(Video starts) Peggy Oki: Oh my God!
Captain Andy: It’s a whale (Video ends)
That was me in the background saying, “Oh my God!” while I was visiting with some humpback whale researchers in Alaska. The guy on the deck shouting, “It’s a whale!” that’s captain Andy, who happens to be a humpback whale researcher with quite some enthusiasm even after seeing hundreds of humpback whales. And I’ve had a large number of encounters with dolphins and whales myself, and I still feel very excited when I see them. I’m just inspired by the graceful movement of a 100-to-150-ton whale, seeming to be moving so effortlessly through its fluid movement in the ocean. And I’d emulate that style – that’s just graceful, I love that graceful movement – in the things that I try to do in my surfing and skateboarding.
Over 40 years ago, I was the only female member of the famous Zephyr skateboard team, featured in Dogtown and Z-boys. We were known to live a little bit outside the box, be a bit rebellious. While lots of kids were trying to figure out how to stay out of school, we were getting into them to skate the banks, and getting in to skate the pools, which led to our surfing style that was our trademark: vertical skateboarding, that led to what you see in today’s X Games. And of course, I still love surfing that I’ve been doing for over 40 years.
The action of surfing waves; but also, I get a lot from just the thousands of hours I’ve spent sitting on my board waiting for waves in between that time, of just having the rhythms of the ocean beneath me, and encounters with sea life and seabirds coming around. At the time I was on the skateboard team, I was also studying field zoology and environmental biology.
I had a real interest in animal behavior, especially in the social behavior of dolphins and whales. They are also known as Cetaceans, and I refer to them as Cetacean Nation. Orcas, the largest member of the dolphin family, stay together their entire lives. Sperm whales — I’m a sperm whale groupie. They are the world’s largest toothed mammal. They possess the world’s largest brain. They can dive to depths of 2,000 meters and hold their breath for up to an hour. But what really touched me the most about them as I was learning about their behavior is that even in fatal conditions, where their lives are in danger, they will never abandon their injured or sick. As I was studying animal behavior, scientists were coming out and saying that play is a sign of intelligence.
And here we are with dolphins surfing. Another connection that I feel to these beings as a surfer myself and seeing dolphins as I’m surfing and they are surfing waves too. Whales also surf. Imagine a school bus dropping in on a wave at Pipeline. It’s happened. If that’s not enough to impress you about Cetaceans, there are many stories of dolphins encountering humans. And this is one from Whangarei in New Zealand 12 years ago, a lifeguard, a father of three, had his three daughters out swimming for practice off of ocean beach, 100 meters out, when seven dolphins approached them, slapping their flukes, circling these swimmers, almost as if they were hurting them. They weren’t afraid of dolphins, so they just kept swimming and thought, yeah, this is pretty cool.
But a lifeguard from the shore saw what was going on, he thought it was really odd too and decided to go check it out. He got on his little boat, went to just outside of where the dolphins were and into the water, and what did he see? A three-meter long shark, a great white shark. What a great day to have dolphins swimming around you!
In the 20th century alone, nearly three million whales were killed. Many of them are still endangered In the early 80s, thanks to protests and public outcry, the International Whaling Commission announced that in 1986, they were going to have a moratorium on commercial whaling. A victory. We saved the whales.
I remember that day. I would remember that time that “Wow, the whaling was going to end.” Despite the millions of whales that have been killed, there has never been a known attack of a whale on a human. Imagine a world without war, revenge, or retaliation, one of forgiveness and compassion. I pondered the wisdom of whales, and I thought, what would it be like to look into the eyes of a whale.
So I created this painting of a gray whale’s eye. And then, in less than a year, on Christmas morning in 1999 while I was surfing a great spot down in Southern California, catching really fun waves, I paddled back out and sat on my board waiting for my next wave, a gray whale, 15 meters away from me, just 15 meters away, lifted its head up out of the water, like the periscope of a submarine, looking around and it looked at me, our eyes met, and I was just ecstatic; I was blown away. I had no fear at all. This whale was so close to me, but I was just in awe. And then, the whale just went back underwater, and right next to it, another gray whale surfaced, raising its huge arching back out of the water and just going back underneath, and they disappeared. I knew how rare that experience was.
That’s very rare for whale, to come that close to a human in their own environment. So I felt I needed to look into it. What was going on with whales at that time? Little did I know that that experience was actually going to be changing my life. I found out that despite the moratorium when the whales were supposed to be protected in 1986, that they were still being killed. And numbers of up to over 1,800 whales were being killed every year.