From WDC Intern to Right Whale Aerial Observer
When I became the Intern Coordinator 8 years ago, the very first intern I had the pleasure of supervising was Kate McPherson. Kate was a perfect first intern for me to work with; she was a hard worker who truly dedicated herself to getting the most out of the experience, all while being reliable and professional. I am proud to say she has gone on to have an incredible impact in marine conservation as a Team Leader for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute NC Right Whale Aerial Surveys and to share a snippet of a recent blog she wrote about the exciting conservation work she is doing.
I first started to imagine a blog for North Atlantic right whales after attending the North Atlantic right whale conference two years ago. I had just been hired to fly as an aerial observer with Clearwater Marine Aquarium Research Institute (CMARI) and was able to attend the conference just a few weeks before our survey season was scheduled to start. Coming off my post-ditch training rush (more on ditch training aka underwater egress training in a future post!) I went into the conference feeling very encouraged about this new chapter in my career. Then the presentations started, and that happy feeling began to deflate.
When the right whale conference kicks off each year, researchers provide updates on the number of whales left alive, as well as the ones that have been lost due to vessel strikes and entanglements. Images of these unfortunate whales are often provided, and it can be difficult to watch; even more difficult to feel hope for the survival of this species. I remember sitting in my seat as presentation after presentation went by, each one making me feel like there was no way I could make a difference for the whales I had come to know and love.
Then one of the presenters started speaking about how we as right whale researchers and conservationists can get more people interested in North Atlantic right whales, and my ears perked up. Finally, some tips on how to give these whales some positive attention! Usually the only time people hear about North Atlantic right whales is through yet another story about how the species is headed towards extinction. It is all too easy to feel overwhelmed by bad news, and usually when people are faced with depressing facts the easiest thing to do is put them out of mind- I know I am guilty of this! Combine this with the fact that right whales are perhaps not the most attractive whale species (whale lice, anyone?) and suddenly you realize that these individuals have a bit of a public relations problem. Clearly, a new approach for North Atlantic right whales is needed, and after listening to this presentation I thought I might have an idea of where to start.
Before the start of our current survey season, I met (virtually) with CMA and CMARI staff to discuss the possibility of writing a blog about our aerial surveys, a blog that would hopefully give people more information about North Atlantic right whales and some behind-the-scenes looks at the work done by our aerial observers. I was excited by the opportunity to do something to promote awareness of right whales, and I kept thinking back to what I had learned at the conference two years ago: to get people to care about North Atlantic right whales, you need to tell their story. Not just the numbers and statistics, though they are important; you need to tell the stories of these individual whales, who they are and what they have experienced in their lifetimes. And because the right whales are not able to speak for themselves, it is also important to share the stories of the people who work closely with these individuals- that’s where this blog comes into the picture.
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