One of the most important things scientists can do is interact and engage with others about their research. Marine mammal research is particularly interesting to the general public and can be used in the classroom as a hook to attract and teach students about science and conservation. Before joining SDRP I used bio-logging tools to study the fine-scale foraging behaviors of humpback whales in Antarctica as part of my dissertation research at Duke University. This research included the simultaneous tagging of a mother and her calf with suction-cup-mounted DTAGs that recorded whale movements and acoustics. I found that this topic appealed to a broad audience (including children) during several public outreach events in which I participated.
This interest gave me the idea to create a storyline based on my research that appealed to children in the development of informative and educational STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) focused resources. Therefore, I teamed up with Gail Tyson, an elementary school art teacher and curriculum writer in central Florida (and my mother!), to create a short film, narrative children’s picture book, K-5 curriculum lessons, and hands-on activities based on this research. We developed these products using the calf, named Wyatt, as the main character in an attempt to connect children with STEAM subjects in a fun and engaging manner.
Students using these resources learn about humpback whale ecology, the Antarctic ecosystem, and marine mammal research as they follow Wyatt and his mother Wendy as they migrate to Antarctica, feed on krill, meet other Antarctic species, and ultimately get tagged by curious scientists. Thus far, our “Whale’s Tale” products (found on http://www.BlueSTEAM.org) have been viewed by more than 2,000 visitors from more than 12 countries. In addition, a pre- and post-test of Antarctic and marine mammal facts used by participating K-5, middle, and college classroom teachers has demonstrated that students (>1,800) significantly enhanced their understanding of marine mammal research and Antarctica after using our materials. We hope to continue creating such educational products to engage others, especially our youth, with accurate information on marine mammals. Perhaps “A Dolphin’s Tale” would make a good subject for our next storyline!
This article appeared on page 30 of the 2017 SDRP Annual Report, Nicks n Notches.