Taking Killer Whale Research To The Classroom

Jun 4, 2013

There are roughly 84 Southern Resident Killer Whales left. Scientists believe that lack of food, underwater noise and pollution have contributed to the decline of these iconic whales. One man is taking the latest orca research into classrooms around the Northwest. Ashley Ahearn tagged along on a recent visit to the Eton Montessori School in Bellevue, Washington.


Jeff Hogan, executive director of Killer Whale Tales, shows an orca skull to students.
Credit Ashley Ahearn

  Hogan: "Hey good morning!" Class: "Good morning Jeff!"

Jeff Hogan stands at the front of a class of 17 1st 2nd and 3rd graders. He’s the brains and character behind Killer Whale Tales. It’s a sort of traveling road show that combines science with storytelling.

Hogan: "What are we going to talk about today?" Class: "Orcas!"

Hogan has presented this program to almost 10,000 kids this year, in classrooms from Santa Cruz, California to Bellingham, Washington.

Which is also the home region for the J, K and L pods of killer whales of the Northwest.

Hogan: "Last winter we tagged a whale. Wanna know how far it swam? You know where Seattle’s at?"

Hogan is talking about some new research, which involved satellite tagging a member of K pod to find out where the whales go in the winter. It had been a mystery until recently. Hogan points at a map on the projector screen.

Hogan: "Watch this. He leaves Puget Sound, passes Oregon, all the way down almost to San Francisco in 14 days. Do you think you could swim to San Francisco in 14 days?" Class: "No!"

The kids are hanging on his every word. He tells them about how the whales stay with their moms for their whole lives – in matriarchal families or pods. He plays the distinct calls from each pod.

Hogan: “What’s going down that storm drain there? Oil. Oil from what? Cars. So when all these chemicals like oil for flame retardants or weed killer gets into the water. Where does it end up? In the whales. Does it help them? No way. Can make them sick. Make it harder for their body to fight off infections. It can even make it harder for them to have babies.”

Sadie Reitz teaches this class. She says the kids look forward to this visit every year and the information is clearly sinking in.

Hogan: “When he surfaced we drove the research boat over to find him and when we got there, guess what? It looked like a unicorn exploded. Glitter all over the water. Little silver circles about that big. Was it a unicorn? No. What are those little silver circles? Scales! What kind of scales? Chinook salmon scales right? So what was he chasing down here? A fish! Caught it somewhere down here. Brought it back up to the surface took his teeth, ripped it apart, swallowed a big chunk. Alright?”

Kid: “Whales rule!”

The kids move on to snack time as Jeff Hogan packs up his stuff.

Hogan: “I think well obviously there are a lot of issues affecting the whales that we need to get behind and I think starting with kids is a perfect way to get them interested. Obviously they’re interested and they love it and it’s the hope for the future.”

Hogan has reached more than 75,000 kids with his orca research message since 2006.

Copyright 2013 Northwest Public Radio