This observatory is part of the history of natural sciences in La Rochelle. The interest of scientists in the wonders of nature in the 18th century led to the creation of cabinets of curiosities in several European cities. In La Rochelle, the cabinet of Clément Lafaille (which can be visited at the Natural History Museum) is the beginning of a long tradition of La Rochelle naturalists. By bequeathing his collection to the City of La Rochelle, Lafaille initiated the creation of the La Rochelle Museum in 1791. Regular bequests in archaeology, mineralogy, zoology and botany followed, making this provincial museum one of the most important in France.
At the same time, Raymond Duguy created the Oceanographic Museum in La Rochelle (1972) to develop collections and research on the marine world and share this knowledge with the public. He hired technicians and, in the 1980s, supervised the first thesis students working on the reproduction and feeding of marine mammals. At the time, these fields were little studied in France and the Centre de Recherche sur les Mammifères Marins (CRMM) was a pioneer.
The CRMM has been part of the University of La Rochelle since 2004 and the quality of its collections allows the development of research activities on marine mammals in the newly created framework of LIENSs, an interdisciplinary laboratory dedicated to the study of the coastline (Littoral, Environnement et Sociétés ). In 2011, the CRMM will evolve once again. It becomes a Joint Service Unit under the dual supervision of the CNRS and La Rochelle University.
It is now called the PELAGIS Observatory and takes its present form. The Observatory is in charge of monitoring the state of marine mammal populations and, more broadly, the marine megafauna in order to support, in particular, the implementation of public conservation policies on these species.
Since January 2014, the PELAGIS Observatory, together with the ‘marine predators’ team of the CEBC, forms a centre of competence of international importance for the ecology and conservation of marine predators thanks to a close collaboration between observatory, research and expertise actions.
Thus, describing, understanding and predicting the effects of environmental changes on these heritage species enables both fundamental research to be conducted and societal demands concerning the preservation of marine biodiversity to be met. Dr Duguy would be pleased with the progress made.