) –

David Bellamy (Wiki) –

David Attenborough (Wiki) –

Peter Scott (Wiki) –

More episodes:

Email updates

Receive the latest episode directly to your inbox by signing up for email updates