Education Programs in the Eastern Caribbean Making a Difference
I can recall many profound moments during my time with WDC, but by far some of the most impactful moments happen when you see children’s faces in awe after learning about whales. In New England, I’ve presented conservation messages to thousands of students, and in the past few years we’ve been able to reach students nationwide as well as internationally through Skype in the Classroom presentations. Most recently, I was in awe as much as the students while presenting in underprivileged schools on the remote islands of the Eastern Caribbean.
Earlier this month, I spent time in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), a chain of small islands in the Eastern Caribbean where more than 30 species of whales and dolphins can be found. Students here grow up hearing stories of their parents (and grandparents) hunting whales- everything from humpback whales to orcas, pilot whales (known locally as blackfish), and many dolphin species. So when I share with them that whales are mammals and therefore are very similar to us in a lot of ways, you can see the fascination on their faces. Each session ends with a Q&A session, and I am completely convinced that our information is having an impact on how they feel about whales based on the intelligent questions they ask. Do they sleep? How do they recognize their friends? How long do they live? If one whale is killed, do the others cry? Few things are more humbling than watching a transformation of mindset happen right in front of you.
WDC’s vision is a world where every whale and dolphin is safe and free. WDC is also focused on being respectful of those with whom we work. Vincentians are very proud of their history and culture, as they should be. Whaling (and fishing) bailed them out of a crashing economy many years ago and established a sense of pride and stability among struggling communities. Now, whales may hold the key to an economic future for these communities, this time through whale watching.
In the case of SVG, we know that tourists worldwide have a desire to see whales swimming safe and free, and will spend their money doing so. We know that whales are worth more alive than dead, not only financially, but because of the significant role they play in the ocean ecosystem which makes their survival essential for ours. We know that orcas, dolphins and pilot whales spend their entire lives with their close-knit families, and all whales display evidence of sentience, not much differently than humans do. I also know, from my time in SVG, that even the school teachers and other adults are nodding in agreement that maybe it’s time to start reconsidering the role whales play in Saint Vincent’s culture. These are just some of the reasons why we believe whale watching is a viable and responsible way to interact with whales and sustain coastal communities.
My hope is that the children we reach through these programs will appreciate the whales in their backyard, and create their own stories of whale watching that they can pass on to their children and grandchildren.
Support for this project was provided by the Saint Vincent and the Grenadines Preservation Fund, Fundacion Cethus, and Animal Welfare Institute, as well as our many supporters, for which we are grateful.