EP10 – Ted Cheeseman – Photographing whales to tell their story – for fun + science – with happywhale.com

Alexander Feldt has spent the last decade working as an Arctic guide both on land and on expedition cruise ships in Russia’s Far North and Northern Norway, as well as serving as a Park Ranger for the Russian Arctic National Park.

Originally from Arkhangelsk on Russia’s northern coast, he’s spent his entire career focused on learning about and sharing his love for the history of this region.

Along with his insight into the recent history of the area, hear his stories of when he was on the world’s strongest icebreaker and they hit an iceberg larger than the ship itself, and of being stranded with 40 guests on land – in dense fog – right in the thick of polar bear country.

Queue up today’s podcast to get the inside scoop on this fascinating yet little known, and less-traveled part of our world.


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  • Photos of North Pole and ship at Cape Fligely courtesy of Alex Cowan


3:10 – How Alexander got started in his career as a Park Ranger

5:00 – The background of recently-developed tourism in the Russian High Arctic

8:00 – The only ways you can reach Franz Josef Land, one of the most remote archipelagos in the world

10:40 – There are only a handful of people who actually get to the Russian High Arctic each year – a truly exclusive and remote travel experience

13:30 – What it was like during the early days of tourism development (1990’s) and then the advent of the Russian Arctic National Park in 2011, with the first rangers starting to manage the human presence and maintain historical buildings

16:30 – The huge task of cleaning the Russian Arctic National Park from the leftovers of the military presence

18:50 – How the Park Rangers hitch a ride on the Icebreaker to “get to work” in this remote area

21:00 – On the development of guidelines to manage wildlife (polar bear) encounters based on AECO rules developed for Svalbard

23:00 – The critical importance of having park rangers with you in this remote and wild region

25:45 – How rangers deter polar bears when they are doing their conservation work on-site in the Park

30:00 – The challenges of managing a National Park that’s so huge and hard to monitor

32:00 – Alex shares a story of when the Russian Icebreaker 50 Years of Victory hit an iceberg that was higher than the icebreaker itself

36:00 – When Alex was stranded on land at the northernmost tip of Europe, Eurasia, and Russia at Cape Fligely in the fog with 40 passengers right in the thick of polar bear country

42:00 – Alexander’s “hobby” of protesting a landfill in Shies in the Russian North

50:00 – On the success of protests against landfills and the growing swell of support


The Russian North is Not A Dump (Facebook Group)

Appeal to Leaders and Organizations in the Barents Region


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Ted Cheeseman is the founder of happywhale.com, a project that aims to photo identify the world’s whales through Citizen Science and as such, better understand these mysterious creatures, both for fun and scientific purposes.

In just a few short years happywhale.com has become one of the greatest contributors to whale science both in the volume of whale identification images but also, in understanding their migration patterns.

Furthermore, Ted is one of the founding members of the Polar Citizen Science Collective – an organization that facilitates meaningful data contributions of regular travelers when they visit the polar regions. This includes submissions to happywhale.com through hobby photography, but also collecting sea samples that look at ocean salinity, phytoplankton density, and much more.

Check out this episode to learn more about how one man’s passion for animals and nature led to his involvement in the inception of these truly groundbreaking programs that are changing the landscape of polar scientific research.


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3:10 – Why whales?

4:30 – How we hunted whales down to near biological extinction and now they’re recovering

6:15 – Ted’s most memorable whale encounter, when he was actually lifted by a whale

12:25 – The process by which individual whales are identified by their fluke

15:00 – How a photo of a whale Ted took outside of Deception Island and a visit to Palmer Station sparked an idea that turned into a movement

17:10 – happywhale.com is born with a combo of a scrappy passion for animals and Silicon valley smarts

17:50 – New image recognition technology allows happywhale.com to accurately match most whale photos

19: 30 – What happywhale.com does to get regular people on board to help identify whales (make it easy, make it rewarding)

23:45 – The importance of how feeling connected to individual animals motivates us to take care of them better

25:20 – The biggest threat to whales right now

26:10 – Happywhale.com as a tool for lifetime awareness

26:45 – Ted tells us about the inception of the Polar Citizen Science Collective

34:00 – Where Ted sees the Citizen Science program in the polar regions 5 years from now

37:00 – The world’s whale population has never been fully assessed and happywhale.com is the single largest data contributor to scientific organizations

38:10 – How a greater understanding of whales and migration patterns helps inform policies for things like vessel speeds in certain high-density areas

39:40 – Houston, we have a Citizen Science app!

46:10 – The potential (massive) impacts of happywhale.com and the Citizen Science Collective, proving that individuals can make a difference



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The Polar Citizen Science Collective


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