The unexpected debt I owe to a 14 year old from California.

My wife and I were fortunate enough to visit Maui earlier this year. We took a kayak/snorkel adventure with my son and his wife that turned into one of the great experiences of our lives.

As we prepped our kayaks, our guide noticed some humpback whales within half a kilometre of the shore. He hustled us out on the water before the other tour groups. We spent a few minutes alone with a humpback, her two week old calf, and a male whale before any other kayaks arrived.

We stayed at a respectful distance. Suddenly, the whales veered toward us, and our guide instructed us to pull our paddles out of the water. At one point the humpbacks came within fifteen feet of our tiny craft. 

If you ever need a reminder of how small you are in this world, this will do the trick. The power of the Pacific Ocean, coupled with being within a few metres of some of its largest inhabitants, was humbling. 

Humpback whales grow to 50+ feet and can weigh 40 tons. Our guide, Andres, was full of reverence for the ocean and the humpbacks. “I think they’re a lot smarter than we are,” he said of the whales. 

A few years ago, on a whale-watching boat, another guide told us the story of how a humpback protected a diver from a tiger shark.

When we got home from Maui, I remembered a bumper sticker that was popular in the 1970s: Save the Whales.

The slogan and the organization it evolved into were created in 1975 by 14-year-old Maris Sidenstecker in California. In 1977, with her mother’s help and guidance, Save the Whales became a non-profit and began spreading the word about marine conservation.

The non-profit achieved one of its greatest victories when it stopped the US Navy from conducting explosive testing in an environmentally sensitive area off California. Intended to test the resilience of ship hulls, the 270 planned explosions over five years would have had a catastrophic effect on the sea life.

Humpback whales can live more than 50 years. Some estimates go as high as 80 to 90 years. It’s a long shot, but the humpback whale we saw from our kayak might have been born the year Maris Sidenstecker started Save the Whales.

Maris and her mother still run Save the Whales. Maris’s full bio is fascinating. It contains sage advice that is relevant for young people today:

“One advisor told me I should switch my major because I was not strong in math. I switched my advisor instead. This advisor had no idea who I was or how much becoming a marine biologist meant to me. Follow your convictions.”

On behalf of my family, thank you Maris. Forty-six years after you started Save the Whales, we had a profound experience with one of the beneficiaries. Please accept our humble donation.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s