Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy Spring Break!

 It's Spring Break time and I'm heading to Fort Lauderdale for a few days and then on to the Virgin Islands next week where I can't wait to swim again at my favorite beach, Trunk Bay on St. John. Happy Spring everybody!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Whale Shakti

Shakti: Hindu word for force, power, energy
Photo K.Stanley Silver Bank
A few years ago I found myself floating in the Caribbean Sea above a resting humpback whale. Suspended in the water with its head down, tail up and fins stretched out wide, the whale looked like a giant sleeping sea angel a mere thirty feet below me. This was the ultimate in whale watching.

The whales had been coming to me for months. One time they appeared to be behind glass like in a giant aquarium of rough ocean water. Swimming desperately to get out, they reminded me of how trapped I was feeling then in my job – locked up in a cubicle on the twentieth floor of a downtown office building, behind glass, longing to be free – like the whales in my dream. In the dream, I was desperately following the whales behind glass, wanting to set them free with no idea of how to do it.

In another dream, a whale appeared to be like a man, walking up out of the water and onto a beach where he approached me. I could not make sense of the image, but it stayed with me. He seemed like a wise person, this whale-man.

I loved being in the wild. I had traveled to Africa on safari a couple of times and it re-awakened the deep longing I had as a small child to be a veterinarian. Schooling, life, and growing up interfered and the dream had long ago been forgotten until Africa intervened, and my heart felt a new freedom – with the animals, in their wild places. On the wide savannah plains there was no interference – no external noise from the burdens of cities and overpopulation. There were only wildebeests for brethren, gazelles for sisters and elephants for friends. Only the cheetah and the leopard brought news of the day.

Sitting in the dry desert-like Olduvai Gorge, I felt charged with the life force of this ancient human ancestral homeland. I felt a chain of connection with the hominid ancestors who lived there two million years ago. This was where we stood up and walked and from where we went out and populated the earth.

Africa brought home to me the knowledge that even in the midst of our despairing ecological fragility, we can still find the qualities of Eden to sustain us. I saw how blessed it is that there are still two million wildebeests who embark on their yearly migration in the Serengeti. There are still some places that remain untouched from bulldozers, cranes and buildings. I was humbled with the realization that I had never before experienced such a quality of being and connection. I had been so caught up in the post-modern world, with our 24/7 lives running nonstop. In Africa all that seemed so far away and so acutely unimportant.

Africa was a great ashram, the animals my gurus. In the Serengeti I had come as close as I had ever been to experiencing the Oneness. The place where all boundaries dissolve, where my heart opened wider than it ever had before, and where I felt truly free. In the presence of lions, rhinos and giraffes, I realized that somehow I felt like I belonged. That my true dharma involved them, doing what I could to protect them, to preserve their wild spaces.

* * * * *

After two trips to Africa the high carried me through the days in the cubicle for a while. I wanted to break free, but I needed to support myself. The ‘golden handcuff’ syndrome plagued me. The job paid for my travels to the wild but also kept me enslaved behind glass walls.

I had read about these trips to the Silver Bank off the coast of the Dominican Republic where you could swim with whales and dolphins in the wild, but I hesitated. It would not be an easy trip and I was not sure about the ethics of being in the water with whales. It was a controversial activity that some marine conservationists frowned on. The dreams continued and then one day, a girlfriend called and told me she had a dream about me: “You were swimming in the water with whales with a bunch of other people. Isn’t that weird?” she said. “Why would I dream that about you?” Humbled by this strange synchronicity, I booked the trip.

* * * * * *

The Silver Bank was a calm oasis of a thousand square miles. The reef was no deeper than sixty feet, allowing for mostly smooth seas. Apart from the haunting sight of the rusted out wreck of a Greek ship near to where the captain anchored the boat, there was nothing else around except open ocean and whales. A festival of whales. All you had to do was sit on the deck of the boat and watch the sea. A blow of steam coming up out of the water was the first signal that whales were out there. The first afternoon we saw dozens of them. Some with babies, some breaching in tandem, spyhopping, lobbing their tails and slapping their fins.

We were out on the reef in the zodiac one morning when a pod of small dolphins started riding the bow. The captain stopped the zodiac and several of us jumped in the water. One dolphin started to circle me – he went around and around, clicking and chattering away at me and I tried to follow his movements. I relaxed and surrendered, allowing myself to just feel like a dolphin, matching his movements up and down in the water, spinning around and around. Never before had I ever felt this level of joy and freedom in my body. The dolphins played with us for a few minutes and then they were gone. I wanted to follow but they were too fast for me.

Wednesday morning we were out on the reef about two miles from the big boat when we came close to two whales that were breaching. The crew member driving the zodiac decided we should hang around in that area and just sit and idle. He thought they were going to surface again close to us. I felt a little tightening in my throat as he stopped the boat. If we were too close, they could breach on top of us. Then we would all be a footnote in some newspaper: Seven tourists killed by breaching whales off the coast of the Dominican Republic.

This trip had been about letting go of fear for me. I was afraid of leaving my job, giving myself over to my passions – just as I had hesitated about coming on this trip. I sat still on the side of the zodiac and readied my disposable underwater camera in case I could get a good picture.

I thought about what it had felt like to be out here for days, in this universe of the humpback whales. Their haunting songs that we heard with underwater microphones enchanted us. We had floated in the water near them. Felt touched to see their curious babies. Watched their courtship dances, laughed at all of their funny tail slapping, and fin slapping activities. We had seen males ramming each other in dominance displays and smelt their stinky strong breath as they exhaled shooting sprays of water and air from their blowholes.

The zodiac bobbed up and down and the sun was relentless. We sat in silence and waited, not knowing where the whales would surface next. I hoped that they had swum off, that they weren’t disturbed by us. We didn’t really belong out here, in their wild place (see The Paradox of Whale Watching).

Then, as if to show us who was boss, a gigantic whale soared out of the water like an enormous torpedo and landed with a huge crash that violently rocked the little zodiac. He was maybe twenty yards from us. A huge tsunami-like wave rose up in his wake. Then he was gone.

We were soaked by the wave, but safe. We went back to the big boat and I crawled into the top bunk. I lay down, feeling like my body had received some kind of electrical jolt from that powerful whale shakti. I felt shattered, yet peaceful. Like I was plugged in to a feeling of vastness inside.

The rest of the trip, I spent quietly. I was not interested in going back in the water with the whales. I was just happy to watch them from the deck of the big boat. On our way out of the Silver Bank, two whales breached in tandem, over and over again.

* * * * *
Since that trip to be with the whales, the cages around my life fell away. The job in the cubicle disappeared without any effort on my part and I moved across the continent. I am still in transition towards a new path that will sustain me. But when the noise from civilization becomes too deafening, or when my fears about following my dreams cast doubts, I retreat to the coast and the wild places. I call on the peacefulness of the Africa ashram, the freedom of being like a dolphin in the water, and the blessing of receiving that whale shakti. Copyright © Kathy Stanley
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Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Caribbean Literary Salon

Visit Caribbean Literary Salon

The following press release on the newly launched Caribbean Literary Salon was posted on the blogs of Geoffrey Philp and Caribbean Book Blog:

A new online community designed for fans of West Indian literature aims to leverage Caribbean commonality across the power of the internet to create a networking tool that will strengthen bonds between readers, writers, publishers and book clubs in the Caribbean and its Diaspora. Caribbean Literary Salon which was launched on March 1st 2010 by freelance writer Anouska Kock, connects literary enthusiasts to not only their peers, but also to news feeds and event information.

“The Caribbean Literary Salon’s design is driven by the needs of Caribbean readers like myself,” says Anouska Kock. “I have noticed a high interest in networking among book lovers from our region, but existing platforms don’t fully address their most important need: information and tools that are specifically geared to connecting, discussing and sharing. The Caribbean Literary Salon hopes to fill that void.”

Built as a Ning Network, The Caribbean Literary Salon offers a tailored networking environment for those interested in Caribbean literature and poetry. It allows members to discuss the West Indian literary field, share stories, news, insights, connect and make fiends. Members of the Caribbean Literary Salon can also upload books, add photos and post videos. Each member gets a personal profile page to share personal information and make friends with other members.

For more information, visit

Monday, March 1, 2010

Stop Swim-with-Captive-Dolphin Programs in Jamaica, Mexico and worldwide

While Seaworld has announced that they will be continuing the killer whale shows, despite the tragedy of last week and despite compelling evidence that keeping whales in captivity is cruel and immoral, the Born Free Foundation  offered more compelling evidence on their blog about why these shows need to be stopped and why "Swim-with-dolphins" programs should be ended. These programs are offered as tourist attractions in Jamaica, Mexico and other holiday destinations. People who patronize these places do not seem to realize the harm that these facilities cause to the dolphins, and the potential for visitors and dolphins being hurt. From the Born Free Foundation reporting on this:

“Although we are sorry for the tragic loss suffered by the family of Dawn Brancheau, the Born Free Foundation is not surprised that yet another ‘accident’ has occurred at a captive dolphin facility,” explained Adam Roberts, Exec Vice President of Born Free USA. “These are wild animals, highly unpredictable, and people should not be swimming-with, or having direct contact with dolphins or any other wild animal. Born Free campaigns tirelessly to raise awareness of the dangers involving direct interaction with wild animals and we continue to call for an end of the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity.”

Despite the obvious risks of injury or worse, people are still being encouraged to swim-with and interact with dolphins and other marine mammals. Swimming with dolphins in a captive environment has become a global business for tour operators that sell “once in a lifetime opportunities”. The physical risks involved are frequently ignored and what precautions are taken often focus on reducing the transmission of disease between the animals and the public.

“The Born Free Foundation strongly urges that people do not swim with marine mammals, such as dolphins,” stated Daniel Turner from the Born Free Foundation. “Science has confirmed that in captivity, dolphins and whales suffer from high mortality rates, low breeding success and may endure physical and psychological disorders. There is no justification for the capture, trade and display of these wild mammals.”

More reasons why dolphin interactions should stop:

2009 (Loro Parque, Tenerife) - Trainer died (drowned) from accident with killer whale.

2008 (Curacao, Mexico) - A dolphin fell on the head of tourists during a swim-with experience

2007 (Loro Parque. Tenerife) - Orca hit a female trainer with its mighty fin by accident. She broke an arm in the process. It is said that the orca brought her up to the surface after the incident.

Nov 2006 (Seaworld, San Diego) – Killer whale dragged a trainer underwater during a show at SeaWorld, San Deigo, breaking his foot.

2006 (Sea World Florida) - A boy bitten by a dolphin during a ‘petting’ session

2004 Sea World, SAN ANTONIO -- A killer whale performance at SeaWorld came to an abrupt end Friday when one of the giant marine mammals slammed his trainer underwater repeatedly (apparently nobody was injured)
Related Articles:
The Paradox of Whale Watching
Stop Whale Captivity