I have forgotten to love the world that has shaped and crafted me.
I have always been drawn to the ocean. Its rolling tides, the gentle lulling rush of waves as they reach the shore, the faraway endless horizon, the biodiversity concealed just under the surface. Gulls and terns patrol the skies, shorebirds prod the sands, pelicans are sentinels on the docks. Dolphins frequent the currents, whales appear amid monotonous waves, seals rest placidly on the coast...
My first love were the cetaceans, and consequently, the sea. As a younger child I was enthralled by the mystic dolphins and mysterious whales, their sleek bodies and quick minds incomprehensibly fascinating. These peoples of the waters, the tribes of the oceans, grace the depths with consciousness unparalleled (I remain as passionate about them to this day).
The Mysticetes (baleen whales) are such beautiful citizens of Earth, their colossal bodies paired with striking physical and mental awareness. In the St. Lawrence river in Quebec, Canada I was gifted with the brief yet startling presence of a Minke whale ( Balaenoptera arctorostrata ) who appeared right beside the boat. Words fail to relate the divinity of this being and his grace. The encounter was too brief for a photograph yet lasted just long enough to capture a mental image of this tiny rorqual.
Off Cape May, New Jersey, far into the open Atlantic, a massive yet careful Humpback Whale ( Megaptera novaeangliae ) surfaced suddenly, just yards from the boat. Her great nostrils expelled old air and sucked in a new breath. Her tail was closest and it milled just under the surface, displacing such large amounts of water with the slightest movement. Her long wings of pectoral fins were visible through the waves and this was the most striking sight to me- being able to see this defining characteristic of her species, almost like a peek at something that was supposed to be hidden beneath the surface.
Bottlenose dolphins ( Tursiops truncatus )in the Banana River lagoon in Cocoa Beach, Florida, were so inquisitive and energetic as they sprinted round the small boat and the nearby docks. Youngsters leapt from the water alongside the raised tails and pectoral fins of their elders. Quickly, impossibly briefly, they surfaced and breathed and dove once again into the muddy lagoon. Small family associations were clear as the pod played about. They exuded a wonderful sense of togetherness.
Orca ( Orcinus orca ) in the San Juan Islands were another sort of magic entirely. This endangered population of about 90 individuals resides in the Salish Sea off Washington's coast. Studied intensely since the late 70s, they are recognized by their researchers as individuals with names and alphanumerical designations. Target of numerous conservation efforts and recipients of worldwide fanfare, the Southern Residents, as they are known, are a unique population of their species and rich in heritage and culture. Their matriarchal society is superbly defined with much-respected female leaders. Granny, or J2 as she is known to biologists, is estimated to be 100 years old. Recently deceased K-pod matriarchs Georgia K11 and Lummi K7 were thought to be in their 70's when they passed.
L Pod members L109, L25, and L77
Caspian Terns ( Sterna caspia ), the largest variety, I see often. Their rattling voices and strong wingbeats, their heavy scarlet bills and jet black caps...they are a sturdy but elegant bird.
Black Terns ( Chlidonias niger ) are zippy, their silvery wings flashing as their black bodies shoot through the skies over marshes and mudflats. They have a distinct buoyant flight that is joyful to watch. Royal Terns ( Sterna maxima )are larger and sport an orange bill and a scruffy black crown. In Florida on Cocoa Beach I saw these charismatic birds up close, and enjoyed their almost comedic character as they stood on short little legs.
Later I was able to visit a Least Tern nesting site where these state-endangered birds fed chicks on the light tan sand. Mated pairs rotated shifts of bringing tiny fish in for each other and their children, holding the food delicately in their pale orange bills.
Nesting alongside the Least Terns were Piping Plovers ( Charadrias melodus ), petite shorebirds widely thought of as some of the cutest. Their subtle sandy plumage and pastel slate facial markings combine with large, dark eyes to form an arguably adorable bird. They scurried about, pausing every so often, picking at the sand for prey.
Back in Cocoa Beach were Sanderlings ( Calidris alba ), little sandpipers with pleasing grey and white feathers and thin black bills. They chased the surf on three-toed feet, quickly darting stray droplets. With them a few Willets ( Catoptrophorus semipalmatus ) searched for fish. These larger shorebirds had similar colours but longer necks, bills, and legs. When startled, they lifted off on surprisingly marked wings- dark chocolate brown with white wingbars through the primaries and secondaries.
With such diversity and majesty, it is difficult to pinpoint my favourite aspect of the oceans. Yet with a little thought and soul searching, the answer is obvious: I am in constant awe and reverence of the pure magic of the seas. I find a kinship with the beings who inhabit the waters and a lullaby in the lapping waves. As I write these words I am brimming with passion and wonderment; as eloquent as I like to think I am, I simply cannot adequately express how deeply inspired and guided I am by the seas and their residents. I believe one of my favourite poets, e.e. cummings, has found already the words:
"whatever we lose, like a you or a me
it's always ourselves we find in the sea"
-e.e. cummings, 'maggie and milly and molly and may'