On Thursday, children got up close and personal with a whale as part of an event hosted by the Delaware County District Library.
A life-size inflatable humpback whale measuring 43 feet long and 30 feet wide was set up in the gymnasium in Willis Education Center as part of a collaboration between the library and The Whalemobile, a touring educational program out of Topsfield, Massachusetts, designed to teach students about whales and ocean conservation.
Whalemobile owner Cynde McInnis said Thursday she started The Whalemobile and designed the inflatable whale to teach kids about the animals.
“I started it because we weren’t taking school groups on the whale watches any more, so I thought I could bring the whale to the schools to teach kids about whales,” McInnis said. “I wanted to take whales back (to the Midwest) to teach kids.”
McInnis said her favorite part of the program is seeing kids’ reactions to the whale getting inflated to its full size.
“Their eyes get so big, and they just can’t believe how big it is,” she said. “It’s awesome. It’s so funny when fifth or sixth graders, who are too cool for school, walk in and you get this glimpse of childhood wonder. It’s so cool.”
Part of the program takes students inside the inflatable whale to learn about its anatomy and how it lives.
“We have all the organs and everything, and we explain the whole life cycle of the whale,” said Brian Baker, an educator with The Whalemobile. “We explain how all across the country we can affect the health of the oceans and help the whales. The best part is blowing the whale up and watching the kids light up and scream. It’s definitely very interesting, especially in the Midwest because a lot of these kids have never even seen a whale. Those kids take even more out of it because it’s something new and exciting.”
McInnis said the whale even inspires wonder in parents.
“The parents are hilarious. … I teach by asking questions, and the parents will answer questions because they are so in the moment,” McInnis said. “Every age is fascinated by it.”
Kelly Cochran, youth services and programming coordinator for the Delaware County District Library, said the library brought in The Whalemobile because it was a perfect fit for the library’s summer programming.
“Our summer reading club theme for 2022 is ‘Oceans of Possibilities,’” Cochran said. “The Whalemobile was brought to our attention through other librarians in the state of Ohio and their recommendations. We thought their program was right in line with what we were looking for to create a fun and educational experience for the kids of Delaware County. It was something fun and unusual that we had to see for ourselves!”
Cochran said she hoped the students left the program with more of an appreciation for the animal.
“As we are not close to a place where whale watching is easily accessible, this may be the closest experience a Delaware County child has to come in contact with a whale,” Cochran said. “The Delaware County District Library is always striving to give kids experiences that introduce them to concepts and set them up for what could be a lifelong passion. At the very least, they will be able to say that they went ‘inside a whale today!’”
McInnis said she and Baker also teach about conservation and encourage students to take part in their Playground Protectors program where students pick up trash around their schools and keep track on a data card.
“I thought, ‘How can I make a collective impact?’ So, I thought if I could get all these kids and encourage and inspire them to pick up trash then at the end of the summer I could be like, ‘Look at all the trash we picked up.’ Starting that conservation mindset is what I hope to do. … (I want them to learn) that they’re connected to the ocean. Taking care of the ocean starts locally. Hopefully as they get older, they get that mindset of ‘I have to take care of the space I’m in.’”
McInnis said more information about the program can be found at playgroundprotectors.com.
The library was also on hand at Willis with books and other materials that could be checked out by those in attendance.
McInnis said the next stop on the summer tour is Plain City as she heads back towards her hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Cochran said the library has several other events lined up this summer, including a West African dance demonstration by Sogbety Diomande on June 24 and July 6; creating pet portraits with Beck Gehrish on June 23; and magic shows with Erica Carlson on June 20, Magic Nate on June 28, and The Alans on July 18.
More information about the library’s programs can be found at delawarelibrary.libnet.info/events.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.