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Sri Lankan Whale Researcher Calls for an End to ‘Parachute — Oceans Deeply
[via: https://twitter.com/ashadevos/status/1121574154367422464 ]

"Most of the planet’s coastlines are in the developing world. Western marine scientists and institutions could do better work by developing the scientific talents of the people who live there, says Asha de Vos, founder of Oceanswell."



"THERE’S NO HOPE to conserve the ocean’s biodiversity unless scientists look inward and improve diversity in their own ranks. That’s the message that Asha de Vos, a Sri Lankan marine biologist, delivered to an international meeting of marine mammalogists in Halifax, Canada, in October.

De Vos is founder of Oceanswell, an organization she launched this year to help students from underrepresented nations conduct and communicate marine science. She argues that the health of coastlines depends on local people, yet too often they are ignored or dismissed. The practice of “parachute science,” in which Western researchers drop into developing countries to collect data and leave without training or investing in the region, not only harms communities, it cripples conservation efforts, according to De Vos.

She has first-hand experience. From Sri Lanka, she made her research career by studying blue whales in the Indian Ocean, which she discovered to be the only population that stays in tropical waters year round. Few scientists had paid attention to the whales before.

Oceans Deeply spoke with De Vos about how marine research and conservation could be more effective by investing in scientists and communities around the world.

Oceans Deeply: You recently called on marine researchers to be better at sharing skills, knowledge and funding with people in developing countries. Can you describe what you meant by that?

Asha de Vos: Seventy percent of our planet is oceans. Seventy percent of our coastlines are in the developing world. But we have no representation at the global stage. I actually asked the audience to look at each other and look around the room, because there was hardly anybody from outside North America, some of the bigger European countries and Australia. We want to save the oceans. If that is what our drive is, then we need to have custodians on every coastline. We can’t save the oceans if all of the funds are being pumped into specific nations.

If you want to protect that coastline, you can’t have 10 people from one country going into different countries and trying to save entire coastlines. It doesn’t make any sense. Local people, they live on those coastlines. They speak the languages, and they see the problems every day. They may be part of the problem.

There is a community aspect to it – where they can communicate to the people who live next door to them better than people coming from outside and telling people what to do. That is really patronizing. As soon as you get people who come from within the system, who speak the same language and who are relatable, you will suddenly start to see change.

If we want to protect what is on all of these coastlines, we can’t have parachute science happening. We can’t have people from outside coming into our countries, doing work and leaving, because there is no sustainability in that model.

Oceans Deeply: In many Western countries, limited scientific funding often goes to a small number of people, largely based on experience and prestige. Are you also calling for a general reform of how science is done?

De Vos: Overall, I think that we do need general reform. Business as usual hasn’t worked, right? The oceans are not in a better state. They’re getting worse. We need to start thinking, “OK, how can we change what is happening? How can we invest in human capital in places that need it?”

Funding bodies should be more conscious about how they administer their funding. It is not just about having a local counterpart – you need to make that local counterpart a lead. You need to mentor them to write the grant. It is the big institutions and funding bodies that really control what happens in these fields. The reason people want to publish and publish is because their tenure track job depends on it. If institutions instead started saying, “Look, what is your actual impact? What are you actually doing on the ground? How does what you do translate?” Then people have an obligation to go beyond [publishing].

I can understand the plight of the scientist as well. I broke out of that system. I never believed in the system, so I couldn’t stay in academia because that just doesn’t work for me. I want to have impact.

Oceans Deeply: How did you end up in your career, and what challenges did you face because you’re from Sri Lanka?

De Vos: I was inspired by National Geographic as a kid. At 18, I told people that I wanted to be a marine biologist. I come from South Asia where the culture is: either you’re a doctor, lawyer, engineer, a business person or you’re wasting your time. Lucky for me I had parents who said, “Do what you love, you’ll do it well.”

I went to the University of St. Andrews, where I did my undergraduate. I needed field experience, but I couldn’t get it in Sri Lanka, so I saved a bunch of money – I dug potatoes in potato fields in Scotland. I managed to get myself to New Zealand, and while I was there I heard of a research vessel that was stopping in the Maldives and Sri Lanka.

I wrote to them every single day for three months – and this was back in the day of internet cafes. I was living in a tent, but I was using the little bit of money that I had to convince people to let me get on board. Eventually, I think that they got so tired of me that they said I could come on board for two weeks in the Maldives. They loved me, so they kept me on for six months in Sri Lanka as well.

I got this experience, and then I went off to do my master’s at Oxford. When I was working on the research vessel, the Odyssey, I had my eureka moment because I encountered an aggregation of blue whales. I realized that these whales were not like normal blue whales, as my textbooks and professors had [told me]. Blue whales usually go to cold waters to feed and warm waters to breed. The poo was evidence that they were actually feeding in these warm, tropical waters 5 degrees above the equator. I thought that was fascinating.

Oceans Deeply: How did these experiences help form your understanding of the need for diversity in marine science?

De Vos: It is a result of me being Sri Lankan and local that I have been able to pioneer blue whale research in the northern Indian Ocean. I launched the first long-term study of this population. Over 10 years we have unraveled all of these mysteries, because I am local and I am interested in engagement.

The more people that I can touch with the stories of these whales, the bigger the army [of conservationists] and that is what is going to make the difference. When I started working with these blue whales, People didn’t know that we had whales in our waters. Now, there are more [Sri Lankan] students than ever before wanting to become marine biologists. I just established Sri Lanka’s first marine conservation research and education organization, called Oceanswell.

Oceans Deeply: Have you seen progress in training and investing in local communities?

De Vos: Yes. After the Society of Marine Mammalogy talk, I had people lining up to give their cards. There are people who invest, and not just in the developing world. There are now Inuit communities who are able to run their own PCR machines because someone went in there and helped set up a lab, even if you don’t have all the right conditions.

There are people out there who are doing incredible work and that don’t get highlighted, which is unfortunate. Transfer of knowledge is not valued in our scientific system in the same way as research.

I have had people approach me and say, “Can you get me a research permit so that I can do research in your country?” and I say no. We have talent, so provide opportunity. You come and train our people and then have the confidence to leave and watch this project grow, and then this becomes your legacy because it continues to grow for generations. You are creating something that is sustainable rather than coming in and trying to drive your own agenda"
ashadevos  science  decolonization  parachutescience  academia  local  srilanka  2017  oceanswell  whales  bluewhales  research  marinebiology  maldives  oceans  indianocean  inclusivity  diversity  marineconservation  conservation  impact  training  access  accessibility  mentoring  mentorships 
april 2019 by robertogreco
Society for Marine Mammalogy plenary talk: Asha de Vos - YouTube
[via: https://twitter.com/ashadevos/status/1121574652801773569 ]

"Listen as Dr. Asha de Vos talks about the current marine conservation climate and the need for changing it to change the trajectory of marine conservation. She speaks from her experiences as a researcher from a developing country accessing a field that is largely developed country focused."
ashadevos  science  srilanka  whales  bluewhales  marinebiology  conservation  decolonization  srg  research  climate  paywalls  open  openaccess  journals  accessibility  access  inclusivity  inclusion  diversity  marineconservation  indianocean  impact  training  local  mentoring  mentorships 
april 2019 by robertogreco
52-hertz whale - Wikipedia
"The 52-hertz whale is an individual whale of unidentified species, which calls at the very unusual frequency of 52 Hz. This pitch is a much higher frequency than that of the other whale species with migration patterns most closely resembling this whale's[1] – the blue whale (10–39 Hz)[2] or fin whale (20 Hz).[1] It has been detected regularly in many locations since the late 1980s and appears to be the only individual emitting a whale call at this frequency. It has been described as the "world's loneliest whale".[3]"

[See also:

"The Loneliest Whale in the World?
An obscure scientific brief and a mass audience wanting to believe"
https://www.washingtonpost.com/sf/style/2017/01/26/the-loneliest-whale-in-the-world/?noredirect=on

"The world's loneliest whale may not be alone after all"
http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20150415-the-loneliest-whale-in-the-world

"52 Blue" by Leslie Jamison
https://magazine.atavist.com/52-blue

"A new hybrid between a Blue Whale, Balaenoptera musculus, and a Fin Whale, B. physalus: frequency and implications of hybridization"
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1748-7692.1998.tb00692.x
https://www.academia.edu/8638859/A_NEW_HYBRID_BETWEEN_A_BLUE_WHALE_BALAENOPTERA_MUSCULUS_AND_A_FIN_WHALE_B._PHYSALUS_FREQUENCY_AND_IMPLICATIONS_OF_HYBRIDIZATION
https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227938068_A_new_hybrid_between_a_Blue_Whale_Balaenoptera_musculus_and_a_Fin_Whale_B_physalus_frequency_and_implications_of_hybridization

"Search for the world's 'loneliest whale' who has been singing to himself for 20 years"
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2366727/Scientists-set-worlds-loneliest-whale--admit-idea-looks-like.html

"Blue whales, fin whale, and a hybrid in between"
https://www.gentlegiants.is/news/2014/06/09/blue-whales-fin-whale-and-hybrid-in-between

Documentary and trailer
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt2401814/
https://vimeo.com/119997508
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFFgoFSOG1Y
https://vimeo.com/146300750
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/lonelywhale/help-us-find-lonely-whale/

"52 Hertz Whale Sound"
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dHZqdi828E ]

[Here because:

"Icelandic Whalers Kill Protected Whale"
https://grapevine.is/news/2018/07/11/icelandic-whalers-kill-protected-whale/

"Icelandic whalers breach international law and kill iconic, protected whale by mistake"
http://us.whales.org/news/2018/07/icelandic-whalers-breach-international-law-and-kill-iconic-protected-whale-by-mistake ]
whales  animals  hybrids  nature  finwhales  bluewhales  whaling  iceland  foreden 
july 2018 by robertogreco
The American Scholar: Joyas Volardores - Brian Doyle
"Consider the hummingbird for a long moment. A hummingbird’s heart beats ten times a second. A hummingbird’s heart is the size of a pencil eraser. A hummingbird’s heart is a lot of the hummingbird. Joyas volardores, flying jewels, the first white explorers in the Americas called them, and the white men had never seen such creatures, for hummingbirds came into the world only in the Americas, nowhere else in the universe, more than three hundred species of them whirring and zooming and nectaring in hummer time zones nine times removed from ours, their hearts hammering faster than we could clearly hear if we pressed our elephantine ears to their infinitesimal chests.

Each one visits a thousand flowers a day. They can dive at sixty miles an hour. They can fly backwards. They can fly more than five hundred miles without pausing to rest. But when they rest they come close to death: on frigid nights, or when they are starving, they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a fifteenth of their normal sleep rate, their hearts sludging nearly to a halt, barely beating, and if they are not soon warmed, if they do not soon find that which is sweet, their hearts grow cold, and they cease to be. Consider for a moment those hummingbirds who did not open their eyes again today, this very day, in the Americas: bearded helmet-crests and booted racket-tails, violet-tailed sylphs and violet-capped woodnymphs, crimson topazes and purple-crowned fairies, red-tailed comets and amethyst woodstars, rainbow-bearded thornbills and glittering-bellied emeralds, velvet-purple coronets and golden-bellied star-frontlets, fiery-tailed awlbills and Andean hillstars, spatuletails and pufflegs, each the most amazing thing you have never seen, each thunderous wild heart the size of an infant’s fingernail, each mad heart silent, a brilliant music stilled.

Hummingbirds, like all flying birds but more so, have incredible enormous immense ferocious metabolisms. To drive those metabolisms they have race-car hearts that eat oxygen at an eye-popping rate. Their hearts are built of thinner, leaner fibers than ours. Their arteries are stiffer and more taut. They have more mitochondria in their heart muscles—anything to gulp more oxygen. Their hearts are stripped to the skin for the war against gravity and inertia, the mad search for food, the insane idea of flight. The price of their ambition is a life closer to death; they suffer more heart attacks and aneurysms and ruptures than any other living creature. It’s expensive to fly. You burn out. You fry the machine. You melt the engine. Every creature on earth has approximately two billion heartbeats to spend in a lifetime. You can spend them slowly, like a tortoise and live to be two hundred years old, or you can spend them fast, like a hummingbird, and live to be two years old.

The biggest heart in the world is inside the blue whale. It weighs more than seven tons. It’s as big as a room. It is a room, with four chambers. A child could walk around it, head high, bending only to step through the valves. The valves are as big as the swinging doors in a saloon. This house of a heart drives a creature a hundred feet long. When this creature is born it is twenty feet long and weighs four tons. It is waaaaay bigger than your car. It drinks a hundred gallons of milk from its mama every day and gains two hundred pounds a day, and when it is seven or eight years old it endures an unimaginable puberty and then it essentially disappears from human ken, for next to nothing is known of the the mating habits, travel patterns, diet, social life, language, social structure, diseases, spirituality, wars, stories, despairs and arts of the blue whale. There are perhaps ten thousand blue whales in the world, living in every ocean on earth, and of the largest animal who ever lived we know nearly nothing. But we know this: the animals with the largest hearts in the world generally travel in pairs, and their penetrating moaning cries, their piercing yearning tongue, can be heard underwater for miles and miles.

Mammals and birds have hearts with four chambers. Reptiles and turtles have hearts with three chambers. Fish have hearts with two chambers. Insects and mollusks have hearts with one chamber. Worms have hearts with one chamber, although they may have as many as eleven single-chambered hearts. Unicellular bacteria have no hearts at all; but even they have fluid eternally in motion, washing from one side of the cell to the other, swirling and whirling. No living being is without interior liquid motion. We all churn inside.

So much held in a heart in a lifetime. So much held in a heart in a day, an hour, a moment. We are utterly open with no one in the end—not mother and father, not wife or husband, not lover, not child, not friend. We open windows to each but we live alone in the house of the heart. Perhaps we must. Perhaps we could not bear to be so naked, for fear of a constantly harrowed heart. When young we think there will come one person who will savor and sustain us always; when we are older we know this is the dream of a child, that all hearts finally are bruised and scarred, scored and torn, repaired by time and will, patched by force of character, yet fragile and rickety forevermore, no matter how ferocious the defense and how many bricks you bring to the wall. You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s papery ancient hand in the thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children."
2012  briandoyle  via:jenlowe  animals  nature  birds  hummingbirds  numbers  time  repetition  metabolism  biology  hearts  whales  bluewhales  mammals  anatomy  lifetimes  scale  size  life  speed  velocity 
january 2015 by robertogreco

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