I have just read an article about your stay as a volunteer at the orcalab on Hanson Island. I would like to know if it is possible to participate in this type of project, and if so what are the requirements?
My stay at Orcalab lasted about 2 months in 1997. I was working at the aquarium of Montpellier (France) when I got the address of this orca research center. I didn't have access to Internet at that time and I wrote a letter to the scientist Paul Spong. One month later, I got a reply from him offering me to join his team at the end of June 1997. As soon as my work at the aquarium was finished, I packed my bags to go there.
To participate, I was very lucky because we were all volunteers from all over the world, there was a majority of women. I had some experience with cetaceans in the Mediterranean but the passion for orcas was enough. I didn't speak English very well, and I didn't know anything about orcas in British Columbia. Since there were so many of us on the island, there were internal conflicts within the group, especially on the girls' side. Personally I had no problem with Paul and his family. In fact, I was one of the only ones who had our orca recording done in the lab. Paul Spong and his wife kept the recording preciously, it was impossible to get a copy.
I knew that after that summer of 1997 that the number of volunteers has decreased considerably to avoid conflicts, the number today is 10 maximum, which accentuates the problem to get there and to get back to one's team. Many people ask me to put them in touch with Paul and his team but then I get very little feedback about their experience. Furthermore, thanks to my help in getting them on the team, I was asking for information about the people, the lab, the team, the photography etc.... but I never heard back from them which disappoints me. It is not favorable that I contact this person whom I admire every summer to ask him to take a volunteer.
The team on site is used to come for many years and their knowledge about orcas is enough for Paul. At that time, the price was low, it included food for two months. The best period is from June to October. For your information there is the possibility to see orcas in the Strait of Gibraltar, in Russia or in Norway.
What training have you had?
My best year was 1997 because I did three consecutive internships on the marine environment and dolphins. My first internship was at the panoramic aquarium of La Grande Motte (Hérault region in France), then my second internship was on the observation, the photo identification and the acoustic listening of killer whales (British Columbia in Canada) and the last internship was at the dolphinarium of the Parc Astérix in Paris on the conditions of captivity and the analysis of the sonar of the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops Truncatus) . The following year, I started a D.U.T in aquariology and aquaculture (in Sète and Montpellier University II - France) and environmental and coastal protection. During my training, I had to do an 8 months internship in my favorite field. So, I did internships and volunteering after and during these two years. I lived six months in Guadeloupe where I worked at the aquarium of Gosier. Then I went to the Azores for about two months to work on the impact of whale-watching on cetaceans. I gave two reports to complete my end of cycle.
I wanted to develop the tourist observation of cetaceans in my region, I did a third year at Sup de Co (Business School) in Montpellier with a tourism option. During this cycle, I did a 4 month internship at Terra Incognita in Lyon in order to carry out a market study to propose tours to their clients. This tour operator proposed observations in the Mediterranean and the Azores. I wrote a thesis at the end of the internship which can be requested on my website (with fees).
What I can say is that all of my own experiences have been in the field and I have learned on my own. There are very few schools or universities that train to become ketologists in France. I could have continued my studies in marine biology, veterinary school or anything related to marine mammals abroad. I strongly advise you to study outside of France.
What exactly does your work consist of?
Currently, I am working on my website, answering questions frequently asked by students, journalists or scientists. I fight effectively against the captivity of cetaceans with different associations around the world. I am a boat captain in Canada for cetaceans. Furthermore, I continue to work on a project about the alphabet of whales and dolphins. This work will help many people who wish to have accurate information on cetacean bibliography. At the same time, I collaborate with tour operators to be a tourist guide to allow their customers to go and see cetaceans and I am also preparing a book presenting all my travels and my experiences on marine mammals.
What are the fragilities of the dolphin as a marine mammal?
It is sensitive to the external environment: pollution (visible and not), fishing nets, degradation of its environment due to the impact of man, without forgetting the conditions of captivity which increases the mortality rate of cetaceans worldwide.
What pollution have you observed that affects the dolphin the most?
I have seen many negative impacts from drift nets, plastic bags and whale watching.
And what are the consequences?
Behavioral disturbance and reduction of observation areas in some known locations, as well as high stranding and mortality.
Have you observed any particular changes in the dolphin's life (food, social behavior, migration, maternity...) due to the pollution?
I did not experience any direct impact on cetaceans but changes in behavior. Often, the pollution had already affected the observed environment and we had to provide solutions.
What do you think are the most urgent solutions to protect dolphins?
A long-term and in-depth study of the cetacean observation sites allows to know their behavior, habits and feeding areas. The analysis of stranded dolphins allows to determine the concentration of pollutants affecting their environment. Awareness raising and education of the public, local elected officials, stakeholders and whale watching sites will help cetaceans to live in healthy places.
I would just like to know if there are jobs where you can be with cetaceans in a marine environment and not in captivity?
There is only one school in France related to cetaceans (Montpellier). You can go on to environmental studies, marine biology or veterinary school and do internships. All major universities are located mainly in the United States, Canada, New Zealand and elsewhere...
Can you give me news about the dolphins of Mauritius and the work after Delphine's death?
The simplest answer is the one given by this couple returning from Mauritius:
"We had been made aware of the presence of dolphins in Mauritius by students who had been able to participate in sea trips with Delphine Legay there just before her death. We saw on your website that you had the chance to meet her and to participate in her work. For us, it is unfortunately after her death that we wondered what had happened to her work and who had taken over the work there after her. Our research allowed us to see that no one had been able to continue her work on the spot and that to our knowledge there were no traces available of her results, which is a pity.
We thought for a moment to resume the observation of cetaceans by settling for some time in Mauritius; but for lack of financial means and in view of the administrative difficulties, (for a long stay in Mauritius when one is not Mauritian), we gave up.
We also know, having been there, that there is a lot to be done to continue the observation and also to sensitize the Mauritians and especially the tourists and the luxury hotels to the respect of cetaceans, to the correct way of approaching them and observing them. "(luxury hotels for financial reasons, organize visits to the dolphins of Tamarin Bay which too often turn into real harassment)".
Nathalie and David Gerouard-Langlet and the association Natdala.
I am surprised that no one has taken over Delphine's work. Her work was useful for the Mauritians and the protection of the environment. I helped her during 2 months to identify the different species of cetaceans and I invite you to read my article on my website.
What do you think of captivity?
I think that my article on the conditions of captivity in the Parc Asterix (see on my site) justifies my opposition to this cruelty. I had wanted to infiltrate a team to know better the treatment inflicted to the animals. This park is perhaps the least worst but I think that what I saw is enough. You have to know that the beginning was very hard for me, as soon as I went back to my room, I started to cry. Then I wrote down everything I saw and brought it to the association S.O.S Grand Bleu (France). Being faithful to this association, I could be quiet for the diffusion of my data.
Can you describe yourself as a "self-taught ketologist"?
Yes, that's right. I did the ketology internship in Sete (France) but all my experience is in the field.
What led you to make your passion a daily activity?
I'm sorry but I don't like the word "passion"! Often it is short and a strong "passion" can be dangerous. Besides, it is not a distraction or a hobby, but a full time job. At the beginning, it was difficult to share my work, to make everyone participate, but contacts came little by little then internet and my travels did the rest.
What are your main means of expression? photography, painting...
As you can see on my website, I love the photo. This one is the basis of photo-identification. It allows to photograph with precision the dorsal or caudal fins of cetaceans. For the beluga and other species that do not have a dorsal fin, we will take pictures of the distinct marks. Besides that, I draw as soon as I can. I love drawing cetaceans. It came when I was alone waiting for the sounds of orcas during the acoustic recordings. After that, I continued whenever I could in my reports, articles or letters...
What is a typical day like?
This question is very broad. Everything depends on the work to be done. For example, in Mauritius we used to leave very early in the morning around 5:30 am and we came back around noon. The afternoon was devoted to the work, to the identification of the species, the directory, etc.....
Do you work in collaboration with other people? What is your relationship with these people?
Yes, always. We use a lot the internet or the telephone and the actors of this environment are very known. I have been able to keep very strong contacts with some scientists, naturalists and photographers during my travels.
What are the difficulties you are facing?
Everyone will tell you, grants. We live off of government grants, donations from members or interns. Government grants are difficult to obtain in France. Less so in Canada. But everywhere, projects are granted for a period of time to be determined.
What are the constraints that can be linked to your job?
We don't do this work for the money. It is common to do two jobs and volunteer to help. Others work there during the summer season. The difficulty is to be able to stay in a fixed structure for the long term. Research centers in the United States or elsewhere give the opportunity to do this. Or continually move around like I do and provide these services to tour operators.
What do you like most about your job?
Being in contact with the animals and knowing that there is a lot of work to do to protect and understand them. Being in the open air, on a boat and listening to the whale's breath.
What are the qualities and skills required?
You have to be patient and tenacious. If you want to make a living out of it, it's very difficult. Do not hesitate to travel and meet people in this field. And know English. It goes without saying.
What do you think of the different regulations in different countries concerning the protection of cetaceans?
It is very difficult to answer because each country has its own regulations. Often the protection laws copy those of the United States. Because it was the pioneer in whale-watching.
There may be an agreement between different parties to ensure their protection. For example, in the Mediterranean, there is Pelagos, the "Sanctuary for Marine Mammals in the Mediterranean", ratified by Italy, France and Monaco.
For more information, I give you the following references (among others) quoted in my "Alphabets of Whales and Dolphins" to help you:
- for whales:
- p 9 to 16, Training in Cetology, Sète, Echouage, G.E.C.E.M, 1996
- p 6 to 8, bulletin A.C.C.O.B.A.M.S n°1, 1999
- p 5 to 10, bulletin A.C.O.B.A.M.S n°2, 1999
- A.C.O.B.A.M.S. bulletin n°4, 2002
- p 3, Newsletter , The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society,february 2005
- for dolphins:
- p 45 and 46, Le Monde des Dauphins, Cousteau Jacques-Yves and Paccalet Yves, 1995
- p 231, Le Livre des Dauphins et des Baleines, Sifaoui Brigitte, 1998
Do you think that ecology will become more important in people's daily lives in the years to come?
Yes, more and more. For example, right now in Montreal there is the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Experts and political leaders from all over the world have gathered to discuss the future of our planet. It has been proven for years that the earth is getting warmer and now we have to convince governments to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. And fast.
Is it possible to participate in the protection of turtles?
The marine turtles are listed in the Washington Convention in Annex 1 and protected since 1991 by the French Ministry of the Environment.
There is the "WIDECAST" network (Wider Caribbean Sea Turtle Conservation Network). The WIDECAST is a project born during the first meeting of the Contracting Parties of the Convention and the Development of the Marine Environment of the Greater Caribbean Region (Cartagena Convention, Resolution 3 on the Protocol of Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife) and the Annual Meeting of the Caribbean Conservation Associations, held in the Dominican Republic, from August 26 to 29, 1981, at the initiative of the IUCN
The Marine Turtle Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission has provided scientific members to the WIDECAST Board. The WIDECAST Board consists of 11 directors and coordinates the activities of a network of approximately 400 organizations and individuals. WIDECAST is managed on a day-to-day basis by a Director (Karen Eckert) and a Secretariat.
Its objective is to prepare a comprehensive Regional Action Plan in the Greater Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean Sea, Western Atlantic up to 200 nautical miles from the Bahamas and Florida, and including the North coast of Brazil, and an action plan for each of the 39 entities of this region, in order to restructure and better protect the populations of marine turtles inhabiting these waters. I invite you to read my report and look on the internet for more information.
Where can I get training in ketology in France? And can I work for you?
All my trainings are done in the field. I can recommend the one of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes at the University of Montpellier II directed by Mr. Pierre Beaubrun. A great cetologist who has been directing for years the works in the Mediterranean and allows in France to learn more about cetaceans.
Otherwise it is impossible to work for me because I don't have my own company and I am employed by different companies.