Swelling with Pride: Saving a Whale

12 May

I generally read or listen to anything about whales. So, when I saw a picture of a whale on the local news tonight, I stopped to listen. And then I saw a couple of familiar faces talking about cutting off clumps of fishing lines to allow the whale to swim freely.
They were two of the 80 volunteers from the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in Laguna Beach (CA), and they were freeing a 40-ton gray whale stuck in Dana Point Harbor hopelessly entangled in fishing nets.
I first visited the Pacific Marine Mammal Center in 2001 on my way to somewhere else. But the unusual sounds drew me there. A docent came out to speak to me about the wild animals at the rehabilitation center. I was fascinated, but when she said she was a volunteer, my jaw literally dropped and I said, “They LET you volunteer here.” And I signed up. I was already too old, slow, and weak (plus at that time I had no medical insurance in case I was bitten) to be an animal care volunteer, so I became a docent.
I have spent most Sunday afternoons for the past 9 years at the Center, talking to visitors about our patients and doing presentations to any groups that wish to come.
We cater to mostly three types of pinnipeds — sea lions, elephant seals, and harbor seals. Their worst enemies are humans. Humans have transformed the sea — their home — into treacherous territory. Survival is getting more and more difficult as we muck up the oceans in so many intentional and unintentional ways.
It is at the Center (www.pacificmmc.org) that I have personally met a variety of people that I admire most in the world. Ages and professions vary greatly, but I’ve seen a dedication from these volunteers and the small staff we have that is remarkable.
I’ve also come to know some pretty amazing animals too. So, when the news commentator pointed out that the whale stayed calm and seemed to know that people were trying to help him, I had absolutely no doubt that was true.
When I spent one of the most memorable afternoons of my life in Scammons Lagoon in Baja California surrounded by gray whales, I had no doubt that the whales that came up to interact with us were doing so absolutely intentionally. Everyone on the small boat knew the huge whales could easily overturn our boats with a flip of a fluke, but we had no fear. These highly intelligent animals knew exactly what they were doing, and we felt so honored that they wanted to play with us.
I can never forget that afternoon with the gray whales any more than some divers a couple of years back who spent hours freeing a whale from fishing nets. Before swimming away, the whale went up to each diver and thanked him. The divers never doubted it, and neither do I.
Volunteering is supposed to give one a feeling of satisfaction, but being one of the volunteers helping to save sea animals is particularly poignant at a time when the BP oil spill is indiscriminately spewing destruction in a vast area.

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