Call me Schmidt.
I have been going to the zoo my entire life. I have seen lions and tigers and bears. I have seen special exhibits of pandas and koalas. I have pushed through crowds to see a new gorilla exhibit. I have stood in the freezing cold to watch a special evening feeding of sea lions.
But nothing compares to seeing a whale.
I have been to the circus on numerous occasions. I have seen animals paraded around the ring, where I have seen them do tricks. I have sat in my seat and been in awe of the animals below.
But nothing compares to seeing a whale.
Now some of you reading this may have in fact seen a whale. Sea World is still open to the public, and whales can be seen for a little while longer in this environment. But you know that it is not the same, you know that a mammal that large cannot properly be housed in a concrete pool. You know that the whale is not truly at home in San Diego.
Nothing compares to seeing a whale.
I would venture to guess that most people have not seen a whale, and yet it is one of the most popular animals on the planet. While we have all seen video or postcards about whales, there is still an element of mystery to them because they are not kept at local zoos or aquariums. You can only see a whale in a couple of places, and none of those places are local for most people.
Which may explain what happened.
I just returned from an Alaskan cruise. It was amazing. The glaciers, the bald eagles, the mountains, the seeming untouched splendor of so much of the terrain.
But to be honest, if you have seen one glacier, you have seen them all. Bald eagles are cool, but you can see those in many national parks. Mountains and trees are neat, but when you get home and look at your pictures, can you tell them apart?
But the whale is different; nothing compares.
I’ll start on the cruise ship. We were resting about mid-morning, waiting for the next activity to begin, when all of a sudden we heard a man screaming, it sounded like a cry for help. We rushed onto the deck, and discovered that he was instead screaming ‘whale!’ There was a whale off in the distance, visible by his spray into the air.
On another occasion, we were again in our cabin, when there was an announcement over the loud speaker that there were whales spotted off the port side of the ship.
Then there was of course our excursion in Juneau, where we cruised around a bay and saw about a dozen whales. And while one would think you would get tired after 2 hours in a bumpy boat seeing whales, we all would have stayed out there another hour just for the chance to see one more.
And finally, while at dinner one night on the ship, with a window view, we saw whales once more. While for us it was quite different after seeing so many up close in the bay, the waiters and staff, who you would think this would be a regular occurrence, were each pressed against the window, trying to catch a glimpse of the elusive whale.
Each time a whale was seen, there was an instant buzz throughout the boat that nothing else could generate; not a bear on the beach we were passing by, not a glacier, not even big money at Bingo. You can find those things elsewhere, you can see them and do them any day of the week.
But a whale? Now you’re talking. Now you have captured the attention of the youth who are bored of eating and playing in the pool. Now you have drawn the eyes of the couple on their 4th Alaskan cruise. Now you have the undivided focus of the newlywed couple that is overwhelmed by everything around them.
Perhaps it is a result of the near extinction of whales; maybe it has more to do with the lack of whales in zoos and aquariums. But I would like to think it is the notion, that the whale is that one remaining creature on earth that, created by God, still mesmerizes us because we cannot contain it, we cannot hold it, we can only hope to catch a glimpse of it as we pass by in a few remote places.