Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Look at All the Ships

Look at All the Ships

When Captain Kate Spencer, marine mammal spotter/teacher/advocate extraordinaire and Blue Theology partner, posted this screen shot from this week, she framed it this way:

“Have you ever thought about how many ships are moving right now? Moving our stuff: oil, grain, cars, toys, clothes, raw materials, livestock, deadstock, all the stuff that moves? Here's a screenshot just now. Go to this site ( and you can roll-over any of the ships and see what kind it is, and the names and details of some of them, where they're going, where they've been, where they're from. The pale orange arrows are fishing (look between Australia and Africa). The green ones are cargo (look at Singapore and Korea). The red ones are tankers (find the Arabian Gulf). Amazing. Incredible. The volume. The noise. The whales impaled. The pollution. The human beings at sea and away from families for most months of most years of their lives. The stuff we need. The stuff we don't need. Look. Keep looking.”

Captain Kate spends most days on Monterey Bay as one of two captains on Fastraft, a six-person, low, stable, quiet, rigid inflatable whale-watching boat.  (Most highly recommended.  She knows her marine science and her marine vessels.   

She got lots of interesting reactions and comments on this post: “Cool!”  “Too much!”  “I use this website to identify ships going by.”  “The number of ships will only increase with globalization.” 

One person wrote, “Kate Spencer – what products delivered by ships are you going to give up first?” 

She responded, in part, “That is a good question, which I will answer, though it also hints of an accusation. Our industrial complex is so heavily built that it is nearly impossible to live outside it, whether or not we like it, just as it is nearly impossible not to use cars. That does not make it off-limits to question a system we inherited, to critique it, and to work to change it. The fact that we did not make it perhaps makes it even more important that we question what we have inherited, lest we unwittingly benefit from the suffering of other humans and other beings simply because those before us were okay with causing suffering.

“My answer is wide-ranging. I have bicycled rather than driven a car most of my adult life, and have never purchased a new car. I shop used whenever possible. When I started reading the labels on foods more carefully, I started choosing those made in the US rather than imported.

“Of course I also use many imported things. It would be nearly impossible not to. I try to use plastic as little as possible and fish uncounted numbers of other people's discarded plastic balloons and bags out of the ocean. Hopefully that offsets some of what I do use.

“Am I perfect? Of course not. But I pay attention, I bear witness, and ask others to pay attention too.”

I said Captain Kate knows her marine science and marine vessels.  Her answer above tells me she knows her Blue Theology as well. (She sometimes gets free from the boat to be a naturalist for our Aquarium visits.)  Her style is what we try to do with youth and adults who come to our Monterey Bay church programs to learn more about ocean stewardship and ocean spirituality.  We say: Learn, think, feel, act, all on behalf of the ocean and all that lives in it.  Consider your actions and choices.  Bravely address difficult questions.  Progress not perfection.

Or as Kate puts it:  Look at the map, learn, pray for those folks who live and work on those ships, advocate for the vulnerable, like marine mammals navigating the same seas, consider how this information might inform your life style choices, and follow the call to care for all creation.  Pay attention, bear witness, keep looking.
________ for adult pilgrimages and youth service trips by the sea.  I post these “Tide-ings” every Wednesday here and on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


Camo Crab

I decorate myself so as to be noticed: “Cool shoes!” “Nice earrings!”  Decorator crabs do just the opposite.  Their goal is to blend in, to be unnoticed.

Sea otters love crabs for lunch.  (Actually one decorator crab is more like otter popcorn, since otters have to eat 15-20 lbs of food every day.  But tasty popcorn.)  We call them “decorator” crabs because of their talent at carefully attaching little bits of seaweed or sponge or anemone (or whatever they can find in their environment) to their back.  “Hey man, I’m just some seaweed, you don’t want to eat me.”  Unlike their cousins the pinching crabs, these fashionistas will not hurt you; hence they are popular in touch pools.

It’s fun to watch them find a piece of kelp, chew it a bit to make it rougher, and then affix it to their back, which has tiny hooked stiff bristles called setae that are like Velcro.  They work deliberately (one British scientist called them, admiringly, “industrious”) and are thrifty – when they have to shed their too small shell and grow a new exoskeleton, they will take a particularly fine piece of sponge and transfer it to their new shell, like moving a favorite pin to a new jacket. 

Describing to guests at the Aquarium why crabs do this, I say they are being good Californians, they are conserving energy.  If your method of survival is to run away, or fight, you have to consume more energy.  But if you lay low and blend in, you don’t need as much fuel.   Another life lesson we could learn from our crustacean cousins. 

We used to have a decorator crab exhibit that put them in with different colored yarn to make the point that they use whatever they can find near them for decoration.  We would change the yarn with the season (eg blue and white for Hanukkah, red and gold for the 49ers).  I think the Aquarium came to feel it was not scientific enough, but I thought it was sort of cute.

But cute is not really the point here.  It’s life and death.  “Decorator” is actually a misnomer, it’s not about looking good or even attracting a mate.  It’s surviving until tomorrow.  “Camouflage” is a better metaphor.  Sometimes I say it’s like a soldier putting plants in her helmet.  Kids actually get that image more readily than “decorating.”  

Despite all kinds of cute articles about “high fashion at low tide” and “best dressed animal in the sea,” it’s an otter-eat-crab ocean out there and crabs don’t want to be on either the menu or the runway.  Let’s call them camo-crabs.

Crab?  What crab?  All I see are, yes, beautiful sponges and anemones.  Hoping to live one more day.

Job 12:7 “But ask the animals what they think—let them teach you;
    let the birds tell you what’s going on.
Put your ear to the earth—learn the basics.
    Listen—the fish in the ocean will tell you their stories.”
Come for a service trip or pilgrimage to our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove and many cute decorator crabs will tell you their story.

Photo by NOAA’s fabulous Steve Lonhart:

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Paddle-Out With St. Jack

Paddle-Out With St. Jack

When a beloved surfer die, their community honors them with a “memorial paddle-out,” a wet and playful gathering of the clan. Never somber, the large human circle splashes, throws flowers, and whoops and hollers, celebrating together their dear one’s passion for dancing daringly on the sea.

One of the largest ever paddle-outs took place this past Sunday off Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz to honor Jack O’Neill, the Central Coast’s grandfather and godfather of surfing, who died last month at 94.  3000 surfers, in a circle a half a mile wide, along with thousands on the shore, remembered how O’Neill created one of the first wetsuits in the 50’s and went on to innovate and promote the best line of surf products and a passion for the surfing life.

But for all his commercial success O’Neill always said he was proudest of how he used that success to start O’Neill Sea Odyssey, an amazing education program that takes 4-6th graders on a 65-foot catamaran/sea lab out of Santa Cruz Harbor for free field trips to learn marine biology, navigation and coastal ecology.  Since 1996 over 100,000 kids, mostly low income, have learned not just science, but to love and care for the sea, thanks to Jack O’Neill.

I look at this picture and see Blue Theology in action, ocean stewardship and ocean spirituality bouncing and blessing a beloved ocean soul surfer.  Although I have body surfed, I can’t call myself a member of this amazing surfing community.  From shore I admire the courage and finesse of surfers.  I deeply appreciate their support of ocean conservation, especially through the fabulous Surfrider Foundation.

Surfers don’t stay at the surf-ace.  It’s not really a sport, but a way of being, an identity.  Some call it a religion or at least a spiritual discipline, soul surfers.  St. Jack and so many others take us on surfin’ safaris to new highs and depths.  Catch a wave…..

These Wednesday Blue Theology Tide-ings celebrate ocean stewardship and spirituality, here and on Facebook.  Come visit our Blue Theology Mission Station in Pacific Grove,  New project: a Santa Cruz area Blue Theology Pilgrimage Retreat Day, Saturday Oct. 21.  Be in touch.