Posts Tagged ‘Earthwatch’

Voluntourism, Killer Whales, and SeaWorld’s Tilikum

adult and young orcas in wild

Photo: Christopher Michel – CC License

You’ve likely seen, or at least heard about the documentary Blackfish, exploring the life and striving times of captive killer whales, or orcas, at SeaWorld marine parks. While SeaWorld has been goaded by the resulting uproar into some changes in planned habitat restructuring and living conditions for their largest resident animals, there are many who feel captive orcas can never be appropriate.

The main storyline of the film focuses on a particular whale named Tilikum. This 35-year-old cetacean over-earned the “killer” moniker by being responsible for the deaths of three people while in captivity for more than two decades. Now, SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida has announced that Tilikum has an infection from which he will not recover, and he is in declining health. It’s a rough life in a cement pool too small for comfort, no matter how attentive the care (and, to be fair, SeaWorld’s staff caretakers and medics are dedicated and skilled animal lovers) and many believe it has been tantamount to torturing the whale for the majority of his life.

The flip side of this difficult coin is the marine study of orcas in their natural habitat, like this brand new volunteer expedition from Earthwatch: Killer Whales and Their Prey in Iceland. The first of several offerings of this 12-day voluntourism service trip is offered in June of 2017, where you will help study the feeding behavior of orcas in Vestmannaeyjar in the Westman Islands in the south of Iceland. Some of your time will be on shore, some on boats, as you scan for whales and take detailed scientific research notes on behavior of individual whales. You’ll be thoroughly trained and also get up close and personal as you assist the scientist research team to collect small (non-harming) skin and blubber samples from whales to biopsy and record diet, pollutant levels, and genetic information. You’ll be living at the research field station in dormitory accommodations, cooking and sharing time and laughs with your fellow volunteers.

This is a leading study of the species, and, like all Earthwatch volunteer opportunities, the work you do actually advances scientific understanding–this work, in particular, will help establish policies to better protect killer whales.

Best Shark Week Finale – Volunteer for Sharks

shark turning in shallow dappled waterWe’re coming into the home stretch of Discovery Network’s Shark Week, that ratings bonanza that strikes gold in the channels’s viewership numbers and strikes fear in the hearts of some swimmers (though we know you are waaaayyyy more likely to die of the flu or crossing the street than of ever having a dangerous encounter with a shark). Let’s face it, if they wanted to, they could snack on us quite a bit, but they are absolutely human averse. They could never really even the stakes, however, considering  the millions of sharks we slaughter every year for their fins and cartilage—often unnecessarily cruelly.

so let’s look at some ways to counter the Da-Dum, Da-Dum Jaws soundtrack that thunders in your head every time you dip a toe in the surf (or jump in a pool or fill your bathtub). Volunteering with this world’s amazing shark populations is a great way to counter the press-inflated stories about shark attacks and understand these magnificent creatures. I’ve been lucky enough to have experiences with different sharks, from Great Whites to Whale Sharks to nurse, black-tip reef, and others…and look forward to many more. Sharks rock!

Enkosini Eco Experience in Gaansbai, South Africa, as well as White Shark Projects (who I dove with, in that same shark-heavy zone of South Africa near Gaansbai, known as “Shark Alley”) are eco-focused, environmental leaders, and have lots of openings for dedicated volunteers.

I’ve had the memory-of-a-lifetime experience of being in the water with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme and can’t recommend volunteering with these folks enough. Science rules the excursions, but the pure joy of encountering such grace will be what you carry with you long after you get home (see previous blog posting here).

I’m a big fan of Earthwatch, and find myself extraordinarily intrigued by their shark study volunteer expedition in Belize.

Frontier Gap has a shark conservation volunteer program in Fiji, helping research species and increase international awareness and understanding.

How about a volunteer gig at the Bimini SharkLab – it’s a biological field station always looking for dedicated volunteers.

This is just a small sampling of shark volunteer options around the oceans of the world…dive in and find one for your next vacation. Tell Ian Ziering and Tara Reid we’ll meet them there.

Brand New Service Expeditions from Earthwatch

owl face with amber eyesIf you’ve been following or reading here for any length of time, you’ve likely come across previous posts about this organization…Earthwatch is one of my favorites for really delivering value to volunteers who are vacationing, while being sure that the work they do is truly impactful for the project–most often environmental and animal scientific research programs but also cultural and archaeological science expeditions.

Needless to say, they have been on my short list for some time–I’ve yet to be able to do an Earthwatch Expedition, but know so many people that have, and several that return to explore trip after trip, being so satisfied with their initial forays.

Earthwatch has announced six new expeditions adding to their already impressive repertoire of opportunities around the world. The new ones are: Conserve Endangered Rhinos in South AfricaMonitor Ocelots in TrinidadProtect Whooping Cranes and Coastal Habitats in TexasConserve Tiger and Elephant Habitat in IndiaConserve Wild Bees in Costa Rica; and Follow Flammulated Owls in the Western U.S.

If they would just combine them and allow me to do a trip where I follow flammulated elephants in Trinidad, I’d be on a plane today…I’d love to be on a plane today for any of these plus the many, many more they offer. They also have specific expeditions catered for families, or teens, or kids–all with a profound new understanding if science just waiting for you (and world-class scientists just waiting for helpful and hard-working volunteers).

As you begin planning your next vacation, give the website a whirl–something is bound to jump out at you–perhaps something flammulated. (*I love learning that new word–it means having flame-shaped markings, as in the plumage of certain birdsI)

Today is National Bird Day…Volunteer!

close up of green parrot headGrowing up I wanted a parrot so badly, but my mother had this irrational fear of birds, so it was a non-starter (not to mention the life-span requiring loving care for many decades). I don’t know how, if it ever were an option, how I would have obtained a companion bird so very long ago, but I do know that today, exotic birds are traded illegally in astonishing numbers. Couple that with the loss of habitat and disease, and you’ve got a recipe for avian disaster.

Today, January 5, is National Bird Day, set aside to celebrate the winged ones and call attention to conservation measures that we need to implement sooner rather than later. Born Free USA and the Avian Welfare Coalition have lots of suggestions and inspiring games and interactive web features to get folks talking about species protection and the quality of life for captive birds.

In addition to finding new ways to become a feathered-friend activist, here are just a few volunteer gigs that are bird-focused, to stimulate your responsible travel planning and dreaming:

International Bird Rescue to help care for injured and oiled wildlife.

Free Flight Birds exotic bird sanctuary.

Bird Studies Canada to be a citizen scientist.

Earthwatch expeditions to the Galapagos to help research Darwin’s Finches, or to South Africa to help in understanding the African Penguins.

Earthwatch Launches 3 New Volunteer Excursions for 2015

 

Photo: Earthwatch.org

Photo: Earthwatch.org

Earthwatch, one of the cornerstones of research-based volunteer vacations/service travel trips, is adding three new excursions to their already beefy roster for 2015.

They already have amazing animal, cultural, and environmentally-focused trips around the world, and now there is a new South Africa opportunity (“The Real Shark Week” doing shark research with a scientific team in Walker Bay), Joshua Tree, California (“Old Trees, New Climate” exploring climate change and how it affects this desert bio-region), and Little Cayman Island in the Caribbean (“resilient Reefs” snorkeling and studying the health of the coral reef system).

This company is one of the most trusted, best respected in the business, and the research done by volunteers in conjunction with professional scientific teams (no previous research experience required, just a desire to learn and discover and help in a meaningful way) moves our understanding of the planet forward with every excursion.

If you’re looking for a great way to be of service and be involved in the destinations you visit, now or next year and beyond, check out their diverse offerings…

Gearing Up For Shark Week: Shark Volunteering

Photo: “Ayesha” Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme

This Sunday begins Discovery Channel’s Shark Week, an annual broadcast horror fest programming block that has become huge over the past 25 years…so let’s look at some ways to counter the Da-Dum, Da-Dum Jaws soundtrack that thunders in your head every time you dip a toe in the surf (or jump in a pool or fill your bathtub). Volunteering with this world’s amazing shark populations is a great way to counter the press-inflated stories about shark attacks and understand these magnificent creatures. I’ve been lucky enough to have experiences with different sharks, from Great Whites to Whale Sharks to nurse, black-tip reef, and others…and look forward to many more.

Enkosini Eco Experience in Gaansbai, South Africa, as well as White Shark Projects (who I dove with, in that same shark-heavy zone of South Africa) are eco-focused, environmental leaders, and have lots of openings for dedicated volunteers.

Ecuador-based Eco Volunteer UP has shark research volunteer opportunities, helping research shark populations near artisanal fishing port village, Puerto Lopez, on Ecuador’s coast.

I’ve had the memory-of-a-lifetime experience of being in the water with the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme and can’t recommend volunteering with these folks enough. Science rules the excursions, but the pure joy of encountering such grace will be what you carry with you long after you get home (see previous blog posting here).

I’m a big fan of Earthwatch, and find myself extraordinarily intrigued by their shark study volunteer expedition in Belize.

This is just a small sampling of shark volunteer options around the oceans of the world…dive in and find one for your next trip (after you’ve obsessed about Shark Week almost as much as you did the Olympics).

Volunteering for Horses

I’ll Have Another scratched from tomorrow’s Belmont Stakes and the high hopes of winning a triple crown. Any elite athlete lives with the specter of possible injury looming overhead, but this is like Michael Phelps tearing a rotator cuff the night before his first swim in the Olympics. I don’t know if the horse felt the crushing blow, he likely felt the pain in his tendons that caused him to be pulled form the race, but horses get hurt a lot. Part of it is that they are built so improbably–a huge amount of weight and mass balanced on these delicate little sticks of legs. As muscular and hard-working an animal as the equine is should be borne by elephantine gams…

For retired, injured, and old horses, some are put down quickly, some sent to pasture, some sent to rougher futures…and with the economy crippling so many families, domestic animals, especially ones as expensive to keep as a horse, are abandoned in record numbers these days. Luckily, there are horse rescue operations in many communities, and opportunities to volunteer with many of them. Here are just a few–if you are a bit of a barn rat yourself, see what similar projects you can find in your neck of the woods.

The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary is in South Dakota with 11,000 acres of private land for unadoptable and unwanted wild horses. Their staff and volunteers have a huge commitment to the quality of life for the horses and their ability to run free.

The International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros depends on volunteers on the ranch in Lantry, South Dakota, but you can help remotely as well.

Return to Freedom provides home pastureland to 400 wild horses and burros on California’s Central Coast. Their ethos is to let the horses establish and maintain their most natural habits and behaviors, so there is no effort to break the horses or train them. Volunteers jump in the second Saturday of each month to help maintain the operations to support the safe haven they have created in Lompoc.

Dude’s Ranch Equine Rescue Center has become more and more well known for their innovative “ride a horse, save a horse” program, knowing the strongest advocates for abandoned and abused horses are those who have a direct experience. Get involved at their center in Acton, California.

The Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown, California, is a last chance for wild horses and burros. 80 wild horses are protected as “living national treasures” on 5,000 acres. In addition to protecting the animals, they do lots of education and outreach, and volunteers serve a wide range of purposes, from diesel mechanics to event planners.

They bear little resemblance to I’ll Have Another, but zebras need protecting too. A volunteer trip via Earthwatch, in Nairobi, Kenya, can have you working shoulder to shoulder with scientific experts, helping conserve the endangered Grevy’s Zebra species (the volunteer trip on this link is specifically geared for teenage participants).