In 71 years, I have had the good fortune to see and experience many things. Some of them were beautiful, wonderous, and beyond my ability to properly describe them. Like this adventure to Mount Kilimanjaro. Others were horrifying, very sad, and equally difficult to convey. Even so, I will try to tell the story of one such sad event in my life.
In 1973 I moved to the Pacific Northwest after dropping out of my first college effort in southern California. I had little job experience, but had the good fortune to land a job as an apprentice mechanic with a company that sold, installed, and repaired commercial fishing equipment.
After about a year with this company, I had acquired enough skill to be sent by myself to Alaska to repair some large drag winches on a big trawler working in the Bering Sea. I flew out to Saint Paul Island on a rickety old DC-6, and was soon ferried out to the trawler. We immediately took off to moor for the night in a cove that was largely protected from the nine foot swells. After recovering from seasickness that overwhelmed me for the first couple of hours, I set about opening this winch motor to see what the problem was.
The winch was located as close to the outboard edge of the ship as possible, and the problematic hydraulic motor actually hung out over the edge… over the icy bearing sea water. The crew set up a wood plank suspended by ropes hanging outside the railings so I could work on this motor. It was a very dark night, so they also turned on some very bright lights high above the deck and aimed them to where I was working. Before retiring to their quarters, they warned me that I should be very careful not to fall off the plank, saying I would only have a couple of minutes before succumbing to the cold should I fall in.
After working on this winch for a while, I noticed some sort of large thing in the water just below me that was illuminated by the deck lights. It was very difficult to make out what it was. It moved very slowly. After a while it slowly came to the surface. At first it was still hard to make out what it was… then… to my horror, I saw that it was a fur seal that had become entangled in a discarded fishing net. It was a giant ball of fishing net, with a seal head poking out the top and a flipper on either side that just barely extended out of the ball of net. I immediately started yelling for the crew to come back. I jumped back on to the deck and went running to get help. After a quick explanation of what I had seen, a couple of guys came out, one with a rifle. By the time we got back, this poor seal, this horrible apparition had disappeared.
This event and those horrifying images are seared into my memory. It is truly painful to think of… I try to avoid thinking about it… But this seal deserves to have its story told. It is just one example of the horror humans bring to the other creatures with whom we share this planet. It was a harbinger of many such things we humans are doing.