Trip Report – April 19

Today I took a trolley around the south end of the island and up the coast to Sea Life Park. This was a curious personal pilgrimage where several pieces of my past intersected.

In middle school, I gave up on lunch and went to the library, where I attempted to read my way through the fiction section alphabetically by author, starting with A. I got to W, and a book by Philip Wylie called The Spy who Spoke Porpoise which made an ENORMOUS impression on me. I reread it later, and all the parts that mattered most to me were about the park and that was a tiny sliver of the book itself, but a huge part of it took place at an unnamed sea life park outside Honolulu, of which there just are not that many. Like, one, exactly.

A couple years later I found a book by Karen Pryor called Lads Before the Wind which was about establishing Sea Life Park on Oahu in the early sixties, and how she learned to train dolphins, and also, incidentally, ponies, children, seals and sea lions… everything except otters. If you can find the book, I recommend it highly. It turns out Karen Pryor is Philip Wylie’s daughter, and he was visiting and so impressed with the training process he made it a central part of his spying book.

Karen Pryor went on to write a book for nursing mothers, (which I read when I was nursing because while it is natural it is not at all intuitive) and then about six different books on how to clicker train dogs and cats and horses, and all the other things. Her techniques have been used by every animal trainer who wants their animals to work with them and not against them. I used clicker training to teach one horse, in particular, to put her nose on something terrifying in return for a peppermint. I don’t know how many things she decided she could act worried about and then put her nose on for additional peppermints,  and I don’t care, because the process helped a lot with deeply terrifying things like mailboxes and trashcans.

So I went to Sea Life Park. It was kind of wild seeing it through the lens of these three older experiences. During each show for the public, the presenter talked about using operant training to teach the animals what they needed to know to be taken care of, and to keep from being too bored. It was fascinating to see how profoundly this philosophy was still embedded in the park, long after Pryor left. It was started in 1963, and is still going. Next to Sea World it is small, and quaint, and definitely runs on a shoestring, but it also has a lot in a small space, and a truly fabulous view  anytime you look out off the coast.

The taller, lumpy island visible off the coast is called Manana, which is also the name of a tall, lumpy island right next to Monhegan. I thought the parallel names thing was unexpected.