Lorna Hall is Education and Outreach Officer at Whale and Dolphin Conservation, a charity dedicated to the protection of whales and dolphins. WDC’s vision is a world where every whale and dolphin is safe and free.  Their mission is to amaze people with the wonder of whales and dolphins and inspire global action to protect them.  She works at the Trust’s Scottish Dolphin Centre at Spey Bay at the mouth of the River Spey where it enters the Moray Firth, which is an excellent feeding site for numerous species of birds and animals, including the resident population of bottlenose dolphins that resides along the East Coast of Scotland.  In this article, first published in Volume 119 of our journal, Environmental Education, Lorna explores the work that the Trust does with local schools.

Our education programme aims to excite people about these amazing dolphins on our doorstep, educate them about the threats whales and dolphins face and inspire them to help protect the marine environment, with much of our work this year focusing on the problem of plastic.  The issue of plastic in our seas is a global problem and poses a major threat to our marine life, including whales and dolphins.  We have experienced a huge increase in schools’ interest in this topic since it featured in Sir David Attenborough’s Blue Planet 2.

The Wonderful World of Whales and Dolphins
Educating children about whales and dolphins is our first step to enthuse and excite them about these wonderful marine mammals.  Using life-size cut-outs to look at the size and appearance of different species and showing real and replica bones and baleen allows children to visualise these often elusive mammals.  Their amazing adaptations to life underwater, their use of sound through echolocation and communication, are all things we teach with fun and interactive games and activities in our education programme.  Of course the chance to see dolphins wild and free along our coast is the cherry on top and watching out for dolphins is a popular activity on a school visit to us. Armed with binoculars and survey sheets, everyone’s attention is focused on the sea, watching out for a fin or a splash.

Our Plastic Seas and #NotWhaleFood
Through showing everyone a plastic bag that came from the stomach of a whale to playing games about entanglement and ingestion of litter and its accumulation up the food chain, we can highlight to children the danger plastic poses to all marine life.  Exploring ways to reduce their plastic waste at home and at school and encouraging others to do the same, school children have created some amazing posters and displays with us, showing that plastic is #NotWhaleFood and everyone can play a part in helping to protect whales and dolphins from this threat.  And of course what’s more fun and rewarding than carrying out a beach clean, knowing that you are actively doing something to help protect wildlife.  #NotWhaleFood is WDC’s campaign aiming to tackle plastic pollution, working in partnership with BRITA.  Find out more at notwhalefood.com.

Schools take charge
It has been amazing to see just how many schools have taken on looking at this topic of plastic with their pupils. The P6 class at St Sylvester’s RC Primary School in Elgin, Moray have been one such school.  Our first meeting with the P6 pupils was to introduce to them the species of whales and dolphins seen along the Moray Coast; looking at their size, behaviour, anatomy and feeding methods and then the problem of plastic; how it gets to the sea, how it’s mistaken for food and eaten and accumulated up the food chain.  Our second meeting focused around what we can all do to help protect our marine life. How can we stop plastic entering the sea? How can we clean up plastic already in the sea? How can we reduce plastic waste?  Their answers (to name just a few!): buy less plastic and more cans and cardboard, bring your own reusable bag and use ROVs (remotely operated underwater vehicles) to collect plastic underwater.

Our third visit took place at Spey Bay with the class visiting us for a day out at WDC’s Scottish Dolphin Centre where not only did the pupils join us for games about echolocation and entanglement but they continued their actions to protect whales and dolphins by creating some inspiring posters about the problem of plastic as well as carrying out a beach clean. Thinking more about reducing waste and plastic, the school took part in our waste-free lunch competition where we challenge schools to bring as little non-recyclable waste with their packed lunches and St Sylvester’s were this year’s winners.

In-between these visits, the class themselves have done some fantastic work towards tackling the problem of plastic. This includes writing some very inspiring letters to local businesses, encouraging them to reduce single-use plastics like straws and take-away cups and instead use “more eco-friendly materials and help make the world a better place”.   Here are some comments from pupils and teachers:

“Thank you for taking the time and effort to come visit us, I very much enjoyed it.  You were very inspiring to me and I am going to do the best I can to help you and the rest of WDC.  I will do things like never litter and beach clean-ups.” P6 pupil.

“I was distressed to hear that all this plastic is in animals.  It was very informative.  I now am searching shops for non-plastic food wrapping and am planning a beach clean-up.” P4 pupil. 

“We thoroughly enjoyed Lorna’s visit and this was an excellent start to our Science Week focusing on plastic pollution.  The presentation was very informative with hands-on activities and games to keep the children’s attention.  Thank you for a great day.” P4/5 teacher.

“Thank you to you and your staff for helping my P4 class to have such a wonderful trip out on Monday to the WDC.  The children and the staff had a super time and it was very educational as well.  Well done for all of the awareness raising that you do on conservation.  The planet needs our help so please keep doing what you do so well.” P4 Teacher.

……………………………………….

Contact: education.Scotland@whales.org     More information: whales.org/dolphincentre 

To read more articles like this, you can join NAEE and receive three journals a year