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Day 6 and 7: New England Aquarium

August 18, 2011
Martha and Ursula

Martha and Ursula

Day 6: Seals and Aquarium tour

In the middle of a pouring rain we arrived at the Parker House, one of Boston’s most historic locations and a spectacular accommodation for a weary group. A short walk  landed us at the New England Aquarium where Kara Mahoney greeted us. After touring the Aquarium for a short while the group met up with Kara again, who introduced us to Belinda and Justin, two of the fur seal trainers. We split up to spend some quality time with Isaac and Ursula, a large male and small female fur seal, respectively. I was with Belinda andUrsula, both charming company. Belinda described concerns about wild fur seal populations. These seals live only in a few colonies on the Pribilof Islands off of Alaska. Alaskan Pollack, used to make imitation crab meat and other seafood products, is one of the seals’ main foods. Increasing competition for limited resources may be a contributing factor to the decline of these animals in the wild.

Following the seal encounter and Aquarium tour, Kara presented her work on North Atlantic right whales. New England Aquarium researches both right and humpback whales.

Day 7: Climate change communication and whale watching

Kara met the group again this morning to share the Aquarium’s outreach activities used to create a better understanding of marine mammals. The group dissected a model porpoise, examined a blubber model and matched humpback whale identification photos. Finally, Kara introduced us to Calvin, a 40’ inflatable right whale modeled after a known female with an interesting tie to North Carolina. Calvin is the calf of Delilah, a right whale killed by a ship strike when Calvin was only six months old. Calvin was born off of Wrightsville Beach, N.C. and documented by researchers at University of North Carolina-Wilmington. After Delilah died researchers assumed Calvin would not survive. However Calvin reappeared a couple of years later, entangled in fishing rope. Fortunately Calvin eventually lost the line – unlike many other less lucky whales – and lived to produce her own offspring. In 2009 Calvin gave birth to a second calf off of Wrightsville Beach, N.C. close to where she was born. The birth of Calvin, and her calf, in North Carolina’s waters indicates the importance of our home state to the survival of this highly endangered species.

After two days of stormy weather, and canceled boat trips, word came through that our whale watch scheduled for the afternoon was a “go.” Kara again accompanied the group as we set off for Stellwagen Bank on the Aquarium’s whale watching boat. The whales did not disappoint us. Humpback and minke whales surfaced near the boat.

Earlier in the day John Anderson, New England Aquarium’s Director of Education, provided an excellent overview of current work among aquariums to create conversations about climate change with guests. Included in the discussion with John was the identification of our “mini-public”. This describes audiences within our sphere of influence; friends, colleagues, family, etc. John’s provocative questions and obvious passion for creating positive change provided focus and inspiration and helped begin to summarize the week’s experience while simultaneously identifying a framework for the future.

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