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stories from the field

The Babuyan volunteer experience
by Cameron Hookey

People volunteer with projects for all sorts of reasons. Some had too much fun in college and now have to pad their CV with as many relevant career experiences as possible. Others want a brand new adventure in a brand new field. Regardless of the reason, Balyena provides the most unique volunteer opportunity I have every participated in. One of the most amazing aspects of the Babuyan experience is the sheer remoteness of the location. As you approach the islands you are transported to one of the many scenes in Jurassic Park, with pristine waters and wild looking jungle. Located 5 hours by boat north of mainland Luzon, these volcanic islands are home to local families who have harvested the local resources for generations, all -but untouched by tourism and international exploitation. Power is a commodity, and it would be easier to count the luxuries you do have rather than the ones you go without. Armed with nothing but a mosquito net, Balyena volunteers experience the culture of these islands first hand, without cellphone reception. But the real reason for making the journey up north is for the amazing creatures that use the waters as a breeding ground. Humpback whales can be seen, felt and heard most places around the islands, and Balyena has taken over a project started in 1999 by the WWF to monitor the movements of whales in and out of the region. The data collected is both relevant and interesting, and gives us an accurate determination of how many whales use the area for breeding and calving, and where individual whales are coming from. As a volunteer, you are out on the water all day, taking fluke shots of the whales, and hydrophone recordings of male singers. For us North Americans, this is also a great time to work on that tan/burn. Oh and you get to snorkel untouched reefs during your lunch break. For three weeks, you get the chance to live in a place people would pay thousands to visit, experience a new culture AND spend your days studying Humpback Whales. Win, win and win.