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New Program Connects Bay Area Students with the Local Marine Environment

By Renee Van Alyea

Oceanic Society is excited to be starting a new outreach program focused on schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. The program’s goal is to deepen the connection between students and the marine environment surrounding them. We aim to achieve this goal by providing local data driven classroom activities and research opportunities to elementary, middle school, and high school students.

Our first classroom visit was a success! The oceanography students at Marin Academy in San Rafael were excited to learn about Oceanic Society’s whale watching programs and whale entanglement project. This year has been an unprecedented year for reports of entangled whales off the West Coast of the United States. The students prepared for our visit by reading the 2014 NOAA Marine Debris Program Report Entanglement of Marine Species in Marine Debris with an Emphasis on Species in the United States and came in with questions and concerns about what they had read.

After a brief discussion, we delved into past data trends (from 1982–2015) in whale entanglement, specifically off of the coast of California. After discussing the trends in the data and looking at the oceanographic and biological reasons that whales and fishing gear are often co-occurring, students worked in small groups to analyze images and videos of specific entangled whales found in 2016. There was a buzz of excitement in the room while students were analyzing the data. We wrapped up the activity by discussing the challenges of analyzing images and videos of entangled whales and shared a few video clips of members of California Whale Rescue removing entangling gear from a humpback whale.

We hope to join this group of students again in May when they enter a unit on ocean conservation policy to discuss how the whale entanglement data is used mitigate future whale entanglements and assist with the financial burden on the volunteer rescuers.

We are excited to be launching this new program for which we are now seeking financial support. In the future, we aim to go beyond the in-class activities to provide subsidized whale watching trips and host educational beach cleanups as part of this program. We look forward to sharing more with you as the program develops!


Renee Van Alyea is Oceanic Society’s education coordinator. She has master’s degrees in both Marine Resource Management and Secondary Education as well as her California Teaching Credential in Secondary Education. Her passions include scuba diving, marine conservation, travel, teaching, astrology, music, bodywork, and being the best mother possible to her three daughters!


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