Dolphin Fleet naturalist Dennis Minsky authored this great piece about the important role a whale watch naturalist has in inspiring passengers.
I am not here to talk of whales, but of people. I could talk about the passengers, but another time; I would dwell on the crew, each of which has a story: the captains, mates, videographers, and galley people; but I will for now speak of the one I know best- the naturalist.
The naturalist’s role is to keep a fix on the miracle, to find it, celebrate it, focus attention upon it, and put all else in the background.
Annie Dillard said something like: “The great hurrah about wildlife is that it exists at all; and the even greater hurrah is the actual moment of seeing it.”
The naturalist is there to say, simply, hurrah! He or she does this in the context of the everyday: the passengers three deep at the rail, the business aspect- three dollars for a bottle of water, because we can!- the plumes of brown diesel smoke coming from the stern of the boat, the rough seas and lousy weather, the dearth of whales, even.
The naturalist must overcome the drone of his or her own voice, the waxing and waning of enthusiasm and interest, the minutiae of data collection. The naturalist is like the high priest of whale watching, holding up the holy scroll on the way out of port, for all to behold. In the unwritten text of the presentation are embedded silver threads that can make the entire enterprise special. These may differ from passenger to passenger: perhaps the fact that humpback males actually sing, and sing the same songs, and change their songs year to year; the fact that dolphins have signature whistles, that is they have individual names for themselves; or that female pilot whales go through menopause, that is they have post-reproductive lives, because presumably they are important in their matrilineal societies….But this is not about whales, but people.
Bertrand Russell : “The world is full of magical things patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper.”
The naturalist, at his or her best, is a sharpener of wits including his or her own. The naturalist must be as a child, must bring a freshly minted wonder at what is happening around the boat-the fact that we are so privileged as to be able to go out to sea, to enter the kingdom of the whales (even if they are not home) and share it with them. Sometimes it happens.
Thoreau: “This curious world which we inhabit is more wonderful than it is convenient; more beautiful than it is useful; it is more to be admired than it is to be used.”
I would only substitute the word “love”: the world is to be loved. The naturalist reminds the passengers that we must love this imperfect world in order to save it.
And it starts with you.
Header photo: Dennis Minsky, (c)John Gullet