A WHALE of a time to get involved!

The whales are back! After their drastic decline due to commercial whaling in the previous century, studies have shown that their population numbers are back on the rise, with the Humpbacks making an almost full population recovery! This allows us to celebrate two things on World Whale Day: the first is the resilience of these great ecosystem engineers; and the second is us- a community of scientists, sponsors, whale conservationists and an engaged public.

Whales are incredibly important to the ecosystems that they are a part of because they serve as engineers- contributing to the structure of the system at varying trophic levels. Therefore; when their populations suffered at the hands of commercial whaling in the last century, it was a great loss to our oceans and their health. Off our beautiful South African coast, we have over 30 species of whales and dolphins. Because we are situated in space where three great oceans meet, the waters can accommodate an incredibly diverse array of marine life. We should therefore do all we can to keep our marine resources at a sustainable level.

Marine conservation and sustainability in South Africa are hugely important for a number of reasons. It is important to get involved; whoever you are, wherever you are! Our natural resources not only need protection by the government but by our own youth through various avenues. There are many ways to do this but there are two ways, that to me, are the most influential; and most importantly, are within your sphere of control.

The first way to get yourself involved is through educating yourself. Now this can come in many different forms; and because education in the country is highly skewed towards the privileged, it is even more important to make use of varying forms of education, to empower yourself in whatever situation you are in right now. The most obvious form of education is formal- through schooling and tertiary education, but as I mentioned before, this is very much not accessible to everybody and so I propose looking into other avenues such as reading! Have a look at newspaper articles, in or out of date, read blogs that you may be able to access through your phone or someone else’s phone, go become a part of your nearest library and read up on marine conservation concepts and ask if they may have or be able to get hold of the national policies that govern our conservation practices. There are SO many things we can read, we just have to take a step back and think about what they are and how they are accessible to us. Other forms of educating yourself could be in the form of watching documentaries. Again, some libraries have access to the internet and therefore you can find some interesting doccies on the internet or at home on your tv. You could also empower yourself through subscribing to certain emailing lists (that send out emails about all sorts of very current things going on in conservation), attending talks at a nearby university, attending free marine film screenings, saving up and applying for short courses and finally, getting yourself to the nearest rocky shore and tidal pool to see and experience some of the wonderful marine life that we love so very much!

The second important way of getting yourself involved is through volunteering. Volunteering can also be lumped into the same category as interning because interning is very accessible in science in South Africa. The levels of interning, in terms of responsibility and pay, will obviously be reliant on the amount of education you may have. Both these options are great ways to compliment all the theory you have put so much effort into learning. It is also a great way to gain skills and experiences as a conservationist on the ground! The most common question with this advice is “Where do I volunteer?” So here are a few ideas that may get your mind jogging: You can volunteer for beach clean-ups. In fact, I have a secret for you…the amazing thing about beach clean-ups is that you don’t have to wait for one to be organised, you can do it yourself! You can also volunteer at the Two Oceans Aquarium, uShaka Marine World, East London Aquarium, SANCCOB, try interning at Department of Forest and Fisheries, the Department of Environmental Affairs; and volunteer your time into writing blogs or making videos about your experiences in marine conservation- share your knowledge!

“In the end we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.” Baba Dioum

This quote is a constant for me in my life because it summarises the importance of empowering ourselves in order to empower other beings- be it human beings or the marine life that has only us to protect it. We have seen many endangered species go extinct, but we have also seen many recover. These successes are attributed to our understanding of co-existence and long-term sustainability. So, I encourage you to understand.

Happy Whale Day!

Thando is a Marine Biologist working at the Two Oceans Aquarium. Her work at the aquarium is focused in animal welfare and health.