By Ashley Schaffert
Whales have been a big part of my life for as long as I can remember. Growing up in Buffalo, you wonder how a small child would be so obsessed with these giants, without ever seeing them or living near them. That is the beauty of these animals; they captivate people all over the world.
After moving to Boston in 2011, I obtained a job on a whale watch boat as a photographer. It was the perfect job for me. I remember my first shift; a cold and rainy April day, about 30 miles off the coast of Boston. It was the first time I had ever seen a whale in the wild. I was so excited that I could barely hold the camera. From there on out, every single day would be equally as exciting. Seeing these whales NEVER got old. As I learned more about our ‘Massachusetts’ whales, I soon discovered a species I was not previously aware of growing up; the North Atlantic Right Whale.
Although I love all whales, Right Whales have become a favorite of mine. As you may know, Right Whales are protected by strict state and federal regulations that state you must remain at least 500 yards away from them or more. Therefore, whale watch boats are unable to ‘watch’ them. I had learned so much about watching our humpback whales, that I was determined to learn more about the species I couldn’t see. While my love and curiosity for Right Whales grew, a once in a lifetime happening at work really sealed the deal for me. About 20 minutes into a trip, just inside Boston’s outer harbor, I felt our boat come to an abrupt halt. I ran to the wheelhouse to find out what was happening. There, outside the port-side window, were two Right Whales calmly circling and feeding around the boat. We shut the boat down completely, and sat dead in the water waiting for these two giants to move far enough away from us before continuing on our way. This is a sight few get to see, and a day that I will cherish forever. Because of that day, I have branded those two Right Whales, named Shackleton and Legato, onto my right arm.
As exciting as it was to see Right Whales in the wild, it also made me very concerned to see them so close to busy Boston. The Right Whale population depleted due to whaling many years ago, but now face more modern challenges. Right Whales are known as the ‘Urban Whale’ because of how close to the mainland they inhabit. This makes them extremely prone to ship strikes from the main channels. And just like other species of whale, entanglement is also another leading threat.
Knowing that there are only around 500 North Atlantic Right Whales left in our ocean is just not acceptable to me.
Since we cannot expect a whale to not follow it’s natural instincts, we as humans need to adapt to their environment. The ocean is their home, not ours. We need to continue to follow speed regulations, move shipping channels out of migratory zones, and encourage the use of ‘whale-safe’ fishing gear more. Everyone can have a helping hand in this, even if you do not live near the ocean or whales. This is a national, and worldwide effort. I have worked with Whale and Dolphin Conservation to help promote the protection of Right Whales through my artwork and photography, and will continue to advocate in any way I possibly can. I encourage those reading this to do the same. Remember, even the little things add up, and it all starts with a voice.
Ashley Schaffert is a Photographer & Blogger. You can see more of her right whale artwork and other creative efforts at www.ashleyschaffert.com
WDC is grateful to our guest bloggers and value their contributions to whale conservation. The views and opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of, and should not be attributed to, WDC.