Speakers tell ocean stories at “Our Ocean and You” event

In the second installment of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium’s speaker series, paddle boarder Dean Burke and underwater photographer Annie Crawley told ocean stories at “Our Ocean and You.”

The speakers addressed attendees inside UW Tacoma’s William W. Philip Hall, presenting photographs and videos to complement their anecdotes.

Burke started the event with a story about his experience paddle boarding with orcas in the Puget Sound in 2015. Before his account of the story, Burke described a reoccurring dream he experienced as a teenager — swimming with orcas. However, that dream became a reality.

“I was just about to head back in, when off in the distance I saw black fins rising,” Burke said. “This one large dorsal fin, the male — the head of the pack — just stopped. The fin just sat there, out of the water. And then it rotated. And then it came toward me. And I went, ‘I’m not dreaming. This is actually happening.’”

Nine orcas — including a mother and her calf — approached Burke’s board and circled him for over 20 minutes.

“This was the first experience of what has been dozens of experiences like this,” Burke said. “They [the Orcas] come up and they sonar, they breathe, and they click and make noises and it’s amazing. It will change your life when you see a mammal come up to you like this. We don’t pursue them, we just observe. And they’ll reward you.”

Burke went on to describe the Seventy48 race, which is a 70-mile water race from Tacoma to Port Townsend that must be completed in 48 hours using human power only.

The race begins on the Foss Waterway and ends at the Northwest Maritime Center, which were once considered two of the dirtiest points of access to the sea in the country. After the city of Tacoma cleaned up the waterway, Port Townsend took similar action to restore healthy water in the area.

“Through similar actions in their community, they were able to clean that up,” Burke said. “So now we have this bridge between two cities where people can have an experience that will change their lives. Does it matter? We hoped that we would get 30 teams to start the race last year and we ended up with 123.”

Annie Crawley — an underwater photographer — followed Burke’s presentation with her own, conveying her passion for the sea and stressing the importance of having a clean ocean.

In addition to pushing the importance of maintaining the ocean for humanity, Crawley shared images of underwater sea creatures and marine life — photos she took herself. Part of what creates her photographs are the stories they tell and how the animals are asking for our help.

“I am giving my feelings from what I heard from these animals,” Crawley said. “I’m humanizing them. And that’s what I have to do with the stories we tell about our ocean. But I know for a fact that if this mother and baby [whale] didn’t want me there, they would swim away.”

By 2050, there will be more plastic by weight than fish in the ocean. Every piece of plastic that’s been created is still on our planet today. To reduce plastic consumption, the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium created the movement #RefuseSUP, which challenges us to refuse all single-use plastics for 30 days. To provide helpful reminders, you can text “STRAWFREE” to 49767 for a week of helpful tips to go plastic free.

Two more speaker series events are still to come at William W. Philip Hall. On April 23, Point Defiance will host the event “Uncovering Ocean Mysteries,” which will feature world scientists and zoo staff who study various marine life. The final event “Ocean Heroes” begins at 7 p.m. on April 30 and will showcase those who protect our oceans. Both events are free to the public.