#21: Calvineers Educate Downeast Schools about Right Whales!

The CALVIN Project was started eight years ago, with the mission of "Endangered Species Recovery Through Education" and a focus on North Atlantic right whales. Members of The CALVIN Project are called "Calvineers," and consist of 7th and 8th grade student scientists from the Adams School in Castine, Maine. Earlier this year, this amazing group was recognized for their hard work by becoming finalists for Oceana's Ocean Heroes Award!

Calvineer student scientists spend one hour a week in school studying whales and how they relate to the topics they study in science class, ranging from anatomy and physiology to Newton’s laws and the study of sound waves.  They also volunteer an hour after school each week to do a research project of their own on a current topic related to right whales. 

Calvineers doing research on a Thursday afternoon.

Each Calvineer has a scientist mentor from the Right Whale Consortium who they can e-mail with questions and comments about their topics.  Topics being studied include: stress hormones, entanglements, health assessment, ship strikes, necropsies, fishing gear, acoustics, scarring, food, habitat, laws and regulations, ethics and so on.  Each Calvineer produces PowerPoint slides explaining their topic and how it figures into the right whales’ current situation. All the slides are woven together into a PowerPoint presentation that revolves around the life story of the most famous right whale of all, Calvin- Catalog #2223.  Calvin’s life story was chosen as a theme because she has experienced all the joys and pitfalls that the modern right whale faces.  Calvin was present when her mother was killed by a shipstrike, and Calvin herself was once severely entangled.  Calvin has also spent many tranquil seasons in the Gulf of Maine and has given birth to two calves.  She knows what it is to be a modern right whale in an urban ocean.

Calvin, the most famous right whale of all! Photo: Kara Mahoney Robinson

The student scientists do the PowerPoint presentation themselves. Each Calvineer talks about her/his research as their slides are displayed.  The talk is informative with many details about the whales, the scientists and the regulations in place.  The presentation ends with a message from Calvin herself and suggestions of ways the average person can help right whales recover from being endangered.

These students never miss an opportunity to educate people about right whales. So, when a teacher from Whiting School in Maine dropped by the Research Station in Lubec one day and inquired about a presentation for her students about right whales, the request was immediately passed on to me since I was volunteering at the station and, more importantly, I am the Principal Investigator (PI) for The CALVIN Project.  Soon an all-day trip to Lubec area was planned for the Calvineers so they could present their story about right whales to students at the Whiting School, Lubec School, and the Edmunds Schools too!

On Monday, September 24th, twelve Calvineers piled into two mini-vans and a truck at 7:00 AM.  In the bed of the truck was a 7-foot model of a right whale based on the necropsy data from Calvin’s mother, Delilah (Catalog #1223). The model is one-seventh the size of Delilah, who was 49 feet long! The two and a half hour drive to Lubec from Castine went fast, as the students entertained themselves with word games and road games. A few read over their notes to be sure they were prepared for the presentations.

Calvin's 1/7th model is loaded into the truck.

The Calvineers arrived at the Lubec School in plenty of time to set up. Grades 3-8 came to the presentation- about 45 students and teachers in all!  Two right whale scientists working at the NEA Research Station, Grace Conger and Dan Pendleton, along with Claudia Pendleton, the cook from the Research Station, also sat in.  The other research scientists would have loved to join, but they were braving the seas on their boat, looking for right whales!

Presenting at the Lubec School.

After the presentation, the Calvineers fielded questions from the crowd.  Some of the best were: “Why are they named right whales?”; “How old do they live?”; and “What kind of teeth do right whales have?”  The Calvineers sometimes do not know the answers to questions but are quick to turn the question over to their PI or other scientists in the crowd.  At this presentation, someone asked if right whales are in the Gulf of Mexico (because they wondered if the oil pollution affected them.)  Hanna said only one or two right whales were ever documented in the Gulf of Mexico but she did not know which whale it was. NOAA scientist Grace Conger informed the crowd that the whale was Derecha, Catalog #2360.  Derecha is actually one of the whales referred to in the PowerPoint, so we all learned something new that day!

Our audience at the Lubec School.

The Lubec School gave the Calvineers a free lunch (they still do exist!), and then they were off to the town of Whiting for their second presentation. The Whiting School of 30 K-8 students was joined by about 50 5th-8th grade students from the nearby Edmunds School. The second presentation was as good as the first and the students had even more questions for the Calvineers! 

The Calvineers answer questions from students from Whiting and Edmunds Schools.

After 20 minutes of Q&A, the Calvineers ended with a slide that listed what people could do to help right whales. Here is a brief list of some things that you can do to help right whales:
Just because the presentations were done, however, the day was not over for the Calvineers! We took advantage of the fact that we were near the Eastern-Most Point in the United States- West Quoddy HeadThey visited the lighthouse there, and afterwards explored the small waterfront town of Lubec, watching scores of seals feeding in the strong currents while collecting in the littoral zone between the 20-foot tidal range.  

Exploring West Quoddy Head.

The Calvineers found their way to the New England Aquarium Right Whale Research Station, got a tour, and played various forms of tag in the large backyard. At five o’clock sharp, the dinner bell rang and the Calvineers settled in at the very table the NEA researchers do every evening- there was plenty of room for all fifteen of us! Claudia had cooked up the dish the Calvineers had voted on: Macaroni and Cheese. But this wasn't just any kind of Mac and Cheese- it was Claudia’s special creation, and so the two large baking dishes disappeared in no time.  Along with the homemade garlic bread and fresh salad, it was quite a meal. Two Calvineers cleaned the table and loaded the dishwasher just like the scientists do. The final touch has become a tradition for Calvineers (Editor's note: and for the lucky researchers too, when we're fortunate enough to have Bill visit!): the PI passed out delicious, homemade peanut butter cups to all to signal yet another “job well done” on their part.

Eating dinner at the NEA Research Station.

The Calvineers were on their way back to Castine by 6 PM and were all delivered to their respective homes around 9 PM.  It was another long day for the Calvineers but they all could go to sleep knowing they had reached another 100 people, and perhaps that might be the tipping point that gets right whales off the endangered species list.

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