Photography courtesy of Hella Martens.
It's said that once you look into the eye of a wild dolphin you'll never be the same again. This was definitely true for me when I saw my first wild dolphins off the coast of Florida. It triggered a passion for cetaceans that I'll never lose. This fascination has been fueled by blissful encounters with wild dolphins and whales over many years of vacations.
In the last year my passion has been ignited to an intensity I'd previously had no concept of. This is because I've been fortunate enough to dedicate my time indulging myself working on a huge event for the protection of whales, dolphins and the marine environment, WhaleFest. Dedicating time to my passion for cetaceans has been an amazing adventure of self discovery and increased awareness that has changed my life. However the most remarkable thing isn't the affect on me, it's the affect it's had on the people close to me. My increased awareness of the issues that whales and dolphins face both in captivity and in the wild has had a positive influence on friends and family in ways that I could never have predicted.
As a gesture of support for my work, friends and their children flocked to WhaleFest this year. I immediately started to hear amazing stories about how they were acting on the information they'd heard at the event: my friend's seven year old son did a spontaneous talk to his classmates about the problems that orca face in captivity; another friend's five year old daughter became interested in the plight of Maui's dolphins, which are close to extinction (only 55 left), and started to question the fishing practices that are causing these small cetaceans to become entangled in nets; another friend changed her family holiday so that it no longer involved a trip to SeaWorld. As a result of their support for me their interest in the plight of cetaceans had been kindled.
The acclaimed documentary Blackfish, about the issues that orca face in captivity, has added a new dimension to communicating my enthusiasm for only watching cetaceans in the wild. I've gently encouraged friends and family to watch Blackfish and slowly but surely most of them are getting around to it. The most surprising reaction to Blackfish was from my close relatives, who have also enjoyed many encounters with wild dolphins. They were moved so much by the documentary that on a recent flight to Florida they felt a strong urge to tell everyone to watch Blackfish and to boycott SeaWorld. Fortunately their own Mid-Atlantic protest only took place in their heads and I didn't have to collect them from the air marshall! More recently a friend wanted to take her son to the cinema to see a dolphin movie. He refused to go on ethical grounds because the dolphins in the film are in captivity; my protégé.
Blackfish has also stimulated many questions around the ethics of keeping any large animals in captivity. My siblings and I had enjoyed our local zoo immensely as kids and they had naturally wanted to share that joy with their children. But since I encouraged them to watch Blackfish, zoos have lost their attraction and pose many questions about the psychological welfare of large animals who are used to roaming large distances, especially those with complex social structures.
I've had a gradual awakening to how the power of ones enthusiasm combined with education can influence the people closest to us. Everyone can be a catalyst for change one person at a time.
Check out this novel idea to educate and encourage more people than ever before to love and protect whales here.