April 10, 2018 • News Announcements, Program Updates
Phase 1 is complete and we have accomplished all we set out to do five years ago. Let’s just have a celebratory breach about that before we continue, shall we?
We did it! We did it! We did it, alright!
Yep, we have completed a 1600+ hour five-year study and now know where the whales in our region come from, go, what they are doing in Guerrero and what areas are most heavily used by them. Virtually everyone in the village now knows all about the whales and dolphins. Marine ecotourism has become a thing. Nature tourism and ecotourism in general has dramatically increased. Our survey results and studies show that the local community now sees their natural resources as more than just something to be exploited– nature is something that gives back to you when you give to it.
And Season Five was the best season yet!. Read on to find out about:
We observed our second baby boom (the first one we observed was in 2015). We even saw a tiny baby whale that may have been born that very day. We spotted the same mom/calf pairs again and again, which interested our team because re-sightings like that are rare in other parts of the world. And we got the most mesmerizing drone footage of baby whales — resting on their moms’ heads, nursing and even breaching!
This little one was resting on its mom’s head and was so tiny and new, it seemed to be just figuring out how to be a whale. Notice the deep fetal folds below its dorsal fin and how bent over its dorsal fin is!
Baby whales become total goof balls within days of being born. Their moms move them away quickly when a boat or paddleboard or kayak comes close, but when we give them space, wow do they put on a show!
Next steps: We have 90,000 photos, audio and video files to organize, four manuscripts and three presentations to prepare! Cetacean Society International awarded us a grant to bring our whole team (including the team members from Barra de Potosi!) to SOMEMMA, the biannual Mexican marine mammal science conference in May where we will present our discoveries to a global audience of scientists and policy makers.
We captured the world’s first aerial footage of rough toothed dolphins interacting with humpback whales. We watched a pod of 50+ false killer whales harass humpback whales. We watched common dolphins shaking remoras loose and the remoras reattaching to their companions. We ID’d more bottlenose dolphins with an infectious skin disease (also transmittable to humans) that is caused by pollution and the paper we co-authored about it has been published. There were no bad research days out there this season.
Rough toothed dolphins and humpbacks – what’s going on down there? Visiting scientist, Eric Ramos, captured drone footage of them interacting and we are getting ready to analyze and publish our findings on this extraordinary event. Stay tuned for more!
This was our first false killer whale sighting, and what an unforgettable event it was!
A common dolphin leaps out and shakes the remoras off its body. Eric had the drone up during this sighting, so we captured footage of the remoras reattaching to other dolphins in the group right away.
Next steps: We are collaborating with several great scientists to analyze and write up our discoveries and are looking for funds to launch a year-round high-school student run dolphin study, and to strengthen our marine mammal stranding and monitoring efforts.
We set out to bring 50 kids out on the water, but when they started showing up every day with permission notes from their moms I couldn’t resist. So… we turned Sunday into Whale Watching Day in Barra de Potosi. In the end, we introduced over 200 local kids to whales and dolphins this winter, not only from Barra de Potosi, but also fromZihuatanejo, Ixtapa, Juluchuca and Coacoyul!
We also taught over 1,300 kids at 12 different schools about local marine wildlife this year! We also taught at the library every week, played nature documentaries regularly and the kids gave several presentations about nature to the village and in Zihuatanejo.
Whale-shaped kids, printed on a wooden plaque and presented to the Barra de Potosí elementary school
Sebastian Cabrera, the little biologist of Barra de Potosí, presenting about humpback whales at the Zihuatanejo art and farmer’s market. Everyone calls him ‘Profe’ (Professor) now.
It started with whale love… Andrea’s Instituto Lizardi kids have become such passionate nature lovers that she and the kids are now leading the way for the school to become the first plastic-free green school in the region!
Next steps: Andrea’s school, Instituto Lizardi, is going to be the first school in Zihuatanejo to stop using plastic, thanks to her. And Raul is staying in Barra de Potosi to keep running educational programs with the kids there year-round. We are looking to match patrons with schools to keep getting kids into nature and scientists into schools.
The annual safe whale watch training programs get bigger and better every year. The group of 75 fishermen who participate in this network are the frontline champions of responsible marine ecotourism and this annual gathering and recertification process keeps the network strong. Last week we tested our network’s strength during Semana Santa, the busiest tourism weekend of the year in Barra de Potosi. The whales were still around, which is rare. The guides report that the fishermen worked well together, helping each other to know where the whales were, keeping a respectful distance and taking turns so no one crowded the whales. We started a marine-mammal-stranding network this winter and have already received and submitted reports on ten whale and dolphin strandings.
During our safe whale watch training this year, we broke up into four groups and discussed the pros and cons of becoming an officially acknowledged whale watch state and decided to go for it as a group. It is so inspiring to listen to these guys talk about how to work together so that everyone (including the whales) win.
The core group that will form our marine mammal stranding response network. We are already receiving and responding to calls almost every month!
I am preparing a report of our data and statistics for SEMAREN to request official acknowledgement of Guerrero as a state with whale watching activities. If we receive the acknowledgement, we will receive our official authorized whale watch flags next fall and work on community-led awareness and monitoring efforts that will make the program a success.
Ecotourism creates a strong incentive for conservation, especially when the whole community benefits. We have brought an average of $250,000 USD into the local economy every year for five years, through our project and the development of ecotourism and other work opportunities. Hotels were full this year, despite the awful travel advisories. All of the trained whale watch guides made money on whale watching trips. And the women artists of Barra de Potosí had their best spring art fair yet. One of my favorite activities this season was when our seven-person team served as roving translators during the fair.
Spring fair day 2018. Terra and Andrea are missing in this picture – one thing we failed to do was get a picture of all of us together this season! But you get the idea – 2018 was a total love fest.
Tourism is on the rise and everyone is talking about how this increase in people will affect both the environment and the local culture. I am headed to Baja in May for a planning trip with four local coop leaders to begin to learn how the communities of Cabo Pulmo, La Paz, and several tiny villages around the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific have recovered their marine environments and retained their cultures during a big shift. From there, we’ll focus on preparing with 14 influential men and women chosen by the village to go on our Baja learning exchange in February 2019.
There’s lots more in store, in terms of ecotourism plans, but that will have to wait until the next newsletter.
This season, I got to hire Avimael Cadena, a local guy from Barra de Potosi who has had an interest in nature, tourism, filmmaking and social anthropology since he was a little boy. Avi has been living in Mexico City, working as an actor and producer, since he got his big break from Maria Novaro, a Mexican film director who made a movie in Barra de Potosi in 2015. But he wanted to come back to work with our project. Avi made a movie about nature with the local kids and he also interviewed 100 locals regarding their perceptions about nature. Now we have baseline data on what locals hope for, fear, and think are the most important issues to focus on if we are going to bring the marine environment in our region back to health.
We will present these results to the community in May, and their feedback will help to determine what the next steps should be for our project in coming years. Once we have analyzed the results, I’ll be sure to share them with you, here, as well!
Arturo Mellin, my primary captain and most steadfast champion of this project, lost his father, Mingo, on the last day of our whale study. Barra de Potosi is a living connected organism. Everyone knows everything about everyone for better or worse. When someone in the village dies, we all die a little. Instead of spending the week on our grand finale presentation, we were honored to participate in the sad, beautiful, powerful death rituals with this community that we so love. We will come back to the closing ceremonies and presentations, once the mourning period has passed and the timing is right. But the loss of Mingo reminded me of this: it was never about the whales; it was always about the community – giving them love and support in every way possible.
Now is the time to leverage this momentum we have created into a community-driven effort to bring the ocean back to health!
Unfortunately, with the exception of a $3970 grant from Cetacean Society International to support our team’s travel to the conference, we didn’t get any of the grants or prizes we applied for this year. I have to somehow choose between writing grant applications, organizing data, and captaining the fishermen’s learning exchange. An impossible choice.
What I really need is a salary, so I can do all of this full time, as there is a lot to do! So I’m looking for people, foundations, and opportunities that will create that. I dream of having salaries for myself, Andrea García Chávez, Raul Ramírez and Arturo Mellín to work full-time on the project. We have five years of success under our belts, and are known and respected in the region. Give us the resources to dedicate our time and energy to healing Guerrero’s oceans and we will make it happen! We are searching for individuals, companies or foundations who can help support us. Those of you who have been following our progress and supported us financially know how much we make happen – if you’ve got anything to donate, your tax-deductible donation dollars are the wind beneath our wings. Donate here.
Thanks so much for being a part of this first phase of our project. I love that I get to do this work every day and know there are a lot of important things going on out there to support. That you have supported my little whale project that could and been a part of it so far means a lot to me! Long may it continue!