Monday, August 5, 2013

Animals as Friends, Animals as Wild Creatures

Monk seal at Sandy Beach (V. Eleganza)
A few weeks ago our loyal and good friend Joe Spike the Dog was suffering in his infirmities too much and I made the hard decision to say good-bye and having him euthanized.

Losing a good animal friend might have made me a bit more sensitive to animal news and encounters these last few weeks— and made me reflect on how we humans stand in relation to animals and to the wild.

There’s been a happy conclusion to the plight of an orphaned baby seal crying for a couple of days which prompted a shoreside resident to demand some kind of rescue effort. The NOAA Fisheries advised against any human “rescue” of a marine mammal and the baby seal ended up nursed by an adoptive mother.  (Seal pup finds a mother's love)

A notable exception to the “no rescue” rule was the rehabilitation of the orphan whale Springer and reuniting her with her Northern resident pod ten years ago. Last month, we learned that Springer gave birth, adding to Northern resident numbers. (Springer the orca is a new mom)

On the other hand, Luna, separated from the Southern resident L-pod seven years ago, was not “rescued” and died after being hit by a boat in Vancouver Island’s Nootka Sound. (Luna’s legacy of love and loss)

As a lover of animals of most kinds, I don’t think I’m much different from most folks who are moved by stories of animals in jeopardy and have an impulse to do something to help.

But unlike a dog who, for whatever reasons, may choose to live by my side and give to me what he will in exchange for what I may provide him, these are wild animals and our relationship to the wildness of animals is much more complicated.

We can “save” them by leaving them alone. Giant Pacific octopus will remain wild in the state’s Puget Sound marine reserves and not end up as sport or on anyone’s dinner plate.  (After diver kills octopus, new rules in Puget Sound)

But there are wild animals in our zoos and aquariums. There are wild orcas and other marine mammals who are trained to perform for our entertainment. Maybe we won’t be as entertained after seeing the movie, Blackfish and Tokitae will be set free--but really, there’s no accounting for taste. (Do Six-Ton Captives Dream of Freedom? ‘Blackfish,’ a Documentary, Looks Critically at SeaWorld)

In our wilds, there are now only 82 orca whales in our three Southern Resident pods (Where Are The Whales?) and, while NOAA Fisheries recently reaffirmed their distinct genetic status that justifies their protection under the Endangered Species Act, the requirement to effect the orca’s recovery by recovering salmon prey and reducing toxic contamination has not moved beyond the easier requirements of minimizing human contact. (Orcas still ‘endangered’ as next steps contemplated) As Fred Felleman once said, the point isn’t to list them as endangered but to recover the species.

While orcas and seals and sea lions have not been traditionally the fisherman’s friend, both now stand on the short side of the equation: no fish, no blackfish; no fish, no fishermen. On the other side of the equation: our civilization with its toxic chemicals, bulldozers and cement.

And bullets.

The recovery of the Hawaiian monk seal, described by NOAA Fisheries as “one of the rarest marine mammals in the world,” is especially complex and frustrating, as recounted in Jon Mooallem’s detailed New York Times Magazine article, “Who Would Kill a Monk Seal?”  The species is endangered, declining at a rate of about four percent annually and is down to about 1200 individuals. Those individuals who frequent the main Hawaiian islands encounter more human competitors for fish resources as well as non-traditional allies in their recovery.

The recovery of the honu, the Hawaiian green sea turtle, seems to be going much better and on Oahu’s North Shore’s Laniakea Beach there are often more folks on the beach looking than turtles resting and the real danger is the roadside traffic rather than endangering behavior.

We can get close but not touch the honu, respect the red tape set up around the resting monk seal, and establish 200-yard, no-go viewing zones around the orcas but we have a hard time doing real important things like reducing toxic pollutants and protecting and restoring critical habitats for their real recovery and survival.

They’re wild; they are not our friends and we are not their friends. We’re fellow creatures sharing with them a world, an ecosystem, of limited resources. And unfortunately we’re not doing a very good job of sharing.

--Mike Sato


  1. Very well stated, Mike. Thank you!

  2. Yep - we are sure all in it together. I think it is so important to believe that we are all part of the big NATURE experiment, rather than us humans watching/admiring/tinkering-with it from a different place. Thanks for the article.

  3. A comment received via email from Pat P.: "To our relief, our 12 year old yellow lab proved resilent this spring and defied the odds to survive a close call and postpone the inevitable for awhile longer. The impending loss was heartwrenching. And as you state, the emotion extends to the seal, the orca, the trapped cougar. Why? '...I believe... All animals have one soul. Over the land they love they crisscross forever.' William Stafford, Climbing Along the River."


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.