Thursday, April 30, 2009

David Rothenberg on Whalesongs, Whale Intelligence and more

Our friend David Rothenberg, who is a Professor of Music and Philosophy at New Jersey Institute of Technology, was interviewed by Daniel Oritz, Director of the award winning movie "Humpback Codes," while visiting us recently. We "eavesdrop" (with permissions) on part of that interview.

David discusses, among other subjects, the role the "discovery" of the whale songs had in leading to a movement to protect the whales, about the brain features and intelligence of whales, and what it is like to play music with the whales.

David is author of Why Birds Sing and The Thousand Mile Song - Whale Music in a Sea of Sound.

There are companion CDs with each of his publications that I highly recommend if you are interested in the songs of the natural world and the interaction of humans in that realm. David is an inspiring musician.

Papa Kai ʻohana - Our Ocean Family

This photo was taken in Mexico where the "Gray Whales" regularly approach boatloads of people and enjoy human interaction. At one such place the government was convinced that it was better for the economy to have environmental tourism than to let a large corporation destroy the whaleʻs habitat with an industrialized salt production facility.

Why do the whales reach out to us, when it is the human species that hunted them to near extinction, and who continues to make life difficult for them? I find myself thinking it might be that we are a disfunctional family. My Hawaiian friend "Uncle" Les Kuloloio calls our large family "papa kai ʻohana." With my limited understanding of the Hawaiian language, I translate this to mean "the ocean mother earth family." When you think about it, many cultures refer to the earth as our Mother, and it doesnʻt take a lot of scientific observation to notice that "we" come from "her"..... and that we are alive because she nurtures us with the things that are essential for life....and that "she" is made up largely of ocean waters. The salinity of the blood in our veins is the same as the salinity of her ocean waters. "Uncle Les" goes on to say that the whales were viewed as "sacred" the realm of the Gods...the "directors of life," by his culture. The sacredness of life is something talked a lot about in most cultures. And our interdependedness is increasingly being recognized by the scientific community.

As I listen to a lone whale singing a beautiful haunting melody out there this early morning, I ponder these issues. Our Koholā are traveling to places North of here. While their numbers have increased....back from the brink of extinction...the journey is still dangerous because of the human side of our extended family. While we like to think of ourselves as smart and scientific, some members of our community blast them with sounds loud enough to make their brains bleed. And claim they are not being harmed, while not looking at their dead bodies to see if harm can be documented.

This puts us in the arena of national security and I again ask the question that I have asked Senators Reid and Inouye, and numerous other politicians that represent us: Do we really have national security without a healthy ocean and environment?

And how do we document the cost of our national security without collecting scientific data and making it public? Iʻm sorry, but this is a sore point for me because I have seen whales swim to shore, disoriented, during Navy sonar the Navy claims that they arenʻt harming whales here. With all due respect I ask at what cost our national security?

Is this necessary, or is it like the flight of Air Force One over Manhattan, something that someone thinks is a good idea without weighing the impact on people and the environment?
Of course you canʻt document the physical harm to the people of Manhattan. The media reports that thousands of terrified office workers evacuated buildings, but no one was physically harmed.

The whales cannot evacuate. The nature of sound in the ocean forces them to endure the incredibly loud sounds that sonar forces on them. Whatever the reason for doing it, I think we have a responsibility to know that we are doing it, and we should know what the results are. Letʻs be real. This is real life, not a game we are playing.

Yet the whales still sing their beautiful mysterious songs, and they still approach us and share affection for us. Perhaps there is hope for our extended family Papa Kai ʻOhana. But I believe we need to speak out, as the Mayor of New York City did, and express outrage when it is appropriate. President Obama was said to be outraged at the incident.

I commend President Obama on the job he is doing. I love the guy. He has a good heart. He obviously needs to reel in people and exert control in his position, and I in doing so I hope he will address the issues of the acoustic health of our oceans. In the meanwhile, I will keep talking to anyone who will listen.

With aloha,

-- Dan

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The buoy is working again!

It is late in the season, but I am happy to report the system is all working again. There are a few whales singing tonight. Please enjoy the last songs of this season, as our Koholā head north for the feeding grounds around Alaska.

Earth Day at University of Hawai'i Mānoa

I always enjoy seeing childrenʻs faces when the listen to the whales. Some listen very deeply. Some dance. It doesnʻt seem to matter how young or old they are, for there to be a fascination and connection. We celebrated Earth Day with our neighbors on Oʻahu last week. It was a great crowd and we met a lot of new friends.
I was really impressed with the commitment that a lot of the Marine Biology Students on Campus have. There is a real passion for taking care of the ocean that left me feeling good.

Members of Victoria Holt-Takamineʻs Hālau Hula performed to a large crowd there on the Mānoa campus.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Back to Recorded Whale Songs

Something funny is happening with the buoy. Sometimes she is working and you can hear a few distant whales singing. Sometimes she is intermittent. We are taking her offline for the time being. The songs you are hearing are recorded.

Most of us involved in this project are involved with music in one way or another. We were invited to present at More Fishes Hawaiʻi Conference and to open the conference with some music and hula. We brought some friends, and have included a snapshot of the event in this post. Thank you to Sheldon and Kevin Brown, and Gordean Leilehua Lee Baily and her Halau Wehiwehi o Leilehua.

We have many beautiful memories from this whale season.

Aloha, Dan

Buoy is live again!

Many thanks to Willy (the whale) Bennet for successfully troubleshooting a problem with our broadcast system on the South Side of Maui.  Hereʻs a photo of Willy (with goggles) during adventures at the buoy with the French film team.  Pierre Lavange, the main subject of the film, is in the water (in silver).  We hear from the Director, Dominique, that it will be seen on National TV in France, and that they are looking for connections with U.S. broadcasters. 

The whales are in the distance, and we have turned up the gain on our system to take that into account.  You will be hearing shrimp, boats, paddlers, wave noise, and (if we are lucky) some end-of-season songs to culminate this season.  The whales I hear now are probably ten miles away.  Maybe later tonight weʻll hear something closer.  Thanks for listening!

Aloha, Dan

Earth Day greetings and Buoy Update

We really enjoyed Earth Day at Studio Maui yesterday afternoon and evening. We love to share our project with the community and meet the people who are listening and find inspiration from our project - and other people who are working on various projects to benefit the earth and the environment. Hereʻs a picture of Amber and Sam at our display area last night. They are expecting a baby, and we are all excited about that.

The buoy signal has been intermittent, and the whales are diminishing rapidly in numbers. We are weighing whether to mount a buoy repair mission or to call it a season.

We have an invitation to present at Earth Day at the University of Hawaiʻi campus on Oʻahu this Wednesday. We have also been informed that there is interest in beaming our live songs into deep space from Cape Canaveral again this year - a project of Sirius Institute in collaboration with Earth Day University of Hawaiʻi Hilo Campus.

Itʻs been a very busy season, and the costs of the project have vastly exceeded our income. Itʻs a challenging time for everyone right now, and we are not exempt. Even though we are an all-volunteer organization, and we enjoy the project tremendously, we may need to end the season so we can recuperate financially and be ready to go again next year.

Right now we are playing a recording, while we evaluate the situation. Thanks to all of you who have participated and helped with the project this year, and in past years. Stay tuned!

Happy Earth Day Season

Aloha, Dan

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Iphone Application now available for Whalesong Project

I am very happy to report the development of a dediated I phone application to link to our hydrophone and our project - through a collaboration between The Whalesong Project and Gladworks. Thank you Gladworks!!! To buy this application for $4.99 go to the Itunes store, and search the Applications store for "the Whalesong project". Hook it up to your stereo system in your car and cruise to live whalesongs, or listen at night to help you sleep (warning: may induce whale dreaming).

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Whalesong Benefit Update

Thank you to everyone who attended our benefit concert, organized by David Rothenberg. We raised $525, which was a huge help during these crazy financial times. We are all volunteer, and run on an annual budget of about $15,000. We work hard to make this project work, and we appreciate your support. Thanks to all of the musicians who participated, and to Bruce and Satya at Mandala Ethnica Arts, Phillip Gordon...everyone who participated.

We are really big on the whale songs, but we also listen to the other voices in the orchestra. Some voices are hard to hear, some are disappearing. We want to take care of the oceans, and to inspire others to do the same. Thank you for contributing, for adding your voice, for participating, for sharing our website with others...spreading the word. Pictured above are, from the left, Pamela Kaʻimiloa Polland, me, Laurie and Jake Rohrer, opening for David.

Hereʻs me and David. We played with the whales. David thinks the whales were saved from extinction largely by the fascination created by the introduction of their songs into our world with the album created by researcher Roger Payne. The album sold over 2 million!

Hereʻs Pamela Polland, me, Laurie Rohrer, Trisha Cabral. More pictures later. Thanks again, everyone!!!

Donʻt forget we are at the Ritz Carlton this weekend for Celebration of the Arts. There are a lot of childrenʻs activities, and we have some artists, musicians and story tellers participating with us this year. Come see us there!!!

Aloha, Dan

Monday, April 6, 2009

Interwoven Destinies

Iʻm always thinking about what it is we are doing at The Whalesong Project. Especially when I find myself, and I always do, in the middle of some new unexpected experience each whale season. Here I am out at sea with my upright bass surrounded by cameras from France, Germany and New Zealand. What was I doing there? (I asked myself). Well, I was trying to catch up in the office last week - to keep my small company alive - but the enthusiasm of this international group, including musician/philosopher/author David Rothenberg, literally swept me out to sea. David again reminded us that it was the songs of the whales, "discovered" and published in the 1960ʻs, that largely created the awareness to support protecting the whales - or many species would arguably be extinct now.

The French Crew was following the adventures of Pierre Lavange, founder of the Shelltone Whale Project. Pierre is interested in saving the whales by sharing their songs, and he has also created an instrument to allow people to attempt to communicate with them.....a very interesting project. More on this later.

I seem to want to give exposure to our project, and to inspire people to care about the oceans....just about anyone who will listen. And part of our project seems to be recognizing the interwoven destinies of all of us who live on this beautiful planet. That interwovenness becomes apparent each whale season, as people who do care show up - and we interact in sometimes unpredictable ways. But the beauty is in the sharing, and the time we get to spend together doing whatever it is we are doing at the time....recognizing that we all depend on each other to create a good future for our children and grand children.

We at The Whalesong Project obviously seem to care about giving a voice to the natural world. We seem to be, strangely, the Sound Crew for the largest voice on the planet....and one that is rarely heard above the noise of modern civilization.

We are concerned about the future of the ocean, and want to inspire others to care. You could say that we have a commitment to care relentlessly. My dear friend and Kumu Hula, "Auntie" Gordean Leilehua Lee Baily (pictured above) composed a beautiful ʻoli and hula that describes a view of the world I like. She performed it with her hālau at the More Fishes Hawaiʻi Conference that we participated in on Saturday. A short version of "Aloha i ka ʻāina":

Aloha i ka ʻāina no nā kau a kau
(Love the ʻāina for all time -the ʻāina includes the land, water, ocean, creatures, people)
Mālama i ka ʻāina me ka manaʻo nō nā keiki
(Care for the 'āina thinking of the children)
Kiahi i ka ʻāina nō nā kau a kau
(Protect the ʻāina - be guardians - for all time)

The Ahapuaʻa System of ancient Hawaiʻi recognized the connection between the heavens and the highest mountain and the deep ocean. What we do above is reflected in what is seen below. A healthy ecosystem on land creates healthy reefs and healthy fish, and the necessities of a healthy life exist. What happens in France, New Zealand, Germany, and other far off places affects the health of the reefs and ecosystems here in the remote Pacific, in these modern times. Our interwoven destinies are converging, and we are working together to make a better world I think.

Wow, the sun is up. What am I doing? I better get to work.

With aloha, Dan

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Peak Activity Period for Whalesong Project

So much is happening lately that it is hard to get the time to write any of it down. We are at the More Fishes Hawaiʻi conference today at Maui Community College. Next weekend we are at Celebration of the Arts at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua. The following weekend we will be at Earth Day Baldwin Beach. Please come see us and talk story about how to create a healthy future for our oceans on this water planet live on.Last week we had a great benefit concert with David Rothenberg, and I even got to go to sea with David and play some music with the whales - while being filmed by a French film crew for a documentary on whales.

Thanks to everyone who has contributed to our project recently!!! We raised over $1,000 in the past week, that will help us keep the buoy going through this season. We are very grateful for this! You are part of the team. Stay in touch, give us feedback, help us refine our direction, take personal initiative and let us know how we can help!!!