I used to be obsessed with becoming a marine biologist. This lasted approximately from the first time I saw Free Willy until I took biology in high school, at which point I realized how much learning comes between understanding cell reproduction and riding on top of an orca.
Most girls don’t experience the single-minded fanatical devotion I felt toward marine mammals until they fall in love for the first time with a human. My room was trimmed with a border of orcas breaching. I had dolphin and orca stuffed animals. Posters of sea mammals covered my walls. In fifth grade, we had to write “interest reports”- research projects about any topic we chose. Most of the kids in my class chose to write about sports players or Mariah Carey. I wrote mine about the Short-finned Pilot Whale.
I recently found a journal entry I wrote in sixth grade. I was clearly going through a bit of a rough patch as I wrote, “I think my only reason for self-esteem is my dream. I WILL live to work with the DOLPHINS. I swear it. I will. It’s practically my reason for living. I haven’t given up my passion. No matter how much the boys at school tease me about saving the whales, I won’t stop loving dolphins. I WON’T!”
It was tough being obsessed with all things marine life while living in the Midwest. At the time, the best St. Louis had to offer marine-files was a tiny aquarium with a bunch of useless fish and one anemic-looking shark. I used to be jealous of the girls at school who were infatuated with the more attainable animals- cuddly things like kittens and puppies and bunnies. Clearly, there was no room for an orca in our backyard and anyway, how would we afford one? My mom assured me that SeaWorld would not view our golden retriever as a fair trade.
After assessing my options and finally accepting that my parents weren’t going to move to a remote island inhabited by mystical natives who would teach me how to communicate using sonar, I decided to go with the next best option: adopting a sea mammal.
I thoroughly researched my options and decided to go with a manatee. Whales and dolphins just seemed a little obvious. And honestly, I felt guilty for not liking manatees as much as their shinier, more extroverted peers. Manatees are shy and seem a little sad. Whereas most dolphins and whales are lithe and playful, manatees are slow and bloated, earning them the unfortunate moniker of “sea cow”.
After a minimal amount of badgering, my mom agreed to adopt one manatee for me and one manatee for my sister. My sister and I poured over the brochures, looking over the pictures of all of the different manatees available for adoption. We spent what seemed like hours debating the various personality traits attributed to the animals by the non-profit organization that ran the “adoption”. Finally, we chose our pets and sent in our $25.
Four to six weeks later, we received papers certifying the adoption process. The official papers also contained pictures of our manatees and promises of manatee newsletters to come. I was in sea cow heaven. We named our new pets and hung the pictures up in our rooms. Every morning, I walked to the bus stop with my little secret. The boys on the bus might make fun of me for how hard I tried to save the whales, but I had a manatee.This simple fact rendered the boys insignificant.
A couple of months later, Lauren received a letter from the non-profit organization regarding her manatee. As we read the letter, we discovered that her manatee had been struck by a boat propeller and killed.
My mom was horrified. “Who the hell would send a letter like this to a seven year old girl?!” My sister started crying. The good news, the letter assured us, was that for $25 more, we could adopt a brand new manatee.
Death is an important part of the life cycle that every pet owner must learn sooner or later. Regardless, Mom dismissed the entire racket as a scam and wouldn’t let us adopt any more manatees.
It was probably for the best. Manatees do not age well and I doubt I could have afforded my manatee’s medication with just my allowance. Now that I’m older, I’ve moved on to caring for more sensible animals, animals capable of exhibiting proper affection. I’ve decided to adopt a narwhal.