Summer is here! We are gearing up to get back into the field full time. Although we have had encounters all winter long, summer is the busiest time of year for the Orca Survey project. This is also the time of year when students all over the world are looking for internships and opportunities for the summer. “Does the Center for Whale Research Have any Internship opportunities?” is by far our most frequently asked question. Unfortunately, right now the answer is no, and we would like to explain why.
In the early years of the Center for Whale Research, our main funding source came from Earthwatch. Earthwatch is an international non-profit Organization to that provides worldwide volunteer opportunities and educational expeditions. People can have the chance to be part of an active research project and to participate in data collection and conservation. It is an amazing way to both see the world and wildlife as well as contribute to conservation efforts around the globe. The Center was one of the most popular Earthwatch expeditions for many, many years. Teams of 10-12 people would come to the Center for 10 days at a time, back to back, all summer long. It was a lot like summer camp, but with killer whales, and it was just as fun as it sounds. We had amazing people from all over the world, many of them getting to see killer whales in the wild for the first time. Many Earthwatchers, as they were called (actually Ken affectionately called them Earthlings) came back year after year and eventually became Center staff. The most famous of those is Dave Ellifrit. He came to the Center as an Earthwatcher in 1989, and his talent at killer whale ID’s got him invited back the following year as staff. Twenty-seven years later he is not only the world’s expert on SRKW Photo ID, but he is the most senior staff person at the Center.
Earthwatch kept us afloat for almost two decades, and for many of us, those were the glory days of CWR. Watching whales, meeting new people, having barbecues, playing volleyball in the yard…. they were good times. But once the SRKWs got listed as endangered in 2005, the logistics of our Earthwatch expeditions got more complicated. Now an endangered population, the Southern Residents required more protection, more regulations and more permitting. With the new requirements and regulations, it became impossible to use our own boat, High Spirits. We started taking our Earthwatchers on whale watching boats and although that worked for a few years, we eventually had to call it quits in 2006. Around the same time, we got contracted with NMFS to do the annual census of the SRKWs and to monitor the population. After that, the staff got reduced down to a just a few of us. We frequently have nostalgic conversations about bringing back Earthwatch in one form or another. We all miss the days of summer whale camp and the seemingly endless pool of new people and potential staff members.
In 2011, we finally came up with a plan to do an internship program. It was a great success and we had several interns that ended up sticking around as volunteers. Although successful, it was a lot of work to manage. Anyone who has ever had volunteers understands that they come with a lot of enthusiasm and little experience. Which is as it should be, because they come to learn. But here’s the thing, we only have a handful of staff people: Ken, Erin, Dave, Giles, Lisa and Melissa. All of us have a more to do than what we have time for and most of us have other jobs as well. Managing volunteers is a full-time job in itself, and unfortunately, we just don’t have the staff or the resources. In a perfect world, we would love nothing more than to have a thriving internship program, giving students the opportunity to get real experience in the filed with one of the earth’s most amazing creatures. Almost every staff person at the Center started off as a volunteer. But times have changed, and the current reality is that we have to put more of our energy into seeking funding then we used to. As our federal funding shrinks with each coming year, we have to consider where our time is spent. Our dreams of resurrecting the glory days of interns and volunteers will have to wait. For now, we have to focus on the whales.
For all of you reading this in hopes that there will be an announcement of a new internship program, I am so sorry to disappoint. The truth is that getting experience in the field of marine biology is hard to come by. And opportunities with wild killer whales are very rare. But experience is experience, and if one can have an open mind to other species there are a lot of ways to get involved in the marine mammal world.
Some of you just want to help the Center and/or the whales. The best way to support the Center for Whale Research is to become a member and encourage your friends to do the same.
If you want to do something to help the Southern Resident killer whales, here are a few ideas:
1-Get involved in salmon restoration projects in your area. If you live in or around Puget Sound, sign up with Whale Scout for their next habitat restoration project. If not, visit sites like www.wildsalmon.org to find out what you can do to help wild salmon.
2-Choose sustainably-harvested salmon and other seafood to help protect wild fish populations. Know where your fish is coming from, and be aware that although a Chinook Salmon may be caught in Alaska it is more than likely headed for a river in Oregon or Washington. Click here to view the graph and visit: https://www.seafoodwatch.org/seafood-recommendations for recommendations on what to avoid.
3-Support the breaching of the lower Snake River Dams. Visit www.damsense.org to see what you can do.
4- Watch what goes down your drain. People say this a lot, but it’s important to reduce or eliminate the toxins we are putting into the marine ecosystem. Use non-toxic alternatives and ensure that any toxic chemicals you have are taken to your nearest toxic waste disposal site.
5- Spread the word to your family and friends. Ask them to support killer whale research and salmon restoration.
If you are interested in a career in marine biology and want to get experience, check out these links below.
For a General list of Marine mammal related Jobs and Opportunities sign up for the email list from the University of Victoria:
WhaleFish.org is also a good resource for lists of organizations offering internship and volunteer opportunities:
For Undergraduates, graduates and Post-Grads, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary has a variety of opportunities: http://floridakeys.noaa.gov/getinvolved/internships.html
The National Marine Mammal Foundation offers internships to Undergraduates and Veterinary Students: http://www.nmmf.org/student-internships.html
The Bottlenose Dolphin Research Institute offers both field and laboratory experience: http://www.thebdri.com/education/internships.html
Marine Careers has a list of opportunities for High school and Undergraduate students: http://www.marinecareers.net/summer
Whale and Dolphin Conservation offers summer internships: http://uk.whales.org/wdc-na-field-research-internship-program
The Society for Marine Mammalogy is offering a summer internship with Cetus’ Robson Bight Warden Program!
SEACR's Marine Research Intern Program with the University of Victoria: