Emotion can tear into ocean writer's heart
WRITING about marine animals is a wonderful job, but sometimes the emotional part of it wears me out.
While browsing this week through my stack of marine-related clippings, one story broke my heart. The February issue of the Hawaii Audubon Society's newsletter Elepaio reported that U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service enforcement officers are seeking information about the shooting death of a Laysan albatross.
In magnificent Hawaii in January, someone in Kailua shot one of these gentle, protected, native birds with a 22-caliber pellet. People who found the dying albatross in Keolu Hills drove it to Sea Life Park for emergency treatment, but the injury was too severe. The bird died two days later.
I have held these magnificent seabirds in my arms, placed ID bands on their legs and even touched my lips to the tops of their silky-soft heads.
I wanted to lay my head on my desk and weep.
Then I turned the page, and there were our wedgies! The same publication reported the rescue at Black Point of 26 wedge-tailed shearwaters chicks after someone bulldozed their nests. Twenty-five of us took turns feeding those adorable orphaned babies twice a day for two months, and when they flew away in late November, it was cause for great celebration.
After reading this heartbreaking-turned-heartwarming story, I pictured our birds out there in the open ocean, skimming the waves, fishing and thriving. I felt much better.
Then I checked my e-mail and my day took another hit. A reader named Kent Atkinson wrote to tell me that my squid column last week was unscientific, dishonest, unfair to my readers, and that my comparisons of giant and colossal squid lengths was comparing apples and oranges.
Kent believes squid size should be reported by mantle length only because tentacles can be stretched. (The mantle is the body minus arms and tentacles.) I, however, think people want to know the length of these creatures' squirmy, suction-cup appendages, noting that those lengths depend on who's measuring what.
This is what I thought of Kent's letter: DELETE. Usually that's the end of it, but his tone bugged me and I grumbled all day about albatross killers and bio-snobs.
The next day when I downloaded my e-mails, a subject read "Architeuthis isn't passive." (Architeuthis is the giant squid.)
Done with downers, I prepared to DELETE. But wait. This letter, from Minnesota resident Ian Westray, was positive. Ian wrote his note in the spirit of sharing information about a family of marine animals we both admire.
Ian is a researcher of squid nerve cells and writes that because of his studies, he's become an enthusiast of all species of squid.
Judging from films Japanese researchers shot about a year ago, Ian tells me researchers have discarded the notion that giant squid are passive creatures. Like most other squid species, the giant is now thought to be an aggressive predator.
Ian also provided some details about vampire squid, jumbo squid and bioluminescent squid, all of which are so interesting they deserve their own columns.
Thank you, Ian, and you bird-loving wedgie-feeders for rescuing me from the dark side this week. You give me the energy to keep writing.