Opinion

Human/whale encounters in the whale’s environment is nothing but positive for both species | Guest Column

By TOM AVERNA

In response to Monica Harrington's letter, "Supports Orca Relief," page 6, July 29 Journal:

Aug. 2, we were down around Salmon Bank where we came across L-25, Ocean Sun; and L-41, Mega. On the way to Salmon Bank, we stopped to look at harbor seals hauled out and watched a bald eagle soaring above the boat. We talked about and watched harbor porpoises feed in the tide rips at Cattle Pass.

While watching the whales forage, travel and rest, a young family came up to me and told me their oldest daughter’s name when translated from Spanish to English means "Ocean Sun." What are the odds? Here was an eight-year-old girl looking at an 81-year-old whale with the same name. She and her family had made a connection with this whale that will last a lifetime.

Human/whale encounters in the whale’s environment is nothing but positive for both species. The young family will go home and tell friends and family of their personal experience. They will adopt Ocean Sun and keep up with her life as if she was part of their family. All this from spending an hour in the life of a whale.

There have been thousands of heartwarming experiences I have witnessed over the 21 years I have been doing this. From cancer patients to school kids, seeing the whales in the wild is life -changing to some. We’ve given people from Europe, Iowa, Washington and all over the world the chance to see the whales in their environment. You see, Ms. Harrington, it’s all about education that will save these whales.

If you would try and suppress your anger toward what you perceive when you look out your waterfront window, you'd see that the people on these boats would never have the same opportunity as you to see these whales if it were not for responsible vessel-based whale-watching. People come off our boat with the feeling that the whales are theirs. Where else can we instill this kind of connection?

I have repeat guests who come year after year to see their whales. I get e-mails throughout the winter asking how the whales are doing, any new babies, how are Granny and Ruffles?

Orca Relief would better serve the orca if they would stop splitting hairs over what you perceive as a loophole in the whale-watching rules and stop distracting the public from the real issues these whales are facing that may cause their demise: salmon depletion and pollution of their environment.

Responsible vessel-based whale watching creates an educational platform like no other means. If you think I’m wrong and would like to find out for yourself, you are welcome to come along as my guest any time. I have made this offer to your group for years without any response, as if we are your enemy. We’re not, Ms. Harrington! We are a big part of this puzzle to save this species, and if removed would only satisfy folks like yourself.

— Tom Averna, of Deer Harbor Charters, is a founding member of the Pacific Whale Watch Association.

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