WDC is an international leader in educating and exciting people of all ages about whales and dolphins, and this summer we were the proud recipients of the ASCOBANS Outreach and Education Award. With offices in five different countries and a visitor centre in Scotland, we reach a wide audience and carry out many different education initiatives. This is the 3rd blog in our Education Blog Series ‘Education with a Porpoise!’ – read on to learn more from Monica at WDC’s North American office!
I first joined WDC’s North American office in 2009 as a field research intern, and it was clear to me from the start that there was a large focus on education and outreach. Our interns are educating whale watching passengers on an almost daily basis while they are in the field collecting data. Since my internship I have progressed into a more permanent role with WDC, and I now oversee our intern and education programs. Needless to say, education is now a bigger part of my job than ever!
For most people, when you hear the word education you jump to a vision of a classroom with school-aged children. While this is a big part of our educational programming, there is much more to it than that. WDC partners on three responsible boating programs (Whale SENSE, Dolphin SMART, and See A Spout, Watch Out!), which all involve boater education to ensure an awareness of local guidelines, regulations, and frequently sighted species. An additional branch of our See A Spout program involves a partnership with the sailing community, and we have already reached hundreds of sailors in the first year of this program.
When we do visit local schools, our life-size inflatable North Atlantic right whale Delilah is always the star of the show; I’m sure you can understand why! We give students an anatomy lesson and share Delilah’s (unfortunate) story in order to raise awareness of the threats these whales face. We walk through a few demonstrations including the blubber glove, baleen filter feeding demonstration, and an entanglement activity to name a few. Our presentations also include a number of visuals- photos, video clips, and samples of whale bones and baleen. We are grateful to the local schools that host us for annual visits with their students, and are always looking to expand our school programming!
If you are interested in bringing whales into your classroom but you don’t have one of our five offices nearby, you are in luck! The last few years we have become involved in Microsoft’s Educator Community, where we connect with teachers and their students using Skype. To date, we’ve connected with schools in landlocked states like Iowa, Missouri, and Kentucky, coastal states like Florida, California, and Texas, and three different countries! Skyping with students who likely have never seen a whale before (maybe not even the ocean!) presents an additional challenge, but it is wonderful to have this great technology available to educate students far and wide about the work that we do and the species we study and protect. Our Skype lessons are free of charge (though we do encourage classrooms to consider adopting a whale to stay involved and further their learning) and available to just about anyone, so please reach out if you are interested in a session for your group!
It is incredibly gratifying to be able to educate future generations on whale conservation. From recreational and commercial boaters to our college-aged interns and grade-school students, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to play a role in saving whales by spreading important conservation messaging to a wide audience. And how many people can say they get to talk about the importance of whale poop as part of their job?!
I encourage anyone who is interested in more information on any of our educational programs to reach out to me so we can figure out a way to bring whales into your classroom/organization/program.