This town is small, and the marine mammal research world is somehow even smaller. Yet right here on the North West Cape we are not alone. (Sound dramatic enough? Good.)
We’re here (me, Tim, Kaja, and soon Natalie, our new compatriot who will arrive tomorrow), but so are several other groups of researchers. A woman doing research on humpback whale body condition, a group of Danish scientists working on tagging humpback calves and “singers”- male humpbacks, isn’t that cute- and another guy who is just now transitioning from research on killer whale predation on humpback calves to biopsy of humpback calves, mothers, and “escorts” (third whales traveling with the mother-calf pairs) to determine potential genetic relationships. It’s not that the town got bigger: whale shark outfits are closing shop for the season, and as the weather heats up the caravan parks and hotels empty out as “gray nomads” and vacationers head back south.
There’s a research community here- isn’t that cool? Research can’t happen in a vacuum, we stand on the shoulders of giants, and we are here for our own purposes but we are a community. We gather for barbecues and spend the whole time talking about whales, showing photos and complaining about grant applications. It’s a bit of a trap- people do this work because they love it, but that basically means there’s no escape. It’s cetaceans day in and day out, above and below the water- they follow us onto the land and we wouldn’t have it any other way.