- Associated Press - Sunday, June 5, 2016

CANNON BEACH, Ore. (AP) - In 2014, Frances Holtman was among crew members detained when four small boats were seized by Danish authorities for protesting the slaughter of pilot whales in the Faroe Islands.

That incident is behind her, but Holtman’s dedication to environmental conservation continues in Cannon Beach as the Haystack Rock Awareness Program’s new volunteer coordinator. She began working with the program as a staff interpreter in February, The Daily Astorian reported (https://bit.ly/25xMKU3).

On a bright May morning, Holtman, 25, awaited a group of local elementary school students to arrive for a field trip.

Holtman said ocean ecosystems provide air for every second breath we take.

“The oceans are an intricate ecosystem that we rely upon to survive,” she said. “It’s really fulfilling to be able to address that.”

Holtman noted that the Haystack Rock Awareness Program has an educational program open to students of all ages that regularly sees students from across the state.

“I think this is an important part of making a positive impact,” she said. “A lot of adults have been telling me that one of the things they remember the most from when they were a kid is coming out on field trips to Haystack Rock. And I know myself, when I was a kid, going on field trips really stand out for me.”

Holtman emphasized the importance of both year-round and one-time volunteers in protecting Haystack Rock, a national wildlife refuge and marine garden.

“I can see the effect that we’re having and that’s what is really important to me, to be able to directly protect these ecosystems,” she said.

Holtman has found it useful to have an interpreter north of the rock inform people about wildlife in the marine garden - like sea anemones - and let them know that the best wildlife views might be on the other side of the rock.

“To have one interpreter telling people, that can prevent hundreds of people from trampling the marine garden,” she said. “It just makes a better experience for everyone.”

The marine garden is always changing, Holtman said. In a negative tide, visitors can walk farther out to the needles and see different views. Black oystercatchers will soon establish their nests on one side of the rock.

Holtman’s passion for dolphins and whales led her to do field work in both the north Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Northwest, as well as support dolphin and whale conservation efforts throughout the world, such as in Antarctica and Japan. Some whales are “apex predators that have a significant impact on all the other species in the ecosystem,” she said.

For months, Holtman worked in the Faroe Islands to address the mass slaughter of pilot whales and dolphins during hunts, which she said is an outdated tradition that needs to end.

“Whole pods are killed, from the matriarch to the unborn fetuses,” she said. “It’s very brutal.”

Videos of Faroe Islands’ “grinds,” as the whale killings are called, show water turning red from blood. Although some still view the killings as tradition, many kill the whales for sport.

“There are awesome things about their culture that they can hold onto,” Holtman said. “But I think at this point it’s better something like that is left in the history books.”

Holtman helped save whales and dolphins with other Sea Shepherd Conservation Society volunteers. In 2014, the organization saved 1,500 pilot whales.

When she isn’t standing up for marine mammals and coordinating Haystack Rock volunteers, Holtman enjoys exploring the Pacific Northwest through research and hiking.

The Tillamook County native also enjoys cars: She studied automotive technology at Umpqua Community College.

“I’m really passionate about working on vehicles, fixing things and being self-sustaining,” she said.

Moving forward, Holtman said she hopes to study engineering and further her marine conservation work. She looks forward to volunteering for the black oystercatcher and seabird monitoring at Cape Falcon Marine Reserve, and supports organizations like the Audubon Society and Sea Turtles Forever.

“My goal is to build a life that you don’t need a vacation from,” she said, “so I feel really happy with the work that I’m doing.”


Information from: The Daily Astorian, https://www.dailyastorian.com

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