Humpback Whales Remixed

Thursday 19 March 2020

Sara Niksic is a 1st year PhD student who has over a decade of public engagement experience, has brought her skills and expertise to the University and her PhD. At our recent University of St Andrews Public Engagement 2019 Awards, Sara won the Innovation Award, as well as receiving a highly commended award for collaboration. This was for her project in which she co-created an electronic music album about humpback whale song, called ‘Canticum Megapterae – Song of the Humpback Whale’. Sara came away from the award ceremony clutching two awards, because the judges were very impressed by the innovative way to start a conversation about whales conservation and intelligent life, and the truly collaborative nature of the public engagement project.

Sara chose to make an album as she wanted to grab people’s attention and interest in bioacoustics. By combining science and art, Sara wanted to engage a new audience in the quest for new knowledge, and raise awareness that these species also have a complex culture, highly advanced communication, and learning mechanisms. She wanted to get people questioning their beliefs about being the most intelligent species on this planet and thinking about the ways we treat other species and nature. Through her own interests, and choosing to contact some of her favourite musicians Sara was able to collaborate with some of the worlds’ best electronic music producers, to compile an electronic music album. On the album each track is produced by a different electronic musician, but the humpback whale is always on the vocals. It is interesting to hear how each artist interpreted the whale song and produced a track in their own music style.

Through releasing her album on Bandcamp, as well as on other platforms such as YouTube, Soundcloud and Facebook, Sara’s album has had over 15,000 plays. The facebook page has reached over 50,000 and had over 5,000 engagements.  Since it’s release on the 29th June 2019, the album has been internationally acclaimed by a number of artists and scientists, journalists, radio stations, record labels, music promoters, event organisers, researchers, science communicators, educators, nature conservationists and enthusiasts.

From the success of the album, Sara was invited to speak at the public engagement teams 2019 conference at the end of October, the Mediterranean Institute for Life Sciences in Croatia, the VOICES Online Conference, the World Marine Mammal Conference in Space, and the UKIRSC Conference in Ireland. Sara also hosted a family friendly public engagement activity using visual art of humpback whales in conjunction with her album, hosted in a disused planetarium. This is now being called the ‘whale-tarium’ after its popular debut at the University’s Science Discovery Day. The whale-tarium was so popular, it has been requested to be a regular feature by the science day go-ers, and Sara has been invited to bring her activity to other public engagement events. This is definitely a feature to keep an eye out for!

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