- Issue: Winter 2015
In 2011, while out with a volunteer research group, Anjara Saloma’s boat was approached by a whale. She had never encountered one in the wild before, and was taken aback by its sudden appearance. The creature stayed near the boat for some time before gently gliding back into the deep. Fascinated and overwhelmed by that first encounter, Saloma knew she wanted to study and work with whales.
Since then, Saloma has dedicated her life to researching whales and marine life along the coasts of Madagascar, and particularly on Sainte Marie Island, Madagascar’s first whale-watching spot. Not surprisingly, Sainte Marie has become a popular sightseeing destination, with more and more tourists flocking there every year. Ironically, the resulting increase in boat traffic disrupts the migration, communication, and safety of the whales.
Saloma believes that teaching tour operators responsible whale observation practices is a solution to this problem, and she learned more about the issue when she started working at CETAMADA, a Malagasy organization that aims to protect marine mammals and habitats in the region. While there, Saloma promoted responsible ecotourism, collected scientific samples from the ocean, and educated the community on the importance of marine life.
To better understand the communication between whales and how whale-watching activities can negatively affect that communication, Saloma decided to go back to school for her PhD. WWF’s Russell E. Train Education for Nature program awarded her a Train Fellowship to support her study of the communication processes between mother and calf humpbacks. This is a relatively unexplored topic, and her research may contribute to a better understanding of whale behavior, specifically in response to increased boat traffic.
Though she loves working with whales, Saloma’s eventual goal is to promote conservation broadly in Madagascar, a country that is home to many species threatened by habitat loss and poaching. Looking ahead, she says, “I want my research on whales to be useful to future generations studying marine conservation. Madagascar is an island with countless marine species to be studied. There is still a lot of work to do!”