The Hawaiian islands are the most isolated land mass in the world, but you would never realize this standing in the middle of Waikiki. As much as I tried to avoid this area during my two years of graduate school in Honolulu, I often found myself there for one reason or another. Hawaii also arguably has more endemic species (those found only in one place) than any other place in the world, but habitat destruction and invasive species are quickly making this phenomenon a thing of the past.
One of the most popular tourist trips to take in Waikiki is a giant catamaran ride around the bay. Against my better judgement and with the convincing smile of a beautiful Indian woman, I decided to take a catamaran tour one sunny day. There were about 40 people stuffed onto the boat, which was equipped with a full open bar and lot of rail space to view the beauty of the Pacific and whatever marine life decided to show itself. After several glasses of champagne and several well-known island tunes, the trip was entertaining, but rather uneventful until I spotted something unusual in the distance. It was a large whale and it was coming closer. It is fairly common to see whales at a distance in Hawaii, but much less so to have a close encounter with the world’s largest mammal. No one else on the boat seemed to notice the beautiful beast for a while until we started coming closer to it. Once a few more people had taken notice of the whale, everyone swarmed the side of the boat closest to the creature and to our surprise the intoxicated boat captain headed directly towards it! As we got closer, I became concerned that we might hurt the whale, but we kept barreling forward.
At this point, everyone on the boat was hanging off the edge trying to get a glimpse of the whale and it did not seem to be bothered by how close we were. When we got close enough to almost touch the whale, everyone stopped talking and a sense of awe fell over the crowd. Just as we were at the closest point to the whale, some guy belted out in a drunken voice, “Pour some beer on it!” I had to process what he said for a second to make sure my ears were not deceiving me. Then he said it again. Most of the people thought it was pretty funny, but I could not believe that in such an amazing moment, this was the most inspiring thing he could say. I continued to ponder the wise words of this drunk tourist after we reached the shore and realized that they were both mindlessly funny and disturbing. Are we really so lost in our urban and suburban cultures that this is how best we to know to interact with the natural world?
Hawaii is particularly effected by environmental problems such as invasive species and habitat destruction because it is small and isolated. Native plants and animals on Hawaii evolved without large predators that are present on continents and thus never developed defense mechanisms like thorns and poisons. When a foreign species such as a rat is introduced, it multiplies quickly and causes much destruction because it has no or few predators on the islands to regulate its spread. This means that we must be particularly cautious about bringing any foreign plants or animals into the islands.
Doing our part
The question we must ask ourselves is are we going to take the approach of “pour some beer on it” whenever we see something new in nature or are we going to take the time to respect and understand the natural world. The answer to this question determines the fate of many other creatures that inhabit the planet with us and ultimately our own fate as well. Some of the biggest threats to whales today include habitat loss, noise pollution and chemicals in the oceans and climate change. We can all do our part to help by disposing properly of our wastes and buying products made locally to decrease the amount of shipping, which causes noise pollution.