Shoreline Education for Awareness (SEA) volunteers are a privileged group of people. We are taught by wildlife experts about the lives and behaviors of a wide range of shoreline creatures – from birds and pinnipeds to whales and tide pool creatures. Then, we observe and verify; we watch mating rituals and nesting habits; see newborns cared for by devoted parents; and rejoice when the young go off on their own.
Yesterday my partner, Susan, and I were doing our shift at Simpson Reef watching pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) through our telescopes. If you’ve been to Simpson Reef with one of our volunteers, you know that these pinnipeds that are pulled out on Shell Island and the surrounding rocks are not doing much performing for the adoring crowds. Mostly, they’re lying around, sleeping or climbing over each other. If we are lucky, we get to watch one or two climb up on a rock island for some “alone time.” For nearly 4 hours there is not much activity for visitors to see.
And then, boom!! Something happens and the whole herd of sea lions (California and Stellar), as if in one well-rehearsed dance, react to something in the water that sends part of the herd scurrying away while another section in unison heads in the direction of the intrusion. It was puzzling and exciting at the same time. What made them do this? We’ll never know, but our “time served” paid off in an instant.
It reminded me once again that “hanging out” with pinnipeds, as with birds, takes patience and perseverance. And to those who endure the waiting, some wondrous scenes play out before our eyes and we go home glowing from what we’ve seen this day. What a privilege!!
Perhaps just as much of a privilege is our getting to share what we know and what we see with thousands of people visiting our cliffside perches in Bandon and Charleston. Yesterday we interacted with folk from as far away as Germany and as close as Coos Bay. Many of the 167 visitors that day have never had a chance to view marine life in its natural habitat. Both young and old were genuinely thrilled to see our pinniped friends and left the reef with a mental (as well as photographic) image of sea life that is strange and wondrous to them. And to us, seeing their response to the discovery of marine life was as much of a joy as viewing these fascinating creatures through our scopes.