Community guides get going

The past few weeks of the Whale Time project have been both extremely busy as well as incredibly rewarding, as all worthwhile endeavours tend to be! We have officially launched the community guides element of the project, and have been engaging and working hard with our five wonderful guides-to-be. We have been introducing them on our twitter account (@WhaleTimeKZN), so make sure to check them out.

                                                                           

They started off with a week of business and financial training, facilitated by Wildlands and Nedbank. Our guides gave positive feedback, and seem to have learnt a lot from this intensive week. I certainly learnt a lot during my brief pop-ins at the Umlazi BB Coastal College campus, where the course was being run. After this module, the ladies were given a booklet which they needed to complete during their ‘self-study’ week. During this time they began to build up their knowledge of whales, the history of whaling, and the marine ecosystem in general. They were now well on their way to specialising and becoming official Whale Time tour guides!

 We then began our week of full-time intensive training, where our guides lived aboard the wonderful wooden motor yacht Angra Pequena. We spent 6 full days learning, discussing, brainstorming and workshopping - not to mention having lots of fun. Nikki began by filling in all of the information gaps, so that everyone was on the same page in terms of their knowledge of marine life and whales in particular. On Tuesday we took a lovely long walk along the beach in order to visit the old Union whaling station, inspecting the life on the rocky shores along the way and learning about the many fascinating creatures that inhabit these spaces. Our guides then showed off their creative sides by sketching the various creatures they had seen throughout the day, putting my stick-figure artistic ability to shame! It was so lovely getting to see their different skills and interests through these exercises.

 Our remaining days aboard were spent watching fascinating documentaries and whale-themed movies, and learning more about various aspects of marine life. We explored the relationship between rivers and the ocean, where Nikki involved us all in a fun and thought-provoking exercise focusing on river pollution and its effects on the marine ecosystem. I was blown away by the thoughtful and sincere letters that our guides wrote either to or from the ocean, an activity inspired by a beautiful story called ‘The Giving Ocean’. Through these many different activities we were able to build up knowledge and engage in meaningful and important discussions about whales, conservation and sea life in general.

 Our final day together was spent in Richards Bay aboard a whale watching boat with St Lucia Tours. It was an amazing experience, which was a first for both the guides as well as me. We saw many groups of beautiful humpback whales swimming calmly a mere 50 metres from our boat. It was truly a wonderful and surreal experience to see these majestic creatures so close, and I am sure our community guides will remember the experience forever. After this wonderful day it was time to say goodbye - for now! From here on we will be liaising with these wonderful women in order to consolidate their products and tours, building on what we have started during these intense weeks of training.

Both Nikki and I are incredibly excited to see how these ladies work together, and to see how the project unfolds in the coming weeks and months. I feel so lucky to have been given the opportunity to assist in this wonderful project, and I cannot wait to see what happens next.