Nature meets culture: A whale’s world, a cure for climate fatigue and more

© Richard Sidey

In an age of lockdowns and social distancing, connecting with nature is not easy for most. 

With that in mind, here are a few shows, podcasts and more that can help bring nature to life for you, wherever you are.

A glimpse into the humpback whales’ world 

Each summer, Antarctica’s frigid waters become the foraging grounds for one of the largest species on Earth: the humpback whale. 

Once on the brink of extinction, this iconic species has made a steady comeback in recent years following a ban on commercial whaling

Shot in February 2020 by wildlife filmmaker Richard Sidey, a recent Conservation International film chronicles the whales’ road to recovery — and follows a research expedition throughout Antarctica’s waters, where scientists are working to better understand humpback whale behavior. 

Using drones to minimize sounds that might distress or distract the whales, Sidey and the team captured rare aerial views of the whales’ feeding behaviors and photographs of their tails cresting out of the water, which help identify and track them across entire oceans. 

“The black and white markings [on the underside of a whale’s tail] depict, like a fingerprint, the uniqueness of each animal,” Olive Andrews, a whale expert at Conservation International who helped lead the expedition, said in the film. “We use these photographs to match to other catalogues … that way we can see if an individual whale has been seen in Antarctica and then has been seen in a breeding ground. We can tell a lot about their movements that way.” 

The film also offers a glimpse into the life of a whale researcher, following the team’s long hours on the water as they tracked the whales’ movements, obtained skin samples and even got up-close-and-personal with a trio of curious humpbacks. 

Watch the full film here

This research and the film were both supported by The PONANT foundation. 

A cure for climate fatigue 

Dire headlines about climate change and bleak reports on the state of the planet can feel overwhelming.  

Before giving in to hopelessness, tune in to a new podcast that could offer a much-needed dose of climate optimism.

Hosted by marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and journalist Alex Blumberg, “How to Save a Planet” highlights the people and organizations around the world fighting to end the climate crisis. 

Weaving light-hearted banter with on-the-ground stories, the hosts invite guests to share their strategies for tackling climate change — from a Native American individual whose tribe’s forest conservation efforts are funded by carbon offsets to a fisherman-turned-kelp-farmer dedicated to making the global food system more sustainable. 

At the end of each episode, these experts offer concrete ways that listeners can help make a difference, as well. Some of their advice includes attending council meetings to support climate policies, donating to Indigenous rights organizations and switching to clean energy at home. 

“There’s been a lot of great reporting on climate, especially in the last few years, but it’s been kind of hard to connect with,” said Johnson in a recent interview with The Guardian. “It’s either like doom and gloom, or it’s so fluffy that it’s not going to get us where we need to go. We’re backing away from the ‘10 quick, easiest lifestyle changes’ to saying: We need to change everything. There are people doing this work; we’ll talk to them and let’s figure out how we can all help.”

Music that will you give you chills — literally 

For musician and composer Terje Isungset, getting cold feet — or really, cold everything — before a concert is not unusual. 

That’s because his instruments are made of ice. 

Isungset is the founder of the annual Ice Music Festival Norway, a series of concerts performed in the Nordic country’s frigid tundra where every instrument — from the drums to the violins — is carved almost entirely out of ice.  

His performances are part of a growing movement by musicians who are exploring the relationship between nature and music through the use of organic materials such as wood, stone, water and, of course, ice. 

“Ice music isn’t a human project, but one fully directed by nature,” Isungset said in a recent interview with National Geographic. 

The intricately carved ice instruments look virtually identical to their traditional counterparts — yet they produce a range of different tones due to the tendency of ice to shift, expand and contract when temperatures change during a performance. 

But many ice concerts are not just about music: Several composers — including Isungset —use them as an opportunity to call attention to the impacts of global warming. According to Isunget, melting igloo venues and instruments become a “symbol of the Earth’s vulnerability.”  

“It’s clear that people are now familiar with climate change and taking care of it, but it has come a little bit late,” he told The Economist. “The message is really important, but still the most important thing is to create music and give an expression that is more abstract than the facts and telling people ‘do this’ or ‘don’t do that’!”

 

Kiley Price is a staff writer for Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates. Donate to Conservation International.

Cover image: A humpback whale in Antarctica (© Richard Sidey)


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