Zoologists call whales and dolphins “charismatic megafauna” and it’s easy to see why. People are fascinated with sea mammals. For thousands of years, they have been the subject of religious myth, worship, and reverence. Their size is certainly part of the fascination. The blue whale is the largest animal on planet Earth. But they are also renowned for an intelligence that is rather unique in the animal kingdom. Whales, dolphins, and elephants are the only non-primate creatures that have this human-like wisdom. They have culture and tradition. They have complex social lives. And yet, for centuries humans have been killing these magnificent creatures. We have used their blubber for candles and their baleen for corsets. We have eaten their meat and gotten rich off of their destruction. Today, we are finally beginning to recognize the importance of these incredible creatures. As our oceans warm up and acidify, poachers still roam the waters, and policy ties the hands of conservationists, people are rallying around a single cause: saving the whales.
As I’ve mentioned here before (ad nauseum) whales were my first real loves. As a small girl I was obsessed with whales in the same way many children are obsessed with dinosaurs. I wanted to learn every single fact about them. Today, I am studying to be a wildlife biologist and conservationist and I want to dedicate my life to preserving the precious marine ecosystems we have worked so hard to destroy. Volunteering has been a wonderful way to get involved without a complete academic portfolio. Anyone can volunteer to help with whale conservation. One interesting program, the Enkosini Eco Experience’s O.R.C.A Whale and Dolphin Marine Conservation Project, is run out of South Africa in Plettenberg Bay. The area is home to an incredible variety of marine mammal species including the endangered southern right whale, Bryde’s whales, bottlenose dolphins, orca whales, and humpbacks.
Volunteers with O.R.C.A. experience the day-to-day challenge of marine conservation. They meaningfully participate in specific conservation projects and learn about managing a marine and coastal zone sustainably. Volunteers also help to support the local economy as well. If they wish, volunteers can focus more on social projects educating members of the local community.
Enkosini Eco Experience is a large volunteer operation in South Africa with many other opportunities to volunteer on wildlife conservation projects. It was founded by one woman, Kelcey Grimm, a former investment banker who decided to dedicate her life to conservation. Enkosini works with many other African conservation projects giving volunteers the opportunity to network. These organizations include the Makalali Game Reserve, Kariega Conservation Project, Bambelela Wildlife Sanctuary, Noah’s Ark Wildlife Center, and the Great White Shark Project.