It was an exciting first two weeks onboard the Galicia for Ocean Conservationist Natasha!
Upon boarding the Galicia for the first time (well, on a ferry - ever) I was filled with excitement at the possibilities that my rotation might offer me. I was itching to get out and watch the ocean and also share my passion for cetacean life with the passengers.
After settling in, meeting the crew and finding my 'sea-legs' (I felt extremely lucky to have avoided any sea-sickness and took this as a very positive sign) I got straight to work and busied myself with learning sessions, whale watching workshops and surveying.
I was delighted to find how curious so many passengers were and found that I was having many valuable and rich discussions with a huge variety of people. As it was the Easter Holidays I was lucky to have so many excited, knowledgeable and engaged young people on board (plus their grown-ups who seemed equally as interested!) I found teaching these groups, in particular, extremely valuable! I was filled with a sense of hope for the future for our cetacean life in seeing this kind of awe and passion in an upcoming generation and I feel like I met many budding marine biologists and conservationists. I feel honoured to have been able to play a possible role in developing that knowledge and passion further and I am very much hoping to continue doing so in the upcoming months! One concerning comment that has stayed with me, however, was from one young person who said that they had never seen 'so much rubbish' in the Bay of Biscay. On my many look-outs I had seen a range of plastic items (from empty containers to a pair of deflated heart-shaped helium balloons) floating aimlessly by and each time I got that gut wrenching, guilty feeling that I always have when I see it.
Up on deck I engaged in further fascinating discussions with passengers, from avid bird watchers - who were only too happy to share with me their knowledge in exchange for my own to many people who seemed to have sailed the world and seen all sorts of cetaceans! Something important that I felt during these discussions was a genuine sense of collective care, responsibility and love for our oceans and ocean life. From all the stories about interactions and sightings of cetaceans - big or small - I soon came to learn that these moments were something that were special to each person and, for some, were particularly poignant and life-assuring experiences. It really struck me how these animals can have such a lasting impact on us as humans and how I hope that we can, in return, provide these beautiful animals with the protection that they need.
When I had announced that I would be travelling across the Bay of Biscay for my work I was met with the same expression - a face that said: 'brace yourself!' However, I was met with an ocean of tranquillity. I found myself witnessing sunrises and sunsets in a way that I have never been able to before and found that just looking out at the open water was in itself a rewarding experience. The conditions were perfect for any cetacean-spotting, however, I wasn't to see any sperm, fin, beaked or pilot whales this time... Dolphins, mainly short-beaked common and striped, were the main event of my first two weeks - and I am thrilled by that.
Although my two weeks were not necessarily filled with a huge variety of cetacean species, I still feel that I have gained so much from my time onboard the Galicia already. I want to finish on one moment in particular that has stood out to me. On my final crossing, I met one extremely environmentally engaged young person and their family who had been waiting in the bitter winds all day, hoping to catch a glimpse of some dolphins. In these moments it's hard not to feel a sense of responsibility and you want nothing more than to be able to procure something from the depths of the water (insert 'shell-phone' joke here). Plus, considering this young person had dedicatedly arrived to both learning workshops that day, I felt it was only fair their dream came true. The dolphins did, however, arrive at (what felt like) the final moment - a small pod of common dolphins - but the impact that these few creatures had on a child and their family was huge. I felt so pleased to be witness to their overwhelming sense of joy. In moments such as this, I feel that it's the ocean's way of helping people to learn and gain a sense of love and care for these fantastic animals that we are so dedicated to protecting.
Ocean Conservationist Natasha (The Bay of Biscay)