Dive into Birch Aquarium's annual Whale Fest kickoff
written for a news & features course through UC San Diego Extension
Orca songs echo through the Birch Aquarium as guests flood in for Whale Fest. This event, kicked off on February 8th and lasting through February 16th, brings together scientists and whale enthusiasts to highlight the conservation of local whale species through activities and educational programming.
“They’re an important animal that’s being impacted by climate change currently,” says Birch Aquarium education coordinator Delanie Medina, “There are a lot of conservation efforts being put out there to protect them, and we took it as an opportunity to celebrate these animals and make it really fun and educational, and hopefully people leave feeling inspired to learn more about them.”
Currently in its second year, Whale Fest hosts new and returning scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. “The science community in San Diego.... wants to be part of these kinds of events to connect their research with bigger communities,” says Medina, “Education is a huge piece of research, it’s something that you need to do in order to get your word out there about what you’re doing as a scientist.”
The American Cetacean Society is also making an appearance at this year’s whale fest. While Whale Fest celebrates the vast diversity of whale species and their broader conservation, the American Cetacean Society especially features one whale species in their conservation efforts: the vaquita, a five-foot-long whale found locally that is currently critically endangered. “It’s one of those raw stories in science where it’s something happening right now,” says Medina, “People can still do something to help.”
February is the peak of gray whale migration season, making it the perfect month to help guests connect with these marine mammals. “We sometimes see them daily passing by. When they’re south-bound during February, they’re much closer to shore… during the whale-watching trips you’re pretty much guaranteed to see a whale if the weather is accommodating, and we usually also see a lot of them [from the aquarium’s] Tide Pool Plaza.”
A multi-department effort, Whale Fest brings Birch Aquarium employees together under a common goal of spotlighting these marine mammals. Exhibits are updated with whale imagery, visitor services spotlights off-site whale-watching tours, volunteers engage with guests through whale-related activity stations, and more. Medina says, “Day to day, people can come to Birch Aquarium and learn and be inspired by animals they see, but it’s nice to have this people component… inviting the public to be part of the community.”