February 20, 2013
It's not many interviews that make me tear up.
Fewer still make it happen more than once.
But such was case when I met with whale photographer Bryant Austin at the rural estate he care-takes in Carmel Valley's Preserve community.
And it wasn't the Earth-moving stories of mama humpbacks tapping him on the shoulder that made me misty, or the heart-breaking news that the 60,000 container ships currently on the seas plow through dozens of whales every year.
It was the images in his spellbinding Beautiful Whale book.
Particularly the eyes, windows into minds that have evolved over millions more years than ours.
And the picture of a tiny Japanese girl with her hand subconsciously resting on Austin's knee because she was so wholly captivated by the life-size whale photo in front of her (see above).
These were tears of amazement and delight. But they couldn't free me from the overall weight of his work. Austin is trying to connect people with the scale and beauty and power of these creatures because we are killing them.
Surprisingly enough, it's not whalers that are doing most of the damage.
"It's lifestyle choices," Austin says.
Thousands more cetaceans are killed because of by-catch, itself the result of irresponsible fishing, or drown after getting entangled in fishing line.
Meanwhile, single-use disposable plastics are invading the oceanic ecosystem. Coal fired power plants are changing the oceans' pH and making it more acidic, threatening tiny organisms with exoskeletons like krill that whales depend on for sustenance.
So what do we do?
It can be a simple as turning your lights off. Avoiding single-use plastic. Buying local.
"Whenever you can," Austin says. "If it's not shipped from another country, it does have an effect."
He says not only do the carrier ships slam into whales at an alarming rate, but also emit a ton of warming gases.
While Austin mainly abstains from seafood, he does enjoy tilapia, which is usually farmed in tanks.
There are other wise seafood choices to be made. Fortunately Seafood Watch works its tail fin off to curate the best seafood choices for our oceans. A list of the local partners appears below. (And fortunately Oceana, The Center for Biological Diversity and SeaTurtles.org are pressing the National Marine Fisheries Service for authorizing California’s drift gillnet fishery, as we reported earlier this winter.)
Basil Seasonal Dining, Carmel
The C Restaurant and Bar at the Clement Hotel, Monterey Cafe Fina, Monterey Courtside Cafe at the Chamisal Country Club, Salinas Crabby Jim's, Monterey
Domenico's On The Wharf, Monterey Esteban Restaurant at the Casa Munras Hotel, Monterey The Fish Hopper Restaurant, Monterey Hula's Island Grill and Tiki Room, Monterey Jacks Restaurant & Lounge at the Portola Hotel and Spa, Monterey Knuckles Sports Bar at the Hyatt Regency, Monterey Monterey Bay Aquarium Cafe & Restaurant, Monterey Montrio Bistro, Monterey Old Fisherman's Grotto, Monterey Otter Bay Restaurant and Catering at CSUMB, Seaside Pacifica Cafe and Bar at the Embassy Suites Monterey, Seaside Passionfish, Pacific Grove Peter B's Brewpub at the Portola Hotel and Spa, Monterey Point Pinos Grill, Pacific Grove The Restaurant at Ventana, Big Sur The Sardine Factory, Monterey Schooner's Coastal Kitchen & Bar, Monterey Terry's Restaurant and Lounge at the Cypress Inn, Carmel TusCA Restaurant at the Hyatt Regency, Monterey