UO SOJC study abroad program documents whale migration

SOJC group in Uruguay (photo courtesy of the UO School of Journalism and Communication)

Eight University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication students traveled to Uruguay for four weeks this summer as part of a new study abroad program to document the migration route of the Southern Atlantic right whale.

The students gathered and developed multimedia materials and worked on post-production at host university Universidad de Montevideo. The program “Nature & Culture: Multimedia Storytelling in Uruguay” was created by Associate Professor Carol Ann Bassett. Joining her were SOJC students Julia Reihs, Brandy Dominguez, Christina Belasco, Carolina Reid, Michael Buisan, Kelsey Bradshaw, Meredith St. Clair and Casey Minter.

The team embarked in Zodiacs to document 60-ton right whales, some of them mating and raising their calves, and conducted research into Uruguay’s efforts to protect its coastline from the threats of mega-development, such as a vast open pit iron mine and a deep sea port along the nation’s beaches.

“It was delightful to witness how hard they worked and how well they worked as a team,” said Bassett. “They were just troopers in the field and worked 24/7, did most of their interviews in Spanish and even translated them. In each student I observed a complete transformation. In only four weeks, they’d gained the confidence to become better international journalists covering complex environmental issues.”

The program was done in cooperation with the Organización para la Conservación de Cetáceos, dedicated to the protection and conservation of marine mammals along the Uruguayan coast. The students’ work resulted in the documentary, “The Route of the Whale,” and several other videos focused on conservation issues in towns along the route.

A highlight for Bassett came when the students attended a session of the Uruguayan parliament, sitting in the press box as invited members of the media. On the agenda that day was a proposal to create a whale sanctuary in Uruguay’s waters.

“We were watching as the vote was cast, 62-0 unanimous, to establish a protected whale sanctuary,” she said. “It’s not often that a nation shows this kind of foresight and commitment in conserving its natural treasures. It gave me hope that such victories are indeed possible.”

The students are now preparing a website for their collective multimedia work.

- from the UO School of Journalism and Communication