HANNA PETERSEN PHOTO Jackie Hildering celebrates fundraiser with grade three students from Eagle View Elementary.

Kids raise money for signs to protect whales and boaters

Humpback Whales were killed up to 1965, very heavily in the Coal Harbour Whaling Station.

A class of grade three students at Eagle View Elementary have put their bake sale money to good use.

The students’ fundraiser, which raised $250, is responsible for putting four signs along the coast to help prevent whale and boater collisions.

The class donated the profits to the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS), a non-profit based in Alert Bay and Port McNeill.

“Humpbacks are here feeding in our rich waters,” said Jackie Hildering, a biology teacher and marine researcher known as ‘The Marine Detective’, who co-founded MERS. “They can surface suddenly and become acrobatic. What most people don’t realize is that they don’t have biosonar, so they can become incredibly oblivious to boats.”

Hildering gave a special presentation about humpbacks to the class on June 9, where she also presented the children with the signs they funded.

The signs are a part of the MERS campaign ‘See A Blow, Go Slow’ which hopes to place signage to warn boaters in areas of proven whale density.

“We are trying to get the signs out all along the coast in places where the humpback is suddenly back,” said Hildering.

She added humpbacks have come back from the brink of extinction, in large part because they are no longer being hunted.

Humpback Whales were killed up to 1965, very heavily in the Coal Harbour Whaling Station.

“They’ve come back, but boater awareness is absolutely needed because it’s a game changer,” said Hildering. “There’s an overlap of humans and whales — you’ve got fishermen trying to make a living, and whales trying to make a living.”

Hildering told the grade three class during the presentation that “Little kids are teaching adults. The signs are telling adults to watch out, and these signs are going in really important places.”

Two of the signs will be going to the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve near Telegraph Cove, and another will be going to Bella Coola. One sign has already been installed in Bella Bella.

The student’s teacher, Jillian Brown, said the children’s passion for humpbacks actually started with a study of turtles.

“We became interested in studying turtles after one of our students had an experience with turtles while he was on vacation,” said Brown.

The class then began studying leatherback turtles because they come near Vancouver Island. “The other thing we wanted to do was give money to a hatchery but it was very difficult to find one,” Brown said.

After watching a video about turtles and ocean pollution produced by Hildering and MERS, Brown and the students decided to donate their money to MERS, who then used the money to fund their ‘See A Blow, Go Slow’ campaign.

“They did really well with the bake sale and took ownership of it,” said Brown. “They are learning how complicated the environment is and how nested the ecosystems are. The project became all encompassing in our lives.”

Another aspect of the ‘See A Blow, Go Slow’ campaign is educating people on what to do if they find an entangled whale.

“People motivated by the right thing think they should disentangle the whale themselves, but they are likely damning the whale to death and putting themselves at extreme risk.”

Hildering says people should instead report the location of the entanglement to the DFO Incident Line, so those with proper training can track and disentangle the whale.

“This is the most beautiful thing, because the next generation is making sure that whales and boaters are okay,” said Hildering. “We’ve tried to capture really clearly that this is also about the safety of boaters.”

To learn more about the campaign visit www.seeablowgoslow.org.

Hanna Petersen article

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