Growing up in Fort Wayne, Ind., Cynde McInnis was landlocked, only getting to romp in the waves during family vacations to the Jersey Shore. Despite the lack of salt water, whales consumed her thoughts from an early age.
“It was really since I was a little kid,” McInnis said. “Whales have been my thing. I knew by third grade that every research project and every art project was about whales.”
After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1994, McInnis interned at Ocean Alliance and Cape Ann Whale Watch , which later turned into a career managing education and research for the Gloucester-based cruises.
McInnis has since taken her passion for whales to the road with the Whalemobile, a 43-foot, full scale, and inflatable replica of a humpback whale named Nile.
“Years and years ago I wanted to get the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and turn it into a whale,” she said.
The whale is named after one of McInnis’s favorite whales off the shores of Cape Ann.
“I’ve probably seen her every year since 1995,” McInnis said. “I just remember her spyhopping next to the boat and I remember seeing her with her first calf.”
Armed with her inflatable companion, McInnis travels to schools and other venues throughout the region.
“Schools can’t come out [to whale watches] anymore because price-wise, it’s so expensive,” McInnis said. “But if I can take a life-size inflatable whale into the classroom, kids can hopefully still get inspired.”
At McInnis’s assemblies, she often plays different whale songs to identify the species and also dives into how they feed. Once she inflates the whale, students break into groups where they can explore and even enter the inside of the inflatable whale and learn about the similarities between humans and whales.
“The neat thing is [Nile has] been out there so much in the last three years, a lot of kids see my presentation and then go out there and see the real whale,” she said.
Nile and McInnis will be making an upcoming appearance at Maritime Gloucester , a marine and maritime museum, on Aug. 22. The event is part of Maritime’s community days, when the museum is free and open to the public.
“Kids love seeing the life-size humpback under our tent,” said Melanie Murray-Brown, the director of programming for Maritime Gloucester. “She’s a very passionate presenter and does extremely well with younger audiences.”
Hosted in conjunction with the Schooner Ardelle and the Schooner Adventure , the last time McInnis visited Maritime Gloucester was in 2012. The year’s visit will consist of six 15- to 20-minute sessions. Maritime Gloucester is asking visitors to register online beforehand.
“We would love to get a lot of kids excited about the marine mammals that live off of Gloucester’s shores while teaching them some basic marine biology,” said Murray-Brown. “Whalemobile’s truly gigantic presence on our site is the perfect way to get kids hooked and interested and nicely compliments the work of Maritime Gloucester educators with area schools throughout the year.”
However, once the summer comes to a close and the waters begin to get colder, McInnis, her husband Joe, her children Teresa and Tommy, and inflatable Nile will be packing up for a six-week cross-country road trip. McInnis and crew will be stopping in Nashville, San Diego, and Austin, Texas, just to name a few.
She notes that one of her dreams is to home school her children for a year and travel and present Nile along the way.
“For me, it was all about whales,” McInnis said. “As an adult it has caused me to think about my choices and how they affect the environment. If I can get [children] to care about whales, my hope is that as they get older that this may be something that inspires them to protect the environment.”
For more information on the Whalemobile, visit, www.thewhalemobile.com/home.html.