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Whale Watching? – Conservation Using Drones

sperm

 If you love whales and dolphins and by “love” I mean having a natural warmness towards them, whether it’s because they are so big and imposing, so big and yet so gentle or whether, like me, you’re fascinated by their obvious intelligence and understanding of the world around – the world , that is, mainly produced by us, oh of course they’re big, then you will, I’m sure, be interested in anything that we can do to learn more about them without slaughtering them.

They’re still being slaughtered around the world from the Faroe Islands to Japan and it isn’t necessary.  They are awesome and if you haven’t seen them close (under supervision) then get an opportunity to go and them come back and support teams like Ocean Alliance.

“A bizarre, rarely acknowledged paradox exists within the thriving community of whale researchers, whales conservationists, and, really, anybody who simply loves whales: they are the largest living creatures on the planet — yet, being deep-diving and fast-moving animals, they are notoriously difficult to study up-close.

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Even when scientists do stumble upon a living, breathing whale, they worry that the noise from the boats they use to approach them stresses their study subjects out. Noise from boat propellers reaches whales and can even impact their hearing, though it’s not clear yet just how much. But as the famous saying goes, “A deaf whale is a dead whale.” They use their auditory sense to hunt, communicate and detect predators, so anything that might jeopardize a whale’s hearing can severely impact its chances of survival.

So what’s to be done? How can scientists continue to study whales without risking auditory damage or unnecessary stress?

…Kerr and his team at Ocean Alliance are working to get around this — to test whether a drone could be used to gather data about whales without inducing stress. He created the world’s first “whale surrogate” — an inflatable zodiac boat that takes all the data a whale would experience when confronted with a drone: ambient noise measurements, underwater hydrophones, cameras, and wind force measurements. Essentially, the surrogate measures what the whale sees, feels and hears.

Kerr hopes that this will provide an argument for the idea that “you don’t have to kill a whale to learn about whales” — an argument that, in a world where whaling still goes on for “scientific” purposes, is a meaningful one.

“The potential here for drones is enormous,” he told The Dodo. “If you’re above the animal, you can take 3-D pictures, you can look for health or identification marks. And when you’re collecting one piece of data, you might get a dozen others — even see something we’ve never seen before. That’s the icing on the cake.”

And there’s an added bonus — because of factors that concentrate environmental contaminants in the blubber of large animals like whales, studying the toxins in a whale is like studying the pollution in that whale’s ecosystem.

But whale watchers, take note: as of right now in the U.S., it’s illegal to use drones near marine mammals — violators can face fines up to $10,000. Kerr is currently working with the National Marine Fisheries Service to establish appropriate rules for using drones near whales.

Besides science and research, drones can save whales in a host of other ways (often outside the U.S., given the laws). Footage shot by drones was used in the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” to expose the brutal dolphin hunt in Taiji, Japan, while the group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which abides by the axiom “the camera is our best weapon,” recently brought drones to the Faroe Islands, where it’s preparing to monitor the pilot whale hunt.
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“The Danish navy keeps us from getting close to what’s going on,” Jake Weber, a UAV specialist with Sea Shepherd, told The Dodo. “We already used them in the Faroes to document the dumping of dolphin meat. We’d like to capture the grind [the pilot whale hunt] by drone while it occurs if it does happen.”

Lastly, drones could give people a unique and spectacular view of wild whales — without having to visit SeaWorld. While it’s not yet legal in the U.S., given proper precautions and regulations, drone whale watching could revolutionize the way we encounter whales — and spare the lives of those whales that are put in harm’s way.”

Author: Melissa Cronin

Thanks for reading and be sure to leave any comments below…

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Travel

A Weekend in Prague – Gay Pride

Prague Pride

A few weeks ago I took a last-minute weekend trip to Prague for their 4th annual gay pride, Prague Pride. The festival included a jam-packed schedule of events over a week, including film screenings, political debates, parties and a parade. I would argue that Prague has been a gay hotspot destination for a while already, but this was only their 4th annual pride celebration. And for being such a young endeavor, it seemed to be incredibly well organized with a full spectrum of events for every type of visitor. I really loved it.

Gay pride in Prague was special not just because it was a small (though not too small) celebration, but also because there was a community feeling behind the pride. With political organizers and volunteers from Central European LGBT rights organizations taking the stage at several events, the pride felt as much about celebrating gay pride as it did about making positive societal change. And in a part of Europe that still needs reforms, that’s as important as anything else.

Even in Prague, with its beautiful backdrops, history of pornography and relative liberal attitudes, gay rights still have a ways to go. This year’s 2014 Prague Pride was even met with neo-nazi protesters at one point, though there were fewer than 10 and they were all removed relatively peacefully by police. I was further along the parade route when it happened and neither myself nor any of my friends even heard about the scuffle until hours later.

Prague Pride

The highlight of Prague Pride 2014, though, was the mostly rain-free Saturday with a short parade route (under three hours) ending at the official pride park. Entrance was free in the park (a section of Prague’s lovely Letná Park—visit if you can!) and included two stages with a varying quality of DJs, information stalls for various LGBTQ organizations and some of Prague’s best food trucks. Day-dancing and day-drinking were all in the agenda and with friendly crowds and plenty of sunshine, it was a great way to spend a Saturday in Prague.

Prague in the summertime can be a hassle, but thanks to the huge variety of events during Prague Pride, I don’t think I’ve ever had so much fun in the city. And in a city famous for its nightlife, that means a lot. Oftentimes, the Prague Old City is too crowded with tourists making the city feel a bit like Disneyland. But having already seen most of the tourist sites over my previous visits to the Czech capital, I spent my time seeking out more unique things to do and see. Things such as a queer art exhibition, an outdoor silent disco and each and every gay club & cafe I could find!

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Traveling to Prague alone, I spent most of the weekend with a new friend I met through Grindr (as you do…!). Though I was also lucky because of Prague’s proximity to Berlin, I actually stumbled into more than a few friends and acquaintances over the weekend. Despite thousands of visitors to Prague during the gay pride, it was possible to see and meet the same people in many of the same places. Pride organizers put together a tight program with heaps of good options on things to do, meaning many tourists were hitting up the same places.

Every gay club in Prague was packed throughout the weekend with special parties and events. I spent most of my nights at the city’s most hipster gay club, Club Termix, which has long been one of my favorite European gay clubs since my first visit in 2011. It’s got that charm of a college basement with funky stuff hanging from the ceiling (notably a car), a friendly mix of boys & girls, great music, a small pedestal for dancing (obviously where I spent most of my time!) and—this is important—free entrance AND cheap drinks. There aren’t many clubs still like that!

Visiting Prague for a weekend during their pride was easily one of my summer highlights. The pride festival was one of my favorites of the European pride season and the city was as charming as ever. Probably more so thanks to the rainbows!

Prague Pride

Prague Pride

 

Prague Pride

 

Prague Pride

 

What You Need To Know

Prague Pride takes place in August each year. There are countless hotels and hostels in the city, but keep in mind August is still during the height of tourist season, so book early! Learn more about the gay pride and check the schedule for parties, events and more at praguepride.cz. More information about travel in Prague or the Czech Republic can be found on the official tourism website.

Author: travelsofadam