Whale experts launch free virtual marine biology camp to entertain and educate kids
The scientists who lead in Seattle Oceans Initiative are more generally applying their marine mammal expertise to endangered killer whale research or white-sided dolphin conservation in Washington’s Puget Sound.
But the upside-down world of the novel coronavirus and the closure of their nearly 6-year-old daughter’s school inspired them this week to launch what they’ve dubbed their Virtual marine biology camp.
“We thought it might be fun for a bunch of us to be able to hang out online and talk about whales, dolphins and other marine life,” said Erin Ashe, executive and scientific director of the non-profit institute.
In the absence of qualified technical support or a communications team, Ashe and her husband Rob williams, who is the organization’s chief scientist, used the tools at his disposal. They broadcast their camp live on Facebook and Instagram, answering questions sent before and during the session.
They expected half a dozen kids to go online.
Instead, some 1,500 viewers nationwide attended their first session on Monday.
âSince we’re all stuck in our homes and isolated, it’s a way to come together,â Williams said.
Whaling scientists with PhDs readily admit that they are not professional educators or media producers, but are excited to be able to share information about the rich marine ecosystem of the Northwest and help children to learn. feel more connected to the environment, wherever they live.
âOur community has really grown stronger and real teachers are sending us advice,â Williams said, and others are giving advice on how to set up their cameras for the best effect. âPeople are helping us fill this void while the children are stuck at home. “
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With their initial success, Ashe and Williams hope to host camp every Monday and Thursday at 11:00 a.m. PST to help families occupy time while children are out of school due to the coronavirus.
Upcoming shows include a conversation with a scientist from the Oceans Initiative who studies orca poo to see if it contains parasites that could make sick orcas in the region sick. They have scheduled a shark expert to join them next week. They plan to speak to a fellow wildlife photographer who uses the images to find unique and identifying features of marine life in order to count and track individuals. Scientists want to help children think about how they could apply this tool to photograph their own cats and dogs.
In their normal day job, Ashe and Williams did research to help brief Governor Jay Inslee’s Orca Recovery Task Force. They have published scientific papers examining the effects of ship noise on killer whales and their ability to hunt salmon. The association has investigated the inadvertent killing or âbycatchâ of local porpoises and dolphins in salmon gillnets. Further, the organization helped develop a low-cost animal counting toolkit that can be used in developing countries to count populations.
Scientists are excited to connect more widely through the day camp. Williams is already considering equipping his research boat with a camera that could capture the action on the ground.
âIt would be so much fun looking for whales and dolphins in the Salish Sea,â said Williams, using the name of the inland water strip that runs from Puget Sound to British Columbia.
For children and adults living anywhere, he said, “it would be fun to see in real time, this is what a day in the life of a marine biologist looks like.”
Scientists are delighted with the positive response to their camp. Because of this, Ashe said she has a new appreciation for how difficult it is to be an educator.
âIt underlines how incredibly valuable teachers are,â she said.