Category: Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network

This is Love

This is Love

Trying to communicate love isn’t always easy. The word has so many different meanings. For some, it means sex. For others it may mean possession. Others might think of love as obligation. Everyone has a personal spin on what it means resultant of their own experience of relationship.

When you tell someone you love them, their filters of personal experience can possibly change what your intention was. And then things get messy and people might respond as if you are the one who originally taught them about love in relationship. Painful experiences can follow us throughout our lives and we expect love to bring the gut-wrenching punch we first felt when someone we loved acted in an unloving way. It can be confusing.

Cosmic Whale-3Dion Fortune, one of my favorite writers, wrote this, “The personality must be healed so the power can come through clear.” This has been my quest for decades now…heal my personality flaws so that I can be a clearer channel for love. This isn’t easy. It’s not a path for the faint of heart. We must be willing to open ourselves completely and make horrible fools of ourselves when, in our openness, we stumble. But if we have the courage to be that open, to be that vulnerable and to feel so deeply to clear our personality flaws, then only good will result.

When I say, I love you, think of the chimpanzee hugging Jane Goodall when he is released after she rescued him (see video above). That’s just pure love without expectation or labels. It’s the nameless experience of unconditional positive regard…light manifested through action. The monkey isn’t asking Jane for anything. He is simply allowing an energy of pure love to move through his open heart with nothing attached, nothing expected.

bitmoji-20160602165515Romantic love doesn’t interest me nor does possession of anyone or expectation of anyone. I want to live in the space of open-hearted communication and communion with the world. To those that mean the most to me I wish to be able to clearly show love without it being misconstrued as something it’s not. We can’t control how others receive the love we express so the only thing I know to do is to keep loving…purely, without expectation and with my whole heart.

_TSL1975I think animals are such channels for love because they don’t live in the past. They simply allow their open hearts to bring forth the magic of light manifested through action. When I watched mother humpback whales and their calves interact this past February it was crystal clear that love was guiding them. It was the most exquisite expression of love I’ve ever seen.

FullSizeRender 5Perhaps this is why I have always appreciated animals so much. We understand each other without thinking about it or wondering what it means….I love you….and you….and you….and you…….I love you.



Goodbye to a Friend

Goodbye to a Friend

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Spirit, a few days before crossing over the Rainbow Bridge.

The bubbles switched direction as our group of twelve individuals sent our love and gratitude with each breath directed into our small wands. A chilly swirl of wind directed the bubbles down to the river where Spirit was removed and out over the river where she had spent many days in the Cold Hole. Suddenly they moved up and kept climbing into the clear, blue sky.

Spirit the Manatee crossed the Rainbow Bridge here on our river, January 1st, 2015. She was 8 feet, 3 inches long and weighed 617 pounds. She was between four and six years old.

We know that in her last weeks Spirit suffered greatly. She was 200 to 400 pounds underweight. She had severe pneumonia and skin lesions covering her belly. She had lost her way to warmer water and found the warmest place she could to survive.

While she appeared very weak and fragile, it is her strength of spirit that brought our community together and united us in an effort to save not only her but others of her kind.

Because Spirit made her presence known for weeks before a rescue was attempted, we became aware of two others that were in the river. One, her friend Magnolia, was rescued and is healing in the safety of warm water and loving care at Sea World Orlando. Nobody had seen Magnolia until New Year’s Eve. Four days later she was rescued.

So Spirit brought our attention to Magnolia and also brought our attention to the incredible heart that resides in our community. Someone called Magnolia Springs the Heart of the Universe. Clearly this was confirmed by the outpouring of support and love given to our manatee friends…and each other.

Often we yearn for a brighter outcome and want a happy ending for animals, especially those classified as ‘endangered.’ That’s understandable. But we take comfort in the absolute fact that Spirit united within our community fierce love and support that made a ripple that will continue to flow out into the world.

Let us keep the intention of love for all creatures great and small within our hearts and remember this beautiful, sweet being who graced our waterway with her presence. And let us practice love with each other.

Spirit being examined by a veterinarian from Audubon Zoology Park beside the river.
Spirit being examined by a veterinarian from Audubon Zoology Park beside the river.

Wendell Berry wrote:

“If we have no compassion,

we will suffer alone, we will suffer

alone the destruction of ourselves.”

Showing compassion, living compassion, saves not only life around us…it saves us.

With gratitude we say so long…but never goodbye. You will remain in our hearts forever sweet Spirit.


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Some of our community gathered to say goodbye to Spirit. Photo by Cheryl Towler Cowles.

Jada, a teenager from Magnolia Springs who witnessed the rescue and passing of Spirit, added this to the memorial gathering for our manatee friend:

Even though Spirit passed away, our community came together because of her. Every person made a difference in her rescue. From helping with the net to spotting to just praying, each small act came together to make something big. We the town of Magnolia Springs will always treasure this once in a live time experience. I would like to share a poem from the National Wildlife Federation entitled “Advice from a Manatee.”

“Advice from a Manatee”

Breathe deep

Glide through your day

Have a gentle Spirit

Enjoy time alone

Eat plenty of greens

Keep your whiskers clean

Live large!

I think if we can take this advice from a manatee and continue working together as a community, we will be better and stronger for it.


Remember Wendell Berry’s words….“If we have no compassion, we will suffer alone, we will suffer alone the destruction of ourselves.”




A First-Grader Teaches Me

A First-Grader Teaches Me

laughing gull
laughing gull

I left my home early this morning on my way to Fort Morgan Ferry via a stop-over at a beach between here and there to check for Least Tern courtship and nesting behavior for NFWS. My ultimate destination was the Dauphin Island Sea Lab Discovery Day. I was volunteering at the Marine Mammal Stranding Network table and display.

I did indeed see the endangered species of Least Terns frolicking over the Gulf and having seen at least 30 of those beautiful birds, I drove on to Ft. Morgan.

simonelipscomb (7)Waiting in line as a pedestrian at the ferry dock I met a couple from Quebec cycling to Austin, Texas and then on to Europe. I suddenly had an urge to do something crazy like they were doing. They had sold everything and were living and traveling via recumbent cycles pulling small trailers. Reminded me of the guy who sold everything to follow his dream of creating life-size prints of whales. These folks are doing something BIG! And I like it!!!

simonelipscomb (4)Meanwhile, I rode the ferry as a pedestrian and made the short walk to the Sea Lab. It was awesome seeing so many families out enjoying the day and learning more about our coastal treasures.

After helping store our display, I walked through the Estuarium and sat for a while with a nurse shark and hopefully somehow communicated my appreciation to him and his cousins all over the globe. That quiet moment sitting nose-to-nose with this beautiful little shark was precious. Then it got crowded so I moved on and walked back to the ferry dock and waited over an hour for the next ferry.

During this time I met an amazing young man who is a first grader. He and his grandmothers had walked on the ferry and visited the Sea Lab’s Discovery Day. We chatted and then, when the ferry arrived, boarded together. The young man and I visited more as we made the trip across Mobile Bay. He expressed his dislike of drilling for gas and oil in the bay and Gulf. He told me of his love for ‘mother nature.’

simonelipscomb (6)Just when I felt as if humans had reached the bottom of environmental and social concern, I met this amazing young man who is a volunteer for Share the Beach…Alabama’s sea turtle volunteer program. He without hesitation expresses his love for mother nature and is clear about his distaste and concern over drilling for oil and gas in the water.

simonelipscomb (5)On this three year anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster–when I stopped counting gas rigs in the bay at over 30 in the crossing from Ft. Morgan to Dauphin Island–and when my hope for humanity had reached a new low, this boy reminded me of the generations that are rising up to lead us. Suddenly I didn’t feel hopeless any more.

April Fool?

April Fool?

I was beginning to think it was a bad April Fool’s joke. I was standing on the beach asking the lifeguard if he knew where the dead dolphin was that had been reported. He didn’t but rode west three miles down the beach on his three wheeler looking….nothing. I called our stranding coordinator and told her the lifeguard reported that someone said there had been a dolphin with rope on its tail…but no dead dolphin materialized. Not sounding good….could we be getting pranked by spring breakers?

A little nudge from my intuition sent me walking east. It was looking pretty hopeless but my intuition nudged me again…ask the fisherman. I did and he said…”Yes, I know exactly where it is. Can’t you smell it?”

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Recovered dolphin last week

Great. And I thought last week’s dolphin carcass was challenging. The bloating was significant and so was the smell. But I was observing a necropsy of a very large, adult male dolphin inside a facility. Some decomposing and a lot of blood…the smell of blood was what wore on my stamina. Tissue samples were taken, counting of teeth, and all the other data that must be collected from a marine mammal death. Hours upon hours of locating, loading, hauling, photographing, and bit-by-bit taking the dolphin apart and taking samples from organs, blood, eyes…a very intensive effort on the part of several people.

Thankfully it wasn't another dead dolphin
Thankfully it wasn’t an uncounted dead dolphin

But today, I witnessed another large dolphin…this time in the final stages of decay. The body had been dragged with a rope and there were parts missing….the lower right mandible, the dorsal fin…and even in the ragged state this dolphin was in, I could see where tissue had been removed. Between our coordinator, my on-scene eyes (and nose…significant putrid smell) and another biologist via telephone, we pieced together the story.

simonelipscomb (2)This dolphin was found in December, processed by the other biologist and dragged up in the dunes by the resort gardener and buried. It had been recently unearthed by someone or something and the smell created a curiosity in spring break celebrants who reported to the resort management there was a dolphin on the beach with a rope around it. They forgot to mention the fact that it was nearly skeletal….but that’s okay. We want to be sure it is a dolphin that has already been counted….and not an unreported death.

I had nothing to measure the length of the carcass except my flip flops.... x 9 lengths
I had nothing to measure the length of the carcass except my flip flops…. x 9 lengths

Perhaps I did feel like an April Fool….but in a good way I suppose. Not another dolphin death, just a resurrection…of sorts….VERY ‘of sorts.’

Every marine mammal that washes onshore  (bays and rivers included…not just the Gulf) and is reported has to be confirmed, measured, tissue samples taken and a lot of paperwork completed by the coordinator at Dauphin Island Sea Lab. She is working to build the volunteer program so our state can do its part in reporting dolphin and manatee mortality and stranding.

It’s not a pleasant job as most ‘strandings’ are really recovery and examination of dead dolphins and manatees. But it is very necessary to gather the data and samples so the reason behind the nearly 900 dolphin deaths since the BP Oil Spill can be determined. Everyone isn’t capable of this kind of ‘death’ work…but there are different jobs you can do to help the Alabama Marine Mammal Stranding Network. It’s one way you can make a difference.