June 24, 2015's Weekly Slap:

“Beach Slapped” is what it is because from the moment I first came to the Oregon Coast, most every moment I lived here, and even my last hours here, it was always about the beach. That wasn’t always true of my life, and perhaps that’s been my problem.

Growing up in Colorado, I was a long way from the beach. I don’t care what anyone says, lounging next to a giant lake/ civic water supply is not the beach.

BartonGroverHowe.com:Where to keep up with humor writer Barton Grover Howe. Here, you'll find all of his Beach Slapped columns from The News-Times in Lincoln County, Oregon, excerpts from his latest books and the occasional random musing that would get him fired if he published it in a family newspaper.
A Whale of a deal for just $14.95
- March, 2006
There’s certain joy in heading out to the coast for Whale Watch Week, beyond just that of a normal trip to beach.

This journey is about communing with nature. Seeing in the sunlight a denizen of the fathomless deep. Paying $14.95 to get close to an animal that can vomit objects the size of softballs. (Really. They have some at the Depoe Bay Whale Watching Center.)

But while eco-tourism (“eco” meaning “more souvenirs”) may be a relatively new hobby for people, it is by no means a new one. Perhaps the most famous whale-watching trip of all time was chronicled by Herman Melville: He piled upon the whale's white hump the sum of all the general rage and hate felt by his whole race from Adam down; and then, as if his chest had been a mortar, he burst his hot heart's shell upon it for only $14.95."

As everyone knows, Moby Dick - it was “Richard” to only the most formal of whales - became a timeless classic of one man’s quest for fish sticks for life. Unfortunately, however, the idea of paying to burst one’s heart upon a cetacean pretty much killed the industry for the next century.

In 1955 water-based whale-watching returned to the commercial sector when a San Diego company began taking people off the coast for $1, marking the first – and last – time anything in Southern California was inexpensive. By the end of the first year, some 10,000 people had taken the trip, and the activity soon spread the length of the Pacific Coast, much like Californians themselves.

By the 1970s, however, there were more people whale watching along the Atlantic coast than the Pacific. This is largely attributed to two things:

  1. There are thousands of fat people in Atlantic City.
  2. The dense populations of Humpback whales found off the coast of New England tend to exhibit more exciting aerobatic behaviors such as breaching and tail-slapping.

Thusly, Californians responded by building aquatic theme parks full of entertaining whales that not only bounced balls on their heads, but ensured a never ending stream of fat people that came in droves for the chance to watch whales while eating ice cream bars.

By the 1980s, however, whale watching was no longer just an American phenomenon; trips were available all over the world. This is attributed in part to an increasing belief that on an intelligence scale, whales were closer to people – even politicians - than most other mammals.

This theory was confirmed in 1986 when Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk communicated with a pair of Humpback whales in California. Although these whales were later catapulted into the future, they did communicate that William Shatner is a terrible actor.

By 2000, there were some 11.3 million people whale-watching in more than 80 countries worldwide. Though they came from many creeds and cultures, a common understanding did evolve. Mainly, that getting on a small boat in the middle of the ocean makes a lot of people throw-up and collapse to the deck praying for the sweet release of death.

Certainly, water-based whale watching has come a long way since the first known tourist took to the seas to look at whales: "Now the LORD had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights for $14.95." In all fairness, it should be noted this was a tremendous value for the time, save for the fact the view was pretty much limited to the whale’s tongue and colon.

Nevertheless, beyond the improvement of seeing the whale from the outside, not much changed over the centuries, and whale watching largely continued on vomit-inducing small boats. Many did not even have bathrooms, forcing people to “hold it” until they returned to shore. (“It” meaning their cold bologna sandwiches.)

But as the industry grew in the 1980s and ‘90s, so to did the boats evolve. By the middle of the decade, many operators were using large boats with anti-roll technology, bathrooms and even small kitchens. Gone were the wind and water-whipped open boats of the past, replaced by warmed cabins, comfy chairs, and TVs showing whale movies.

Finally, west-coast whale watchers could both see whales on the open ocean and have warm junk food at the same time. Even better, most tourists were so busy watching “Free Willy,” they never even noticed there were no actual whales near the boat.

In the last few years, many whale watching activities have returned to the shore, as some scientists are concerned excessive human-whale interaction is harming the whales. More problematic, however, is the fact that once people smell the air out of a whale’s blowhole, they are far less likely to buy a stuffed animal after returning to shore. Think rotting fish festering in the sun. For weeks.

Truly, it is terrible.

On the other hand, it has enabled the central Oregon coast to take the lead in the whale-watching world. This is not to say Oregon does not have excellent boats on which to watch whales; Tradewinds Charters in Depoe Bay will soon have a boat with TWO bathrooms.

But with the opening of the Whale Watching Center in Depoe Bay, the “Whale Watching Spoken Here” program begun in 1978 finally has a permanent home. And – aside from amazingly informed volunteers and whale hairballs – they have some really nice stuffed animals. Admission is free, though they do ask for a small donation if you plan to have your chest burst forth upon any of their whales.

Future Historian’s Note: After arriving in the future, in what is considered an ironic twist of evolutionary fate, the two humpback whales developed opposable thumbs on their flukes and began harpooning fat humans. Most Americans did not survive.