I Got Shat On By A Whale, And All I Saw Were These Lousy Manta Rays
If I've learned one thing in my tenure as a diver—if there's one self-evident truth in scuba diving—it's that the ocean is not a zoo. Jumping in with the goal of seeing some specific creature is not just unrealistic. It's an express train to Disappointmentville.
But then I went diving at the Revillagigedo archipelago (more commonly known as the Socorro Islands), a group of four rocks in the Pacific about 300 miles south of Cabo San Lucas. And my paradigm shifted.
Pretty much every dive, I saw something amazing underwater. Manta ray sightings were more reliable than a Swiss train. Dolphins interacted with divers. Sharks were everywhere. Not a nudibranch in sight. A girl could start to get a little cocky diving out there.
Oh, and I did. Spoiled rotten, I began to reconsider my "ocean is not a zoo" maxim—and I violated my one cardinal rule: don't get in the water with a checklist.
But it was too late. I'd already written my checklist.
I wanted to see a whale.
But first, a story about my childhood
When I was a kid, my mom indulged me by taking me to the Sierra Madre Library’s used book sale and letting me buy stacks upon stacks of National Geographic back issues for a quarter each. I was, as a result, as much of an expert as any 8-year-old could be on the body modifications of exotic African civilizations and the ritualistic ceremonies of French Polynesia. But the best Nat Geo back issue I ever picked up was about whales, and—bonus!—it had the vinyl insert of whale sounds intact.
Thrilled to discover such a treasure, I tossed Mom’s John Denver records aside so I could torture her with cetacean communications. I’m sure the recording was intended to be beautiful—they're the sounds of nature, after all—but to me, the sounds were as bizarre as a stretched earlobe on the cover of National Geographic. They weren't any more pleasant, either. Just groans and screams, like Chewbacca in a slaughterhouse.
In one of the more satisfying Internet Wins I've logged today, I found this exact record on YouTube.
Less record, more diving Socorro Island, please
Fast forward to this dive on Soccoro Island at a site called Cabo Pearce. I heard those calls and immediately thought of that horrible square record shrieking through Mom's stereo system. It was hard to pinpoint where, exactly, the whales were, but I had a guess that they were right above me—and my guess was confirmed when I was suddenly doused with a brown cloud of whale shit.
I'll let the reality of that sink in for a second.
Shat on. By a whale.
And that was the closest I ever came to seeing the damn things.
The rest of the dive could be summed up as an increasingly frenzied search as I chased the sounds. But no matter where I looked, all I saw were manta rays. How's that for a first-world problem? I kept spotting mantas, and just got angry at them for not being whales.
Near the end of the dive, doused with shit and full of disappointment, I suddenly realized I had coined the title for my memoir. I got shat on by a whale, but all I saw were these lousy manta rays.
In hindsight, "doused with shit and full of disappointment" strikes me as a pretty compelling title, too.
Because we all wanted to see a whale in this blog post
A tequila-soaked rampage in the Cabo marina after I got back to shore was the closest I came to seeing one.
Let's sum things up
1. The ocean is not a zoo
2. Manta rays are plentiful in the Socorros
3. Whales are kind of jerks