Superpod: A Recap
When a group of people works together toward a common goal, amazing things can happen.
I believe in community.
I believe, as humans, we are made for it.
Close-knit social groups are quite common among many species and humans are no exception to that.
So, what happens when one creature designed for community comes together to advocate for another species that also prefers intimate connection and familial bonds?
I suppose this would vary depending on what species were involved, but for us?
For us, this was Superpod.
For those of you not familiar with Superpod, their website can be found here.
As you know, Blue Freedom is run completely on the power of volunteers, predominately teens and young adults. Between Kate, Abbie, Susan, and myself, none of us are older than 21. Back in the spring, Kate and Abbie informed Susan and me that an invitation had been extended to show our soon-to-be-released documentary Voiceless at Superpod. Kate and Abbie graciously extended that invitation on to Susan and me, asking if we wanted to join them in Friday Harbor, Washington, to attend Superpod5.
When someone asks you if you want to attend a cetacean conservation conference on an island in the Pacific Northwest, you generally don’t decline. Of course, we said yes.
So, plane tickets were purchased, plans were made, and the excitement washed over us all. Kate and her family road tripped all the way from Vermont. I came from Oklahoma with my mother. Susan flew out of Indiana where she was finishing up an internship as a stage manager for a play. I’ll spare you the gritty details of travel and skip ahead to the bit where we were actually at Superpod.
Monday; July 18th
I have to say this was probably the most exciting day for us as a group. Monday evening, Superpod5 opened up to a packed community theater with a tribute to Ken Balcomb as well as a short film called The Blackfish Effect. Afterward, Blue Freedom’s documentary Voiceless premiered. The lights dimmed. The crowd hushed. Four years of hard work, creativity, and collaboration emerged onto the big screen. Accounts were given, awareness was raised; a story was told. The credits rolled. And then…
A standing ovation.
A group of kids from different parts of the country got together because they wanted to save cetaceans. Four years ago, Voiceless was just an idea birthed by the passion of hearts that broke to see the helpless suffer. That night, it became a reality.
Before this trip, Susan and I had never met Kate and Abbie in “real life”. We just wanted to help their cause. Now, we suddenly found ourselves on stage for a Q&A about the film. I am not great at public speaking; if any of you reading this were there that night, you may have noticed my legs literally shaking. I mean, here I was, a small-town girl who came to listen to scientists speak, having scientists asking me how I got involved with Blue Freedom. It was surreal.
One of the highlights of the Q&A was hearing from a young girl named London, who wanted to know if a nine-year-old could embark on the same path. It took my breath away. This film, these animals; people were inspired. London, if you’re reading this, Blue Freedom would like to say again how amazing it is to see such passion in someone so young. Go after your dreams with all your heart, kid.
Thank you to each and every one of you for your continued support. The success of Voiceless relies entirely upon those who have chosen to stand with us. We wouldn’t have been able to do this without you.
Voiceless is available for online viewing here.
Tuesday; July 19
Tuesday was the Scholarly Advocacy Day. Speakers from all over came together to talk about their projects and involvement with ending the captive cetacean industry and how peers could take part. We heard presentations from Rachel Clark, Michael Mountain, Dr. Deborah Giles, Christine Caruso, Mariah Kirby, Ella Van Cleeve, Dr. Lori Marino, and Michelle Strom.
A Scholarly Advocacy Roundtable discussion was set up with Dr. Naomi Rose, Dr. Lori Marino, Dr. Ingrid Visser, Dr. Jeffrey Ventre, Ella Van Cleeve, Mariah Kirby, and Katie and Abbie Emmons. This panel spoke about what scholarly advocacy means to each of them as well as some of the challenges they have faced while advocating for cetaceans in their areas of expertise.
It was so amazing to hear each of these people speak. The passion literally leaks out into their voices. Each of them brought such creativity, intelligence, and freshness with every word they spoke. If you were there in the room with them or have watched footage of any of the presentations, you cannot deny that you left educated and inspired. They truly represent what it means to be an advocate whether you are a marine biologist, a neuroscientist, or “just” a person with a dream.
Wednesday; July 20
“Whale Watch Wednesday” as it was called was another day of presentations as well as an opportunity for whale watching. We heard from Rachel Carbary, Founder of the Empty the Tanks movement, about the history of this campaign and where it is today. Katherine Sussman, Ph. D, spoke about the legalities of the importation of wild cetaceans into Canada and how the loopholes can be closed. Dr. Naomi Rose discussed laws and regulations relating to the captivity industry while Lincoln O’ Barry spoke about Dolphin Project’s work in the Solomon Islands. An Of Orcas and Men presentation and book signing were given by David Neiwert.
Wednesday evening the Blue Freedom team went whale watching with San Juan Safaris. Being out on a boat on the Pacific Ocean was enthralling in and of itself, but then we saw some killer whales. I do not have words to describe how utterly breathtaking this experience was. I am not ashamed to admit that I had tears rolling down my face at multiple points. The first two whales we spotted were Spirit(L-22) and Solstice(L-89), hunting for salmon. I am convinced there are few things as impressive as an adult male orca’s dorsal fin. Solstice’s was a thing of beauty. Throughout the 3 hour trip, we also spotted Calypso(L-94) and her calves, Cousteau(L-113) and Windsong(L-121). We also caught a peek of what was believed to be Matia(L-77) and Joy(L-119).
I know this gets said a lot, but…when you see a wild cetacean for the first time, nothing, nothing compares. No marine park, no swim program, no circus. Nothing is like seeing a wild killer whale(or any other cetacean) cruise through saltwater, socializing and hunting and living free. If you plan one trip in your entire life, give serious thought to seeing wild whales or dolphins. You will not regret it.
Thursday; July 21
On Thursday morning, Dr. Ingrid Visser presented the short film I Am Morgan, Stolen Freedom. This is a heartbreaking look at what has happened to Morgan from the perspective of Morgan. It can be viewed here. Dr. Visser also gave a presentation followed by a Q&A, giving the crowd an update on what is currently happening with Morgan; her condition, living situation, and what is being done to free her.
Colleen Weiler from Whale and Dolphin Conservation gave a lecture entitled The Ecosystem Approach: The Future of Endangered Species Recovery. The presentation discussed how the Snake River salmon directly effect the recovery of the Southern Residents. This was followed up by a talk from Jim Waddell about the part dams play in the recovery of both the salmon and the orca and how it involves in the public.
Dr. Lori Marino discussed the intricacies and complexities of dolphin and whale brains; the more research that is done, the more intelligence is discovered. Navy sonar and its effects on marine mammals were discussed by Meegan Corcoran, an ex-Navy Biologist. Ken Balcomb and Dr. Deborah Giles spoke of their work done at the Center for Whale Research over the last 40 years. Howard Garret gave a presentation about orca culture as well as updates concerning Lolita.
Thursday evening was spent watching whales, a sunset, and a rainbow at Lime Kiln State Park.
Friday, July 22
This was a free day to explore the natural beauty and fun that can be found in Friday Harbor and the rest of San Juan Island.
Superpod5 was an amazing experience, one that makes it difficult to find words to describe. But we gave it a try. Below are our impressions:
Kate Emmons: I was so grateful and humbled to have been a part of Superpod5 along with our team. We were all so honored to be able to share our years of hard work and premiere the film there; the support we received was unbelievable and only gave us all the more energy and desire to go and share this with the world. We were thrilled to have been a part of such an amazing event, hosted by such amazing advocates.
Susan Fenrich: I learned so much in one week from such intelligent, inspiring advocates. That week made me want to work harder to free cetaceans and proudly show that I am not for captivity. Superpod was one of the most inspiring moments of my life, and to be able to experience it with three girls that are practically my sisters made it even better. I didn’t realize how big of an impact Voiceless would have until we premiered it. Whether it was a success or not, I would have still been proud of the team for taking on a big project like that. The fact that it has become such a huge success is a bonus, and I saw that simply by just walking around Friday Harbor and having people stop to say, “I loved Voiceless! Thank you for making this film.” Really the people that need to be thanked are the supporters. We wouldn’t have been able to make this film if people hadn’t have donated money, time, sources, advice, etc. In a way, we all made this film together.
Ashlyn Dilldine: The biggest thing I took away from Superpod was a new sense of passion. When you work toward any project, especially one involving advocacy, it’s easy to become somewhat robotic. Being amongst a group with similar goals was invigorating. To hear them speak about subjects and projects that mean the world to them with such passion and zeal was incredibly inspiring. It was a much needed reminder that even though it can sometimes feel that positive changes are few and far between, there’s so much happening behind the scenes that will truly make a difference. Everyone involved with Superpod, whether they be speakers or audience, epitomize the phrase “Be the change you want to see in the world”.
From the bottom of our hearts, all of us at Blue Freedom say, “Thank you!”
Below are some photos that members of our team took while in the San Juan Islands.