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Sweatpants & Nature | A Whale Tale

by Jerusha Turner

It is truly astounding that we call our planet “Earth,” when 70% of our planet’s surface is covered in water. Water, which is teeming with life of all sorts and sizes, which we know less about than we do know of outer space. From the life-giving, microscopic, photosynthesizing phytoplankton, which gives us 70% of our world’s oxygen, to the enormous, awe-inspiring megafauna like whales, the oceans hold countless wonders for us to explore.

There was a time in all of our lives where, for some reason, we stop pursuing those wonders. We stopped going to the library to check out books on animals, just for the heck of it. We no longer spend hours pouring over “Zoobooks,” or pretending to be explorers. It was a quiet shift, that none of us really noticed. What happened? When did we lose our eagerness to learn, and our fascination with our world?

With that childhood curiosity and energy gone, life can sometimes seem so overwhelming, so heavy, and so drab. We can forget the beauty of our world that still exists out there. It is moments like those that we need to escape to nature to find that long-lost hope, awe, and eagerness that we had in our early days. Edward Abbey says, “Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.”

This rejuvenation through nature can be reached in a variety of ways, but my personal favorite method is to head to the ocean and to go whale watching.

Whales are amazing. They are so large, yet also so graceful. When a whale surfaces by you and releases its powerful breath, VOOSH-SHH, it sends an electrifying current into your heart, that shocks and pulses, as if receiving a defibrillator shock. You suddenly find a sense of just how small you are, and you are reminded of how our world is filled with awesome, unique creatures, like these.

Members of the Southern Resident Orca Population in the San Juan Islands, Washington.

Every day whale watching is different. As someone who has worked on whale watching boats for ten years now, I can assure you that it never gets boring. Whales have their own unique personalities, complex family structures, and interactions, and the more that you observe them the closer to them that you will become.

The Southern Resident Killer Whales of the San Juan Islands in Washington State (which are technically not whales, but rather dolphins) are the whales that I am most connected with. I have watched them grow, eat, play, swim, and rest, all in different places around the islands, in different conditions and weather, with each experience leaving a lasting impact on my day.

Seeing whales in their natural habitat brings time and location and your personal niche in this world to the forefront of your mind. It slows time down. The whales that you’re watching have swam in these oceans for years, and their ancestors before them. The knowledge of this continuation is awe-inspiring. They are carrying out the same migration routes and traversing the same waters as they have throughout the ages. You suddenly see with more clarity the little blip that your life occupies in the grand scheme of things.

You find yourself thinking about location more, too. The places where you encounter these majestic creatures will forever be lodged in your memory as special. They become a spot in your heart of emotional peace and connection with the world. Watching whales suddenly makes the whole concept of ecology and the interconnectedness of our world come alive. It clicks. The head knowledge that we share this planet with other animals moves to become heart knowledge, and you come to cherish that interconnectedness.

So today in honor of World Whale Day, here are some tips on how to get out and watch some whales! Try to make this happen at least once in your life! There are whales in every ocean, throughout different times of the year, so making the effort to experience them is easier than you would think, and more rewarding than you could imagine.

A humpback whale going down for a deep dive in Whale Pass, Alaska.

Here are three methods you can use to watch whales, and three things you will need to keep in mind.

How you can watch whales:

1. Whale Watch from Shore

One of my favorite things to do is to watch whales from shore. Sometimes whales hug the shoreline as they travel, and you actually might encounter them closer from shore than you would in a boat! One of my favorite places on Earth is Lime Kiln State Park in the San Juan Islands in Washington State. The channels are deep there, and orcas will sometimes swim right next to shore. I love sitting on the rocky hillsides, hiking the trails, and exploring the beaches, all while watching the whales as they swim by. Take a picnic lunch and get out there to enjoy the day! It is a privilege to get a glimpse of these animals’ lives as they go on with another usual day.

People whale watching from shore at Lime Kiln State Park, Washington.

2. Whale Watch from a Sea Kayak

If you are like me, having some physical activity really helps my body feel rejuvenated by the end of the day. Those endorphins, man! Being a part of the experience by actually physically getting involved transforms you from being a passive observer to being an active participant. You’re no longer watching for whales from a comfortable, removed spot, but rather you are invested in that environment. You will taste the salt in the air, smell the brine of the ocean, muscle your way through the waves and currents, feel the breeze on your face and the splash of cool water from your paddle, and truly be immersed in the experience.

Heading out to see whales in kayaks in Kodiak, Alaska.

3. Whale Watch from a Boat

Whether it is a small, private boat, a fishing charter, or an official whale watching tour, whale watching from a boat is the happy medium of those two options. You climb onboard a vessel, swaying in the waves, to embark on a journey to find whales. When you happen upon them, you are able to watch from a comfortable place but still experiencing the ocean with them, with the movements of the boat and the smells of the ocean breeze.

Things to Remember:

  1. Whales are wild animals.

They are protected by the Marine Mammal Protection Act, and it is important not to abuse them just to get a good look at them. Make sure to do your research, and go with a company who gives whales their respectful distance. Make sure that you’re obeying the federal regulations that protect these magnificent creatures.

  1. There is no guarantee.

Since they are wild animals, they are not always right where you want them to be at all times. That does not mean, however, that your trip to the ocean will be for naught. There are always plenty of other sea creatures to watch, and the allure of the ocean itself is enough to calm the heart and rejuvenate oneself from the chaos of daily life.

  1. Every day is different.

If your encounter with whales is not everything you dreamed it would be, give it a time or two more. If your heart is set on having a certain type of experience, such as seeing a majestic breach (when the whale catapults itself out of the water entirely, to come crashing down in a loud, wet finale), then you might have to dedicate a few days or more of persistent observation. Don’t give up, though, and enjoy each experience in its own right.

So go ahead and get out there! Find some rejuvenation in nature, and find some whales to watch.

I wish you “WHALE!”

 

Jerusha Turner is a 24-year-old whale enthusiast from the San Juan Islands, in Washington State. Jerusha has earned a BA in Sociology with degrees in Environmental Studies and Theology. Jerusha is currently pursuing an MDiv at Princeton Theological Seminary and teaching about care for the natural world and people whenever possible.  

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