Helping Find A Way for conservation, HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco visits Song of the Whale

(L to R) IFAW Whale Program Director Patrick Ramage, HSH Prince Albert  II of Monaco, Whale Scientists Vassili Papastavrou and Anna Cucknell and Senior Skipper Richard McLanaghan aboard IFAW's Song of the Whale (Monaco, 23 June 2013).It is beyond surreal to sit on the deck of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s sailing research vessel Song of the Whale while she is berthed at the private pontoon of the Yacht Club of Monaco – a Mediterranean blur of blazing sun, gorgeous blue water, stunningly expensive sports cars and even more expensive super yachts tucked into this sparkling jewel of a harbor.

At a mere 72 feet in length, Song of the Whale doesn’t make the largest impression, and her sail plan may not be the most exotic of the incredible vessels anchored here.   But her pursuit of IFAW’s mission during a research cruise over the next two months may well make hers the most important.

It is for this reason that the vessel and the team of committed men and women carrying out this aspect of IFAW’s whale protection work have been invited here by the Prince Albert II Foundation for a pre-voyage visit to the vessel from His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco himself. 

At 0.78 sq. miles, the Principality of Monaco is not the largest nation engaged in efforts to protect the global marine environment but she and her Prince have long punched well above their weight in the international fight to protect whales and other marine species and their habitats from the many threats they face - more threats today than ever before in history. Leading regional and international marine conservation organizations are based here, including the Mediterranean Science Commission, with which IFAW has organized the coming research cruise and other long-time partners.

This week, the Prince Albert II Foundation and the Oceanographic Institute of Monaco host the fourth annual Monaco Blue Initiative, an annual gathering of ocean protection heavyweights from around the world focused on identifying new approaches to improving protection for marine ecosystems and species while promoting a “Blue growth” dynamic.

So, surreal though it seems, beneath the shiny surface, the timing, topic and substance of Song of the Whale’s visit make her brief berthing in glittering Monaco a very good fit. 

HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco being briefed by IFAW Song of the Whale Senior Scientist, Anna Cucknell. The timing for Prince Albert’s visit is 5:30 sharp – his first stop on the first evening of “Blue Initiative” events. He is on time and, after a few obligatory photos for local media, eager to get on board, take a look at the technology and talk with the IFAW team about their work. Senior Scientist Anna Cucknell gives the presentation, concluding with fresh images of the other recent VIP visitors to the boat - an inquisitive pod of pilot whales who spent time checking out the vessel as she sailed off the south coast of Spain.

Interacting with His Serene Highness in this and other settings over the past several years consistently confirms his genuine passion for ocean protection. This is not just another well-briefed head of state. The only world leader to have stood at both the North and the South Pole, steeped in the maritime history of the city state his family has ruled since 1297, Prince Albert is wading well into the issues himself. Like the excited IFAW team members meeting with him, he is eager to explore, impatient for new information, pressing for practical solutions that offer a way forward.

We brief him on the field season ahead – state-of-the-art visual and acoustic surveys of as yet unstudied waters of the Aegean and the Med, new research techniques being pioneered by IFAW and the Song of the Whale team to better track and understand how sperm whales interact with increasing large vessel traffic invading their habitats, our hopes to find fin whales, fastest of the great whales and the planet’s second largest species, even now being hunted in the North Atlantic by a lone Icelandic businessman hell-bent on reopening the international whale meat trade.

H.S.H. takes it all in, clearly engaged by the expertise and enthusiasm of the young research team. He is easy to be with and asks lots of questions, logistical, technical and nautical. We tell him of the local schoolchildren who will visit the boat tomorrow morning before she sets sail to help protect the world they will someday inherit.

The Prince inspects the entire vessel stem to stern, sleeping quarters, engine room, galley and then lingers a long while, chatting with the team. One almost gets the sense that if life were different, he would happily push off with us Tuesday morning. Before disembarking, he leaves a gift of “Oceans” - a book of gorgeous images by renowned photographer Jacques Perrin.

“Thank you so much for all you are doing” he says as he farewells each of us.

We promise to send updates, pose together once more for the media and then, as quickly as he arrived, he is gone, whisked away to his next event.

--PR

Watch this first of three installments from the 2012 Song of the Whale’s research season below. Follow IFAW's purpose built research vessel, the Song Of The Whale, to Stellwagen Bank off the coast of Massachusetts. She joins a team from NOAA to undertake a first of it's kind project to collect a full 24 hours of data from tagged humpback whales. The mission is to learn what these magnificent creatures, especially mother/calf pairs, do at night below the surface.

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