Sea Creature Encounters

While I lived in California (two different times) I visited some of the marine parks that were nearby. As an animal lover, I wanted to get up close and personal with as many whales, dolphins, seals, sea otters, sea lions and walruses as I could.



There was a dolphin petting pool at one of these marine parks. It was there, for the first time, that I was able to touch and stroke a dolphin. Its leathery skin wasn’t what I was expecting, but its intelligence and gentle spirit were everything I was expecting.


I felt sorry that it was holed up in what had to feel like a tiny tank instead of the vast ocean from which it had come, and I told it so. I realized marine park visitors—including me—were the reason its exploiters had captured and brought it here, so I was just as guilty as they were. I’d paid the price to pet it, love on it, and feel bad about its circumstances.


The fact that I was working full-time to limit the indignities that humans inflict on other creatures didn’t make me feel a whole lot better, but I did want to get to know these creatures better in some way so I could resonate and fight even harder for their interests. It wasn’t an adequate excuse for my being there, but it was something I rationalized to make this implicit bargain palatable.


At this same park was a walrus grotto. It wasn’t a petting place. In fact, a large sign proclaimed, “No petting.”


I pressed my body up against the grotto’s cement siding and peered over. Less than an arm’s length away stood an enormous walrus.


I’d never been so close to a walrus. I could hear him breathing and see the fine mist that emanated from his nostrils with each exhale. I could see his individual “whiskers”, which were separated by what seemed to be enough space to insert a finger, straight down, between them.


The more I watched him, the more I wanted to touch him…and especially those whiskers. I figured they’d feel like toothpicks because they were so long and big around and pointed, but I just didn’t know.


Suddenly, I felt I just had to know what they felt like.


I told the walrus, “I’d love to touch your whiskers.”


He didn’t seem at all upset by the idea (not that he could understand a word I’d said, of course).


“May I?”


He didn’t move away. In fact, during the brief time I’d been standing there, he had come even closer to the wall that separated us.


I knew it was dangerous. I knew it was dead wrong, in fact. So I hesitated.


But then I decided I’d risk it. He seemed docile, friendly, willing, even encouraging.


So I reached out and touched his whisker. Yep, sure enough. Harder than a horse tail brush…


The walrus didn’t move. Didn’t make a sound.


So I inserted a pointer finger in between two of the whiskers and scratched the walrus’s muzzle.  He closed his eyes.


Oh my gosh, I thought. He’s loving this!


So I laid into the task a little more, with less hesitation.


Suddenly the walrus let out a hefty, solid grunt and opened his eyes.


I jerked back, guilt flooding every pore, and looked around.


No one had noticed, thank God!


I stopped there. I think the sound the walrus made was probably happy assent, but I knew I’d pushed my luck so I stopped.


But I will never, ever forget this stolen moment, this encounter with a wonderful walrus in a marine park that no longer exists.




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