Mis à jour : 1 mars 2019
An interview with Dr. Agnès Benet, biologist and member of the association Mata Tohora
Our beautiful island of Tahiti is famous for many things, such as its gorgeous scenery, its ancestral culture and its paradise-like climate. But from late June to late November, our idyllic island welcomes incredible mammals: the humpback whales and their whale-calves. The pregnant mothers come to our warm waters to give birth, and then come back here with their calves every year until the baby is approximately two years old. The youthful whale comes back on its own the following year. We can also encounter males and females who are looking to mate.
Unluckily, as we discover more about those creatures, there are many people who disrespect and trouble them. This is why associations like Mata Tohora help to raise awareness, protect the whales and make science evolve.
That is why I was so pleased to be able to interview Dr. Agnès Benet, maritime biologist, field scientist, manager and founder of Mata Tohora.
Question: Can you explain what is the purpose of your association? Why did you create it?
Agnès Benet: At the beginning, Mata Tohora was created for the day of the whale, in 2013. The day of the whale is an education day specially for disabled and under-privileged kids. It means that, with partners, we take these children to see the whales. So it's for this occasion that Mata Tohora was created.
And, as I studied whales and dolphins in my job, and as I realised that us, humans, created a disturbance (that it be boats, paddles, kayaks, va'a and even by swimming to close) on water, I joined the “C'est assez!” program and I gave it to Mata Tohora. “C'est assez!” is a program of prevention and protection of the cetaceans.
That's the reason why we're always on the sea and why people see us regulary, added with the communication made on land.
Q: What are the precautions to take when whale-watching?
A. B.: It's to mostly approach slowly when we see a whale, and on a 300m radius, always stay at 3 node speed. To observe how it's moving, if the whale is alone or with a calf, especially if it's a very young whale-calf, we need to be even more precautious. And of course follow all the rules you can find on our website.
Q: How can we help the association?
A.B.: The best to help us is to have a boat, have lots of time, and to offer us your help. We have training course for people, they then become referent and they can, just like us, make people aware of the rules to whale-watch, or tell us when something happens, such as a whale in difficulty or a whale in the lagoon...
Pressure over cetacean does not only come from human beings, it can also be natural pressure, like an orc annoying a whale-calf.
Q: Do you need people calling you to tell you where the whales are, if there is some dangerous situations? Would it help you?
A.B.: It helps us enormously, we have lots of people who call or write, who observe from their house or from the beach, from restaurants, and it's a tremendous help, truly.
Q: Do you have a message to give to the youth, the teenagers who will read this article?
A.B.: To be aware of the living forces, to know that they are animals with numerous natural pressure such as predators, and that Man is another pressure if we're not careful. Every life is important, and those species are endangered, so we need to be extra careful.
We have the luck to be able to observe the humpback whales from up to close, let's do it respectfully and let's protect them. And of course, again, thank you to Agnès Benet for her devotion and her kindness.
Photos by Stéphanie Gervis
Mata Tohora website: www.matatohora.com
FaceBook: Mata Tohora