A Visit from a Marine Science ‘Ambassador’

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Among the many international guests and patrons that visit the New Bedford Whaling Museum, there have been few as unique as Abby. Abby is visiting us from South Africa and will be leaving shortly to visit the New Bedford Ocean Explorium. Abby is the creation of Heidi de Maine, an aquarist and author from Cape Town, in South Africa. After publishing her children’s book, Abby’s Aquarium Adventures (in 2011), which gives an overview of the life of an aquarist, she wanted to do a bit more to show young people in South Africa about the breadth of careers in field of marine sciences. To quote Heidi, “Through the series of books, marine-related craft kits, Facebook, articles in magazines, talks that I give and her blog (www.abby.co.za), I hope to make Abby a well-known marine ambassador.”  So, she created a doll to look like the main character in her book. The hope was that this doll could travel the world, be hosted by facilities that are marine science and education focused, be photographed in those locations, and have her visit and those professions explained by facility staff.

To that end, Heidi posted a note in September 2011, via the marine educators’ listserve, Scuttlebutt, explaining her project and asking for volunteers to host Abby and then send her along to the next location on the list. I think that the response surprised her.  Facilities in 16 U.S. states and in 16 countries have all said that they would host Abby and use this as an opportunity to promote marine careers. Her visit to New Bedford comes after visiting Alaska, Oregon, California, Mexico, Florida and Georgia. After leaving the City, she will be sent to Gloucester.

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If there’s anything marine educators have learned in their careers, it’s that the general public typically thinks that being a marine biologist means working with dolphins. Any opportunity to expand the public’s understanding of the variety of careers that are connected to the ocean is welcomed.  Maritime history, maritime commerce, whaling history, cetacean biology, artifact conservation in a museum like ours, preservation of nautical charts, exhibit design and skeletal articulation all require an understanding of the marine environment.  We use our skeletons and whale related facts and artifacts to teach food webs, biology, classification, geography and mathematics to both students and teachers.

Thus, we photographed Abby with fourth graders from Rochester Memorial School and in various locations around the Museum. We hope that by featuring some of our artifacts, including the world’s largest ship model and largest exhibition of scrimshaw, we might spark an interest in a museum career in some of the students who read Heidi and Abby’s blog. More importantly we hope that their visits to this blog site as Abby travels from place to place will foster a better understanding of our global ocean and will encourage them to be stewards of this resource.

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