the national website of Interpretation Canada

Bronze: Beluga Show

beluga shot.jpg

Click here to watch 15 min video segment. Password: vanaqua

Entry Submission: Interpretation Canada Awards of Excellence
Entrant name:  Nicole Cann 
Title of entry:  The 2011 Beluga Show
Organization: Vancouver Aquarium
Category: Personalized Interpretation—Public
Contains: Project description, script outline, notes and references (scroll down)

 1. Project Description (500 words max.)    In early 2011 our team identified the need for a new and exciting beluga show at the Vancouver  Aquarium. For the past decade our show had revolved around one of two subjects: beluga bodies and  their adaptation to life in the Arctic or the reproductive history and social structure story of beluga  whales. Each of these shows had been updated numerous times over the past ten years but there was nowhere new to take them.
We set out to create a more interactive program that combined the best  elements from our previous shows with new techniques in interpretive delivery including program  structure and audience interaction while also shedding light on a population of belugas we had never  spent time interpreting before: those in the St. Lawrence River.
2. What are the program's goals and objectives?     Our goal in developing the new beluga show is to create a fresh approach to belugas in an educational  and entertaining show that highlights the research we are doing with these animals and our  conservation efforts at home and in the Arctic. We are striving to create a show that will help visitors  understand the impacts they have on the lives of beluga whales and that will encourage them to make  environmentally conscious decisions.    
The measurable objectives of our show include:    
80% of our audience will know that beluga whales can be found in both the Arctic  environment and in the St. Laurence estuary.  
40% of our audience will pledge to make at least one pro?environmental change in their  regular behavior (ex: riding their bikes to work once a week, washing their laundry in  cold water, hanging half of the laundry to dry…)  
10% of our audience will approach the interpreter after the program to ask questions  with regards to the Vancouver Aquarium's conservation and research programs.    
3. Who was your intended audience?    The beluga show is one of the most popular interpretive programs at the Vancouver Aquarium. Almost  every visitor that comes to our facility watches this show. As such, our intended audience is very broad.  We have attempted to create a show that is appropriate for anyone from the age of 4 to over 90 years  old – this was one of the most challenging parts of our program development. Our visitors tend to be  well educated, middle class citizens and the majority of our visitors are either Caucasian or Asian,  though we have a significant increase in European and South American visitors in the summer months.
4. What was the one key idea you wanted participants to take away (theme)?    The major theme of the show is that no matter where you are in the world, your life and the lives of  belugas are intimately connected.  Beluga whales and humans interact in many different ways around  the world; From the Arctic to the St. Lawrence to aquariums and research facilities. In each of these  areas the impacts that we have on each other's lives vary but are always important.    
5. How is your Site's/Organization's/Agency's mandate fulfilled? (if applicable)     The Vancouver Aquarium is a self-sustaining non-profit society dedicated to effecting the conservation  of aquatic life through display, communication, education and public programming, research and direct  action. This is our mission and all of our interpretation is designed to support our mission. For this  program in particular we are using interpretation, education, the magnificent display of our live beluga  whales, and the knowledge gained from our own research to inspire our visitors to take direct action in  their lives to protect and conserve the lives of beluga whales in the ocean.
6. Background information about the asset being interpreted.    Beluga whales have been a key part of the interpretive programs at the Vancouver Aquarium since their  arrival in 1967. Since that time the aquarium has been dedicated to educating the public about these  amazing white whales and the dangers they face in their Arctic homes.  As much as 40 percent of a beluga's body weight is blubber in order to protect themselves from the  chilly temperatures of their ocean homes. Males can grow to almost 5 m in length and 1,500 kg in  weight while females are only slightly smaller at approximately 4 m in length and 1,350 kg in weight.  Belugas have an incredibly diverse diet. They eat a variety of fish as well as shrimp, snails, crabs and  worms. They forage for food on the underside of sea ice, on the ocean floor and throughout the water  column. The main predators of belugas are killer whales, polar bears and Greenland sharks though they  also face many dangers from human populations including hunting, habitat loss, build?up of toxic  contaminants, noise pollution, whale watching activities, and climate change. Belugas are Canada's most abundant whale. They are found throughout our Arctic Ocean as well as in  the St. Lawrence Estuary. Currently, COSEWIC has identified seven distinct populations of beluga whale  and has given each of them a population status as follows:    Beluga Population  COSEWIC Status  Cumberland Sound  Threatened  Eastern High Arctic - Baffin Bay  Special Concern  Eastern Hudson Bay  Endangered  Southeast Baffin Island - Cumberland Sound  No-active  St. Lawrence Estuary  Threatened  Ungava Bay  Endangered  Western Hudson Bay  Special Concern
7. How does your project demonstrate sustainable practices in interpretation? How does it  demonstrate excellence and best practice in heritage interpretation?    The 2011 Beluga Show is a thematic conservation-based interpretive program that combines the  amazing displays of our live beluga whales with the educational messages delivered by our engaging and  highly trained interpretive staff in order to produce an inspiring experience for our visitors.  
In creating the beluga show we studied the new practices in interpretive theory and in particular worked very closely with the IMLS - Ocean Change project ( to examine the  most effective way to deliver climate change messaging. We spent a lot of time re-working the  traditional structure of our interpretive programs and focused on the technique of "Framing" used and  recommended by members of the Ocean project.
Focusing on the universal concept of  interconnectedness that is accessible to all audiences allowed us to set up from the very beginning of  our program that the lives of our audience are inexorably intertwined with those of the beluga whale.  This creates a very real emotional connection between our audience and our animals and as Jacques  Cousteau said, "People protect what they love."
We introduced the idea of climate change and both the effect that is has on beluga populations as well  as the human influence on climate change much earlier in our program then we have in the past. This  allowed us to weave our conservation message seamlessly throughout the entire program as opposed to  having it appear almost out of nowhere at the end of the show.
Since debuting the program in July 2011 we have monitored its success with the help of interpretive  evaluations and visitor surveys and we continue to edit and improve the program based on this  feedback.
8. Please include the names and a description of the roles of the members of the project team. In the  event of an award, up to four names may be included on the awards certificate. Please indicate these  names in BOLD in your submission.    Nicole Cann - Manager of Interpretive Delivery, project lead, program development, interpretive writer.  Lauren Hartling - Interpretation Specialist, program development, implemented changes and edits to  script based on staff and visitor feedback.  Roberta Cavanaugh - Beluga Coordinator, program development, responsible for ensuring coordination  between interpreters and trainers and animal behaviour.  Brian Sheehan -  Marine Mammal Coordinator, program development, successfully managed the  culmination of interpretive elements and expectations with the training needs of his department.
9. Please provide a brief project plan, including the project milestones and a rough budget. Since  submissions vary so widely between one project and the next and from one organization to the other,  the judges would like to get a sense of the resources and time allotted to develop the project. There was no budget involved in the development of this program; we worked entirely from our own  resources. Please see the below  for an overview of our project plan and  timeline.
8. Please include the names and a description of the roles of the members of the project team. In the event of an award, up to four names may be included on the awards certificate. Please indicate these  
names in BOLD in your submission.  
Nicole Cann - Manager of Interpretive Delivery, project lead, program development, interpretive writer.  
Lauren Hartling - Interpretation Specialist, program development, implemented changes and edits to script based on staff and visitor feedback.  
Roberta Cavanaugh - Beluga Coordinator, program development, responsible for ensuring coordination between interpreters and trainers and animal behaviour.  
Brian Sheehan - Marine Mammal Coordinator, program development, successfully managed the culmination of interpretive elements and expectations with the training needs of his department.  
9. Please provide a brief project plan, including the project milestones and a rough budget. Since  submissions vary so widely between one project and the next and from one organization to the other,  
the judges would like to get a sense of the resources and time allotted to develop the project
There was no budget involved in the development of this program; we worked entirely from our own  resources. Please see the below excel spreadsheet insert for an overview of our project plan and  
Program Development  and Date   
Determine a need for a new show   Week 1, Feb 2011  
Conceptual meetings with marine mammal show committee   Week 2 and 3, Feb 2011  
Determine show theme and conservation focus   Week 4, Feb 2011 – Week 3, Mar 2011  
Develop program approach document   Week 4, Feb 2011 – Week 3, Mar 2011  
Senior management approval of program approach document   Week 4, Mar 2011  
Program brainstorm with interpretive and trainer teams   Week 5, Mar 2011 – Week 1, Apr 2011  
Develop program outline   Week 1, Apr 2011 – Week 2, Apr 2011  
Senior management approval of program outline     Week 3, Apr 2011  
Develop a rough draft of the script   Week 4, Apr 2011 – Week 2, Jun 2011  
Script trials and tweaking   Week 2, 3, and 4 Jun 2011  
Finish final copy of script   Week 5, Jun 2011  
Senior management approval of final script   Week 5, Jun 2011   
Interpreters learn script   Week 1, Jun 2011 – Week 1, Jul 2011  
Rehearsals, Previews, and Evaluation     
Full rehearsals with animals, trainers, and interpreters   Week 5, Jun 2011  
Show Debut!   Week 1, Jul 2011  
Visitor surveys collected   Week 1, Jul 2011 – Week 4, Aug 2011  
Staff feedback meetings   Throughout Sep 2011  
Evaluation of visitor feedback and determine necessary changes   Sep – Nov 2011  
Incorporation of visitor and staff feedback into program   Dec 2011  
Category-specific Requirements  
Personalized Interpretation – school group and public categories  
Personalized Interpretation entries in both school and public categories must include:
• the total actual program time: The beluga show runs an average length of 15 minutes   
•  a  10 to 15 minute unedited video recording on DVD or flash drive (memory stick) and must include any special plug?ins needed to view files, or be located at a URL if the site will be  accessible to the judges from May through August in the year entries were submitted: A video can be found here:  The password to open this video is: vanaqua  The interpreter delivering this presentation is Alia Statham and the trainer featured in the show is Kristyn Plancarte.  
•full outline/description or script: Please see the following for this choreographed show:
Program Title: Beluga Show 
Name: Nicole Cann, updated by Lauren Hartling 
Date: December 2012 
Theme:  “The lives of belugas and people are intimately connected.” 
Pre-show: (~15 mins before the show) 
Good morning/afternoon everyone and welcome to the Vancouver Aquarium… 
- Important announcements (to be included in every show or gallery program)  
o Greeting (good morning/afternoon)  
o Welcome to the Vancouver Aquarium 
o Introduce yourself and your position; wave to crowd 
o Tell crowd what program is coming up and how many minutes the program will start in 
o Give hint about basic program expectations (use this as a hook) 
- Program-specific announcements 
o Acknowledge the viewers in underwater viewing. 
o Safety/ Crowd Control announcements  
- Stay behind the white dots 
- Keep stairways clear 
- For uw viewing stay behind the stantions 
o Food and garbage announcement 
o Splash Zone warning 
In Pre-Show Meeting: 
- Who’s working with who? 
- Which Arctic adaptation do we want to highlight? What behaviours will be be doing for these both above and below water? 
- What type of splashing will we do and when? 
- Who’s doing vocals? (all together or one after another) 
- Who’s on trainer moment and what are we highlighting? 
Good morning/afternoon everyone and welcome to the Vancouver Aquarium. My name is  _____________ and I'm giving you a wave here, in front of the Beluga habitat so that you can  see where my voice is coming from. How is everyone doing today? Welcome to the beluga  show. [trainers enter the habitat] Is there anyone here who is seeing a beluga whale for the  very first time today? A few of you, that doesn't surprise me because belugas aren't usually   found in populated areas. We have a unique opportunity to work with three of these amazing  creatures. Today we have ____trainers____ working with our three incredible belugas Kavna,  Aurora and Qila! (introduce belugas, be brief!).  I think we should give our whales a round of  applause! (applause) Despite the fact that we don't often find belugas in our backyards the  lives of belugas and people are intimately connected. [splash/high energy/vocals]

Sub Section 1 (Arctic): Belugas aren't animals that we would find out in the Strait of Georgia so re-fresh my memory, where do we find most belugas in the world?
The Arctic, exactly!  And belugas aren't the only  things living up there, we also find animals like polar bears, walrus, puffins and even people. The lives of belugas and people in the Arctic are shaped by the extreme environment in which they live. 
When you hear the word "Arctic" what other words come to mind? Cold, ice, wind… it's a very  harsh environment but thankfully belugas have a number of adaptations that allow them to thrive in this extreme world. 
(Focus on 1 adaptation from the below list - to be decided on with trainers in the pre-show meeting)
Small but powerful appendages [high energy, tail swipe, catapult]
o One of the ways to live in the Arctic is to have small appendages like the belugas are showing off here right now. Smaller flippers means less chance for precious body heat to you. Despite the fact that their tails are small, they're still incredibly powerful and you can see here!. You will also notice that a beluga does not have a dorsal flipper, but a dorsal ridge, and this is another way to reduce heat loss, as well, belugas don't need a  huge dorsal flipper while swimming under the sea ice! Feeding Strategies – [send spit, spits in place, yes/no]
o A beluga's neck is flexible, compared to other whales who have fused  vertebrae making it easier for them to look around for dinner! This allows them to find all sorts of food besides fish, like clams and worms that might be hiding in the bottom of the ocean. Once found, belugas are able to squirt water to uncover this food! Belugas are the only ones able to squirt a powerful jet of water thanks to their flexible lips! Watch out, they might spit at you instead of the sand! Echolocation - _[melon wiggle, head shake yes]
o Like other whales and dolphins, belugas use echolocation to find their food and members of their group in the cold dark Arctic waters. They produce high pitched click sounds in their blowholes and focus the sound through their foreheads called their melons. As the sounds travel into the water they listen for the echo's and are able to form a mental picture of  their underwater world, and if you look closely, belugas can change the shape of their melon depending on what sound they are making! 
Now, are belugas the only animals who have adapted to this seemingly inhospitable place? [Head shake No] No they aren't!  People have too, specifically Inuit who have been living in the Arctic for over 5000 years!
They have survived and thrived in this extreme environment by living off of the land. They rely on belugas as an important source of vitamins and nutrients. In fact, they get the same vitamins from beluga blubber [high energy] that we get from fruits and vegetables which is important when greens don't tend to grow very well in the Arctic!
Our belugas are showing off just how much blubber they have! They also ensure that every part of the beluga's body is used after a hunt. (ex. Shoelaces out of beluga skin). Even though the Arctic seems so far away, we still impact it every day. Every time we use energy we produce carbon dioxide gas that gets trapped in our atmosphere. It's almost like we're wrapping a  blanket of Carbon around Earth which is causing global temperatures to rise. In the arctic this effect is being felt strongly in the sea ice which is melting faster in the summer and freezing slower in the winter.
So what does this mean [open mouth] for belugas? Right – It's all about food! Sea ice has algae growing [high energy] underneath it which invertebrates eat and in turn fish eat the invertebrates and as we can see, belugas definitely need to eat a lot of that fish which gives them energy to survive in a cold climate! If the ice disappears so will most of the algae and this will directly impact the lives of belugas and Inuit. 
One of the leading causes of climate change is energy consumption and large cities use much more energy than Inuit communities. Interestingly enough, we can find a small population of belugas very close to Canada's two largest cities, near the mouth of the St. Lawrence River. 
Sub Section 2 (St. Lawrence): Can anyone guess what those two cities may be?
Toronto and Montreal are Canada's two most  populated cities and they sit very close to the largest freshwater lake system in the world – the Great Lake Basin, which runs into the St. Lawrence River and out into the Atlantic Ocean. Do we have any visitors from out East? 
There are about 1000 belugas that live in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and while the humans in the area don't tend to rely on them for nutrients, many people do rely on them economically [high energy followed by dorsal presents]. There are a number of small whale watching operations that run through the river hoping to catch a glimpse of these white whales doing something amazing like this! Though their dorsal ridge like ____ is showing off right now is usually the only part of a beluga you would see from the surface it's actually a very important body part for scientists to take pictures of. This is called their dorsal ridge and it can be used to help scientists tell individual belugas apart from one another. Of course, St. Lawrence belugas face many different challenges compared to those who live in the Arctic. 
What may be different in a busy river system compared to an arctic ocean? Noise and pollution. 
The closer you are to cities, the more pollution you tend to encounter and the St. Lawrence is no exception. The run off from the Great Lakes brings a number of chemicals and toxins into beluga whales homes [high energy followed by barrel rolls]. These pollutants build in the beluga's blubber which you can see covers their entire body.  In fact scientists are discovering  increasingly high levels of toxins in the blubber samples of these animals, and in some cases, when dead animals wash ashore their bodies need to be disposed of like toxic waste. 
Of course pollutants aren't the only challenge belugas face in this densely populated area, its also very noisy which may be a problem because naturally, rivers and estuaries (where the river meets the ocean) provide the perfect shallow and protected nursery grounds for belugas [slide outs and beach]. Belugas are very comfortable in these shallow areas as you can see _____ demonstrating. Shallow waters are great shelters because they're also very murky and in  fact all belugas are born grey to help camouflage in these waters and turn whiter as they get older. The trouble with murky water though is that you can't always rely on your eyes to see so  belugas rely heavily on sounds to keep in contact with one another. If we're lucky we may be  able to hear a few of those now. [vocals] Unfortunately ships and other forms of noise pollution may be interfering with beluga communication in these important calving grounds and feeding areas in the St. Lawrence. We are hoping to use what we learn from these belugas to be able to protect belugas in the St. Lawrence by studying our beluga whales here. 
Sub Section 3 (Vancouver Aquarium): Researchers have been able to work with our belugas here at the Aquarium to better understand the types of calls that belugas use to stay in contact with each other. By doing this, we are hoping that this will allow scientists to propose protected areas for belugas, where calving and development are observed based on the calls they hear.
The Vancouver Aquarium plays a significant role in the continued research and conservation of beluga whales. 
We are only able to research these whales due to the amazing bond of trust our trainers have developed with them. __________, can you tell us about what it's like to work with these  belugas? 
Trainer Moment: Of course ________. Today I'm working with ________ and she and I have been working together for ______ years. Our number one priority whenever we're working with our animals is  always their health care. ? Basic talk: Of course _______, working with marine mammals has always been something that  I have wanted to do.  Today I am working with _____ and I have been fortunate enough to build  a strong relationship with her.  Our number one priority whenever we are working with our  animals is always their health care.  With our trusting relationships we are able to better care for  our animals through voluntary medical behaviors known as animal husbandry. Example, what  _______ is doing right now is called a _____ and allows us to _______which helps us provide her  with the best care possible. Our relationship with ______ is also what allows us to participate in  meaningful research projects to better help protect these incredible animals. ? Incorporate encounter if happening …We also want to ensure that all of our belugas are  comfortable around new people in case we ever have visiting researchers here studying our  whales. Working with _______ you will see some of our Beluga Encounter participants having  the amazing opportunity to help us with this training through a special one on one interaction  with _______. We only offer this encounter once a day but you can book it in advance if you'd  like the opportunity to help us care for our belugas. ? End with "…back to you _________" 
Thanks very much ___________. Aquariums like this provide us with an invaluable opportunity to learn about and connect to these amazing animals. Let me ask, has anyone in the audience ever travelled to the Arctic? Not many of you. For most of us, this is the only opportunity we will ever have to see beluga whales. 
The interpreter now has the opportunity to express how they have personally been affected through working alongside the belugas at the aquarium. Something along the lines of… "I'll never forget the first time I saw a beluga whale… Seeing them every day reminds me of  their incredible ability to adapt to an ever changing environment." 
Particularly in the arctic, their home may be changing faster than they can. As the winters get warmer there is less and less ice reforming every year and this is having a devastating impact on the Arctic food web. The good news is there are things we can all do in our everyday lives to reduce our energy usage and help fight against climate change.
Small changes like those are great and today we want to encourage you to think even bigger – think Beluga size! [aerial, high bob] Start a carpool program at work or a compost drive at school. Whatever it is, do something to reduce your impact on the planet.
Most importantly, remember that every day, no matter where you are, your life and the lives of belugas like Kavna, Aurora and Qila, are intimately connected [joint vocals] 
On behalf [splash or leaps] of myself, the trainers and of course our fabulous belugas thanks very much for joining us and have a great day at the Vancouver Aquarium. 

• Once again, thank you for joining us 
• Next show coming up 
• Opportunity for further discovery 
o Explore Gallery 
o Spotlight on Canada’s Arctic
o Encounter promotion 
• Invite visitors up for questions 
• Actively rove amongst audience members 
• Interp will always meet up with the trainers after the show to discuss feedback from the show. 
• Bolded and underlined words refer to “key words” that the trainers listen for in order to cue animal behaviours, which appear in [red and in brackets] 
 History of Inuit - Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami ( ) .pdf 01_2_e.html  
Eric Solomon, Director of Conservation Strategy at the Vancouver Aquarium