Team Russia have moved up to fifth place in the Volvo Ocean Race and are reeling in the Delta Lloyd boat rapidly. Heading past the Cape Verde, west of Senegal, the fleet is tightly bunched, locked in heated competition. This is some of the most remarkable sailing ever seen in a round the world race.
Some context to this: Team Russia is the only privately-funded yacht in the Volvo Ocean Race. Although Oleg Zherebtsov has “a bit of money” it doesn’t really compare to the cash that the corporate sponsors have thrown at the other teams. But this in itself is a good thing; our team is less pressured by the need for corporate engagement than the other 7 crews, and consequently are less stressed and more able to focus on the task of sailing.
We are the underdogs in this race, and the pundits are expecting us to come last.
But Kostaka has a secret weapon: her spray rails.
The double-step spray rails on Kosatka’s bow means she rides slightly higher at the bow when at speed in the open ocean. Lifting her bow just a few inches means less drag and more speed when the wind is just right. In a race where everything is to play for, this technical advantage could mean the difference between first and last place. I’ve seen this yacht in action, and you wouldn’t believe the speed she can move at – she is FAST.
In any spare second you have, say a prayer for Kosatka and her crew – she is sailing for whales and dolphins, and every place she gains in the race is a step closer to securing the Marine Protected Areas we are campaigning for.
Watch the race as the data comes in: http://www.traclive.dk/events/event_20081011_VORLeg1/
UK IT Manager Lindsay Bruce has just come back from an extended visit to our US office where he set up a new Fieldwork database and Photo ID system. He regrets not having posted anything on the blog whilst there, but the hard-working team in the US had him working 24/7 on their amazing fieldwork program. Now he's back and got through the backlog of emails, another BIG project has just landed on his desk - the 2008-9 Volvo Ocean Race.
One of the privileges of working for WDCS is the broad array of projects that you get to work on. As well as the day to day business of maintaining our global communications network, there are many individual projects that need special attention from our IT team. The variety of projects is mind-boggling, and we get to work in areas that regular commercial IT staff only get to dream about - fieldwork, acoustic research, whale watching, media libraries, and - on occasion - something REALLY big.
The Volvo Ocean Race is a REALLY big idea. The 37,000 mile 8-month long race is the pinnacle event in the sailing calendar; a grueling marathon crossing some of the wildest, most inhospitable seas in the world. The competitors will pass through regions where whales and dolphins are living on the edge; driven back by increasing pollution, commercial shipping, fisheries bycatch, hunting, and climate change. WDCS is campaigning for a worldwide network of Marine Protected Areas, safe habitats for key populations of whales and dolphins at risk. We are immensely proud to be Team Russia's marine environment partner for the 2008-9 Volvo Ocean Race, helping to raise awareness of the plight that whales and dolphins face, and sailing under the banner of "We sail for the Whale".
For me personally, this is a fantastic project. I've always loved the sea, ever since I was a boy skipping stones across the waves on the beach by my grandparents house in Argyll, Scotland. The raw energy of the open sea, its mystery, dangers and the incredible abundance of varied life beneath and above the waves. But that life is now in great peril.
The race is on to save whales and dolphins. Will you help?
For more information and to find out how YOU can make a difference, visit www.whales.org
I'm shocked to see I haven't blogged for nearly a month - time flies when you're busy re-launching web sites!!
Next week I fly out to our office in the USA. I spent a six-week sabbatical there last year filming humpback whales from whale-watch vessels out of Plymouth. It was an amazing trip and I made a lot of friends, so I'm really excited at the prospect of returning. Cape Cod is a fantastic place to visit if you love whales; out there in the summer, there are literally thousands of humpbacks majestically roaming Stellwagen Bank - plus, fin, Minke, and Right whales. It's literally whale-Mecca.
This time there is much work to be done. As well as re-arranging the NA office, we're re-writing the Humpback Catalogue and Sightings database to collect and sort more information. We're also working on revamping the Whale Adoption Project to be more engaging for supporters and more environmentally responsible. I'll also be doing a little more filming, the products of which I hope you'll see on YouTube very soon. Wish me luck!
Charlie introduced me to some new friends too; Sarah and Robyn, who run Ecoventures, a wildlife-watching boat operator based in Cromarty. Sarah took us out on the Ecoventures RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) and we spent a happy couple of hours exploring the Cromarty Firth from the water. This part of the world is very rich in wildlife, and as well as dolphins you may see otters, seals, and a huge variety of seabirds (including gulls, shags, and cormorants). The coastline is also dotted with relics of a bygone era, with many pillboxes and defensive posts left from the first and second world wars. A red bouy also marks the final resting place of HMS Natal, a Royal Navy cruiser sunk by a series of internal explosions at 3.20am on the 30th December 1915 with the loss of 421 lives. The site is now an official war grave.
Further out into the Moray Firth proper, Sarah spotted a fin in the far distance. The dolphins had arrived! We set a course to intercept them, and as they drew near Sarah cut the engines and we let the dolphins come to us. The whole boat was abuzz with excitement as the famous dolphins came to inspect our boat. A succession of small groups of dolphins, four or five animals at a time, passed just a few feet from us. Charlie quickly identified a number of individuals, including Moonlight, Rainbow and Nevis.
But then sadly it was time to go. We were running out of boat time, and it’s important to remember that the dolphins need their own time and space without humans interfering. As they started to break away, we took the opportunity to drift to a safe distance before we restarted the engines. As I put down my video camera I looked round to a beaming Charlie who was eagerly explaining the dolphin’s social structures to a fellow wildlife watcher. Everyone have broad grins on their faces; the dolphins had worked their magic once again.
Our Australian office has been working with the nice people over at Plaza Films who have lent their wonderful creative skills pro bono to produce us a new anti-whaling ad. The ad is inspired by the Japanese love of monster movies, and politely asks them to stop whaling.
Have a look and judge for yourself!
Around this time of year, something wonderful begins to happen to my body (yeah, yeah – I can hear you sniggering at the back). The longer days, warmer temperatures and the promise of getting out into the field and seeing the animals we campaign for has a marvelous effect; the dull, damp dreariness of winter begins to fall away and it is replaced with a positive and vibrant energy - summer is coming
Summer for me means warm beer, mountain biking with friends, t-shirt and shorts (my natural attire) - and going to sea with my cameras.
I love the sea, always have. The rolling waves stretching off to the horizon; the smell of salt and plankton and the clean fresh air; the feel of the warm wooden deck under your bare feet, and the gentle pitching and rolling of the boat beneath you as you point her nose for the horizon and set off for another adventure. Going to sea is a wonderful, miraculous assault on the senses.
The trick to life is to try and spend as much of your time as possible doing what you love. Quite how I managed to find a job that rolls all the things I love up into one neat package is a mystery to me, but here I am. I get to change the world – just a little bit, mind – and they let me go to sea.
How lucky am I??
So if you saw my last post, hopefully you went to YouTube and watched our new campaign video focused on the UK government doing a u-turn on protecting the Moray Firth dolphins. Right now, I'm the one "looking after" our presence on the YouTube site, and I have to tell you, it's a happening place - but not necessarily for all the reasons you might think.
Online video has become a big thing in the past 3 years, as have social networking sites. Let’s face it; it’s fun to share, contact your friends online, and maybe make some new ones. The trouble is, that’s not all that people use it for.
Right now there is a propaganda war being fought on the digital battlefield between conservationists like WDCS and pro-exploitation and pro-whaling factions. The tactics are a good deal more subtle and insidious than you might think. Propaganda isn’t new, protagonists have been using it since way before the printing press was invented, but the social engineering tactics behind it have got increasingly sophisticated over recent years.
If you do a search for “whaling” on YouTube, you’ll find a great many videos condemning the Japanese so-called “scientific” whaling program – but you’ll also find an increasing number of videos posted by pro-whalers accusing conservationists of everything from poor science to cultural imperialism, and most disturbingly, of racism. The tactic is designed to move the focus of debate from whaling to race relations, and the comments are deliberately incendiary to provoke a heated response – thus playing into the whaler’s hands and giving them license to play the victims in this sorry charade. WDCS isn’t playing that game – but the unwary can be caught out and pulled into a debate about Japanese vs western culture which is really not the issue at stake.
Sure, WDCS uses YouTube and other sites to campaign through– we want our message to reach as many people as possible, so in that regard you might consider it as “propaganda”. However, I can tell you that WDCS is very strict on publishing in any medium, and we have to qualify everything we say. We don’t publish unless we can prove it.
Each of us as individuals has to decide what to do with the information presented to us. In this age, we are bombarded with information from all different angles. The trick for organizations – governments, companies, NGOs and those who want to exploit whales for commercial gain – is to ensure that it is their interpretation of the information that is the one most widely believed; that’s what propaganda is about. There are many different tactics involved; some are genuinely honest; many are not. The choice of tactics used depends on your morality and ethics but also sometimes it would appear, your end goal and how far you are willing to go in order to secure that goal.
WDCS will always endeavour to tell the truth, as the evidence suggests (although of course, we would say that, wouldn’t we). The “truth” depends greatly on your point of view, but “our truth” is founded on scientific and conservation principals and as a charity we have high standards set for us by regulators. We don’t need to use diversionary or FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) tactics for our campaigns, because fundamentally we believe that what we’re doing is right.
If you have to lie to the public, selectively choose information to pass on, or even seek to mislead, that’s a pretty good indicator that what you’re doing is wrong. So just because someone keeps saying there are 700,000 minkes in the southern oceans doesn’t mean its true. Why not look at the evidence yourselves. It’s interesting what you might find.
After two weeks of no sleep, excessive caffeine and going prematurely grey, the Protect Our Dolphins viral video is complete! Check it out;
Whilst I write this, WDCS is gearing up to challenge the UK government on the future of the Moray Firth Special Area of Conservation (SAC). At stake is not just this area of outstanding natural beauty, but the Moray Firth dolphins themselves and indeed perhaps the fundamental principals of marine conservation in the UK.
There's a desparate irony to this situation. Here we are, as a species, chasing down the last few million barrels of a compound that is based on the long dead remains of marine life that has gone before whilst simultaneously (some of us) try to preserve similar life for the future.
We're not so idealistically blind as to underestimate the value of oil and the staggering mountain we and others have to climb to change attitudes. After all, the world's economy is totally dependent on this stuff; our civilisation cannot function without oil and it's many derivitives - thus far.
But at what terrible cost? Putting aside the very real human cost - the human lives that are squandered globally for this destructive industry - we are losing biodiversity at a staggering rate. The Moray Firth dolphins are but the top of the pyramid, the most visible element of an ecosystem that would be damaged - destroyed? - by futher human intervention in this environment. Who cares about 130 dolphins? Well, you might care if they were the last 130 dolphins - and in fact, they are. They are the last of their kind. Extinction is forever.
If we can't save these few animals on our doorstep, what chance do we have of saving whole species? They say charity begins at home - so does conservation.