Ocean Watch

Susan Scott

Hidden gems make
e-mail worth reading

I sometimes procrastinate about reading my e-mail because I have to wade through so much junk. But sometimes I find gems buried in there. Here are several.

An online sailing newsletter reported that several people recently sailed their catamaran through the southern Pacific Ocean. During the trip someone opened a gift and discovered a 6-foot-tall, inflatable emperor penguin.

The crew had a hilarious time trying to inflate the toy aboard their speeding catamaran in those rough seas. Finally, they tied the penguin up front on the trampoline.

A few hours later, six orcas appeared abreast of the boat, which was flying along at 17 knots. The killer whales kept pace easily, and as they drew closer to the vessel, the joke turned serious. The uneasy crew deflated the plastic penguin and hid it from sight. The orcas disappeared.

Emperor penguins are the largest of all penguins, but the biggest ones stand only about 4 feet tall. For those orcas, that big, fat penguin must have been a dream come true.

Orcas and humans often interact in a more controlled environment. Larry, a retired heavy equipment operator from Kansas, wrote me about his experience with a killer whale at Florida's Sea World. He enrolled in an animal-interaction program during which people work with trainers. It was one of the best days of his life.

"Being from Kansas, my ocean experiences are limited to dreams. When the chance came to get close to killer whales, I left the golf clubs at home and spent all my time at Sea World. I got to scratch the bellybutton of an orca. Not too many people can say that."

Larry's next dream is to kayak with orcas in the San Juan Islands. This will be a big deal, he writes, because he has never seen the ocean.

After that touching letter came another. A 43-year-old local boy (his words) wrote to compliment me on my "enjoyable, smooth, flowing, easy-to-read writing style." Wow. It doesn't get better than that.

I thanked him sincerely and attached a favorite Robert Louis Stevenson line: "To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labor." (From "El Dorado," 1881)

My reader wrote back, "I can't quite put my finger on the 'El Dorado' quote."

I explained that the quote is a good one for writers, since many of our words never see the light of day. We should remember that the reward is not in the publishing, but in the process.

"Thank you for clarifying," the man replied. "It has become a new inspiration to me. Now I may not only write, but also live freely as a songbird released into nature with the clear peal of liberty's bell proclaiming this newfound freedom of my labor's validation.

"That may sound corny, but it's my best effort at trying to convey the emotion of what that quote made me feel. I have no writing education except for what I learned in grade school."

Corny? No. "Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say," wrote author Brenda Ueland. I agree.

Letters like these refresh and inspire me. And so does traveling. In a few days I'm off to Morocco, where I will look for purple-dye murex snails, ride a camel on the beach and find out why Moorish idols are called Moorish idols.

I look forward to checking my e-mail when I return.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Marine science writer Susan Scott can be reached at


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