Whale-tracking site and mobile app shows the way in public service content.
What’s your definition of a great day out? Sightseers on a long-weekend whale-watching trip off Jervis Bay, on the NSW south coast, might have an answer for you: “25 Humpback whales sighted just now in the vicinity of Point Perpendicular on 10.30am whale cruise this morning.” A little later came the next tweet: “Whales Whales Whales, 37 Humpbacks sighted so far for today.”
The tweets were from Jervis Bay Wild, a company that specialises in bringing humans up close to some of the world’s largest mammals. They appeared at the Wild About Whales (WAW) website and app on the Queen’s Birthday weekend, but the tweets could have surfaced anytime between May and November. That’s when cetaceans of all shapes and sizes travel along the original “Pacific Highway” – setting out on their 5000-kilometre journey from the Antarctic to warmer waters for calving and mating. Australian waters support about half of the world’s whales, and many – such as the spectacular humpbacks – are difficult to miss as they sing, breach and frolic close to the coast.
The WAW website was established by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service in 2010 to monitor the annual whale migration. A free phone app was added the following year; WAW’s Facebook page now has close to 40,000 fans.
WAW helps nature lovers keep track of the 30,000 whales that travel down Australia’s east coast on one of the longest migratory journeys of any mammal on Earth. Each year, whales choose to go via either the east or west coast (about 40,000 prefer to go via Perth). Typically, the site has a blog post that could explain why: “It is thought that … it is a learned behaviour based on survival and how quickly they can get to reliable food and ideal breeding grounds. Just like humans, whales choose the quickest/simple route using the coast as a navigation aid. Mothers with newborn calves will visit areas they visited with their mothers and theirs before that.”
WAW is a great example of an Australian public information service mixing real-time digital technology with useful and relevant information. It helps that it’s talking to people about some of the world’s most amazing and mysterious mammals rather than taxation law. For marketers, WAW offers some lessons in how to engage with an already enthusiastic audience:
Be informative. WAW includes general tips, whale facts, behavioural and life-cycle information, top spotting locations, suggestions for what watchers should wear and bring, and things to look for when trying to distinguish a humpback from a southern right. It also includes guides to approach zones, if you’re lucky enough to be in the water at the time. In short, it has pretty much all you need to enjoy the experience, including accommodation deals and offers. The blog, regularly updated in-season, has terrific insider knowledge such as “top five coastal islands to visit” and a guide to the secret language between mothers and their calves.
Be adaptable. The smartphone app offers the best digital experience of all WAW-branded platforms. The map shows all the recent sightings and best vantage points, as well as a listing of tours available. It also has much of the essential information available on the website. Whale lovers can also subscribe to an e-newsletter for the latest tips and news.
Be to-the-minute relevant. The thing that really makes you go WOW about WAW, of course, is the map showing the latest spots to see whales. It’s the ultimate in user-generated content, with today’s “finds” highlighted in blue and the most recent (and most dramatic) social media photos in a dedicated gallery page.
Be entertaining. Whales do things that may surprise you. This is from a recent blog: “[Humpbacks] are giant defenders of their fellow sea life, working tirelessly to foil the dastardly plots of their arch-nemesis, the orca. Acting altruistically, humpback whales have been observed countless times rescuing not just their own species, but also other whale species, and even seals and sea lions, from certain death by killer whales.” Other pearls of wisdom on the blog include a history of Australian whaling and lovely stories such as that time in 1995 when a Bryde’s whale nicknamed Willy decided to spend a few months swimming around the Manning River, near Taree.
Be thought-provoking: While whales are protected they face the same uncertain future as many marine species. Pollution, degraded habitats, ship collisions and climate change are just some of the threats facing these incredible creatures. WAW gives options for how you can help conservation efforts through donating your money or time.
Just like nature, WAW isn’t perfect. The website design could do with a refresh and the whale tracking graphic on the site occasionally stops working. But when it comes to informative, entertaining, useful and relevant content executions, she’s a whopper.
Is there a better public-interest service website than Wild About Whales? Let us know in the comments below.