Reflecting on Whalenerds Weekend Fall 2021
Updated: Jul 21
We hosted our first in person event in October this year. Despite the challenges of our brand being a new business, and COVID still looming over all of our event planning - we are so happy with how it all went. Now that I have had a few months to reflect on the event I have some thoughts I wanted to share here on our blog. As I write this, I am taken back to a time when I used to be in a committee for sustainable hospitality in the Monterey Bay region. That was a group that I loved being a part of and inspired me to do this reflection.
Sustainable / Local Food
Balancing price and feasibility of food offerings on a boat is a tricky thing. Especially for our first ever event. A few things that were important to me when deciding what serve throughout the event were: supporting local businesses, meeting everyone's meal accommodations, and reducing plastic waste. All of these things while keeping pricing in mind and the logistics of serving some of the food on a boat.
When the event was said and done, I think we have some areas to improve on, but we definitely learned a lot and I can't wait to do it again. We were able to support 5 local businesses between our meals on land and our offerings on the boat. We avoided serving almost everything on single use dish-ware. To take the meal serving to the next level for sustainability we will either need to invest in more reusable items and be prepared to make the time to wash them throughout the event, or order that as a part of the catering offering. We served all our beverages in aluminum cans and had a refillable water stations for water bottles, coffee, and tea. Many of the easy boat snacks we chose come with the burden of plastic packaging. While that is something I hope to continue to reduce in the future, that is also something I hope corporations take some initiative on. More to learn!
Swag / Gift Items
One of the ways we wanted to reduce waste for our guests throughout the weekend was to provide reusable cutlery and cups in their swag bag that they received on the first day. We also encouraged guests to bring their own reusable drink-ware and containers too.
We also tried a new product that the three of us had never ordered before - wooden stickers. This reduces the plastic used in the sticker as opposed to vinyl. We think they turned out pretty nice and would like to continue to offer them in the future. (The current vendor we are working with for our online store does not offer this product, but we are hoping to find another way to sell them on our site next year sometime)
There's no denying that we used fossil fuels during this trip. The swag bag items were ordered and shipped from all over the US. The boat runs on diesel fuel. We all had to drive cars to get to the boat. Some of us, myself included, had to fly to get to the event. We did not do a carbon offset for our event this time, but it is something we can consider for the future. Perhaps there is a way to invest in Blue Carbon for the area where we host an event, because we are never going to tree-plant our way out of this carbon crisis anyway. Not to say that we don't need more trees put back on this planet, but research is starting to show that the ocean is a much more powerful carbon sink to "invest" in. If you read this and have a suggestion - feel free to email us!
One of our goals behind the scenes for larger events, is to make a donation to a local organization with some of the money we make from ticket sales. For this event we had planned to donate some funds, and pay our speakers a fee for the science lecture. However, our speakers waived their speaker fee and asked us to donate it to a worthy cause. So we ended up giving $200 each to American Cetacean Society - Monterey Bay Chapter and O'Neill Sea Odyssey and we made the donations in the speaker's name. We gave a little more than we originally planned thanks to them, and took an opportunity to honor their generosity.
We have been long time supporters of ACS as podcasts hosts, and we talk about, and attend their events often. I got my start as a naturalist with a training from ACS Oregon, and then became involved with the Monterey Bay Chapter board when I lived in the area. So for me personally, ACS has a special place in my heart. O'Neill Sea Odyssey is a Santa Cruz based organization that educates local students about ocean conservation and facilitates hands on science field trips out of Santa Cruz harbor. My passion is to inspire the next generation to take care of our oceans, and they do just that. They also do a great job of providing their field trips to schools in the Monterey Bay and Santa Cruz area that don't normally have the financial means to plan for this kind of trip for their students. There are children that live in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties that have never seen the ocean in person, and that needs to change.
So we hope that our donations can help these great organizations achieve our aligned goals and passions. We want to continue to lift as we climb. Any future ticketed large events we host we will continue to make donations to organizations doing ocean conservation and education work local to that area.
Another thing that I tried to be really mindful of throughout our weekend was extra food. I really hate to waste food, from an environmental stand point and a humanitarian stand point. So any extra food that guests and crew did not want during different stages of our event, I handed out to the local houseless population on Cannery Row and at the Fisherman's Wharf.
We have always been big supporters of Happywhale.com as a podcast. Throughout the event we took fluke photos and uploaded them to Happywhale. We also invited Ted Cheeseman and Ken Southerland, the founders of Happywhale, to join us on one of the days on the boat. It was great to have them onboard to mingle with a group of whale nerds and talk more about Happywhale. Whalenerds now is a registered organization with Happywhale, so all future trips we host anywhere in the world can be logged under our name on their site.
Whalenerds will always be a science communication platform and brand. Not only did we have on board education during our trips, we also offered a science lecture during our event one of the evenings at Pacific Grove Museum of Natural History. We were so enthralled with the lecture that John Ryan and Will Oestreich from Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute gave us about blue whales. After the talk, they both said it was the most engaged audience they had ever lectured for. Hey, I told them we were a bunch of nerds. I hope to continue to find ways to meet our guests where they are, in terms of future educational programming. Not everyone learns the same, but they all deserve a chance to learn new information in a way that works for them. This is a fun ongoing personal challenge for me.
Overall I am very proud of how our first event went. I think we did somethings very well. I also see ways that we can continue to improve, and goals we can set with our budgets to help make that possible. Thank you all to the guests who attended. We can't wait to host more in the future. If you are a conservation nerd and have ideas in the sustainable hospitality realm - feel free to email them to us, we would love to get some tips from your perspective.