Erik Urdahl founded The Spout, an organization that provides information for whale watchers and whale enthusiasts, back in 2009. Urdahl realized that many people who lived in Oregon and along the coast had never seen a whale before—he wanted to get people excited about them. He describes The Spout as “a how-to guide for whale watching, because that was the thing I just kept discovering. People just don’t know when to come or where to look, but it’s really simple actually.”
Another one of Urdahl’s initiative is to make interpretation more exciting. From his experiences, interpretation can be pretty dry sometimes—it’s hard to get people excited about something. He suggests helping people spot the whales first, which gets them excited, and then trying to backfill with scientific information.
Another way that Urdahl believes science outreach can be done is through art and technology. “We have this approach of going up to somebody and throwing a lot of information at them, whereas you could share some images or maybe a video to get them excited about what’s out there. Once somebody gets an idea of what they could be looking at it seems easier to get them actively engaged in it. I think that interpretation can feel a little stale, particularly with certain generations so it’s sort of on us to find better ways to make connections and get them interested. I think art and tech can help immensely.”
When asked about the best part of running The Spout, Urdahl says, “I did a project one year where I took a bunch of people whale watching for the first time and documented their reactions, which ranged from squeals of delight to awe-struck tears. I followed up with some of those people afterward and discovered that some had taken more of an interest in ocean conservation, which is really the whole point of it. I don’t expect anyone to fall in love with whales after looking at a website or being told how big they are. But if we can get people to make some sort of emotional connection with these animals and their world and combine that with some knowledge, then hopefully they will make decisions in their everyday lives with ocean health and general conservation in mind.”
Check out https://thespout.org/ for more information and how to become a whale watcher!