Making the choice to have a good time

Guests enjoy a wildlife tour in Kodiak.

If you had asked me as a youth what I wanted to be, I would probably have said something about a biologist and working near the ocean.

Now, much closer to the end of my career I am that and more.

However, if you ask me today what I want to be, the answer is a lot more complicated because I no longer think that what I am is equivalent with what my job description is. Nonetheless, I am lucky in that most of the work I do aligns well with what I am.

One of my favorite summer jobs is wildlife guiding in Kodiak, which is, in my biased opinion, one of the best places.

Talking to people from around the world who travel here to see the wildlife and learn about it is like calibrating one’s self to why we are here and what is so special about here.

No two wildlife tours are the same, and this week was a perfect example of that.

On a sunny Thursday last week, I had a group of interested guests watching humpback whales swimming around and toward the boat, feeding, rolling, flapping their large pectoral fins and even showing off their throat grooves while swimming at the surface.

The whales would then raise a fluke out of the water and dive off for a few minutes, only to resurface with a big blow and repeat the show.

Among the clicking of the camera shutters, there was a friendly chatter of conversation about sunscreen application and the origin of hair follicles on a whale’s head.

Monday of this week, I had a group that booked the same tour, only their experience was very different.

A rainy morning soaked through coats and drove the cold under people’s clothing. A pair of sea otters provided some excellent picture opportunities near Kodiak harbor.

Only a few minutes later, the sea was so churned up that a worried look appeared on the faces of the first guests as the boat assumed a gentle rocking motion. When the fog settled in and the chop increased, I felt that I was losing the happy mood and laughing conversation of the group.

While at the beginning of the trip I was hard-pressed to answer all the questions, the rocking put some of my listeners to sleep, others on edge and one permanently outside staring fixedly at the horizon just to make sure that it stayed level. When we found a less choppy place for lunch, several guests opted out of eating the delicious sandwiches.

Of course, it is not the tour boat’s fault that the weather is Alaskan in nature, but it is my job to keep the guests happy.

However, I believe that being happy is, to a certain extent, a choice, and this week I prefaced our adventure with those words.

There are no bad days, just bad attitudes. Strong words that are mostly true — with exceptions. 

Whale sightings make happy guests and my job easy. Rain and chop make seasick guests, and my job gets more challenging. I bring out my show-and-tell box and talk about the history of Kodiak, the arrival of the Russian fur traders, sea otters and their decline and resurgence, the food web and the role of sea otters in it, and all the animals they like to chow down on.

Sometimes a guest points out that my show-and-tell box is labeled “4th grade unit.” Then I tell them that Kodiak has very advanced 4th graders, all of whom are way above average. It is, of course, true: It just depends on what you are averaging.

On this tour, there were a lot of good and deep conversations started by questions from concerned people who hear a lot about climate change and its effects on marine environments.

There were also questions about the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, and the status of environmental recovery.

I told them to remember that environmental conservation is an ongoing task that we are never expected to finish but are also never allowed to put down.

This is actually true for all worthy endeavors we get involved in.

Think about it: Climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and the loss of species all can add up to a depressing message, and I agree that environmental action is urgent.

However, the urgency is for our own sake, not the sake of nature, because we stand to lose what we care about, while nature simply changes.

Over 90% of the species that ever lived on the planet are extinct today. Every time a change in conditions has caused a mass extinction, a time of rapid evolution of new species followed.

So, while it is scary for us to think that we are living in a time of mass extinction that might be out of our control, nature will persist and re-create life.

Nature’s persistence is no excuse to treat this planet with the kind of disregard that is expressed by plastic refuse in the farthest depths of the ocean and on the most remote beaches of our beautiful state, or the oil sheens in harbors and on the sides of streets.

You would not poop on your living-room floor even if you were moving out of the house eventually. Why not? Because you have ethics and morals and things you care about.

It is essential that we fight for the rights to have the environment that we want to live in. I personally don’t want poop on my living room floor and I don’t want plastic on my favorite beaches. I also like to enjoy the amazing sight of whales feeding near my hometown. 

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