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Project Documentation - Phase I - 2007 to 2009
Written by Andrew Stevenson   
Thursday, 01 February 2007 00:00

THE HUMPBACK WHALE FILM and RESEARCH PROJECT of BERMUDA

 

Background

 

Bermuda lies halfway between the humpback whales’ feeding grounds in the western North Atlantic and the wintering and breeding grounds in the Caribbean. It has been suggested that the Bermuda seamount probably serves as a navigational waypoint for many of the humpbacks annual northward migration during the spring months of March and April. Historical records indicate that in the past many of these animals remained around Bermuda breeding and feeding for much of the year, perhaps because the preferred feeding and breeding grounds in the Caribbean were overcrowded. For centuries, Bermuda’s survival as a colony depended on whaling and its products: meat, leather and blubber. As recently as 1940 and 1942 the last two humpback whales were hunted and killed in Bermuda.

 

In the 1970s local Frank Watlington and Dr Roger Payne, Ocean Alliance Founder & President, made some of the earliest and best recordings of humpback whale songs and put Bermuda on the New Age music map. One of Dr Payne’s articles in National Geographic Magazine contained a record of whale sounds for which 10.5 million copies were printed - still the largest single print order in the history of the recording industry. ‘Songs of the Humpback Whale’ is the best selling natural history recording ever released. Since then, whale watching has become one of the fastest growing sectors in the tourism industry.

 

While whale sightings around Bermuda diminished during the 1980s and 1990s, over recent years the humpbacks have been lingering here in increasing numbers and for longer periods of time. No one is really sure why. The crystal clear waters of Bermuda provide ideal conditions to identify, record, film and observe the migratory behaviour of these leviathan animals.

 

Educating children as to the importance of whales in Bermuda’s history and culture, whilst providing insights into whale behaviour will be the object of the film. Soliciting schoolchildren’s active involvement in the making of a documentary film from beginning to end and providing them with an opportunity to be at the leading edge of one of the last frontiers of natural history, studying the fascinating behaviour of humpback whales, will also be integral to the entire project. Building a database of an identification catalogue of humpback whale tail flukes and linking them to corresponding underwater footage and sound recordings of the same whales will also be a key component of the project.


Project Proposal

 

To take high definition video of the humpback whales migrating past Bermuda over a three-year period and to complete a finished 30-50 minute documentary highlighting the cultural heritage of whaling in Bermuda with the increasing opportunities to research, study and watch these whales.

 

The completed film will be shown in Bermuda for fund-raising purposes and DVDs of the documentary offered for sale.

 

The project budget and proposal are for a three-year period to maximize the opportunities of obtaining high quality underwater footage. The making of the documentary and the analysis of the whale behaviour (visual and acoustic) will be closely tied with the Ministry of Education, Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo and the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute’s educational outreach programmes. Part of the objective in making the documentary will be to instill in participating students a sense of involvement in the making of the documentary and the difficulties incurred including the unpredictable weather, the difficulty of finding the whales, getting in the water with them, and getting the quality visuals and sounds required to make the documentary.

 

The website www.whalesbermuda.com will provide up-to-date information for schoolchildren throughout the year and will grow organically as information and time allows. When the migration is over and while sorting through the footage obtained, students will be invited to open classes on weekends at BUEI or BAMZ and any interested classes to look at the raw footage to try and determine what the whales are doing. This will provide students a unique opportunity to partake in the making of a documentary, from beginning to completion. While the whales are the focus of the film, the students will be an integral part of the project, as essential as the whales themselves.

 

This is a wonderful frontier of discovery for the kids, and all of us. Because so little is known about whale behaviour, anyone seeing detailed new footage of whales in crystal clear water can come up with valid suggestions as to what the whales are doing and why. Why do they come by Bermuda? Why do they breach? Why do some of them cavort together like they do? Are they breeding, playing, showing off, being friendly? Are they males of females? Are they feeding here? Are they coming back here in greater numbers and staying longer, and why? Is it because of climate change, the demise of the Cold War and the sonic booms that were conducted to test sonar radar? What are the whales saying with all those complex sounds? Are they singing for the sake of singing? Or are they communicating, and if so, what are they communicating? It is a unique opportunity for kids in Bermuda to be at the cutting edge of discovery, of something new.

 

Classrooms sessions with students at schools (or at BUEI's and BAMZ) will attempt to analyze what these whales are saying and doing. With a child's ability to think laterally rather than literally, perhaps some genuine insights will surface. Not every child can spend months in a boat looking for whales and jumping in the water with them, but by becoming engaged in the documentary, they can do the next best thing and have a sense of genuine involvement, contribution and ownership of the final documentary. Perhaps in the end, the documentary might be as much about them, and their participation, as anything else.

 

Summary of specific project proposal and expected outcome

 

To produce a high definition educational and awareness raising documentary film to both visually and acoustically record the behaviour of humpback whales passing by Bermuda every spring.

 

To coordinate the process of making the documentary film and observing whale behaviour underwater with the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Youth and Sport After School Programme, BUEI’s and BAMZ ongoing Educational Department and their highly successful and well-established outreach programmes to Bermuda’s school system.

 

What community need does the project proposal address:

 

Bermuda needs an up-to-date high definition film with underwater footage based on the popular humpback whales to educate Bermuda’s children as to their maritime history and cultural heritage and to give them a better understanding of their ocean environment and one of the largest and most magnificent creatures on earth.

 

School children need a sense of participation and ‘ownership’ in the creative arts process and will benefit from partaking in the making of a film, from beginning to end, as well as adding their own insights into the behaviour of these magnificent creatures inhabiting our ocean environment.

 

Schools across Bermuda need to have ready access to a descriptive film depicting the relevance of whales in Bermuda’s heritage as a teaching aid.

 

Giving children access to high definition raw footage of humpback whales during the making of the documentary might provide genuine insights into the hidden lives of humpback whales during their annual migration past Bermuda.

 

Bermudians in general need a greater understanding of Bermuda’s maritime culture as it relates to whaling traditions as well as a greater appreciation and knowledge of our oceanic environment.

 

Tourists to Bermuda need this visual and acoustic window into the underwater behaviour and lives of humpback whales and the threats that exist to their continued well-being. At the moment no such Bermuda-specific underwater film exists on the humpback whales.

 

Approximate number of people to benefit from this project:

 

The film will provide resident schoolchildren and parents as well as visiting tourists with information into Bermuda’s past, our future, and the ocean life around us. All Bermudians, from schoolchildren to adults, stand to benefit from a greater understanding of our heritage and our environment.

 

All Bermuda schools will be invited to participate in an educational programme designed by the Ministry of Education, BUEI and BAMZ to actively encourage their students’ participation both in the making of this short documentary and in helping to understand the behaviour of whales. The number of children benefiting from the making of this film will depend on the level of participation of the schools and their teachers. Given the popular appeal of whales, it is expected that this participation level will be high.

 

Describe services offered to this population:

 

While Bermuda's history has always been inextricably linked to the sea, most Bermudians’s livelihoods are no longer dependent on the ocean, although increasingly, our lifestyle and leisure time are contingent upon the waters surrounding us. This film will highlight the role of whaling in Bermuda’s history, giving a sense of perspective of our maritime traditions and the precarious nature of living in such an isolated colony. It will provide a graphic window into the lives of one of the world’s largest creatures and will allow children to participate in both the making of the film and in contributing to the understanding of whale behaviour. The final outcome of the project will be a documentary film of about 30 minutes which will include the historical context of Bermuda’s humpback whales, a well-formulated educational outreach programme to all Bermuda’s schools, and an additional component to add to BUEI’s and BAMZ’s After School Programme.

 

 

Starting and end dates for this grant:

 

Three years starting January 2007 and ending December 2009

 

What will be the evaluation process for this proposal?

 

The documentary film will be a collaborative process with constant inputs from local and offshore experts in marine biology.

 

2007 Timeline:

 

January:

-Background research into equipment purchases necessary

 

February, March, April: -

-Purchase of equipment

-First attempts at underwater and surface high definition videoing of humpback, and other large marine animals off Bermuda as well as high-tech hydrophonic sound recordings of the same.

 

May, June:

-Editing of footage obtained

-Visit to College of the Atlantic and Allied Whale, in Bar Harbour, Maine to discuss the project with Dr Steve Katona and others

-Article on this project to appear in the Royal Gazette’s RG magazine

July, August:

-Examination of whale footage and acoustical recordings in an attempt to understand behavioural patterns and vocalisations

-Travel to Nova Scotia to film and observe the whale there

September:

- Further examination of whale footage and acoustical recordings in an attempt to understand behavioural patterns and vocalisations

October:

-First rough-cut of ten-minute film for input and public viewing

November:

-Attempts to find, film and record humpback whales on their return from northern feeding grounds to the breeding grounds of the Caribbean

December:

-Continued editing and background research of whale footage and sound tracks from whales

-Research into establishing a website for the project

 

2008 Timeline:

 

January:

-Preparation for upcoming whale watching season

-One week in Silver Sands, Dominican Republic to film humpback whales there

February, March, April:

-Visit to Maui, Hawaii to Whale Quest conference

-Underwater and surface high definition videoing of humpback, and other large marine animals off Bermuda as well as high-tech hydrophonic sound recordings of the same.

-Active participation of Bermuda’s schoolchildren in the daily and weekly progress reports of the making of the video documentary through BUEI’s and BAMZ ongoing Education Department school programmes.

-Visits to schools and classes

-Ties with the Royal Gazettes Newspapers in Education Supplements, Young Observer weekly assignments and Youth News.

-Establishment of a website www.whalesbermuda.com

 

May, June:

-Public appearances of the film producer/director at school assemblies, or for teachers to schedule Whales of Bermuda Classes at BUEI/BAMZ

-Opportunity for school classes to come to BUEI’s and BAMZ Special Events to hear Mr Stevenson speak and show his latest video clips on scheduled mornings and afternoons

-Opportunity for Bermuda residents and visitors to attend educational lectures at BUEI on Whales of Bermuda by Mr Stevenson

-Updating of website

 

July, August:

-Drafting of narrative, continued editing of visual images, sound recordings and laying down of sound track

-Research into history of whaling in Bermuda

-Continuation of fundraising for remainder of project

-BUEI/BAMZ Ministry of Youth and Sport After School Summer Programme participation in activities related to the making of the whale film

 

September:

-Drafting of narrative, editing, sound track

-Competition for Senior School participants to write a short essay; Middle School participants to write a limerick; Primary School participants to draw and colour a whale/whale scene.

BAMZ programme still to be worked out

 

October:

- Drafting of narrative, editing, sound track

-Interview fishermen to gather their anecdotal feedback on whale behaviour

 

November:

-Attempts to find and film and record humpback whales on their return from northern feeding grounds to the breeding grounds of the Caribbean

- Drafting of narrative, editing, sound track

-BUEI judges will decide on two finalists, male and female, from each school category (SS, MS,PS,P-S) who will be able to accompany Andrew Stevenson on the next season’s whale watching/video excursions as their prize. Pre-school winners will have Mr Stevenson visit their class and show a short video and talk about the whales.

 

December:

- Drafting of narrative, editing, sound track

 

 

2009 Timeline:

 

January:

-Preparation for upcoming whale watching season

-Visit to Silver Sands, Dominican Republic

 

February, March, April: -

-Underwater and surface high definition videoing of humpback, and other large marine animals off Bermuda as well as high-tech hydrophonic sound recordings of the same.

-Active participation of Bermuda’s schoolchildren in the daily and weekly progress reports of the making of the video documentary through BUEI’s and BAMZ ongoing Education Department school programmes.

-Ties with the Royal Gazettes Newspapers in Education Supplements, Young Observer weekly assignments and Youth News.

 

May, June:

-Public appearances of the film producer/director at school assemblies, or for teachers to schedule Whales of Bermuda Classes at BUEI and BAMZ

-Opportunity for school classes to come to BUEI’s and BAMZ Special Events to hear Mr Stevenson speak and show his latest video clips on scheduled mornings and afternoons

-Opportunity for Bermuda residents and visitors to attend educational lectures at BUEI on Whales of Bermuda by Mr Stevenson

 

July, August:

-Drafting of narrative, continued editing of visual images and laying down of sound track

-BUEI/BAMZ Ministry of Youth and Sport After School Summer Programme participation in activities related to the making of the whale film

 

September:

-Finalisation of narrative, editing, sound track

 

October:

-First copy of documentary

 

November:

-Finalization of documentary

 

December:

- Showings at BUEI’s auditorium and elsewhere to present the final 30-50 minute documentary

 

Qualifications of Producer/Director/Writer/Photographer:

 

Although trained as an international economist, since being permanently resident in Bermuda Andrew Stevenson has researched, written and had published seven best selling books over this last decade, including five travelogues, one photographic book and one novel. His books have been published in Britain, USA, Germany, India, Australia and Japan. Five of his travelogues have been translated into German by National Geographic Adventure Press Germany and a fifth will appear in 2007.

 

In addition to numerous magazine articles published here and overseas, Andrew single-handedly financed, produced, directed, filmed, wrote, narrated, and edited his award-winning 30-minute documentary “Paving Shangri La”, on the Annapurna Himalayas of Nepal. This documentary was first shown at the Bermuda International Film Festival in 2005 where it won an honorary mention. It has been selected in the final programmes at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival in the Lake District of England where it opened the festival, the Amsterdam Himalayan Film Festival, the Telluride Mountainfilm Festival, the Ellensburg Film Festival in Washington state, the Montreal International Adventure Film Festival, the Autrans Film Festival in France, the Aotearoa Environmental Film Festival in New Zealand, and upcoming film festivals in California, Moscow, Vancouver and Australia. “Paving Shangri La” has also been included in the select group of films chosen for the world tours of the Kendal and Telluride Film Festivals.

 

In mid-January 2007 “Paving Shangri La” was shown in California at one of the most important film festivals in the USA. PBS saw the film and have asked for “Paving Shangri La” to be submitted to a series entitled “Natural Heroes” for possible broadcast to some 60 affiliate stations around the US.

 

Thirty years ago, assigned to the United Nations Development Programme in East Africa as an international economist, writer/photographer/film maker Andrew Stevenson swam for the first time with dolphins. The experience was profound. Since then he has swum with dolphins and whales in the Galapagos, New Zealand and Australia. He has watched Minke whales in Antarctica, Belugas in Canada, Orcas in Norway and Spitsbergen and witnessed Greys, Orcas and Humpbacks in British Columbia. In 2006 he saw his first humpback breach here in Bermuda. For most of us, these fleeting glimpses and experiences of whales and dolphins are a visceral insight into a primeval world.

 

Self-taught in all the disciplines necessary to produce his documentary film “Paving Shangri La” Mr. Stevenson is capable of building on his previous success to produce a documentary closer to home. Financial backing for this high definition documentary will allow him to work full time on this project but will also fund access to additional professional expertise where and when needed. Other filmmakers including National Geographic film maker and photographer Flip Nicklin and Jeff Herzog, Production Coordinator at the New England Aquarium, and world renown marine biologists Dr Greg Stone, Vice President, Global Marine Programs and Director of Conservation, New England Aquarium and Dr Steve Katona, past President of the College of the Atlantic have also expressed interest in the documentary and are prepared to provide informal assistance and advice where and when necessary.

 

Having a Bermuda resident dedicated to making this documentary is a plus in an isolated community where access to professional documentary makers is limited. All video images and sound tracks will be backed up on an external hard drive, the backup hard drive to be retained at BAMZ for safekeeping. As progress begins on the edit, edited material and each rough cut of the documentary will be backed up on hard drive and stored at BAMZ until completion of the documentary.

 

Andrew is a qualified diver, pilot, member of the Alpine Club and the Explorers Club and has a Permanent Resident’s Certificate here in Bermuda. Details of his published works and examples of his still photographs are on his website www.awstevenson.com

 

Copyright

 

Copyright remains with Andrew Stevenson for all visual and audio material resulting from this project. Sponsors of the film will have the right to screen the film with the producer/director in attendance. All schools and libraries in Bermuda will have two free DVD copies of the film for their unlimited non-commercial use.

 

Costs associated with the making of the film:

 

The prime cost is related to the time spent out at sea trying to film unpredictable animals in a difficult environment. Standing by for six weeks during the prime whale watching season and going out every day that weather permits might give two days of extended underwater footage of humpback whales. To increase the chances of obtaining the best video and sound recordings, most of three months during February, March and April will be spent on and in the water, or on standby. Three full seasons will be devoted to achieving the documentary’s goals of obtaining first class high definition underwater video footage and acoustic recordings of humpback whale behaviour.

 

Recent advances in technology and the drop in prices now put high definition filming in the realm of small producers. However, filming and sound recordings underwater and in high definition video is still expensive, more than doubling the cost of filming on land. $100,000 worth of the latest high definition cameras with underwater housing, high-tech hydrophones, related equipment, computers and editing software and sufficient hard drives to handle high definition files will be used to capture the high definition footage for this film documentary. High maintenance and insurance costs are related to filming at sea, in small boats and underwater. Office space is required for the editing suite.

 

 
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