Words and Photos by Zoe Hasenfratz
Picture this, you find yourself on a whale-watching tour. You are bobbing about on the water, having just discovered several humpback whales. Suddenly, you start to witness some acrobatic behavior: pectoral fins waving back and forth in the air, tails slapping the surface, and breaching. As you watch the whales propel themselves out of the water in what nearly resembles slow motion, you can not help but agree as one of the guests exclaims, “Look! The whales are putting on quite a show for us.”
In the wildlife viewing industry, we hear this phrase almost daily. And we agree that wildlife can sometimes resemble a show to the outside world. However, we must be careful not to attribute human emotions and characteristics to the natural world. Also known as anthropomorphism, we do this in order to better understand animal behavior in relation to ourselves. A whale may look like it is waving at us with its pectoral fins, or the eagles in the Northern Discovery Islands can resemble a show as hundreds of eagles swoop down from the sky to skim fish off the ocean surface. But, contrary to what it may seem, we are simply observing the comings and goings of wildlife in their daily fight for survival. They live and breathe, doing what they want, whenever they want, regardless of human presence.
Therefore, we are trying to redirect our wording. One of the reasons we do so is to move away from the notion that wildlife is here to entertain us. Some of our preconceived view and general understanding of certain marine mammals often comes from our recent history with whales in captivity. For quite some time, cetaceans were trained to participate in shows in which they would leap out of the water and do a variety of other sequences in exchange for treats. Understandably, we have learned that this situation is very detrimental to an animal’s well-being, and we have mostly moved away from this form of entertainment.
We strive to bring our guests out into the wilderness to observe the whales and wildlife in their natural habitats, as we believe that observing animals at a safe distance builds a sense of connection without negatively affecting them. Thus, this immersion and education often directly lead to additional marine mammal conservation efforts from the general public. For this reason, we hope to change the wording from ‘show’ to adjectives such as ‘frenzy’ or ‘phenomenon’ so that we can start changing the narratives surrounding wildlife.