Credit: Susan Greene

Isn’t it amazing we all have so many N95 masks and pairs of blue nitrile gloves that we even know what those items are when they top the catalog of the Pacific Marine Mammal Rescue Center’s list of “Things To Donate” after the oil spill?

We all have so many N95 masks because we’ve been thinking so hard about ourselves and, of course others, but less about sea creatures like blue whales and Pacific white-sided dolphins unless we’re on that diesel-powered sightseeing boat, or except for that one sea lion that swam parallel to me in July, following me for more than a mile on my birthday walk at Crystal Cove State Beach. “Aren’t we both trying to figure out where I’m going?” I asked and it surfaced at the surf line again and again, fixing those brown liquid eyes on mine.

We’ve been thinking so hard about ourselves and, of course others, that even though we might intend to stop needing, wanting, using crude oil we definitely need, want, and use all the things that Amazon delivers Free! Within 24 hours for Free! A 20-pair pack of blue gloves to keep our hands clean delivered. Free! And who are we kidding? We’re no Greta Thunberg, we just drive a seven-year-old regular gas-eating car because those new electric ones are so expensive, like electric bikes, and wind power isn’t good for birds, we all know that, and we live on a giant hill two miles from the nearest market and we’ve all just got to eat and who can walk for food?

We might intend to stop needing, wanting, using all the things crude oil can deliver but without jet fuel how can we fly to some other beach place, like say, Kauai and snorkel above the reef ringing Anini Beach to be brushed by a sea turtle before the reef dies? I mean, we love the ocean and the ocean animals and we want to swim with them, right, and show our grandkids how a white paper plate and ribbon strings can be crafted into a jelly fish so they can learn about and love the ocean too?

To be brushed by a sea turtle is to feel touched by an angel. You know you’re not supposed to touch them, but if they touch you first it’s not a crime. Is it?

Where is the crime? Everyone wants answers to whose fault it is that the thing buried deep underground, the pipe from an offshore platform named Elly, decided to leak 126,000 gallons of crude oil into our Pacific. Some say it was a ship’s anchor, poorly place, that caused the gash. Blame it on the pandemic. The line of cargo ships waiting to be let into port stretches for miles and miles. There’s a crush of stuff waiting on the waves with not enough dock workers to work the dock so yeah, blame it on the sea captain who didn’t know where to park. Someone’s gotta pay for this disaster.

Meanwhile, over at Oiled Wildlife Care Network a rescue group working out of the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine School, a report has been initiated and the count begins for Pipeline P00547 Incident Wildlife Recovery, a detailed list of creatures found doused in oil. Three Western Grebes. One Sanderling. One Eared Grebe. One Ruddy Duck. One American Coot. One Brown Pelican that had to be euthanized because it was too injured to save.

Is it the one I watched this summer, skimming the sea in Laguna? Probably not, there are hundreds of pelicans. And anyway, what’s the loss of one small thing?

Credit: Susan Greene

Catherine Keefe is a poet and essayist. She spent many years teaching writing at Chapman University and as a journalist for the Orange County Register. She works now as a story coach, helping families shape and document generational narratives.

Susan Greene is a photographer. She specializes in capturing our California coast and its wildlife.  

If you see oiled wildlife, call 1-877-823-6926.

You can read the Wildlife Recovery list, updated daily, at this link:

Pipepline P00547 Incident Report.

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