Sena Wazer is a perfect example of why we should never underestimate the power of children’s books. When she was five, her father bought her a copy of Ibis: A True Whale Story, the hopeful tale of a young humpback that gets tangled in—and rescued from—a fishing net.
“The author’s note said that when most whales get caught in nets, they don’t end up getting freed from them,” Sena, now 13, remembers. “When I learned that, it made me really upset, and I cried and whined for about three days. Finally my dad said, ‘If you don’t like something, do something about it.’ So I did.”
Over the past eight years, Sena has been determined to put that lesson into practice. Her research (with her father’s help) quickly led her to Cetacean Society International (CSI), an all-volunteer organization based in her home state of Connecticut that advocates on behalf of whales and other marine mammals. After receiving some encouragement and guidance from CSI members, the determined young Sena began to teach other young nature lovers about the plight of these ocean giants.
“I had a table at the farmers’ market in my town, and I would sit there for an hour every Saturday handing out information about whales,” Sena says. “I sold muffins at my parents’ farm to raise money for CSI. And then I started giving presentations to kids about whales when I was probably around seven or eight.”
Fast-forward several years and Sena, who has also delivered her whale conservation message through public service announcements on local radio stations, has taken her advocacy to the next level. She currently serves as president of Cetacean Society International’s Youth Group, which she started about a year and a half ago. The home-schooled student and her fellow young whale defenders routinely give talks and present at screenings of films (including Sonic Sea, a documentary produced by NRDC to highlight the devastating effects of ocean noise pollution on marine life). They also lobby—on both the local and national levels—for marine protection measures.
David Kaplan, CSI’s president, finds Sena’s passion for their shared cause inspiring. “Sena initially came to CSI [to use us] as a resource,” he says, “but I think it would be fair to say she’s become as much a resource to us. She has that energy and that initiative you don’t see in many adults, let alone somebody her age. Sena is the kind of person who’s going to be a success in whatever she pursues—I’m glad it’s for bettering the environment, and I’m glad we can help her.”
In fact, Sena’s kind of catchy, youthful optimism is an increasingly essential tool for wildlife advocates witnessing the dismantling of so many of the country’s environmental protections under the Trump administration. In June, President Trump proposed opening the Atlantic Ocean to harmful seismic blasting, which produces highly disruptive noise at exactly the same frequencies that whales use to communicate, interfering with vital breeding and feeding behaviors. Following that announcement, Sena reached out to Francine Kershaw, project scientist for the Marine Mammal Protection Project and the Oceans program at NRDC, to learn more about the threat and to organize a day of lobbying in Washington, D.C., in August.
Six representatives from the CSI Youth Group joined NRDC on the Hill to deliver a letter—handmade poster-board signs in tow—urging five members of Congress to stop Trump’s plan to open the Atlantic coast to oil and gas exploration. “Sena and the rest of the group—including Sylvie, who is just eight years old—were incredibly professional to work with,” Kershaw notes. “They are future environmental leaders and an excellent voice to communicate with other youth, their parents, their community, and politicians.”
Kershaw also echoes Kaplan’s impression of Sena. “She is a remarkable young woman,” Kershaw says. “She has a drive to protect marine mammals that is rarely seen, and this drive is paired with the confidence, skill, and hard work to really make a difference. Most important, she is tirelessly reaching and inspiring hundreds of other young people and empowering them with knowledge about ocean noise and what they can do about it. I think her team, and all of the other youth whom she is inspiring, are absolutely a symbol of hope for the future.”
Sena doesn’t see her whale advocacy ending anytime soon and stresses the importance of education and outreach in motivating change. “It’s hard sometimes, because there are a lot of bad things going on, but there are also a lot of people who are working hard to do really good things. Humans are the ones who are making the problems, so we’re the ones who are going to have to solve them.”
Although she’s not quite sure what formal career path she’ll take—she is only 13, after all—she envisions marine biology as a good possibility. She also floats becoming a lawyer as an option, recognizing that “fighting for what you want in court” is critical. (If her testimony on getting plastic bags banned in her hometown of Mansfield, Connecticut, is any indication, she does have a knack for that kind of work.)
But whatever she decides to do, one thing is certain: Sena will continue to have a profound impact on the people and the environment around her. As Kaplan says, “If we could clone her and have 10 more Senas or 100 more Senas out there doing things in their communities, the world would be a much, much better place.”
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