The privilege of being on the water serves as a reminder of the threats to whales
When I was a kid and wanted to work to protect whales and dolphins, I imagined a life at sea filled with dedicated research trips, amazing views of whales, and more fresh air than I knew what to do with. As I grew up and started as an intern for WDC, I learned that there is so much more that goes into researching and protecting whales than I had ever thought.
In my role at WDC’s North American office so much of my time is spent doing the less glamorous, behind-the-scenes work such as combing through data and answering supporter questions. Even so, I know I am one of the lucky ones who work in marine conservation. For many, they work for years and years without being near a coast, let alone seeing a whale or dolphin. I am fortunate enough to also work on a responsible commercial whale watch as a naturalist every week, meaning I get to see whales two days each week from May through October and educate thousands of people about them. This allows me a unique opportunity to not only see how whale conservation works, but also see the whales we work to protect firsthand. This also means that I not only learn about all of the issues that whales face, such as entanglements in fishing gear, vessel strikes and marine debris, but I unfortunately see those threats firsthand as well.
Just last week, I saw a mom and calf humpback pair bump into fishing gear as they were diving. Those few minutes when I was waiting for them to resurface were nerve wracking as I was waiting to see if they surfaced with any lines on them, all while maintaining my composure to continue my presentation to over 200 passengers. Luckily, neither had become accidentally entangled. After seeing this near miss, our whale watch came across a juvenile humpback. As soon as I saw the dorsal fin, I recognized this whale. At the end of April, this young individual was seen with a very thick line of rope wrapped around its body. Fortunately, this whale was disentangled and has survived so far. Every time we see this whale, I have the tough job of explaining what happened to him/her to a boat full of people who may not be aware of the issues whales face.
As I explain entanglement, I often get questions from a few horrified people. The majority of the passengers seem to just nod along, and it isn’t until this whale dives and the passengers can see the depressed injury that remains on the whale’s back that they understand the trauma this whale went through. I simply cannot wait for a day that I can talk only about old entanglement or vessel strike scars on the whales we see as a thing of the past, and no longer have to explain the fresh wounds.
Without fail, no matter how terrible of a day I may be having, the Gulf of Maine humpbacks offer a constant reminder that the problems I have are nowhere near as bad as the threats these whales face on a daily basis, and how fortunate I am to be able to see them on a regular basis. It also reminds me that these whales still desperately need to be protected.
Please take a minute to add your name to our letter asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to keep all North Atlantic humpback whales protected under the Endangered Species Act. Help us let them know these whales are not yet “saved”.