Oil Spill on FaceBook: Social Networking Between Species

On my FaceBook page, I posted a recent CNN video of wildlife struggling to survive this oil spill. In the Gulf, a sea turtle floats flatly just below the surface in noxious slime the color of blood.

"The sea turtle is clearly distressed," says the report. "When he comes up, he must gulp in what's on the surface."

These endangered turtles are ancient marine mariners in the midst of their nesting season when they come ashore to lay their precious eggs. Sea turtles are washing up dead with seabirds and other marine mammals.

Many of us are saddened as we witness these animals struggling along with us to survive and recover from this tragic spill. On a recent Huffington Post story about wildlife losses in the Gulf Spill, there were thousands of views; and many readers shared the article. Call it social networking between species. Or FaceBook for our fellow creatures.

I've done what I can from the West Coast: contributed to National Wildlife Federation and Turtle Rescue USA in Florida to help in wildlife rehab; I've signed petitions to demand that the moratorium on offshore drilling be reinstated. I've blogged and posted more oil spill updates on FaceBook. But still I feel despair and helplessness. The oil continues to hemorrhage. Is there anything else we can do?

Here's an out-of-the-box suggestion from Mary Getten, a respected naturalist, wildlife rehabilitator, and author of Communicating with Orcas. Mary just sent out an intriguing request to "armchair environmentalists."

"Communicate with the animals," she advises. "Use your imagination and empathy. Along with activism, also mentally reach out to the animals in danger as they swim through these poisoned waters."

The brilliant animal expert Temple Grandin tells us that animals "think in pictures." In your meditations with the animals, Getten explains, show them an oil slick on the surface:

Tell the birds to keep flying away. Tell the turtles, dolphins, fish and other swimming creatures if they see an oil slick or dark spot on the surface, they should not surface. Swim away.

Sending our own mental pictures with a feeling of calm and compassion could be an antidote to the hopelessness that many of us feel watching wildlife wash up oil-stained on our shores.
Call this an exercise in Active Imagination, a deep meditation, interspecies communication or a prayer worthy of St. Francis. Our inner and outer worlds are connected. And we are connected to all that is alive. Think of this practice as offering national days of prayer for other animals. A prelude to World Oceans Day in June, a blessing, an apology, and a eulogy.

Getten also asks another, more difficult exercise. "Hold the vision," she says. "See the Gulf of Mexico clean and shining, healthy and free of oil."

See the oil going back into the ground and sealing the leak. And "hold the vision that the humans involved find a simple and easy way to stop this, and ensure that it never happens again."

Along with conservation, I believe that such exercises in connection and expanding our kinship can increase our human empathy. It helps us develop compassion for the suffering of others. Imagination increases empathy.

How we treat other animals is a litmus test for how we treat each other and by extension our planet. Just as we seek clean energy sources, we also can develop the alternative energies of our imaginations.

At the same time we get involved in the daily Gulf tragedy, we can also engage our empathic skills. When I practice Mary Getten's exercises I call up a memory and hold this vision: Once while swimming in Hawaii, a green sea turtle drifted alongside me. Eye to eye, we floated. I was so mesmerized by the sea turtle's benign gaze that I did not want to surface. At last the turtle stretched wide flippers out like leathered wings and swam up through clear waters. I followed. Together, we broke the surface and gulped air in synch. As if in one breath.

I will never forget the soothing and intimate sound of our breathing together. The sea turtle held my gaze and then turned, diving down to munch sea grass. When turtles graze sea grasses they keep it healthy for other fish and marine mammals. Sea turtles can live to be over 150 years old.

They are creatures older than our addiction to oil.

Not this way, I imagine telling the turtles trying to come ashore in the Gulf to nest. Don't go back to the beaches of your birth to lay your eggs. Swim south and far away from this oil slick. There are still waters in the world that are pure and nourishing. There will one day be a Gulf of Mexico that is clean for our next generation and yours. Live long enough to return. Long enough for us to sober up.

Brenda Peterson is the co-author of BETWEEN SPECIES: Celebrating the Dolphin-Human Bond (Sierra Club) and the new memoir I Want To Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth. More at www.IWantToBeLeftBehind.com

Mary Getten's website and book: http://www.rockisland.com/~mg/

Fire in the Turtle House and the Fate of the Ocean by Osha Gray Davison: http://www.publicaffairsbooks.com/publicaffairsbooks-cgi-bin/display?book=9781586481995