Award recognizes “hero” for bringing killer whale science to thousands of students

Spring 2017

When Jeff Hogan walks through schools in Washington and other West Coast states, students sometimes point to him and say, “Hey, it’s the whale guy! Hey, whale guy, we’re still doing all those things to help the whales!”

Jeff Hogan of Killer Whale Tales has spoken to thousands of students up and down the West Coast about endangered Southern Resident killer whales. Photo, courtesy Jiff Hogan.

Hearing that may be his greatest reward as executive director, chief storyteller and heart and soul of Killer Whale Tales, the non-profit organization he created to bring the science of killer whales alive in classrooms from Washington to California and beyond. He estimates he has personally spoken to at least 120,000 students since he started in 2000, helping them trace the connections between their daily lives and the endangered Southern Resident killer whales that roam Puget Sound and waters off the West Coast.

One of many drawings Jeff Hogan has received from students. Image, courtesy Jeff Hogan.

“I have kids chomping at the bit to go home and not just share what they learned, but also help take care of this awesome animal,” said Hogan, 49, who lives in Seattle. “Kids look at their environmental footprint in terms of recycling, or turning off lights at home, or using less water, and they can start to see how that’s directly related to salmon and the killer whales that depend on them for food.”

In March 2017, NOAA Fisheries recognized Hogan and Killer Whale Tales with a special “Hero” award for his contributions to the conservation of Southern Residents.  The whales are one of eight species that NOAA Fisheries designated nationally as part of its “Species in the Spotlight” initiative to reflect their high risk of extinction and focus attention on their recovery.

Students examine an orca skull in the classroom. Photo, courtesy Jeff Hogan.

“Jeff has been a great partner for more than a decade and is constantly finding new ways to share the science about killer whales and get people excited about learning more,” said Lynne Barre, NOAA Fisheries recovery coordinator for the Southern Residents. “He promotes awareness and conservation with audiences that NOAA Fisheries could not reach on its own, with lasting benefits for the whales and people who care about them.”

The programs are free to schools, funded by NOAA Fisheries grants and the group’s own independent fundraising. “I figure if the teachers are going to take the time to bring me in and have the kids do the homework, then I’ll raise the money to pay for my visit,” Hogan said.

Recently he has begun leading lessons in classrooms as far away as New York and Europe through satellite hookups that allow him to speak to distant students in real time.

He also strives to learn more about the whales himself. Hogan regularly accompanies NOAA Fisheries scientists into the field to observe and track the whales and to gather data, including scooping whale poop from the water to learn more about what the whales are eating. That role seems to hold special fascination for grade-school students, he said.

“Everyone wants to know what that’s like to observe the whales, so I take kids on virtual research trips,” said Hogan, who has a degree in drama and also teaches part-time. He said he sees himself as the voice of scientists who otherwise do not often have time to make it into classrooms to share what they’re learning. While recent news about a number of killer whale deaths in the last year can be discouraging, the enthusiasm of the students keeps him going.

“It’s very hard to be in this situation where we’re all worried about the trends, but kids are so pragmatic and matter-of-fact about what needs to be done,” Hogan said. “They get it. They understand that our own actions count when it comes to conservation, that we can all make a difference. It’s a heavy subject, but they feel empowered to contribute to the solutions, which is what it’s all about.”

For more information on Killer Whale Tales or to book Hogan for classroom visits, go to: http://killerwhaletales.org/

For more information on killer whales, including Southern Residents, visit: www.westcoast.fisheries.noaa.gov/protected_species/marine_mammals/killer_whale/index.html

Homepage: One of the many drawings Jeff Hogan has received from students.