We chatted to Anna Bunney, ORCA's Education Coordinator and the brains behind the ORCA Wildlife Officer Programme, about her experiences of engaging members of the public in marine conservation.
When did you first come across the ORCA Wildlife Officer programme?
I was aware of the ORCA Wildlife Officer Programmes in about 2012. I saw the jobs advertised and thought ‘That’s exactly what I want to do’, so I worked really hard to gain the experience necessary to get one of these sought after positions myself. I also booked myself on an ORCA Sea Safari the following year, which is still one of the best things I’ve ever done, as we were lucky enough to spot orcas, huge fin whales and hundreds of dolphins, and it was a chance to meet ORCA Wildlife Officers and Guides so that I could see what they did first hand. In 2014, I was offered the North Sea Wildlife Officer position and as they say, the rest is history. I had the most fantastic time on board the KING Seaways for six months, spending my days inspiring passengers about the North Sea wildlife around them, and spotting plentiful harbour porpoises, white-beaked dolphins and minke whales.
What was your favourite thing about being an ORCA Wildlife Officer?
My favourite thing, as well as I think most of ORCA’s Wildlife Officers favourite thing, is seeing a passengers face when they see their first whale or dolphin, and sharing this experience with them! It never gets old!! One memory particularly springs to mind when I was on board the KING Seaways and a passenger had told me it was on her bucket list to see a whale. We stepped out on deck, and after about 30 seconds a minke whale surfaced a few times in front of us – the sun reflected off its back and we got a fantastic view of this whale (probably the best I have ever had). The lady had tears in her eyes and I think she will remember that moment for the rest of her life! She didn’t know ORCA would be on board, and she certainly didn’t think that on her way to Amsterdam from Newcastle she could tick off something on her bucket list!
What has changed the most about the programme since you worked at sea?
Now that we have been running the Wildlife Officer programme for years, our reputation has grown, and passengers know us really well. The amount of passengers who book their ferry crossing because they know we will be on board grows every year. We've worked so closely with Brittany Ferries, DFDS and, most recently, CalMac to create a fabulous set programmes that we are so proud of and I can't believe how much it has grown in just a few years!
What have been some of your highlights of managing the ORCA Wildlife Officer programme?
It’s always fantastic when the Wildlife Officers step into the office after a spectacular week on board, and their faces are gleaming and they are so excited to inform us of their sightings of the week. I will never forget the aura of excitement in the air when the Wildlife Officers were telling us about the breaching fin whale they had seen! I also really enjoy seeing how the Wildlife Officer programme can give people the first important step into their marine conservation career. It’s fantastic to see them grow and develop as the season goes on. Most Wildlife Officers get the ‘ORCA bug’ and are involved with ORCA in many shapes and forms after they have been Wildlife Officers – I love catching up with Wildlife Officers of the past to see where their career has taken them.
What are you looking forward to most about 2018 at ORCA?
We have so many exciting new Wildlife Officer programmes in 2018, I can’t wait to hear all the stories from our Wildlife Officer programmes in the Hebrides, and our new Wildlife Officer programme in the English Channel (Newhaven – Dieppe). All of our Wildlife Officer programmes are so different, and it’s always exciting to have new projects. Our Wildlife Officers now engage with over 40,000 passengers a year, and this is growing at a huge rate.