Hospital staff and patients had a “whale of a time” on Sept. 22. But first a little background on some of the key players in that very special afternoon.
Of course there’s our hospital Director, Jean, who kept most of the details a secret until the very last minute. Only a few of us knew what was planned, and we spent the week prior running from our other volunteers who, for some reason, seemed convinced Oprah Winfrey was coming. If only!
Next is Bonnie Monteleone, a Wilmington resident who is the Executive Director of Plastic Ocean Project (POP.) We’ve had a great relationship with Bonnie over the years and she is passionate in her mission “to educate through field research, implement progressive outreach initiatives, and incubate solutions to address the global plastic pollution problem, working with and for the next generation to create a more sustainable future.” POP recently moved to a larger location next to the UNCW campus and had their grand opening the day before their visit with us. We are appreciative that Bonnie, a talented artist, found time in her busy schedule several years ago to create one of the most interesting exhibits at our hospital – our “trash turtle.”
Captain Charlie Moore, author of “Plastic Ocean” was also on-hand to talk about his latest trip to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” that huge gyre of mostly plastic trash swirling in a clockwise current in the North Pacific Ocean between the U.S. West Coast and Asia. It keeps sucking in everything we throw out and grows bigger by the minute. Bottom line is, it’s bad, and getting worse.
Last but certainly not least was Garth Stevenson, double bassist and composer who in 2010 spent a month aboard the icebreaker, Ushuaia, where he played his double bass among seals, penguins, and icebergs in Antarctica while composing the score and acting in Scott Cohen's feature film, Red Knot. Also onboard was Roger Payne, the renowned whale researcher and first to record humpback whales in the 1960′s. Garth: “I spent a few weeks prior to the trip learning to adapt whale calls on my bass by playing along with Roger’s album, Songs Of The Humpback Whales. One evening, in the middle of a four-day open sea crossing between South Georgia and Antarctica, I gave a concert at sunset on the bow of our ship. I was improvising and creating layers with my loop pedal then started imitating whale calls on the bass. A few minutes later twelve sei whales came and swam next to our vessel!”
One of the things we’ve observed over our decades of interacting with sea turtles is that they appear to respond to music. We’ve been known to sing anything from Christmas carols, to Motown to Broadway show tunes to a turtle that’s having a bad day. Since sea turtles live in the ocean one might surmise that they would definitely respond to music that mimics whale sounds, right? Garth was very enthusiastic about the opportunity to play for our turtles and set up in the big house, Sea Turtle Bay. Of course “Snooki,” the queen of the room immediately assumed he was there for a private concert for her and kept doing laps in her tank trying to get a good look at the man with the bass who was generating those deep and familiar yet exotic sounds.
Our volunteers filled the floor of Sea Turtle Bay, scattering among the tanks full of our recovering patients. It was fascinating to watch the reaction of our turtles to the sound of Garth’s bass. Those standing near Kemp’s” Lennie’s” tank described her as “dancing” the entire time. Loggerhead “Monroe,” in a tank nearest to Garth stationed himself as close as possible to where he could soak up the “good vibrations.”
After over an hour in Sea Turtle Bay Garth moved his bass into Sick Bay where he played for the turtles who are still undergoing daily treatments. I’ve never seen a group of such well-behaved little greens, who were out of their tanks and being held by our staff. Greens are the first species to act up if they’re not getting their way but on Sunday they were obviously enchanted by the music.
Our thanks to Jean, Bonnie, Capt. Charlie and of course Garth for a magical afternoon of music and fellowship. Flipper hugs.
We continue on our fall tour schedule, open only on Thursdays and Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. This time of year the island is less crowded and visitors seem to be less concerned about rushing through their vacation. The tour takes about 45 minutes once inside the doors so plan your schedule accordingly as our turtles can get tired from all the swimming and smiling and tend to nap more as the day gets later. Hope you take time to visit as the weather cools and the lines aren’t quite as long. We’ll be open until mid-December before closing until spring 2020.
Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.