See you in spring, Aomori
After 6 months of living by the sea in a remote village 3 hours away from the nearest city, we packed our life back up and returned to Osaka. The last few months of country life were spent exploring more of Aomori prefecture and working hard to finish my research paper, with the occasional visit from the neighbourhood fox who could be seen foraging on the beach next to our office.
Aside from the surveys and science, Mutsu Bay Dolphin Research also strives to connect with people through dolphins. Although media appearances can be fun, my favourite way to inspire people to love dolphins is talking to kids. During our final month in Kawauchi I gave a presentation at the local primary and junior high schools, teaching them about some differences between cetaceans in the UK and Japan. The students were really surprised to learn about the variety of cetacean species that can be seen around their home country. With around 37 different species that have occurred in Japanese waters, it is a greater diversity than seen in the UK, where 30 different cetacean types have been spotted. The kids were excited to realise that popular species such as killer whales and sperm whales range in Hokkaido waters, not too far from their own prefecture. I introduced them to photo-ID and how this technique is used in the UK to identify dolphins by the notches on their dorsal fins. The kids were interested to know that this same research is being done on the very dolphins that they see close to their school every springtime. After a couple of photo-ID quizzes where they had to find the matching fin amongst a multitude of other similar fins I think they definitely got the hang of it!
Getting the next generation interested in wildlife is vital in creating a society that appreciates and wants to protect nature. As a young kid I was exposed to David Attenborough documentaries and a monthly subscription to BBC Wildlife magazine which obviously helped sow the seed of a love of nature in me. These kids have dolphins on their doorstep and through Mutsu Bay Dolphin Research and a headmaster that encourages a connection with nature, the arrival of the dolphins each year has become an exciting project for them. The students will mark points on their map of the bay indicating where and when the dolphins were spotted and how many individuals they could count. They communicate with local fishermen to keep a record of their encounters, like true citizen scientists. Every spring the Mutsu Bay Dolphin Research director will accompany the kids on a sightseeing tour for them to enjoy the sprightly leaps of the Pacific white-sided dolphins swimming freely beside the boat. These experiences will hopefully instill a lifelong appreciation for wild dolphins in a country that generally prefers aquariums. In order for there to be a significant and lasting change in Japan's relationship with cetaceans, a shift in perspective needs to occur and I believe that through inspiring the next generation to see these animals as the intelligent species they are is the way to begin the process.
I will be back in Aomori next spring when the dolphins return. Although my days will now be spent surrounded by skyscrapers rather than the sea, my research will continue as I dive deeper into the lives of dolphins in Japan.