Whale Trackers is a science communication project by Genevieve & Chris Johnson. It has been a culmination of unlikely opportunities, incredible adventures and life changing experiences.

Chris is a whale ecologist and filmmaker. Genevieve is an educator and naturalist. Together, they explore the oceans to understand and find solutions to protect whales. 

HOW WE STARTED

by Genevieve Johnson

We both began our working lives with completely responsible careers in Melbourne, Australia. In the mid-1990s, Genevieve worked as an environmental education teacher at a local high school. Chris was a technical director and programmer for a successful multimedia company working for museums and science centers around the world. For a few years we were comfortable. We made pretty good money, and generally fulfilled the roles expected of us by any parent who wants to see their child fit in, work hard and prosper in an increasingly crowded and competitive world.

But for us, something was missing. We were moving along, as most of us tend to do, in our own world and with blinders on while the natural world was falling apart around us. We both had a keen interest in the oceans and wanted to do something important, something that mattered and something that made a difference, but what?

Through a combination of luck, hard work and being in the right place at the right time, an opportunity finally presented itself. We were offered the chance to leave the life we knew and sail around the world on a 96-foot, steal hulled research vessel studying whales. Our journey began in 2000. At the time, we had no idea the sea was to be our home and our lives for the next 5.5 years.

Ironically, neither of us had much (or any) sailing experience, yet this unlikely opportunity saw us complete a life changing global expedition called “The Voyage of the Odyssey.” Led by renowned biologist Roger Payne, the voyage was a long-term study of sperm whales and ocean pollution that was both scientific and educational in focus. This is where we learned our trade! We spent our time collecting data while developing and producing a media and education program live from sea. Our families naturally thought we had lost our minds (and our careers), yet, we knew this was right and over time what we experienced changed us, and the way we viewed our place in the world forever. We lived our lives among whales, dolphins, and other marine life, immersed in an entirely unknown world until eventually, it became our most familiar home. Stripped of the everyday comforts we take for granted our priorities gradually shifted and we started to focus on what mattered, relying only on what we really needed.

The Voyage was our opportunity to communicate science to the world and inspire students about the oceans, and we did so across 87,000 miles of ocean visiting 22 countries and hundreds of ports. We met Prime Ministers, ambassadors, politicians, scientists, conservationists, fishermen, teachers, school children and even celebrities. We talked about what we had seen and slowly, from a grassroots level, we began to make a difference to the way our oceans are viewed and treated. We experienced adventure at sea, faced insurmountable adversity and were close to death on more than one occasion. Yet somehow, we survived the various mishaps that tend to accompany life on a boat, yet in the end, it all seemed to pale in comparison to witnessing our precious oceans being destroyed in front of our eyes.

Like most of us, we had never been faced with the direct realities of the effect our lives on land are having on the ocean and the creatures that depend on it for survival, including us. Over fishing, bycatch, chemical and noise pollution, plastics, and climate change are taking an unsustainable toll. Documenting it all was inspirational and heartbreaking at the same time.

When the voyage finally ended, we were at a loss. How does one go from such an experience only to slot back into a regular life? Well, we couldn’t. We had seen too much and done too much to ever return to the life we once knew. How do you fit in again?

We couldn’t ignore what we had seen, we were obligated, and we were hooked. The path for us was clear and Whale Trackers was born in 2006. We decided the best way to gain attention to the oceans was through whales. Whale Trackers is not about portraying only the negative, it is about hope, and connecting to innovative science to inspire change, particularly in young people.

With the gear filming & photographing southern right whales in Argentina.

With the gear filming & photographing southern right whales in Argentina.

Today, we continue to travel the world together, producing documentaries and education content that combines whales and adventure to get people interested in the oceans. We decided the best way to get people to use our content was to make it fun, inspiring and engaging, and most importantly, to make it freely accessible on our website.

We will never be rich, but we love what we do. Interestingly, our greatest challenge is not in finding great stories, but in raising funds to do what we do. Most agree that education is the best way forward, yet people want to give money to solve a problem immediately. Unfortunately, most environmental problems are complex and can take many years of negotiation, compromise and education before a change can be seen.

Whale Trackers is our way of being part of that change.