WHALEFEST 2015: a leviathan happening

The author presenting on the Science and Campaigns stage at WHALEFEST 2015.

“The British and Americans are two people separated by a common language.”

― George Bernard Shaw

A week ago right about now I was sitting in a restaurant in the coastal resort of Brighton, UK getting ready to “tuck into” a delicious looking order of fish and chips. 

I had come to this charming seaside location at the tail end of winter for WHALEFEST, an annual cetacean celebration organised by Planet Whale/World Cetacean Alliance. 

From modest beginnings in 2011, when 2,500 whale huggers took part, WHALEFEST has grown to become a leviathan happening on the UK conference calendar, with 15,000 enthusiastic visitors streaming in and out of the Brighton Centre to attend the two-day event this year.

There is a gypsy quality to the life of the global whale campaigner.

The day before the conference kicks off, old friends and new meet in hotel lobbies and coastal cafes while coaches ferry in the migrating faithful from nearby Gatwick or distant Heathrow.

SEE ALSO: Big river, small whale; the life and times of the Thames Estuary harbour porpoise

WHALEFEST 2015 featured dozens of committed organisations who set up booths and information displays highlighting the many threats whales face in marine habitats worldwide – more threats today than at any time in history.

From familiar challenges, like commercial whaling, defiantly pursued today by just three countries: Norway, Iceland and Japan; to new and emerging threats such as ocean noise pollution and climate change, there is no shortage of concerns.

Thankfully, IFAW and other committed organisations represented at WHALEFEST are crafting creative collaborative approaches to help address them. 

Barbara Slee at the IFAW booth for WHALEFEST 2015.

IFAW is well represented on the weekend’s agenda with compelling presentations by my colleagues Barbara Slee from our Netherlands office, and Sigursteinn Masson, our engaging Icelandic representative.

Barbara and Sig highlight Icelandic whale watching and ecotourism, which now eclipses fisheries in delivering economic returns to that country.

Anna Cucknell, a long-time scientific collaborator from Marine Conservation Research International (MCR) which now owns and operates our purpose-built marine research vessel Song of the Whale, shares fresh data from an IFAW-supported survey of harbour porpoises swimming in the River Thames, and a certain whale programme director preaches the good word in a “Making Whaling History” presentation on the Science and Campaigns stage on the Saturday afternoon.

“Who ARE you?”

“What do you REALLY care about?”

I began, noting that my usual opening queries played very differently to a British audience.

By the end of my 20 minute talk though, it was clear that whatever our language differences, we were saying the same thing: that together we can save whales in the 21st Century, that we have both a generational opportunity and a moral obligation to do so.

Beyond renewing connections in the whale protection community, and attending powerful presentations on a range of topics, perhaps the most inspiring thing about attending my first WHALEFEST, was the infectious enthusiasm of the countless children who attended, many dragging their parents from booths to displays, patiently sitting through presentations, and unabashedly shimmying to the beat of the Pirate and Mermaids band.

In the end, the important work your support makes possible is for them, as well as the whales whose ocean planet we share. Together we can build a better world for both. More on how you can help make that happen over the weeks and months ahead.


Learn more about IFAW efforts to protect the world's whales on our campaign page.

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Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation
Senior Advisor to the IFAW Marine Conservation Program
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation