October 2017, Halifax, Nova Scotia.  Not as cold as you might think (thank goodness!) but obviously quite far away from home, so why are we here? Kat and I are at the 22nd biennial Society for Marine Mammalogy conference where scientists, policymakers, and other interested parties present their latest research, collaborate, network and learn about new technologies in the field.  We look forward to this conference every two years, there are always new and exciting things to learn, but also the chance to meet with friends and colleagues we don’t get to see very often.  It is a celebration of marine mammals and all who work so hard to learn about, conserve and protect them.

We’ve seen so many cool talks, posters and discussions already here but there was one thing in particular we were very excited about: we are attending a post-conference workshop called ‘Science Communication Film-Making and Marketing’, conducted by Wiebke Finkler of SciCommercial (http://www.goodwhalewatching.com).  The aim of the workshop is to help marine mammal researchers and educators conduct effective science communication/outreach, focusing on how to create engaging multimedia content for public communication, and focus on video production and storytelling.  Science communication has been a hot topic in the last few years, as scientists have recognized the need to improve how we communicate what we do and why we do it.

The way people access information today is very different from even just 10 years ago.  For example, as we begin the workshop, we learn that 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute! It has long been known that storytelling is a powerful tool, but with technology today we have the ability to do this in ways we couldn’t before.  We can make videos with relatively inexpensive equipment and share it instantly with millions of people online.  It is a great way to share knowledge, to educate people, and to inspire them to love the animals we study.  But it needs to be done right.  You want to create a video that people will enjoy, watch again and share (for good reasons!).  As we go through the lectures and hands-on exercises of the workshop, we learn the knowledge and tools (and the ‘what not to do’ rules) needed to help us start our own journey into communicating our science through video storytelling.

Flashback to June 2017, and visual communication was on our mind a lot even before the conference began.  Our abstract on harbor porpoises was accepted as a video presentation, a new format that was debuted at the conference this year.  Initially we were excited…then we were more like ‘wait, now we have to make a video: ahh!’.  After the initial shock wore off we were back into excited mode and got our equipment, made a script and went to work.  Through many re-takes, rearrangements and video editing (thank you Kat!), we had our 4 minute presentation on our photo-ID study of harbor porpoises, and had a lot of fun in the process.

Back in Halifax, we look back at our video after the workshop and note the many things we did right, and of course some things we can change/improve upon in future videos.  Our excitement following the creation of this video only increased after the workshop: we have so many ideas about what we can share, and how we can present them.  Education is a large part of our mission and this is a great way to educate and engage people, to really connect them with the animals we study.  So we head home to Anacortes, WA, excited about our foray into the world of science communication film-making.

Now that we’re back, we have started our own YouTube channel (and of course will share the links for all videos on our social media platforms), and will be adding more videos this year in a variety of formats from presentation-style (like this first video), to more education-focused, to fun shorts about what it takes to be a marine mammologist.  We hope to engage, educate, and entertain those who watch the videos, helping to raise awareness of the amazing world around us and particularly the marine mammals that need our help.  The final video is now up on our website and our YouTube channel.

2018 is going to be a fun year, and we hope you keep in touch with us through Facebook, Instagram, our website, or YouTube.  Have something you would like to see us talk about? Send us an email!

Until the next blog (or video!),

Dr. Cindy Elliser