Disturbances to the oceans’ ecosystems such as overfishing, boat traffic, and plastic pollution have led to the documented decline of various marine populations in recent years. Even whales and dolphins are struggling for survival in today’s overused and polluted oceans, with increased marine mammal beachings occurring en masse from New Zealand to New England. This all begs the question: How can I help?
In response, the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and eco-friendly tour company Kin Travel have collaborated on a new-fashioned call to action, organizing small-group trips (of between 10 to 20 people) dedicated to saving marine mammals. Unfolding over two select four-day time periods this summer and fall, the “Summer House” program takes place August 8-11 and September 27-30 in Provincetown on Cape Cod. This coastal Massachusetts location was chosen because of its status as a common spot for dolphins and whales to get “stranded” due to the tide and depth changes between the open Atlantic Ocean and Cape Cod’s shallow flats. (Some scientists say that climate change and its effect on sea temperatures and extreme weather events are also a contributing factor.)
During the conservation-minded course, activities such as at-sea lectures led by expert marine activists, as well as dolphin rescue demonstrations at IFAW’s operations center, expose travelers to the critical work done by the organization. But learning is only half of the experience: The other is getting to know the very best of Provincetown through leisurely bike rides, pop-up beach parties, and sunset viewings on the Cape’s sand dunes. To top it off, the four-day trip includes accommodation at the beautifully restored 19th-century Salt House Inn, one of the area’s most charming lodging options.
Here’s a preview of what to expect from this feel-good long weekend dedicated to saving Cape Cod’s dolphins and whales—and info on how to snag yourself a spot in the group.
According to the team at IFAW, 2018 was a record year for dolphin and whale strandings in Cape Cod. A total of 419 individual dolphins and whales washed ashore, unable to return to the deep sea on their own. Thanks to IFAW’s tireless work, the team was able to rescue and release 360 of those imperiled individuals last year. Still, IFAW experts say that the harrowing record of stranded marine mammals in the area could be surpassed in 2019.
As part of Kin Travel’s “Summer House” program, travelers will learn about IFAW’s conservation efforts during informative group “conservation crash courses” at the Rescue Operations Center (which is located approximately 40 miles from Provincetown in Yarmouth Port, Cape Cod, and is usually closed to the public) followed by dinner and drinks with the organization’s rescue and research team. Prepare to hear stories of how IFAW teams have celebrated successes in releasing stranded groups across 23 different marine species, from highly sociable Risso’s dolphins to the more solitary Minke whales.
Conduct a (mock) marine mammal rescue
Also at the IFAW’s Rescue Operations Center, leading members of the center’s Marine Mammal Rescue & Research team—including Animal Rescue veterinarian Sarah Sharp—will detail the intricacies of IFAW’s rescue operations, from untangling seals strangled in fishing gear to transporting stranded dolphins and smaller whales to a mobile veterinary unit for time-sensitive examination and care.
Should a real-life rescue call come in during the scheduled visit, trip attendees can follow Sarah and her team into the field. More likely, however, travelers can look forward to examining scientific data collected by the Rescue Operations Center team, exploring IFAW’s mobile veterinary trailer (where the rescue action takes place), and participating in a “mock” dolphin rescue with a life-size, heavyweight dolphin replica.
Enjoy sunsets, sand dune strolls, and whale-watching sessions
There are more leisurely parts of the long weekend trip, too. Group members will bike through Provincetown and along idyllic country roads toward the boulders of “Provincetown Causeway,” an overwater footbridge that connects the Cape’s mainland to its more desolate tip. Here, group members will watch the sun paint the sky dramatic hues of pink, purple, and orange—with drinks in hand, of course. The special itinerary also brings travelers on a journey through the Cape’s northern sand dunes, first by four-wheel drive and then on foot.
It wouldn’t be a marine mammal–focused adventure without some wildlife spottings, which is why the group rises early on Sunday for a whale-watching session and marine biology lesson at sea. Though sightings may vary—this is nature, after all—it’s not uncommon to experience hours-long encounters with humpback whales and gray seals in the area.
Before the conservation-oriented trip comes to a close, a tented beach party set up by Kin Travel allows the group to soak up the area’s oceanside splendor one more time. Four days dedicated to saving marine wildlife and exploring remote parts of Cape Cod’s coast? Summer school never sounded so good.