January 7, 2022 • News Announcements
As we ease into the year 2022, it is with great sorrow that we recount the loss of our dear friend Izzy Szczepaniak, who passed away unexpectedly on November 24, 2021. As our longest serving naturalist, Izzy led Farallon Islands whale watching trips and international nature expeditions for Oceanic Society since 1982, and he was involved in marine science and conservation all over the San Francisco Bay Area throughout that time.
Isidore “Izzy” Szczepaniak (1950-2021)
Izzy was an enthusiastic presence aboard each trip he led for Oceanic Society. He was always eager to share his knowledge and passion for ocean wildlife with our passengers (especially harbor porpoises, one of his most fervent interests), a role from which he never seemed to tire, even after nearly 40 years. Beyond the Bay Area, Izzy led many Oceanic Society groups on international expeditions to Baja California, Belize, and Palau, where his enthusiasm for science, genuine interest in sharing his knowledge, and love of nature made him a memorable and beloved group leader. Izzy had a positive energy and gregarious nature that was not only appreciated on our trips, but also at our many team gatherings over the years. Izzy was beloved and admired by his fellow naturalists, as well as by all of the staff at Oceanic Society. He will be dearly missed.
Izzy was always eager to share his knowledge and passion for ocean wildlife with our passengers, and he always had a notebook at hand to collect data.
There have been several fantastic write-ups recounting Izzy’s life and his work with other local organizations in recent weeks, which we strongly encourage you to read (some links provided at the end of this post). Rather than repeat what has already been said, we’d like to share a few stories about Izzy and what he meant to all of us at Oceanic Society and the tens of thousands of passengers with whom he shared his knowledge and enthusiasm.
The first thing to note about Izzy is that he loved collecting data. He carried around little notebooks and was constantly jotting down coordinates and notes for everything interesting he saw on the ocean. He often joked that he was going to need a bigger house to store his notebooks since he’d been at it for over 40 years.
This decades-long dedication to collecting data and co-authoring scholarly articles landed Izzy a research position in a recent survey to look for the critically endangered vaquita in Mexico, a dream for him. It was no surprise that when Izzy returned to California he reported how much he enjoyed that multi-week excursion where data collection was the primary objective. If only he’d had a chance to surf every day in Baja, he may have never come back.
Surfing near his home in Pacifica was a great joy in Izzy’s life. While surfing one day many years ago, he discovered a glass bottle floating on the water with a piece of paper rolled up inside. He proceeded to open it and the message read something like this:
“Launched from Southeast Farallon Island on board Oceanic Society vessel on such and such date. Please call this number to report when and where you found it.”
Looking at his calendar, Izzy realized that he had been on board that trip as a naturalist and he gave the phone number a call. Turns out a passenger had released the bottle and several others like it with hopes of gleaning data about the currents surrounding the Farallon Islands. After a subtle rebuke from Izzy for littering on his trip, he talked with the bottle releaser and learned more about the project and where the other bottles were found. Izzy kept that message in a bottle and brought it along on Farallon Islands trips for years to come so that he could share the story with other passengers.
The number of passengers who’ve heard Izzy’s bottle story is anyone’s guess, but we have a feeling there are quite a few. Based on our trip records, we estimate that Izzy interacted with nearly 20,000 passengers over the years. We also figure he spotted well over 10,000 whales on our trips, likely just a fraction of the number he saw in a life spent on the water.
Izzy’s celebration of life ceremonies began on the water in the form of a paddle out in Pacifica on Saturday, January 8, 2022, followed by an evening event at California Academy of Sciences.
A paddle out was held in remembrance of Izzy on January 8, 2022 in Pacifica. © Mindy Clar