Scripps graduate student sets learning about whales to music
Wake up/Make your kelp bed
Breakfast/Bowl of fishheads
Stretch!/Reach for that tail
Get dressed/Not if you’re a whale!
These are the opening lines to the first track of “Whale Song!,” an album of fun and informative songs about whales and dolphins, written and performed by Eric Keen, a second-year graduate student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego.
Keen’s academic studies focus on the foraging ecology of whales and dolphins in temperate fjords with his advisor Jay Barlow, who has appointments at Scripps Institution of Oceanography and NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center adjacent to the Scripps campus. This album was a side project he recorded during another of his novel freelance gigs: He was working as a fire lookout on the Grand Canyon’s north rim, where he says he used the firetower as a studio sound room. Keen sings and plays all the instruments on the album, including guitar, ukelele, harmonica, and electric bass.
Keen says his favorite song growing up was “Billy the Squid” by songwriter and storyteller Tom Chapin.
“Not only was it fun and silly, but it got my imagination running wild about marine animals,” said Keen.
With “Whale Song!” Keen is trying not only to capture children’s interest, but teach them something as well. The cheery lyrics are packed with fun whale facts. In “Whales are Mammals” Keen sings: “Whales are mammals you know/cuz they give live birth below….” In “The Whale BCs,” which follows a young whale’s day as he wakes up and goes to school, Keen sings “Lunchtime/it’s krill again” and then “Naptime/lights go out/but only half of your brain is asleep….” The lyrics, Keen hopes, help kids learn that some whales eat krill and that whales are thought to sleep with only half their brain at a time, a fact that may be news to many adults.
According to Keen, “There are a lot of songs about whales out there but to my knowledge there weren’t any that helped kids learn as they sang along. This seemed to me like a major missed opportunity. Children are natural naturalists. They love looking around, they love learning, they love getting wowed by impressive facts, and they even love memorizing things.”
With “Whale Song!,” Keen hopes to inform the youngest generations about whales and dolphins and the importance of conservation, and perhaps even inspire a few new marine scientists.
Four whale experts reviewed the record, making it a “peer-reviewed” children’s album. This means parents can rest assured that everything their children will learn from the Whale BCs is accurate and scientist-approved.
When asked if any more CDs are on the horizon, Keen said, “Sadly, my dissertation is taking up most of my time. By the end of my Ph.D., I will probably have an album’s worth of songs about graduate school, but I doubt kids will have much interest in that!”
The CD is for sale at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/Erickeen, and it can be downloaded from CDBaby, Amazon, and iTunes.
– Mallory Pickett is a first-year masters student in the lab of chemical oceanographer Andreas Andersson at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego