Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hate Barbecue, Love Whales

My print zine had a regular feature called Rants and Raves where I complained about things that were annoying me of late and wrote accolades to things that I found wonderful and quirky. This is my first on-line installment of Rants and Raves.

Hate Barbecue - Rant
Yesterday I had the pleasure of a trip to the Huntington Botanical Gardens for work ( I went to give a short presentation on how invasive plants are wreaking havoc on national parks, and my park in particular. I was excited to get to go to the Huntington for work and the junket included a tour of the new Chinese Garden with the director of the Huntington and a free lunch to boot. I must admit that I was pretty darn excited about the free lunch. I have a hard time getting up in the morning lately, perhaps due to the fact that my extremely cute baby freaking wakes me up every 2 hours, or one hour, or 30 minutes, all night long. I can't motivate to make my lunch the night before or, even worse, I fall asleep at 7:30 while putting the aforementioned baby to bed. Either way, I've had trouble with the whole lunch thing recently. So when I learned that I got to go to the Huntington, get a garden tour, and a free lunch to boot, I thought, "hot diggity dog, tomorrow is going to be a good day!!" Little did I know that the free lunch was going to be...barbecue.

Let me just say, that as a vegetarian, barbecue pretty much sucks. I like veggie burgers and tofu dogs as much as the next person, perhaps more. In fact I use tofu dogs as a litmus test of places I would be willing to move to: if it has tofu dogs in at least one of its grocery stores, then I could move there. But to be honest, I like my veggie burgers fried on the griddle with olive oil. And I like my tofu dogs with chili. I find both of them to be average at best when grilled. Yes, there are yummy portabello mushrooms grilled but they don't contain much protein and I need my protein! I'm not a big fan of cooked vegetables and that lack of enthusiasm extends to most grilled vegetables. So overall, barbecue is not my cup of tea. And recently, I have been to at least three functions (two of them National Park Service functions that you would think could at least give a nod to the groovy vegetarians among us) that were freaking barbecues. I've had it with barbecues. ENOUGH BARBECUE ALREADY!!

And there is more freaking barbecue to come. In May at our 24 hour species inventory called the BioBlitz (see for more info. on the BioBlitz), the free celebratory dinner for all of us scientists is, you guessed it, barbecue. Come on people, this is California for goodness sakes. Can't we do a little better in the culinary arena than barbecue???

Love Whales - Rave
When I was an undergraduate at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington (an awesome school by the way), I had two friends who studied whales, April Randle and Kristin Rasmussen (awesome people by the way). And I used to give them loads of crap for being so cliche and studying whales. Who doesn't want to study whales? In fact people used to ask me if I was a biologist, why didn't I try to talk to dolphins (of course if you're a biologist, you should talk to dolphins). Anyway, one night at a party Kristin and April got me to look at this cool book of whales, and I think at one point we might have seen a whale exhibit, and eventually I admitted that perhaps there was something to this whole whale love thing. They are pretty freaking cool. This may be one instance why something is popular for a good reason.

Then after moving to Ventura, I've gotten to see dolphins, both small and large groups, swimming in the ocean at different times. And they are so awesome that it makes me all teary-eyed just to see them. They seem so darned happy.

So yesterday, as I was driving back from my barbecue at the Huntington, I heard this great story on NPR on the show The World, about how this dolphin helped rescue two beached pygmy sperm whales that had beached themselves in New Zealand. It was the coolest story. People had been trying to get the whales to go back into the water and swim a narrow channel back out to the ocean for hours but they were having absolutely no success. The whales were determined to stay mired in the sand. The volunteers had pretty much given up and were getting ready to euthanize the two whales because they would die soon by being crushed by the weight of their own organs after being out of water so long.

Then along came this dolphin that people had seen swimming along the beach on several previous occasions. This dolphin was known for playing with people and being very inquisitive. The dolphin swims up and it starts talking to the whales. Obviously the people couldn't understand what the dolphin was saying but the whales were talking back and all of a sudden the whales had a complete change of attitude. They moved off the sand with the help of the people and followed the dolphin through this tricky narrow channel and out to sea!!!

They have patrolled the beaches for the last several days and the whales are gone, successfully rescued and swimming happily in some other part of the ocean. The dolphin, however, has been back to the beach several times to hang out. The main volunteer (a biologist who studies whales - as all good biologists should), actually went into the water and gave the dolphin a pat on the back. Hear the story from PRI here More on pygmy sperm whales here

What an excellent story. I just had to pass it along. Of course it made me cry. Those whales and dolphins, they sure do kick butt. Who wouldn't want to study them?

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