This whalewatch season in Hervey Bay, Australia marks an exciting continuation of Pacific Whale Foundation’s mission to protect our oceans and study the humpback whales in the East Australian population. These whales stop over in Platypus Bay every winter on their migration back to their feeding grounds in Antarctica. Pacific Whale Foundation (PWF) began its long relationship with Australia’s whalewatching capital in the 1980s when our Founder and Executive Director, Greg Kaufman, discovered the beauty of the humpback whales in Platypus Bay, off of Fraser Island, and pioneered the area’s first whalewatch on a borrowed fishing boat. Since then, Greg and the PWF researchers have been important figures in Hervey Bay, conducting photo-identification studies on these amazing animals each winter.
“So what brought you out here? And … how? How did you do it?”
We get this question a lot. Many folks are fascinated by the steps it takes to become a Pacific Whale Foundation certified Marine Naturalist. Our naturalists are college grads from all over the country – Minnesota, Kansas, California, Idaho, Florida, you name the state – we’ve most likely had a naturalist from there. The majority of us applied online and had numerous phone and Skype interviews, where we were able to show our enthusiasm and demonstrate our knowledge of marine conservation. Plenty of us had other experiences outside of college before we started here, including marine mammal research, internships, and other field work. Our hiring managers must have an incredibly difficult time making their selections from all the interested and skilled applicants – who doesn’t want to move to Maui?
The small coastal village of Puerto Lopez, Ecuador kicked off the whale season with A colorful celebration of El Festival de las Ballenas, honoring a sixteen year tradition of colorful dance, song and culture. This annual event brings community, local politicians and various organizations together to celebrate the presence of the Humpback Whales.
The whale festival also marks the official launch of the whalewatch season and what locals call a “prosperous time”. From the first whalewatching tours some fifteen years ago this quiet community has benefited from steady economic growth.
After four planes, misplaced luggage and countless Sudoku puzzles I arrived my final destination, Puerto Lopez, Ecuador some 5,321 miles from Maui, Hawaii. I am here to document a two-day whale festival and Pacific Whale Foundation’s 11 year presence in a growing Whalewatch destination.
I plan to capture the transformation of a small fishing to an epic whalewatching destination. I also want to highight conservation efforts for sustainable eco-tours and communal participation and the local celebration to protect humpback whales and the Machilla Marine Park.