Every year humpback whales make an enormous journey from the freezing polar waters to the warm waters 4000 – 5000 kms away to mate and to give birth. Ilha de Moçambique is one of few places in the world where this calving occurs. This makes Ilha a very special place.
We have only recently begun to understand the significance of Ilha as a breeding ground for humpbacks. But what we do know for sure is, it has to be protected. To this end Ilha Blue is taking steps. We are proud members of the World Cetacean Alliance. This is an alliance of scientists, marine biologists, activists, researchers and cetacean (whales and dolphins) tourism operators who have banded together to help protect these amazing creatures. Ilha Blue is also a member of the newly formed Southern and Eastern African Whales (SEA Whales) group with the objective to share information about the humpback migration from Antarctica up the east coast of southern Africa to northern Mozambique (and some go further to Tanzania and Kenya). This year 16 locations along the migration route will hold ‘Welcome the Whales’ festivals. And Ilha Blue agreed to hold one also.
On Ilha de Moçambique the purpose of the festival is multi-fold. It is to share knowledge about humpback whales; engender respect for the whales; create awareness of this extraordinary asset and the urgent need to protect it for the future; inspire operators and tourists alike to whale watch responsibly; deliver messages about the importance of marine conservation; infuse the island with the spirit of collaboration. And to tell stories. Have fun. And love the whales.
In honour of the humpback whales we commissioned a life-size replica to be built from bamboo and locally fabricated coir rope. Two ‘mestres’ from Cabaceira Pequena, over 2 weeks, created a most beautiful and elegant tribute. Despite living on an island in the middle of the Indian Ocean most locals have never seen a whale. To have a life-size replica gives everyone the chance to see just how enormous and special these creatures are.
Our aim to reach a broad cross section of people here on Ilha was very well satisfied. The highest levels of local government spoke eloquently, and officially opened the festival. There was a great turnout of ‘Ilhotes’, tourism operators, local dhow owners, emerging local tour operators, children, teenagers, young adults and visitors to the island. Pilale from Ilha Blue and Uni Lurio did an excellent job of MC-ing and VIP wrangling. Pete from Ilha Blue gave a talk on the benefits of responsible tourism with a particular focus on responsible whale watching. All the Ilha Blue guides were on hand to give extra information about humpbacks and their habits. And the piece-de-resistance on opening day was when the ‘mestre’ (the master whale builder) hugged the President. And the President hugged him back. The President (of Ilha) had just presented him and his one-eyed assistant with Ilha Blue T shirts when emotion got the better of the mestre and the hugging began.
The festival was held over 3 days and included a ‘children’s day’. We had the ‘crianças da rua’ – the street kids that hang out at the jetty all day long, talking to tourists; a significant group of ‘escolinhas’ pre school kids; other kids who do an ‘alternative to school’ program; and the secondary school theatre group. The children were immersed in theatre, film, art and education about the whales. And enjoyed a delicious lunch prepared by a group of local women.
On opening day there was Tufo dancing with specially written songs about whales and a delightful theatre piece crafted by students with Luarte Theatre company. The music from the Uni Lurio students was cool with some funked up rapping and an emotive duo singing about environment and playing guitar. And all this topped off with a totally delicious range of local snacks made by Cheninha, a consummate cook on Ilha de Moçambique. The inaugural Welcome the Whales festival was a roaring success and we look forward to making it an annual event.
Huge thanks to our supporters Conselho Municipal de Ilha de Moçambique, Cooporação Portuguesa, OIKOS Cooporação e Desenvolvimento , HELPO, Universidade Lúrio, Maxmedia, World Cetacean Alliance, and the people of Australia.