MERS on the road: Whalefest 2011

Who doesn’t like a good road trip? We sure do, especially when it includes big surf, whales, sandy beaches and some of our most favourite people! We got to include all of these this March when MERS directors Caitlin and Leah (with amigas Stacey and Erin in tow) headed out to the Pacific Rim Whale Festival hosted by the communities of Tofino, Ucluelet, and Pacific Rim National Park. The annual week-long celebration of the migrating grey whales turned 25 this year, and the anniversary event was focused on looking at 25 years of change. What better topic to fit this theme than looking at the comeback of the humpback- a topic near and dear to our hearts!

Yay! So excited to be on the west coast!

We were thrilled when the Whale Festival organizers asked us to present and we were more than happy to make the trip to the west coast. Armed with some baleen, krill, whale barnacles and humpback songs, we spent the last Saturday morning of the festival at the Wickanninish Interpretive Centre in Pacific Rim National Park. We were a bit nervous the morning of the event, wondering if we’d have anyone show up! The festival had so many great events happening in the area, we weren’t sure we would get an audience. Turns out we were wrong! Over 60 people showed up to hear us tell the story of humpback whales, their amazing population comeback, and the issues that still threaten these incredible animals.

Presentation ready to go!

The audience became mini-humpback experts after going over the ‘What the heck is a humpback?’ identification features section, and giggled while listening to the serenading songs of the male whales on the calving grounds, and the less operatic recordings of some winter songs in BC. They asked questions about how we study these animals, and of course, received a thorough lesson in current conservation concerns. Several groups stuck around after the talk was done to learn more, have another feel of the baleen, and collect information on the different marine conservation and stewardship programs.

Leah and Caitlin outside the Interpretive Centre

The goal of our talk was not just to promote MERS and discuss our research and plans for the future, but also to get a broad audience excited and informed about humpback whale conservation. As the famous quote from Baba Dioum says “In the end we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught”. Judging by the great questions and enthusiastic response received from our audience, we think we were pretty successful in communicating our passion for these animals, and getting people engaged. Mission accomplished!

With the talk over, we settled in to enjoy the rest of the weekend on the west coast- monster oyster burgers, multiple beach walks, many, many laughs , and, of course, some whale spotting ensued….

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