Biophilia, Dolphins and Smiling Faces, or Let’s go Whale Watching!

Perhaps the most charismatic dolphin I have ever seen!

Perhaps the most charismatic dolphin I have ever seen!

Each spring, I take my environmental science field course students out on a charter to track the annual grey whale migration along the west coast.  We don’t always see whales, but this was a good year.  As soon as we were out of the harbor we spotted one grey and then quickly fell in to tracking a separate grey whale pair.

My students often ask if we always see whales, and I reply that there is no guarantee but that we usually see loads of dolphins and that they are a better show anyway.  Of course, the students are programmed to want to see a whale and there is nothing I can do about that.  Sadly though, the whales are just not quite as charismatic as some of the other marine mammals.  Especially, when you are on a large tour boat with a hundred or so passengers.  When you are on a small boat, say in the Baja Peninsula and can get up close and personal, things can be very different.

Tracking the whales was a great experience for the students.  Later on in the trip though, the good people at Newport Whales, the tour company I always use for this adventure, invariably try to track down a rambunctious group of dolphins to make sure that the customers have all gotten their money’s worth.  It’s a cool trick too.  Seeing the dolphins frolic is a value-added spectacle.  No one really pays to go dolphin watching – that’s for whales.  But in the end, seeing a whale from a distance, while magical, may fall short of expectations.

I always advocate for more dolphin interaction.  And I share this with my students.  ‘The point of today’s excursion is to witness the grey whale migration, but what you may find more fascinating are the other marine mammals who find it entertaining to play around the boat.’  Can you imagine?  A wild animal swimming freely in the ocean that finds us entertaining?

The concept of biophilia always comes to the surface when I am on this trip.  EO Wilson expounded on this concept to explain the innate sense of connection that people feel with nature.  I don’t know of any better place to really witness this than in the presence of another species that is playing; enjoying itself in a parallel world; connecting with us so directly.  I see this every year when I am out on the water, as I witness the spontaneous smiles that brighten the faces of all of my students.  It’s brilliant and wonderful.

If you are interested in getting out on the water to see some of the local or the migratory marine mammal action in southern California, consider Newport Whales.  They have always been a wonderful tour operator to work with.

Grey whale surfacing near the coast of California.

Grey whale surfacing near the coast of California.

Another grey, with the cottages of Crystal Cove State Park in the background.

Another grey, with the cottages of Crystal Cove State Park in the background.

A dolphin riding in the waves next to our boat.

A dolphin riding in the waves next to our boat.

On a collision course...

On a collision course…

Alongside the boat.

Alongside the boat.

Playing in the water.

Playing in the water.

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Sushi and the State of the World’s Fisheries

Sushi.  Who would have guessed that this once rare and poignant art of food preparation would spread like some kind of Starbucks plague and raw fish venues would inhabit strip malls all across America?

I recall when I was younger that the mention of sushi would make most of the people in a room turn up their noses.  ‘Eww, you eat raw fish???

Now, it’s so hip that I can’t even indulge myself without feeling a pang of guilt.

It’s long been known among those who are aware of the perilous state of the global fisheries that this trend would ultimately be devastating to the world’s oceans.  The notion hasn’t gotten a lot of press though.  Until now.  I finally took some time to watch the feature-length documentary Sushi, the Global Catch.  In it, there is a very direct connection drawn between the global appetite for raw fish and the precipitous decline in fisheries around the world.  It is well worth watching and sharing.

Why Do We Need Folk Art?

The man who made Salvation Mountain died the other day.  In a sense that means that a dream that we all share died.  A dream of randomness; a dream of hope and spontaneity and freedom and purpose.

Did anyone even understand Salvation Mountain?  Could you help yourself from loving it even if you didn’t?

It’s so perfect, out there on the edge of the epitome of weird, the desolation and disaster of the Salton Sea, the hot springs, the brutal sun, the unforgiving landscape, and the squatter colony they call Slab City.

Most of us give because we feel compelled.  And we give a little.  But to give relentlessly, and without making much sense at all?  Now, that’s something beautiful.  Maybe that’s art.

A few years back, we spent some time traveling around the Salton Sea and the Anza-Borrego Desert region.  We stopped by Salvation Mountain and let our kid, our only child back then, run free.  It was a place with quite a bit of magic.  It was sort of legendary.

The man who made Salvation Mountain died the other day.  His passing is iconic.  His life has a certain relevance to us all, regardless of if we ever made it out to that lonely desert beyond Niland, California, or saw his appearance in Into the Wild.  We all need folk art, we all need beauty, and we all need Salvation Mountain.

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Anaya was always one to run off at that age. Here I am chasing her down as she makes her way to the top of the mountain.

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