Whale Watching
Whale Watching

A Contemplation on Our Relationship with Nature

Now that we’re essentially an indoor species, walled off from the world of other life forms, we’re divorced from the very domain that supports and sustains our lives.

~ Charles Cook

Jurassic World

In the 2015 bestselling film, the advanced technology in genetic engineering allowed Jurassic World (a luxury theme park and resort) to create a genetically modified monster dinosaur in order to satisfy consumers’ desire for bigger, scarier and better attractions. Everything was going well until the park’s latest asset escapes captivity and goes on a killing spree.

SeaWorld San Diego

Watching the movie brought back the memory of a holiday I had 16 years ago when I visited my aunt’s family in San Diego.  San Diego is a beautiful city with a lovely climate, wonderful beaches, a natural deep-water harbour and lots of attractions. One of the highlights for me was visiting SeaWorld. The aquarium was impressive and the shows were thrilling. It was amazing to see killer whales performing, and the high of the experience stayed with me for some time.

The next day, we explored tide pools. It was fun to find all the strange creatures that were hiding between the rocks. My cousin, Michelle, was only about 5 years old. She came to me and said she would be my best friend if I could help her to pick up a colourful starfish that she found, but couldn’t reach.  I did as she asked. She was overjoyed. Holding the starfish, she ran to her dad to show him what she had. But David said “please put the starfish back, it would be so much happier being where it was.” Michelle was disappointed but she knew her dad was right and so placed the starfish back where it was found.

Having grown up in a crowded city nowhere near any beach, I had never seen starfish before in the wild and being quite young myself, it did not occur to me that the starfish was also a living being.

How strange it is that we spared a thought for a single starfish, yet we didn’t give a thought to the large marine animals who had performed for us only one day earlier. It may seem obvious. But I was to become aware much later that these thoughts of consideration – the distinction between a creature’s home and its captivity, apply just as easily to the theme park attractions as they do to wild animals.

Blackfish (2013)

In contrast to the action packed blockbuster Jurassic World, there is the excellent, but relatively much less known documentary called Blackfish. It tells the sad story of an orca called Tilikum.  Tilikum was held by SeaWorld in Orlando Florida after being captured off the coast of Iceland. Tilikum killed several trainers while in captivity. Blackfish The film reveals whales’ extraordinary nature and their traumatic experience (both physical and psychological) due to the cruel treatment in confinement as well as the controversy over captive whales and dolphins in the multi-billion dollar sea park industry. It’s eye-opening and certainly worth a watch.

In the wild, orcas (also called killer whales) are social creatures that hunt in pods of up to 40 individuals. They communicate through a wide variety of distinctive sounds that members of a group can recognise from vast distances. Adult females often assist mothers in looking after their young ones. They live in the oceans and seas surrounding most coastal countries. Wild whales and dolphins can swim up to 100 miles a day, hunting and playing. The first orca that was put in an aquarium (in the 1960s) was captured and towed in a custom made floating pen 450 miles from British Columbia to the Seattle Marine Aquarium. His family pod – 20 to 25 orcas – followed most of the way. He was often heard calling to his family from the pen in the sea. He died within a year from an infection likely to be caused by water pollution in the aquarium from sewage outflow.

It is heart breaking to see footage from the documentary showing the enormous distress experienced by whales captured in the wild and transported thousands of miles away from their habitat to be trained to perform and sold to marine parks across the globe, in America, Japan, Spain, Australia, the Netherlands, France, and elsewhere. The deep sorrow displayed by mother whales when their babies are taken away from them is emotionally wrenching and shocking to watch.

Not surprisingly, living in pitiful small tanks and separated from their families, captive whales’ average lifespan is much shorter than the average lifespan of their wild counterparts.

According to WDC (Whale and Dolphin Conservation), there are currently (December 2015) a total of 56 orcas held in captivity (23 wild-captured plus 33 captive-born) in at least 12 marine parks in 8 different countries. One of the most tragic incidents saw over 90 whales from the Southern Resident population of orcas in Washington State rounded-up at Penn Cove in 1970. 7 were taken in marine parks. Today this population is recognised as endangered.

Orca in SeaWorld Orlando

Our Relationship with Nature

This poignant documentary challenges us to contemplate our relationship with nature and how much respect we humans have for the environment and other living beings.

What we do not fully realise is what we perceive as the norm is deeply rooted in the moral and ethical principles influenced by the social environment around us. What is acceptable in the way we relate to nature and other creatures on earth is defined by powerful yet invisible belief systems that most of us do not question. However, we care about truth, justice and compassion. Being kind to others is being kind to ourselves. Living in harmony with our environment and other beings reflects our relationship to life.

Humpback whale in the wild

Whale Watching in The Wild

He who binds to himself a joy

Does the winged life destroy

He who kisses the joy as it flies

Lives in eternity’s sunrise

 

~ William Blake

Whale watching is an exhilarating and intensely moving experience. A glimpse of a majestic black and white creature piercing the brilliant blue of the sea, blowing big spouts of mist up high into the air brings up a deep sense of wonder, respect and affinity between whales and humans. It is an uplifting and life-changing experience that has moved grown men and women to burst into tears.

There are countless whale watching spots in the northern and southern hemispheres from various coastal vantage points to organised tours that guarantee sighting (watchers are given a free return trip if they do not see whales). Most large whale species embark on extensive seasonal migrations, traveling to cold waters for feeding and warmer waters to give birth. For example, North Eastern Pacific grey whales migrate tens of thousands of kilometres on their round trip between Baja California and the Alaska Sea; one of the longest migratory journeys of any mammal on earth.

Many travel writers have written about whale watching destinations and seasons around the globe: Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Spain, Mexico, United States, South Africa…

It has been said that Stephen Fry became a whale watching addict during the filming of Last Chance to See (a BBC wildlife documentary) at Baja California in Mexico after his first day there. “Suck my pants and call me Noreen,” he said. “That was the best day of my life. What a phenomenal experience. Epic. Epic. Epic.”

Contentment, Gratitude and Respect

It’s no wonder that people would desire to bottle up some of this majestic experience, and condense it into a bite-sized tourist activity. But even with the best of intentions, no-one could build an enclosure that would match the splendour of nature.

We all tend to be caught up with pleasures and wish to capture these experiences permanently; to hold onto them forever. However, even the most enjoyable and fulfilling experiences end. Isn’t it precisely the transient nature of these experiences that render them so extraordinarily wonderful?

A friend once described to me her spellbound experience sighting the most spectacular acrobatic display by a Humpback whale, choreographed by mother nature in Hervey Bay, Australia. “In that moment, I saw the unmistaken spirit and intelligence in the whale’s playful nature. I realised there is so little I know about the world and yet I felt the world as an extension of myself. For days, my heart was flooded with warm feelings of joy, gratitude, respect and connectedness”.

Humanity has great power for good and ill, as well as undeniable knowledge of its impact on our environment and other beings. May we all be compassionate, content and grateful for nature’s creations and cherish, nurture and protect the world.

1 Comment

  1. Shilpa suresh

    Beautifully written

    Reply

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