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Our Next Generation - The Superpod of the Future

Left to Right: Fiona, Hollister, Sarah, MIchelle, Alexa, and London (top)

I was thrilled to attend Superpod 4 last month. The annual event grew to an estimated three times larger than Superpod 3. This year's theme was salmon restoration for the Southern Resident Killer Whale population. Daily whale watching and nightly lectures made Superpod 4 an amazing success. Even more inspiring was watching these young girls getting so excited for the cause. I'd like to thank the girls and their families for allowing them to participate. It has been an honor getting to know each of you.

A conversation with the girls...

1. How old are you?

Fiona - 14

Michelle - I am 14 years old, and I will turn 15 next March.

Alexa - I just turned 13.

Hollister – I am 14 years old and an incoming freshman at Walter Payton High School.

Sarah - I am going into 7th grade at Lenart Regional Gifted Center, a Chicago Public elementary school.

London is 8 years old.

NOTE: Hollister and Sarah are sisters

2. How did you hear about Superpod?

London’s mom Liz explains her journey to Superpod - Last year London got the opportunity to meet Carol and Howard at a screening of Blackfish. She used the information that she got from that, Orca Network and independent research to do a voluntary presentation for her 1sr grade class. This was all supposed to culminate with a trip to Superpod 3, but unfortunately it just wasn't in the financial cards for us. Fast forward to this year, in early spring she started thinking about what she wanted for her birthday present (we only do one large family gift that we and grandparents contribute to) she could have anything but she chose a trip to SJI for Superpod 4. She knew it would be a trip filled with sitting around and waiting on orcas, lectures and documentaries and that was exactly what she wanted. I know as her mom I'm biased on my opinion of her, but an 8 year old who would rather sit and learn more about cetaceans as opposed to going to Disneyland is pretty rare and special.

Fiona - I heard about superpod because of my dad. He's very involved in the world of the orcas, and I am as well, so when I learned we were attending I was very excited.

(Fiona's dad, David Neiwert, is the author of Of Orcas and Men)

Michelle - I originally heard about Superpod last year on Twitter, a few months before Superpod 3 was supposed to occur. I wanted to go to Superpod 3, but we were unable to do so because I found out about it at the last minute! Thankfully my Dad promised that we would go to the next one, so that is how we ended up going to Superpod 4.

Alexa - My parents found out on Facebook.

Hollister – I first found out about Superpod when my mom told me about how the the SRKW's are endangered in the wild and told me we were going to see them in person. She was also the one who first showed me Blackfish, and one of the founders of YoOceans! I was able to get Blackfish screened at my elementary school too! John Hargrove skyped with us for a Q&A then the Shedd Aquarium came in to talk to the 6th, 7th and 8th grade. We asked the Shedd a lot of tough questions and they never really answered any of our questions about whether or not it was moral to keep the Belugas in the tanks or about their involvement in the Georgia Aquarium permit. This past school year they gave the 6th, 7th and 8th grade free field trip passes, but we all refused to go.

Sarah - I found out about Superpod because my Mom started a non profit organization called YoOceans! and it teaches kids about marine mammals in the wild and in captivity. I watched Blackfish and The Cove movie and became very against marine mammals in captivity. I also read Hargroves book Beneath the Surface and wanted other people to read it too. I made other kids read it and they soon became aware of the issue. Some kids didn't want to read the whole book so I marked the pages that I felt were most important and I made them read those pages. I also tell them different facts about orcas and show them pictures on our class hangouts. I have a friend who never agrees with me on any topic including orcas in captivity. She was always for captivity. I talked to her about Lolita, Blackfish and Morgan. Then at Superpod 4 I found a picture of Morgan in the med tank and I showed it to her on Oovoo and she responded back to my picture with "Sarah I have been thinking about it and I realize animal captivity is wrong".

3. What were you expecting? Did it meet your expectations?

London - -I didn't know what to expect.

Fiona - I was expecting to meet people who could educate me on the subject and to learn more about the whales (especially the ones in captivity). It went above and beyond. I was blown away by how much I learned, and all of the people I met were so kind and informed me on all sorts of topics.

Michelle - My expectation for Superpod was that I would probably be the only kid there, and that I wouldn't get to see much of the former trainers and scientists that were attending. I was wrong however, and it ended up being one of the best weeks of my life! I met many of my heroes, and I got to see plenty of Killer Whales along the way too! Superpod went above and beyond my expectations.

Alexa - I was expecting to meet a lot of kind hearted people who care about the orcas and see a lot of whales! It completely met my expectations.

Hollister – I was expecting long and boring lectures at Superpod so I didn't think I would go to all of the events, but it turned out that the speakers were very interesting and my sister and I went to every one of them! I also made a bunch of new friends my age with the same interests as me.

Sarah - When I first found out I was going to Superpod 4 I expected to be bored because this was my Mom's trip. We just came along. But when I got there I found out it was very interesting and met a lot of new people. We even went whale watching on a boat captained by Jim Maya and were able to see the whales while out on the ocean.

4. What was your favorite part?

London - Seeing an orca breach and meeting Ingrid!

Fiona - My favorite part was probably the presentations. There were so many amazing people presenting, and I learned so so much from them, it was awesome!

Michelle - My favorite part of the whole week would probably be meeting the former trainers, scientists, and authors, as well as seeing wild killer whales for the first time! The people were all so nice and wonderful, and the orcas were just spectacular! It was honestly so hard for me to pick a favorite part of the week!

Alexa - My favorite part of superpod was getting to see John Hargrove, getting to hear his inspiring words and making him a red carpet. Also hearing Ingrid Visser speak, spending time with Rachel Carbary, making new friends and seeing whales!

Hollister – My favorite part of the week was hanging out with all of the new people I met and meeting people like Ingrid Visser, the Blackfish crew, and the authors who have been writing about orcas.

Sarah - Everyday I looked forward to all of the presentations. My favorite presentation was the dog sniffing out the orca scat and John Hargrove. My most memorable moment was probably when we were at Ken's house and we saw all 3 SRKW pods go by. That was amazing. I also liked having fun with John Hargrove.

5. What did you learn?

London - I learned the affect that dams have on salmon populations and I learned more about Morgan.

Fiona - I learned about possible ways to bring captured orcas to sea pens, and from there to the wild, about the lack of salmon in our waters and how to solve that problem, I learned more about the treatment of whales in captivity, and about some specific whales in captivity that are in danger and may be developing psychological problems.

Michelle - Throughout the whole week I definitely learned a whole lot about salmon and the important part it plays in our ecosystem. I also learned a lot more about the Snake River Dams, why they need to come down, and how badly the Southern Resident Killer Whales need our help! Captivity wise, I learned a lot about rescued cetaceans and what happens to them once they are taken into these parks, and how many are kept at dolphinariums even though they can go to seapens or be returned to the wild.

Alexa - I learned how sad it is for orcas to have to live in tiny tanks where the water isn't even as tall as the orca is long. I also learned how scarce the orca's food has become and that breaching the dams could change all of that.

Hollister – One of the most important things I took away from Superpod was truly how complex Killer Whale lives are. It's incredible how strong their family bond is.

Before Superpod, everyone involved had slightly different views (maybe they argued a little bit on how to get things done to free Lolita, or replenish SRKWs' food supply, or educate kids about keeping marine mammals in captivity...) but when you actually get out there and see the amazing creatures in the wild, you forget about the business side of things and really bond with strangers you wouldn't otherwise meet. It brings people together and that's what I think is so amazing about it.

Sarah - You know you don't have to go to SeaWorld to learn to love whales. I learned to appreciate them living on Lake Michigan in Chicago. BTW I called the White House too and asked them to remove the dams.

Hollister and Sarah

6. Was that the first time you saw whales in the wild? What did you think?

London - This is the first time I saw whales and it was very exciting

Fiona - The first time I saw whales in the wild was probably when I was around 2 or 3 years old. Obviously, I don't remember it much, but I do remember the first time I saw them in a kayak, I saw them a ways off and began to sing the "Little Mermaid" theme song to them. About ten minutes later, they appeared about 20 feet from our boat. And although I can't remember that specific incident very well, I know that the sight was beautiful.

Michelle - When I first saw orcas in the wild, it was really hard to process it all. Previously I had only ever seen orcas in captivity, which of course is not a true representation of what orcas are. So seeing these guys in their natural habitat, doing natural behaviors and swimming in straight lines, hunting, communicating, and just being orcas, put me in a state of awe. These whales are amazing, and to witness them in the wild was both an honor and a privilege, and something I won't soon forget! Throughout the whole encounter I kept thinking back to those in captivity, such as Morgan, Tilikum, Lolita, Corky, and others, and what they were missing, and how badly I felt that they were in captivity and not in the wild. I was also thinking about how lucky I was to be there and see the whales, and how I want to conserve and protect these orcas so other people can come and appreciate them too.

Alexa - This was not the first the first time I've seen whales in the wild, but it was the first time I've seen an orca come right up to the boat. I was very excited. IT WAS THE BEST DAY EVER !!!!!!

7. Do you have any future plans or dreams that you would like to share?

Fiona - When I'm older, I'd love to be a marine biologist! Specifically, I'd love to study how marine animals brains work. To me, it's a fascinating subject.

Michelle - My dream is to one day become a Cetologist and study wild cetaceans, particularly Pilot Whales! I would also like to work at a marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation center; in fact, I would absolutely love to work at Dr. Ingrid Visser's proposed cetacean sanctuary for previously captive cetaceans that she discussed during her "Rescued Cetaceans" talk at Superpod!

Alexa - My dream is to become a zoologist and travel around the world to study all the animals I can and find many new species. Hopefully I can save all the endangered species I can including my beloved orcas.

8. Do you plan to attend Superpod again next year?

Fiona - I would love to attend superpod next year! It was such a great experience, and I'd love to have the same amount of fun again!

Michelle - I really hope that I can attend Superpod 5! Never say never!

Alexa - Yes I do plan on attending superpod next year. I cant wait.

Hollister – I'm not sure if we will be able to, but I'm hoping we will be able to go back next year!

Sarah - I think we are going to Superpod 5. I hope I see some of the friends I met this year again next year.

9. Add anything you would like that you think people might want to know about you.

London - Getting to see an actual superpod at the closing party was AWESOME!!

Fiona - I have a passion for science and art.

Michelle - I first became infatuated with cetaceans after watching the documentary "Blackfish" in 2013, and I been advocating for cetaceans to be free from captivity ever since! I am working towards becoming a Cetologist, and my favorite type of cetacean is either an orca or a pilot whale! I am currently in the process of writing a children's book, which will hopefully be finished quite soon!

Alexa - My name is Alexa Johnson. My house is full of seven beautiful pets .My two dogs Patch and Puffle,the cats Mittens, Bear ,Mac and Spike and my thirteen year old goldfish, Nemo. I live in WA state and go to Cedarcrest Middle school. I'm a Jr. Naturalist for HarborWildwatch. I am against captivity and care about the environment and keeping the oceans clean.

Hollister – Check out my website!

We are hoping that you all will make plans to attend Superpod 5 next year from July 18-22, 2016 where the theme will be "The Future", honoring the new young leaders of the animal justice movement…like you!

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