Hi, Alison here, hijacking the Wildlife Officer Blog to bring you news of our 2nd annual North East Marine Wildlife Festival which took place last week (20-28 July)!
So, starting from the beginning and for me the bit I sadly missed last year: The Big Install! Like a child at Christmas I got up super early, eager to go and see the giant whales come to life. I was creating my own underwater world and I was literally bouncing with excitement. I was greeted at the museum by another super excited organiser with a shout of “Happy Installation Day!” This ‘blow up’ exhibition takes only minutes to bring to life and for me watching an empty hall transform into a (let’s be honest) fairly mad exhibition of life size marine animals was a brilliant start to the week.
With 14,000 visitors over 7 days we met thousands of budding young marine biologists and curious adults, taking part in everything from shark workshops to barnacle close encounters! I watched on proudly as our excellent team of whale tour volunteers guided the public around the exhibition imparting their collective marine wisdom including “it’s like getting food caught in your moustache” (a great description of whale baleen) and “they are big, bad-ass Geordie bottlenose dolphins” (another pretty accurate description in my opinion!).
Our exhibitors certainly brought their own passions with them to the event too. I howled with laughter watching the BDMLR whale rescue simulations unfold on the front lawn. Turns out the sign I scoffed at “warning you WILL get wet” was 100% necessary!
And I LOVED the quiet fascination that a microscopic world of barnacles and worms living on a single shell can create thanks to the Rangers from St Mary’s Island.
But the best part of an event like this is the visitors. From the little boy who’s eyes widened and mouth gaped open as he held his first whale tooth and realised just what it was to be ‘whale sized’ to our youngest whale tour guide; a small boy who having visited earlier in the week came back to show me his whale book and to give his dad an official tour!
Now, if being Education Officer for ORCA has taught me one thing it is that there is always one stand out child at every event and of course the North East Marine Wildlife Festival was no exception! Introducing Sonny: Sonny turned up on Wednesday at 10am on the dot (as the doors opened!) wearing a Hawaiian shirt, bumble bee back pack, gripping tightly on to a sperm whale toy in his right hand and an Orca toy in his left. Immediately it was clear: Sonny has it sorted. Sonny is 2 years old and obsessed with whales and dolphins. His mum and dad, who he was dragging around with him, had taken a day off work to bring him here. One of his first words was ‘whale’ and as he walked around the exhibition he could tell you what most of the models were. Very impressive!
After a brilliantly exhausting week at the museum my voice was cracking and my feet were sore but the best was still to come -The Big Watch Weekend! I was desperate for good weather for our weekend of coastal watches… I woke to bright skies and calm seas… YES!! I headed out, settled down on my cliff top at Cullernose Point to start recording. It didn’t take long to get started, we had just sat down when a porpoise popped up and rolled through the flat calm water just meters from the point. A moment of silent astonishment descended before giving way to excited screeching and frantic data recording. This continued for the rest of the weekend, with an obligatory squeal each time we spotted another animal!
Over the course of the weekend we spotted minke whales off Whitburn and Seahouses, white beaked dolphins from Whitley Bay and porpoises from (nearly everywhere!) Seahouses, Bamburgh Castle, Cullernose Point, Dunstamburgh Castle and Cresswell. For more Big Watch Weekend sightings information visit http://www.orcaweb.org.uk/news/big-whale-watch-makes-a-splash.
And there ends my round up of 9 days of festival fun! Inflatable whales, thousands of happy visitors, people getting wet, excited children and lots of whale, dolphin and porpoise sightings to round it off… it doesn’t get much better!
Thanks to everyone who made this festival possible in particular the Great North Museum for hosting and a seriously amazing team of volunteers who entertained and educated thousands of people over the week! Can’t wait for next year!
For more festival photos visit http://www.facebook.com/yourseas.
Alison Lomax, ORCA Community Engagement Officer