Missing the Ocean through the Water
Yesterday I was fortunate enough to join much of the rest of the WDC staff, as well as my fellow interns on a trip aboard the Easterly. Since the whales (except Nile) were not coming up where the whale watch boats were, we had to go to where the whales were to get data. What we got was, as Regina called it, “a year’s worth of sightings in one day.”
Although it took us a while to discover them, we eventually found ourselves surrounded by whales, possibly as many as 40 individuals. Despite the fact I have been fortunate in my young career to have had some amazing experiences with marine wildlife, this trip quickly vaulted itself to the top of the list. It was a unique and humbling experience to look in any direction and see whales that acted as if they could have cared less about our presence. Indeed some even came right up to the boat, possibly out of pure curiosity about this new entity sharing their waters with them.
However, as much as the whales yesterday acted as if they did not need us, the fact of the matter is they do. For better or worse they will be forced to live with the consequences of our actions and our decisions. What we do today, may determine if generations from now our children get to marvel at the world of the whale as I got to yesterday.
This was the true value in me being on the boat yesterday, was to see whales as more than just discussion points in policy documents. So many people who work on law & policy issues for marine wildlife do not make the time to go see what it is they are discussing, what it is they are arguing about. To rephrase an old adage, they sometimes miss the ocean through the water. Both in my current policy internship with WDC, and hopefully in my future legal career advocating for marine wildlife, I sincerely hope I am never one of those people.
If one never leaves their desk, it becomes far too easy for these issues to become abstract in nature. When that happens you risk losing perspective. You can read and reprocess as many biological opinions, environmental impact statements, and endangered species recovery plans as you want, I guarantee none of them come close to capturing the aesthetic ambiance that I was fortunate enough to experience yesterday.
Since so many policy decisions are made by judges and officials who may have never seen these animals, that perspective is invaluable. Much of the work done on policy boils down to educating the decision makers about the issue. It becomes so much easier to do that if, rather than just reciting facts about these animals, you can refer to them with the same familiarity you would use for a friend. While I may never be able to identify these animals on sight, like many of the researchers in this office can, I will at least take solace in occasionally getting to visit the whale’s world, just often enough to make sure I can always see the ocean through the water.