By Frances Kinney, Director, Ocean Connectors
Ocean Connectors students are getting a reputation for being good-luck aboard the Marrietta. In partnership with Flagship Cruises and Events, Ocean Connectors brings 400 children whale watching for free aboard the Marrietta each year. For the past month Ocean Connectors students from National City, California have been observing migrating gray whales as they swim along the coast of Southern California en route to Mexico. The Eastern Pacific population of gray whales has been steadily increasing in recent years, leading to some extraordinary whale sightings for children who have never been on a boat before, despite living just miles from the Pacific coastline.
Ocean Connectors uses whales as tools to educate and connect youth in underserved communities on the Pacific Coast of the U.S. and Mexico. This interdisciplinary environmental education project crosses borders and cultural boundaries, linking elementary students to create a shared sense of stewardship and to promote an early interest in environmental issues. The program focuses on the migratory routes of marine animals to illustrate the interconnectedness of oceans, helping students to form a global view of coastal stewardship.
During a whale watching field trip on February 12th, a pair of juvenile Pacific gray whales treated the Ocean Connectors students to a spectacular visual display just offshore. The whales breached, they lunged, and they spy hopped, all right before the watchful eyes of a fifth grade student audience. The whales happily breached in all directions around the Marrietta for an hour, giving every student a chance to see marine life in-action. The consensus was clear from the boat crew, naturalists, and Ocean Connectors Director that we saw something truly special that day. Students learned the behavior they observed is not typical during a gray whale’s long 6,000 mile journey from their Arctic feeding grounds to the calving lagoons in Mexico. The whales usually make haste towards the lagoons, rarely stopping to feed or play. But this was certainly not the case today – the gray whales put on a rare show that would be remembered by students forever.
Just one week later, on February 19th, a pair of gray whales heading south delivered another powerful show amidst sightings of dolphins, sea lions, and birds just miles off the coast of San Diego. The boat volunteers and crew members exclaimed that this was simply impossible; it was just too rare to see breaching gray whales again so soon, and so close to shore. But sure enough, the whales proved their spontaneity with a few playful jumps into the air, splashing down right in front of the stunned Ocean Connectors students. This was the day that Ocean Connectors students became fondly known as whale “good-luck”.
Word has spread that the Ocean Connectors students have the power to summon the gray whales. I believe these amazing marine mammals recognize the hope and promise shining in the students’ eyes – the eyes of future marine biologists, conservationists, and educators. It is these interactions, mammal to mammal, that help fortalice a future of environmental stewardship.
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