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Sunday, 3 January 2010

"Ever seen a whale?"

I (and ORCA) believes that this is a question that should be asked of everyone. So, at dinner with a friend and ORCA colleague a few weeks ago the waitress was just putting our plastic through her machine when I did it, I asked the question:

"Ever seen a whale?"

"No…who's card is this?" It had obviously been a long night.

"Ever seen a dolphin?" There was a pause. She was either thinking very hard or thinking that the tip we had decided on didn't really justify us being able to ask such stupid questions. And if it did it certainly didn't justify an answer.

"Yes, I did once. But only from the shore. In the Canary Islands."

"How did you feel when you saw it?" I thought the look in her eyes said that she'd heard a few chat up lines in her time as a waitress but this was definitely the first time that dolphins had featured heavily. But I was wrong.

"Brilliant" was what she said. And she needed no more prompting. She told us that every time she's on a boat she's always looking out of the window in the hope that she might see a cetacean and described the disappointment when what she thinks is an animal turns out to be wave. "I even sit by the window in planes and look down into the sea, even though I know I won't see anything from that far up."

We all recognise that feeling. This person had only seen one cetacean in her life and yet felt an urgent need to see another one. It's that feeling of really wanting to see something in the ocean. We seem so desperate to share a space with these animals, to make some connection and to experience that brief rush when it shows itself above the margin of the waves and then is gone. Henry Beston called them "other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time" and we are, despite not being able to follow them, connected with them and that’s why we believe that if we can show people a whale they will want to help protect them.

But, of course, it's not just about cetaceans. It's also about being out there and experiencing what the ocean and the natural world have to offer us every time we step outside the door. The chances are that everyone has experienced the same elation when witnessing our planet's richness. So next time you get the chance, ask it, ask the question. "Ever seen a whale?"