The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) recognizes a total of 87 cetacean species - 15 are ranked as “Critically Endangered”, “Endangered” or “Vulnerable”, and 45 ranked “Data Deficient”. The overall conservation status of cetaceans and their environment is being monitored, but why do they need conserving?
Killer Whales, Orcinus Orca, are a species of dolphin unfortunately most famous for being the main attraction at certain sea parks, such as Sea World...
I would definitely recommend this project for the first time you travel by yourself. I am 16 years old and used this experience as my work placement and it was very suitable for this cause.
We base our understanding of animal intelligence on human intelligence. But what is intelligence? Could a species be superior to humans?
The quest to discover what this fruit is?! Anyone know?
Phew – what a week! There were whales, dolphins, warm weather (you may laugh, it is always sunny, but it has been warmer than usual), meeting new organisations… and that was only the first half! After this, we had a big event on Friday – all around the sea!
When you sign up on Monday to participate in an event four days later, you need to brainstorm, focus, and prepare everything in record time. This is why we found ourselves late Thursday night creating making whale fin memory games and drawing sea animals on playing cards, writing instructions both in Spanish and English and making origami whales.
Conecta Con El Azul was set up by the Marina in Las Galletas as an event all around sea life and how to protect it. The programme said there were activities all throughout the day and talks and workshops in the evening, so we were asked to provide some activities for children. (Age? No idea. We didn’t know much about what to expect from the day.)
It was only during the morning briefing on the day of the event we finally found out there were school groups coming who would be given talks about marine animals and how to treat them respectfully and do activities and games all around the environment: from recycling Twister, to Environment Roulette, playing our games around whales, growing plants, making turtles out of recycled material… oh and of course seeing turtles being released into the sea! In the evening there would be talks, a bird watching walk and other activities for adults.
The main event was organised by the foundation rehabilitating turtles on the island. They had two sea turtles ready to release and we all watched as they made their way to the sea with hundreds of students and the odd tourist clapping and cheering whenever a wave came close enough to drag the turtle into the water.
At the end of the day it seemed almost every pupil who came had gotten a tattoo from Iva. Our stand was almost reduced to the face painting, except more arms were painted than faces. From dolphins to squids to orcas and sea monkeys – everyone got a marine animal (or two, or three!) to take home. Let’s just say it was quite a success!
By Claire Herbaux - Field Communications Officer
This week long project is by far one of the best things I have ever done. The feeling I got when I saw the dorsal fin of a whale rise from the ocean for the first time was indescribable, and one that I recommend everyone to experience themselves.
When travelling to any unfamiliar country, preparation is key; the importance of it should be any traveller’s primary concern. Frontier provide an abundance of valuable information in regards to preparing for your exhibition, and from personal experience I highly recommend referring to these documents carefully before the commencement of your trip! The main objective of this project is to collect data and take photos of various cetaceans for identification purposes, therefore one of the primary pieces of equipment you are encouraged to bring is a digital camera, as you will need your own camera in order to efficiently photograph the cetaceans. I, like many people I’m sure, do not own my own camera; therefore I borrowed a friend’s camera for the week. I would recommend doing something similar as it is a vital piece of equipment and by bringing one, as your phone just won’t do and it will ensure you have the best possible experience throughout your project.
You will be walking a lot during your time in Tenerife, as the accommodation is quite a distance from the harbour where you will be boarding the whale watching boats, therefore appropriate, comfortable footwear should be brought! On occasion you may have the opportunity to go to the beach after your time on a whale watching boat, therefore I recommend bringing sandals and a pair of walking shoes with you on your days out of the volunteer house.
During the days on the whale watching boats you will obviously not be back home until late afternoon or evening. And you will leave early in the morning, so you may be away from your possessions for up 8 hours. With this in mind, a durable bag or rucksack is another vital piece of equipment. I mistakenly did not bring a bag or rucksack with me, so on the first day on the whale watching boat I was carrying my possessions in a plastic supermarket bag, which was not ideal! Not only did this make my travels around the island a lot more difficult, there was also the risk that my items could have been damaged or misplaced when walking or on the boats. I bought a bag on my second day on the island however and this made my travels and experiences a lot more enjoyable. Also, learning a few basic Spanish words would help you greatly when conversing with the locals!
If you are thinking about applying for this project, all I have to say is go for it. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Personally I have learnt a vast amount of valuable information about cetaceans and the methods researchers use to study them, and I know you will to.
By James Boyd, Research Assistant
Welcome to this four part series about cetaceans! Cetaceans include whales, dolphins and porpoise and their conservation is the main focus of our project here in Tenerife. But why do we humans love cetaceans so much? How do cetaceans interact with their environment? Why have cetaceans been given rights as non-human persons? Why do cetaceans need protecting? Find out everything in our four part Cetacean series!
Whales and dolphins are among a select group called ‘charismatic megafauna’. This means they are big animals with a cute smile - and humans simply love that! Ever wondered why the World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) logo is a giant panda? Because it is a cute big fluffy animal with a smile! Okay, it is a little more complicated, but only just.
We humans like things to look nice and be able to relate to them. Looks matter! It is not just about swiping left or right on Tinder. It has been scientifically proven we are hard-wired to respond positively to “cute” – big eyes, round heads, short snouts – and it translates directly into dollar bills (or the currency of your choice). Dolphins are the perfect example of “cute”. Their fixed smile give them a friendly and happy appearance and their anatomy is non-threatening; for example their pectoral fins and streamlined body are much like our arms and torso. Compare this to the image of a spider with eight crawling hairy legs and alien-like eyes. With the exception of some little boys’ obsession with creepy crawlies, people prefer dolphins over spiders.
Relatability matters! We long to travel the world barefoot and jump out of flying contraptions… but when it comes down to it, we are creatures of habit, enjoying familiar situations. We like animals to be similar to us and share intelligence, behaviours and social structures. The more similar, the more we identify with them, and the more we feel a moral duty of care to protect them. Dolphins are very intelligent social creatures with a curious nature. We relate to them when listening to their clicks and whistles, watching their playful behaviour such as jumping and playing, blowing bubbles or playing with objects.
Cetaceans check the boxes: good aesthetics and relatability and voilà, a charismatic megafauna with high economic value to humans. Whales were hunted for their meat, blubber and oil. As science developed it became apparent that these were intelligent social creatures and after the 1970s Save the Whale campaign they were seen as an environmental icon and “gentle giants” who roam the seas peacefully. The whale songs are even used as relaxing meditation music!
Whales and dolphins became part of pop-culture with Flipper in the 1960s and Free Willy in 1993. This new interest in cetaceans sparked a growth of marine parks and aquariums. Belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) with their unique white colour and their range of facial expressions, were first to be held in captivity. Nowadays, bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) are the most common species in marine parks due to their intelligence, trainability, playfulness and friendly appearance as well as the striking killer whales (Orcinus orca). However, in captivity, cetaceans are lacking space and the resemblance to their wild habitat. In the United States the legal requirements for killer whale tank is 15 metres in diameter for two individuals, whereas in the wild an orca can travel up to 160 kilometres a day! As a result, cetaceans can have reduced life expectancies, high levels of stress and even psychosis. Note: If you haven’t yet, you need to watch the critically acclaimed 2013 documentary ‘Blackfish’ which shows the reality behind the tank-life.
It doesn’t take an expert to see that cetaceans are too big and intelligent to be suitable for life in a tank. In some countries dolphins have even received the status of non-human persons, giving them special rights, including it being morally unacceptable to keep them in captivity.
Luckily, a cetacean’s value is not limited to ticket-sales at a marine park. As charismatic megafauna they easily capture public and media attention, and spark political interest, therefore being more likely to receive protection under the Endangered Species Act and funding for their conservation.
Often, they are an essential part of marine ecosystems as they have a high trophic level (meaning they are on top of the food chain) and can act as an indicator species: Their diet and habitat is supported by a high biodiversity; if this biodiversity declines, so does the quality of their habitat and quantity of their food, and eventually cetaceans. So they can tell us a lot about the state of an ecosystem and are of great ecological value!
Combined with their popularity, it makes them the perfect flagship species to raise awareness about other environmental features!
How? Well, because humans want to protect them, and by doing so they indirectly protect the underlying ecosystems and the small slimy ugly species also found in these ecosystems. No matter how interesting you try to make an image of a piece of seaweed look, it won’t be received as well as a dolphin. In fact, using a flagship species such is what non-governmental organisations (NGOs) use in order to get sponsorship, public awareness or media attention to support the conservation of less charismatic species and therefore biodiversity at large.
So next time you see a whale or dolphin take a moment to think about why we love them so much. Think about their smiles and about how it is both the curse of being held in captivity and a blessing because of the conservation efforts made!
By Lorain Drennan, Assistant Research Officer
Tenerife is a top holiday destination and one of the advantages of living in a touristic island is the vast amount of activities you can do any day of the year: surfing, jetskis, underwater scooters, diving, snorkelling; the possibilities are endless. Our volunteer Dawn went parascending and because she probably isn’t the only person to want to give it a try, here are her step-by-step instructions:
To go parascending you can go up to BondeaDia2 which is located right opposite of one of Eden, one of the whale watching boats we get on. Go on straight away or you can book for another day and pay 10 euros deposit.
On pantalan no 4 you can already see the sign for parascending. The people on the boat are usually Kirsty and Nigel who have a lovely Chihuahua, but more importantly 16 years’ experience. They will lock your stuff in a locker and put you in a life jacket. Just make sure you wear swim wear as you will get wet.
Once on board you are secured in the harness. There is no age range and the boat can hold up to twelve people and two of the crew. Once out at sea they will let the parachute off and pull down a plank with buckles. One or two people can go up together. From the back of the boat you hold on to the board while they buckle you up, you sit down, and then you’re off.
You are lifted on 200 meters of rope and will be 100 meters high, the view is amazing and it is so peaceful you can just about hear the boat below.
Even for someone who is scared of heights, it is honestly not that bad. Both me and another girl on the boat were terrified of the whole thing, and ended up really, really loving it. Though I screamed all the way up, once up it was just too awesome; I had to shut up and enjoy! I even managed to take my hands off the top and wave for the pictures and looked down once.
When they are ready to pull you in they will bring you down and splash you around in the sea, which was hysterical.
Once everyone had their turn we returned to port. The pictures of you taken throughout the trip are available for pick up the next day.
My last advice is to just go and do this yourself. I will definitely be doing it again whenever I get the chance and recommend everyone trying at least once.
By Dawn Twohey - Tenerife Volunteer
Are you interested in going on a trip to Tenerife to work on the Whale and Dolphin Conservation project? You can also take a look at our other marine conservation projects here.
Water is an excellent sound conductor, making sound travel 4.5 times faster than air. Other senses are less effective underwater, making hearing essential. Cetaceans are therefore extremely dependent on their highly-developed auditory system which lets them hear, produce sound and echolocation (also called bio-sonar), all of which allows them to sense, interpret and respond to their environment. Because cetaceans rely so heavily on sound for communication and echolocation, noise pollution from human activities is a major threat to their survival.
Basic hearing is done through the ears which are very small vertical slits located just behind each eye. A dolphin’s hearing range is six times better than a human’s! Cetaceans produce three types of sound: whistles, discrete calls and clicks. They use these for communication or echolocation.
Communication is highly important to the survival and health of all animals as it allows them to share danger warnings, find mates, teach their offspring and share interests. Cetaceans communicate with each other verbally and non-verbally.
Verbal sounds are clicks, whistles, and groans which they use for different kinds of communication and socializing. Baleen whales (mysticetes) such as humpbacks and blue whales have low-frequency hearing and produce a complex series of whistles and discrete calls (‘whale songs’) to communicate. These sounds can travel longer distances and are therefore also used for orientation when travelling. Male humpback whales vocalise during the mating season to either ‘flirt’ with the ladies or ward off other males.
Killer whales use whistles for close-range communication and coordination between each other. The most common vocalization of killer whales is the pulsed-call and a pod shares the same calls, a dialect. The dialects are essential for the identification and cohesion within the group. They are learned and transmitted through generations and no two pods have same dialect. Dolphins use unique signature whistle” to identify and call each other. Mothers can imprint a signature whistle upon their calves so they recognise her. Sound is also used to communicate during group hunting, and a pod keeps together by keeping within hearing limits of one another.
Non-verbal behaviours can be tail-slapping and breaching which produce a sound heard for hundreds of meters below the surface. Tail-slapping for example is used to scare schools of fish together when hunting, while breaching is an alert of an abundant source of food nearby.
Echolocation is a technique used to determine the size, shape, structure, composition, speed and direction of an object; detailed information about the animal’s environment. Bats and other marine mammals also use it, but only cetacean echolocation is sensitive enough to detect the difference between a ping-pong and a golf ball! Humans have copied a cetacean’s echolocation properties in sonar equipment used in submarines and in the mid-1980s the US Navy even trained dolphins to search for mines using echolocation.
Toothed whales (odontocetes) such as killer whales and bottle-nose dolphins produce create high-frequency sounds, a series of short and intense low-frequency pulses (usually clicks) of ultra-sonic sound. These are produced in a complex chamber in the airway atop the head and passed through the melon (fat-filled organ in the forehead) that focuses the sound waves into a beam (just like a magnifying glass focuses a beam of light) which speeds through the water and bounces off surrounding objects. Some of the sound reflects and returns in the form of an echo.
The 80-100 cone-shaped teeth act as antennae to focus incoming sound to the fat-filled cavities of the lower jaw bone (pan bone) which acts like a human’s outer ear. The vibrations are then conducted to the middle ear, to the inner ear bones (hammer, anvil and stirrup) and to the brain. The auditory nerve is three times larger than a human’s and is able to transmit the complex echolocation and vocalization signals. And convert the vibrations into electrical impulses. The size, shape, speed, direction, distance and texture of any object is decoded into an acoustical picture, allowing them to stalk and catch prey even in total darkness. A cetacean’s echolocation is closely integrated with their sight, making it easy to relate things they hear and see.
By Lorain Drennan, Assistant Research Officer