Field Notes: Longing For Silence
Submitted by Theresa Soley, naturalist for Gastineau Guiding
Longing for silence
Late this afternoon on the west side of Admiralty Island, after rounding Point Retreat, a large group of boats was hugging the shoreline. A dozen boats were gliding south, following a group of humpback whales. Twelve boats in one small area is heavy boat traffic, which forces captains to make tricky maneuvers behind the wheel.
And of course the whales also have to deal with this traffic jam.
My goal as a naturalist is to give the guests on my boat the most spectacular wilderness experience possible. I want people to feel a connection, and love, for this wild ecosystem. And I want my guests to take this love home with them. I hope that their experience will inspire environmentally friendly decisions after the return home, even to landlocked Oklahoma.
When there’s chaos on the water, loud engine noise and competition for the best spot, the powerful silence I wish to share with my guests is obscured. Rather everyone is in the sort of traffic on the water that they experience on the interstate in urban places. This is not the pristine ecosystem I wish to share, not the one that will inspire love for wild places and conservation of them.
When there are no other boats nearby, and ours can turn the engines off, my guests experience a sweet silence, shattered by whale blows. They experience flat silver water and snow covered mountains, salmon breaching and eagles calling. Today there was too much boat noise on the water to hear nature’s whisper.
It’s a tricky balance, sharing whales in order to inspire a love for their marine home, without disrupting the animal’s behaviors. If guests are returning home inspired and moved by the natural world, it’s worth it. If they’re not returning home with a desire to conserve pristine places, it’s not worth it for the whales being stalked.
Silence may be just as endangered, and powerful, as humpbacks themselves. In my opinion, boats should spread out, look further for wildlife, rather than crowd small spaces with heavy traffic.