LEATHERWOOD, Steve

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Steve Leatherwood [middle], Santa Cruz Island mass, 1993
Steve Leatherwood, San Clemente Island
Steve Leatherwood with an island fox on
Santa Cruz Island, c. 1974
Steve in Samoa
Ever observant Steve
Steve in Anchorage, 1982

LEATHERWOOD, James Stephen (1943-1997), born October 12, 1943 in Osark, Alabama to insurance executive, Aubrey Leon Leatherwood, and his wife, Lillian Kathleen, a real estate broker. Steve received his B.S. degree in 1966 from California State University, Northridge. He did graduate work at San Diego State University (1969-1976), and in 1994 he received his Ph.D. from Texas A&M University.

Steve was a man of many hats: writer, scientist, educator, marine biologist and researcher, he taught mathematics and English; coached football, soccer and track at a military academy in Miami, Florida in 1967; and then worked at the marine mammal research unit of the U.S. Navy in San Diego, CA where he became an administrative officer in San Diego and at Point Mugu (1968-1970). From 1970-1978 Steve worked at Naval Ocean Systems Center, San Diego as a research biologist in the biomedical division; in 1978 he worked with the National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Mammal Laboratory, Seattle, WA and was coordinator of the Arctic Whale Research Task in 1978. Steve worked at Hubbs Sea World Research Institute, San Diego, as research scientist in San Diego and institute manager in Orlando, FL, 1979-1981; then at Hubbs Marine Research Center, San Diego, as senior staff scientist at Sea World Research Institute, 1982-1988.


During his global travels Steve was a lecturer in oceanography and marine biology for expeditions aboard the ships World Discoverer and Society Explorer, in South America, the South Pacific, the Indian Ocean, IndoAustralia, and Antarctica; for the Oceanic Society as a field instructor in the Bahamas, Baja California, Sri Lanka, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, the Seychelles, and East Africa; and as an instructor at Laverne College and University of California extension.

Steve also served as a consultant for the production of films and television documentaries, including:

  • A Whale Called Sunshine, Disney, 1972
  • The Great Whales, National Geographic Society, 1978
  • A Whale for the Killing, American Broadcasting Company, 1982
  • Where Have All the Dolphins Gone?, Public Broadcasting Service, 1989
  • Dolphins, Whales, and Us, Columbia Broadcasting System, 1990

He served as consultant to U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, National Fish and Wildlife Service, and the International Whaling Commission, and he was a Research Associate of the San Diego Natural History Museum.

The Sierra Club Handbook of Whales and Dolphins, by Leatherwood and Randall R. Reeves, covers more than seventy-five species of dolphins, whales, and porpoises. The book provides detailed information on topics such as physical characteristics and distinctive features, history, population distribution, and current status. Profusely illustrated with photographs and paintings, "what sets this book apart is its clear design as an identification guide," commented Susan Klimley in Library Journal. Many of the photographs show the animals in natural situations, Klimley noted, and the text helps clarify characteristics of animals that could easily be confused with others or misidentified. School Library Journal reviewer John Offen called the book a "fine introduction to the subject" of large marine mammals.


Steve Leatherwood = [1965] Melinda Weishaar (divorced in 1974)

  • 1. Stephen Keith Leatherwood
  • 2. Shannon Kathleen Leatherwood


Steve Leatherwood was Member #4 of the ALL EIGHT CLUB of the Santa Cruz Island Foundation.



In the News~

April 2, 1997 [Cetacean Society]: “The cetacean conservation community suffered an enormous blow when Steve Leatherwood died after a long illness in January 1997. Steve was the chairman of the Cetacean Specialist Group and worked with many different individuals and organizations to secure a better future for whales and dolphins. In recent years, Steve is probably best known for his efforts to help Asia's beleaguered cetaceans and particularly for spearheading the work to save the baiji, the rarest dolphin in the world, from extinction. Even during the last few weeks of his life, Steve was eager to continue to play his part in this fight. For those of us lucky enough to have worked with Steve we have lost an inspirational colleague and precious friend. He touched so many people's lives and was dearly loved and respected. My memories of working with Steve are all very happy ones. He specialized in tackling seemingly impossible challenges with an unfailing enthusiasm and an infectious sense of humor. During a river dolphin survey in Nepal, one of our rafts hit a submerged tree and tipped over - all four occupants including Steve ended up in the river. As we laid everybody's wet clothes out to dry and assessed the damaged equipment, everyone, including the Nepalese field workers, seemed a bit depressed. However, Steve announced that the incident was far from being a disaster, since everyone was uninjured and the equipment was replaceable, we should not feel upset but look at the funny side of it and then get on with looking for Nepal's surviving river dolphins! That evening we sat around a camp fire surrounded by our wet steaming gear, eating vegetable curry for the fourteenth time in a row and laughed solidly for hours. Steve had an amazing ability to inject happiness into the lives of people around him. Steve's optimism and positiveness was one of his most appealing qualities - he had a knack of turning situations around for the better which made him a fantastic person to work with and a gifted leader. No hurdle or obstacle was too great for him - he moved ahead, carrying people with him, making progress and never losing sight of the important goals he set out to achieve. Steve reached out to people he worked with and offered them honesty and friendship - it didn't matter whether he was working with fishermen on a remote whalers island in the Philippines or negotiating delicate conservation agreements across a conference table with Chinese Government officials. Steve has left us with a legacy of important whale and dolphin conservation initiatives which he set up and believed in wholeheartedly. Our commitment to him, and to the cetaceans he cared so much about, is to devote our energies to ensuring the success of these initiatives, both now and into the next millennium. Alison Smith, Conservation Director, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS).”