Sunday, December 7, 2008

Missive from the beach

Every few years KLK and I treat ourselves to a date with Tropical Nature. As much as we love the mountains, especially the American Mountain West (though we have other beloved mountain ranges, such as the Canadian Rockies and the Swiss Alps), this week we left snowy, frigid Chicago and came to one of our warm, watery favorites, Sanibel Island, Florida. Sanibel has lots for people like us to love: it's only a couple of hours by air from Chicago, before Christmas break hits the fan it's very quiet (and lodging and car rental prices are excellent), and at least 50% of the land mass (which changes daily, as is usual with small barrier islands) is nature preserve. It's famous for its beautiful shell-covered beaches, nesting loggerhead and green sea turtles, exceptionally abundant sea life and the creatures that attracts, such as alligators, myriad sea birds, kingfishers, roseate spoonbills, ospreys, bald eagles, plovers and turnstones, and most largely and notably, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins.
I first visited this area, along the west coast of Florida, perhaps 15 years ago, when my mother and I came exploring. We stayed in a cheap fifth-floor hotel room with kitchenette on Fort Myers beach that had a big balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico where we sat each morning drinking our coffee, looking over the gulf. All of a sudden one morning there was a disturbance in the distance: hundreds of wheeling, diving gulls and immense splashing in the otherwise rhythmically undulating water. We grabbed the binoculars and there they were: a large pod of dolphins leaping and splashing and rolling in the gentle waves, happily filling their bellies with some unfortunate school of fish. I remember thinking at the time, "this is why some people so strenuously object to keeping wild animals in aquariums and zoos," really understanding for the first time the wonder and beauty of seeing truly wild dolphins. Until then I had subscribed 100 percent to the point of view that animals in zoos lead (or can lead) very good lives, with a steady food supply and freedom from many diseases and the predators they would surely encounter in the wild. I still believe that is true (excluding the thousands of crummy zoos and dirty marine parks around the world that have no business "caring" for wildlife). But that morning I came to see a crack in that dyke. At this point in my life I still am not opposed to keeping small numbers of wild creatures in zoos and aquariums, in particular because I am strongly in favor of research, public education, and the preservation and breeding of endangered animals, among the more important things do. But seeing those dolphins in their own habitat, doing what dolphins do, so abundantly exercising their "free will" opened my eyes to the ambiguities of capturing and keeping wild animals for whatever benefit.
Early this morning I took my freshly made coffee and walked through the dewy landscape of our rented condo complex Sanibel Island (that overlooks more or less the same corner of the gulf as Fort Myers Beach, but from a different angle) to where the grass meets beach and sure enough, there not too many hundred yards from shore, I saw dolphins cavorting at the surface. Though our oceans may be in danger, for now the wild Sanibel dolphins are holding their own.

No comments:

Post a Comment