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  • Writer's pictureGena Martine Santoni

Not One Whale of a Good Time

My husband and I went on the most fabulous outing one beautiful, mild summer day in July. It was a whale watching cruise out of Dana Point. Two hours out on the amazingly clear, deep blue ocean in search of the largest creature to ever inhabit the earth, the Blue Whale. The seas were calm and the double hulled catamaran slowly rose and fell on the mellow waves with hypnotic rhythm. Although the sun was hot, the breezes were cool, and after a week of fairly hot temperatures it was a relief to inhale the clean, refreshing ocean air.

There were about forty or so passengers on board including many children, mostly under the age of ten. As you can imagine, they were very excited. For many, it seemed to be their first voyage out to sea. They explored the boat, the little toddlers repeatedly going up and down the few steep steps leading to the upper observation level on the bow of the boat, grabbing onto each other to hoist themselves up under the amused and watchful eyes of parents. Older children jabbered excitedly as they vied for what they had chosen as the best spot on deck. Everyone was in high spirits, anticipating our adventure.

As we pulled away from the dock, we took a spot on the bow railing and enjoyed the feeling of the wind streaming over us, the dark blue water sparkling below. As the boat sped up, a group of little boys beside us could not contain their excitement. They whooped and yelled to each other over the din of the engines and the wind in their ears. Their enthusiasm was charming and contagious. And after allowing a few moments of unbridled and unabashed outbursts, you might have expected their parents to say something like, “All right, kids, let’s take it down a notch,” which the father did. Unfortunately, to no effect. The little boys then proceeded to turn the boat ride into a live 3-D video shooting game complete with sound effects in which the boat was being attacked by outside forces. Very loudly.

You might have expected the parents to, oh, I don’t know, give it another try. “You need to keep your voices down, boys.” Or, perhaps, “Now’s not the time for that, kiddos. Let’s keep a weather-eye out for whales!” You might not have expected them to look on in a mixture of rueful amusement (dad) or outright grinning delight (mom) while the boys, who appeared to range in age from six to eight years old, in close quarters with all the other passengers, continued their shrieking game of shoot-em-up for the next twenty minutes.

You’re dying to know if I said anything, aren’t you? No, I didn’t. For one thing, I could tell it wouldn’t have done any good. For another thing, I was not Miss Martine at that moment, I was Mrs. Santoni. Besides, I wanted to see what would happen.

What happened was, we happened upon a pod of dolphins. A large pod. A huge pod. There were, the captain said, thousands of them, and I don’t doubt it. We sped into the midst of the pod and the dolphins rushed toward us from all sides to join the boat, sharply turning in front of us to swim in between the double hulls, a dozen or so at a time, while the rest (thousands of them!) jumped and spun, diving in front of us and on all sides as far as the eye could see. Well, that’s what it seemed like. Did we see whales on our trip? Not a one. Did we mind? Not a whit. It was the most amazing encounter with sea life I have ever experienced. The boys, of course, forgot all about their game.

What exquisite timing and grace dolphins have! With so many animals whizzing through - and out of - the water, and so much excitement generated by the appearance of the boat - which the dolphins clearly enjoyed (actually, they seemed to be showing off) - there wasn’t a single collision to be seen, not one mistake in the intricate dolphin dance. Such amazing awareness they had of the boat and of each other careening off in different directions, that even the babies (Yes, baby dolphins! Have you ever seen one? So cute. The smallest were about two feet long!) swam in perfect synchronization to their mothers, matching their speed, following them move for move like trained acrobatic jet pilots, zooming along as if they were, well, born to it.

And it occurred to me that despite all the excitement they were, well, much better behaved than those little boys.

Does this mean that dolphins make better mothers? I think not. After all, human children are infinitely more complicated than dolphins. And besides, there were plenty of other children on the boat who were calm and respectful. Who asked questions so quietly in spite of the din, that their parents had to bend down and ask them to repeat them. Who never pointed an imaginary gun at anything and screamed, “No, no, no! Don’t let ‘em get us! Aaaaagh! Shoot ‘em!!”. Who were a pleasure to be around and to share in this amazing experience.

Now, I know that little boys who are wound up and primed for adventure are a handful. Actually, they were quite cute and funny - at first. What really irked me (and believe me, I had a wonderful time, but you can understand how this might happen to me), what irked me was the parents. We don’t do our children a service by teaching them that they are the center of the universe and that all others around us are just for decoration. Of course, it does help if the parents realize this, too.

Awareness. Of our actions, of our words, of those around us. It must be practiced and emphasized or it just doesn’t sink in. We are not born with the same instinct for the awareness of our place in the world as baby dolphins. It is, therefore, our job as adults to consistently lead our children away from their natural self-absorption to outward awareness.

How do we impact the people we are with, the people near by and by extension, the world? Are we impulsive and careless or thoughtful and attentive? It is that attention to positive effort, the ability to control oneself and judge appropriate action that helps the individual to create a harmonious, impactful life.

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