Our magnificent neighbours
Like any avid traveller, it’s not surprising to hear that whale researcher Andrew Stevenson has eaten some peculiar foods during his lifetime.
But it might come as a shock to learn that long before his days advocating on behalf of the large mammals, he once ate whale meat.
“I believe that knowledge is power and I suppose I’m not the best person to admit this, but I have eaten whale back in the 1990s when I was at university in Norway, where they kill and eat minke whales,” Mr Stevenson said.
“I couldn’t possibly do that now. To me it would be like eating human flesh because I have seen how magnificent these animals are and how their lives are extremely similar to ours.
“They have a complex sense of social responsibility towards one another and feelings of empathy.
“In any way you can measure their intelligence as sentient beings, they are probably on par with humans,” he explained.
The filmmaker and author has made it his mission over the past seven years to educate people about these marine creatures.
And tonight, Mr Stevenson will be hosting an event to update the public on his latest research and share some never before released video footage from his encounters with whales.
The event will kick off at Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute at 7.30pm.
“My message is that these whales need to be protected,” he explained. “So in my own way through these presentations, film and books, I try to get people to the point where they are beyond where I was at when I ate whale meat, out of ignorance.
“I want them to be at a place where they have enough respect and interest in these animals that the idea of eating them or hunting them would be unthinkable.
“That’s the progression I have made through my knowledge of these animals. Not everyone can swim with whales, but through these films and books I want to provide other people with insight into these animals,” he added.
Mr Stevenson’s first encounter with a whale came eight years ago while he was on the water filming dolphins.
A humpback whale came up below him and spent two hours with him, he said.
After the rare encounter, Mr Stevenson couldn’t sleep for two weeks and was haunted by what that whale might have been trying to communicate to him.
It sparked in him a passion to protect the fascinating species.
Mr Stevenson has since devoted his time to cataloguing and identifying whales to help with research.
He said each whale has a pattern on the ventral side of the fluke, which is absolutely unique to that individual animal — and so far his team has been able to identify 832 whales here in Bermuda.
It’s an impressive catalogue, considering it has taken other countries around 30 or 40 years to record the same numbers, with hundreds of contributors.
Not only has Mr Stevenson’s team been dedicated in their quest to identify humpback whales, due to the Island’s geographic location they have a greater pool of whales to be able to identify as they pass through Bermuda on their way from the Caribbean, to feeding grounds in places like Iceland, Greenland and the East Coast of Canada and the US.
One of his biggest challenges, however, is there is only a limited amount of time to spot the whales around Bermuda. The peak whale season lasts from four to six weeks, from late March to April.
Mr Stevenson said the local public have been instrumental in helping with his cataloguing work.
He encourages people to get in touch with him through the contact details on his website, www.whalesbermuda.com, whenever they see a whale in local waters.
“Last week for instance we went out four days in a row and saw whales on one day,” he said. “But we got reports from the public and fishermen about other whale sightings, so getting public information on this and for people to phone in and tell me where they saw a whale, or even better if they can get a picture of it, helps us out greatly.”
Mr Stevenson said he was looking forward to tonight’s presentation and wants people to walk away with a greater appreciation for whales.
“I hope people take away from the presentation how wonderful these animals are and how they deserve to be protected,” he said.
“They are still endangered species, but the population is increasing by seven percent each year. The last estimate was 15,000, so the population is healthy. Inevitably they will be taken off the endangered species list.
“One of my main goals is to give people a feeling of what these animals are like, so they understand they deserve to live in peace in the ocean, just as humans are left in peace and are protected.”
Tickets to tonight’s presentation are $25 and can be purchased via www.bdatix.bm. Money raised will go towards Mr Stevenson’s research; there will also be books and DVDs for sale at the event.
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