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Genevieve Johnson speaks with students at Museo Elder - a science and technology museum
Genevieve speaks with students after a presentation in the Museo Elder IMAX theatre.
Photo - Chris Johnson

April 10, 2005
Odyssey Education & Media in the Canary Islands - Raising Awareness about Whales

View an extended photo gallery of this report - click here

Log Transcript

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey in Las Palmas, Gran Canaria at the conclusion of our research leg.

The crew found sperm whales in abundance around the archipelago, ensuring the success of the expedition in the Canary Island. An equally important component of the ‘Voyage' is sharing our research with the local community through the media, visiting schools, and opening the Odyssey for tours.

This past month, the Museo Elder - a science and technology museum in Las Palmas - hosted a presentation day for local school children from Grades 8, 9 and 11 from the American School of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria. The crew gave presentations about Ocean Alliance, the science of the Voyage, whales found around the world and human impacts upon them. In addition, we presented some of our findings around the Canary Islands with an emphasis on the unique cetacean diversity and the value of conservation.

The following day, teachers from the school toured the Odyssey to discuss how to incorporate whales and the Voyage into their curriculums and why connecting with a real scientific expedition from the classroom is valuable for the students.

Grade 4 students of the American School Las Palmas with the crew of the RV Odyssey
Grade four students from the American School of Las Palmas visit the Odyssey.
Photo - Chris Johnson
    "I think kids get most excited about science when it is most applicable to their life and it's something that they can see and understand... They were enthusiast [towards the Odyssey presentation], they were curious, they had questions. They wanted to know more. They wanted to be involved. They have made some plans on how they can be involved in helping the whale population around their island. "
    Margo Simmons - Science teacher American School of Las Palmas.

Margo gave the crew letters written by some of her students who are concerned about whales after hearing the presentation. The following are a selection of quotes from the students' letters.

    "When you showed us the picture of the plastic contamination, we were very sad and we think we need to do something to prevent that big problem."
    Isabel and Chantli

    "We are frustrated about the sonar testing that will happen in our island and our class is trying to do as much as possible to convince the governments to stop doing it... Most of the students didn't know about the sonar testing and now that we know - we can do something about it." - Dottee and Lazoa

    "We find the job you are performing in all the countries you visit, a job of very conscientious people. You have shown great concern over this ongoing and increasing problem. We are very happy to see people like those in Ocean Alliance, that are so worried about our common environment. Thank you for taking the initiative and educating all possible schools on the data you've found showing how greatly pollution can affect marine life and showing us as well how much an action as simple as picking up or not throwing garbage on the beaches or in the sea, can make a great difference and can help improve the lives of those living around us. We are very glad to have learned so many details about whales that we didn't know before...We are very interested in participating sending a letter to our government - Emily S. and Venus S.

    "Like you mentioned, I was one of the many that believed that whale hunting was no longer, but I was wrong."
    Clara JE

    "We really liked the audio that Chris played for us. We don't think we'd ever heard something like that. It was an experience that we'll never forget..."
    Martha & Natacha

    "We learned a lot about whales especially the singing of [humpback] whales and the sperm whales. We would like to help to prevent the seas being polluted and the whales from dying"
    Javico C.

    "The presentation about whales made me think a lot about human contamination. I was struck to see our effect on those poor whales who have been existing for centuries. Though there was one thing that stayed in my mind; it was the information which you revealed to us that female sperm whale pass on their body toxins into the calf though milk. It made me think that if this occurs, then every decendant would be accumulating the whole families toxins in its body, therefore, in the future, dying... On the whole I've found that your presentation has made me more conscious about my actions and those of my peers."
Television interview with Genevieve Johnson
Genevieve Johnson being interviewed by local Canaries television. Ana Pena of SECAC helped translate interviews for television and newspaper articles.
Photo - Chris Johnson

The Museo Elder arranged presentations over two days for students from the University of Las Palmas, many of whom later toured the research vessel Odyssey. It was an opportunity for science students from the Canary Islands and visiting students studying in Las Palmas from mainland Europe to see a working whale research vessel and to interact with researchers and crew of the Odyssey. This personal experience had quite an impact on the students who told us that it opened their eyes to careers in science - especially marine science and oceanography.

At the conclusion of our research, SECAC (Sociedad Para El Estudio De Los Cetáceos En El Archipelago Canario) and local governments from Fueteventura and Lanzarote invited the crew to give presentations to the general public and government officials about the Voyage of the Odyssey and the threats that whales face in the Canary Islands. These two islands are the sight where recent mass standings of beaked whales occurred in conjunction with naval sonar testing. In addition, there is growing concern about oil exploration, in particular the use of air guns and drilling, and its potential affect on local whales populations.

Antonio Gallardo, the Environment Manager representing the local government on the island of Fueteventura, expressed concern to the crew and discussed why it is important the Odyssey help raise awareness about these issues.

    "The people of Fuerteventura, represented by their democratic institution, are very worried by the increasing number of military maneuvers using sonars and other devices - and the fatal consequences of these exercises for marine mammals... We believe that it is necessary to declare the sea of Canary Islands as a protected area and free of acoustic pollution... The help of the scientific team of the Ocean Alliance assists us in transmitting to the governments of the EU [European Union] and the USA that it is important to keep our oceans free of acoustic pollution in order to keep our cetacean diversity for future generations."
    Antonio Gallardo - Manager of Environment - Government of Fuerteventura

The Odyssey received much media attention in the Canary Islands. Due to previous mass strandings of beaked whales linked to NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) naval sonar testing and highly publicized incidents of fast ferries colliding with and killing sperm whales, the research and education of the RV Odyssey was highlighted by local and national newspapers and television. The conclusion of our final research leg also coincided with the five-year anniversary of the Voyage.

Two museums invited the Odyssey to participate in exhibits about the Voyage. Museo Elder hosts 1-2 large temporary exhibits a year. In October, 2005, the museum will open an exhibit highlighting scientific oceanic voyages that visited the Canary Islands. This 6-month exhibit will include Darwin's historic Voyage of the Beagle, while "Roger Payne's - Voyage of the Odyssey" is the example of a modern day oceanic scientific expedition.

Antonio Gallardo with Ana Pena of SECAC and Genevieve Johnson
Manager for Environment, Antonio Gallardo (center). Ana Pena translates for Genevieve Johnson at a press conference in Fueteventura before a presentation to local government officials and the general public about the voyage and cetacean conservation in the Canaries.
Photo - Chris Johnson

Museo de Cetáceos de las Islas Canarias is due to open in late April on the island of Lanzorote. A joint project of SECAC and Museum Director Vidal Martin, this exceptional museum contains a small video theatre, models and skeletons of a wide variety cetaceans - with a focus on little known beaked whale species, and education information panels in Spanish, English and German. The Odyssey media team is providing Vidal with sperm whale vocalizations, videos and still images, and we look forward to working with education staff who regularly search the PBS website for facts about cetaceans.

The Canary Islands are one of the most extraordinary areas the Odyssey crew researched in over the past five years of the expedition. In addition to the richness and diversity of marine life, people are concerned about the oceans and are working to solve the multiple threats whales face here. The crew experienced genuine support and friendship from researchers, educators, students, local government and the media. We will not soon forget our time in the Canary Islands and would especially like to thank Ana Pena and Vidal Martin of SECAC for their tireless efforts in setting up presentations and their continual translations to local media and above all their friendship and vigorous enthusiasm for the study and conservation of cetaceans.


Log written by Genevieve Johnson

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