What could whale watching in the Atlantic have in common with Alaska? Suzie Teerlink and myself had never been whale watching off the east coast, but had heard the stories! Having started our careers working with marine mammals as whale watch naturalists in Alaska, we frequently had passengers on our whale watch eager to share their past whale watching experiences in the Atlantic. Turns out, whale watching operators in the Atlantic have heard all about whale watching in Alaska, too!

In recognition of the 10th Anniversary for Whale SENSE in the Atlantic Region, Suzie and I had the opportunity to go to Provincetown, MA to represent Whale SENSE Alaska Region at the Atlantic 2019 Whale Watch Naturalist Workshop!

This workshop, offered in partnership between the Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown, the Center for Coastal Studies and Whale and Dolphin Conservation, provided a great opportunity for us to meet several participating Whale SENSE Atlantic companies!

Despite the whale watching industries occurring in different oceans and separated by thousands of miles, many similarities existed. In both regions whale watching operators are important resources as lookouts for marine mammal entanglements and naturalists play an important role in educating the public on responsible practices for viewing wildlife in the ocean and on the beach.

During Suzie’s presentation at the workshop about conservation and ocean literacy on whale watching tours, she shared suggestions from her experiences to consider when interacting with passengers.

These included:

1) Be compassionate. Passengers come from all over the world, with different sources of knowledge and expectations! Naturalists have the rewarding and challenging role of interpreting  the complexities of nature to the general public. It is important to stay open-minded and patient.

2) Whales will be whales! Whales can certainly display some incredible behaviors! It is important to recognize that while witnessing a whale breach can be entertaining for us to see, it is not a performance. But that’s the beauty of it! Watching whales in their natural environment gives us the opportunity to see how whales make a living, from feeding to interacting with one another, but on their own terms!

3)  Focus on the big picture. Information shared with passengers should be presented as story, with facts used to spark interest and supplement the overall conservation goal. While estimates of how much a whale eats is interesting, connecting this information to why maintaining healthy ocean is essential for healthy fish stocks (for whales and people!) is a stronger message.

4) Science is a journey, not a checklist. While it is not human nature to be comfortable with uncertainty, it is important to consider that our understanding of whales and their environment is always evolving and growing. There are some things we will never know, but that in and of itself, is truly amazing!5) We are all connected to the ocean. One of the most important messages you can convey to your passengers, is that their actions matter! By fostering an understanding of the ocean’s influence on us and the influence of us on the oceans we can increase ocean literacy.

As a part of the workshop, we had the pleasure of getting to see what the hype was all about and got to go on a whale watch with one of the founding participants of the Whale SENSE program, the Dolphin Fleet of Provincetown!

Whale SENSE Alaska is excited to continue this exchange and have Monica Pepe of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation representing the Whale SENSE Atlantic at the Juneau Marine Naturalist Symposium on May 8!

Ali Schuler
Ali Schuler

Ali has been working with the Whale SENSE Program since 2018. She has worked as a whale watch naturalist in both Alaska and Hawaii, and spent her master’s researching the effects of whale watching on humpback whales and conservation.

2 thoughts on “Bridging the gap: Whale SENSE Alaska goes to the far east coast (of the United States)

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