Captain’s Blog

OS Scholarship Winner Ciara Verstraete: #SaveOurOceans

March 30, 2018

The pursuit of education, knowledge, and compassion is everlasting. At Orca Spirit, it’s imperative to get the word out about the magical orca whales, humpbacks, sea lions, seals, and all the marine life living off the coast of British Columbia. That’s why we’re so proud to introduce the very first winner of the Whale Watcher’s Scholarship, Ciara Verstraete.

The scholarship is based on the answer to a fundamental yet nuanced question: what practical changes can people make to ensure Canadian oceans are a safer place for whales?

We caught up with Ciara to talk about her winning submission, which you can see here.

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In your submission you described the first time you went whale watching. What did it feel like when you first saw a whale pop up out of the water?

Beyond excited is probably the best way to describe it. I was I think three at the time, I was very little so I couldn’t even go out on a zodiac. I remember feeling really impatient, sitting and waiting. But I also remember the collective excitement of the people on board the cruiser. And then the commotion when we finally saw this whale. And I remember being short and my mom needing to pick me up because I really wanted to see it – the first thing I saw was a really big tail fluke.

The big world of whales and my  passion was established. I was seeing basically what I watched on TV all the time in real life, and I just couldn’t believe it. I thought it was so cool. And an obsession continued thereafter.

I went to the aquarium when I was young and was totally blown away. Times are a’changing and I feel kind of bad about that, but what else in your childhood influenced your perspective on the environment and sustainability.

My parents are quite earthy, we spent a lot of time outside when I was younger – we snowshoed, canoed, hiked all the time. Whenever we were outside my parents always taught us about the outdoors. They would explain to us stuff about fairies and other creatures who might live in the forest. I thought that was so cool, so there was always a feeling I got that the outdoors, the earth, was home to something else and I was the visitor. In that sense I developed an empathy for the environment and older animals in it and ecosystems.

One memory that really stuck with me is when I was little; I was on some sort of wilderness tour and I had a stick, and I was scraping moss from the base of a tree. The tour guide got upset with me, I’ll never forget that. These areas have been sacred to me since I was little, and the ocean and the whales and other animals within are an extension of the land. It’s crazy to think how big these whales are, how fast they are and how much they need to eat – mathematically it shouldn’t even make sense that something could eat that much. 

Your submission is so practical. What are some of the ways you propose to get our environment headed in the right direction?

One thing I’m very into at the moment is reusable containers. We have all these communities, we could easily implement reusable containers into our daily lives that are environmentally friendly. For example – coffee cups. The average North American goes through so many in a year, it’s ridiculous. This is an incredibly easy way people could reduce. Most people won’t start their day without coffee, it’s very ingrained in society, but they still continue to use the one-time disposable cups. They should be outlawed. But it starts with corporations leading the way.

In an anthropology class of mine we covered the addiction to consume. And that’s fine, people want their latte, they can still have it, but they can use the same cup.

That’s one example of what to do, but it’s the how part of your submission that really shines a light on sustainability as a whole, not just confined to the ocean.

Social media is everything, right? Sharing trends is the easiest way to do it. It’s constantly evolving, there’s so much potential, so many ideas for advocacy for the resident whales in BC. This kind of digital language will stick with people and have a presence online for a long time.

People love whales. They’re mystified by whales. They definitely have a place in people’s hearts. Whales have an advantage on social media because they don’t need to try too hard to get people’s attention. Most people don’t have the opportunity to go see whales up close. I believe the digital language and the emphasis on the popularity of sustainability and environmentally friendly practices will pull people in and make them able to see what’s going on in order to learn more and establish a connection. Then it becomes integrated, and then the new culture is established.

How can companies and corporations get involved?

A lot of it has to do with marketing. We love anthropomorphizing animals to give them human characteristics, and I think that’s really helpful in the media, in advertisements, and online, because it strikes a chord with people.

Take baleen whales for instance. They eat so much it’s mind boggling. So if a company made a video of people in a house, and then some other people come in and start going through their fridge, it’s the same as scooping up all the krill in a humpback whale’s neighbourhood. You’re just stealing their groceries.

No matter what, if you get enough people buzzing about a cause then it gets attention. I think real change even starts at political levels and people doing the little things. It takes time to make change, but it’s worth it.

There’s only a couple weeks left in the semester, what do you have coming up in the near future?

I’m taking a bachelor of animal biology and I’m not entirely sure what direction I want to take yet as far as grad school. I’m more on the conservation route. I’m really into plankton at the moment so we’ll see where that goes. This summer I’ve applied to do a six week immersive marine invertebrate course at the Bamfield Marine Centre. This would entail going out into the intertidal zone and sampling things and getting into some really interactive learning.

Sounds amazing!

I know, I can’t wait, hopefully it happens!*

Ciara, congratulations again on the scholarship, and best of luck in the future. Our oceans are in good hands if you’re driving the ship.

Thanks so much, I really appreciate it.

*Ciara got the placement at Bamfield!

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