A book by Kip Kreiling
Whitty's thirty-year career as a documentary filmmaker and diver has given her sustained access to the scientists dedicated to the study of an astonishing range of ocean life, from the physiology of "extremophile" life forms to the strategies of nesting seabirds to the ecology of "whale falls" (what happens upon the death of a behemoth).
No stranger to extreme adventure, Whitty travels the oceanside and underwater world from the Sea of Cortez to Newfoundland to Antarctica. In the Galapagos, in one of the book's most haunting encounters, she realizes: "I am about to learn the answer to my long-standing question about what would happen to a person in the water if a whale sounded directly alongside--would she, like a person afloat beside a sinking ship, be dragged under too?"
This book provides extraordinary armchair entree to gripping adventure, cutting-edge science, and an intimate understanding of our deep blue home.
A Q&A with Julia Whitty, Author of Deep Blue Home
Q: Where did Deep Blue Home come from?
A: I made nature documentaries about the oceans for years and my second book, The Fragile Edge, was a love letter to the coral reefs of the world. But in this book I wanted to circulate to the ocean's farthest fetch and depth and bring its stories and science ashore, so that people in the landlocked hearts of our continents would see how this water world gives us life.
Q: What did it take to write this book?
A: I've been traveling on and under the oceans since my teenage days, first in science, later in documentary filmmaking, and since 2000 as a writer. I've been fortunate to visit some of Earth's most wondrous wet places and meet the people working there, the biologists, oceanographers, fishermen, wilderness guides, and locals. The book is called "an intimate ecology" because it's a very personal story of a life spent adrift on currents of curiosity and adventure.
Q: What kind of adventures have you had?
A: In my early science work, I was anchored to a tiny, remote, uninhabited island in Mexico's Sea of Cortez, home to half a million seabirds and nothing else. Filmmaking adventures took me all over the world, from diving with sperm whales off the Galapagos to diving on Arctic icebergs to experiencing the extremophile communities living below the reach of sunlight on the deep sea floor. Writing adventures have swept me out to sea in wild weather with scientists sampling the living pulse of the ocean as a way to measure changes underway from climate change.
Q: What inspires you about the ocean?
A: The seashore is a place of inspiration and introspection for many. Offshore the wonders only multiply. What we're learning today about the remote and deep ocean is bigger, deeper, darker, colder, farther, older than anything we could have imagined even 25 years ago. Technology combined with a growing lineage of scientific knowledge allows us to explore what we previously couldn't even imagine. We visit communities of life thriving thousands of feet below Antarctic ice. We follow pairs of mated seabirds flying 44,000-mile figure-eight loops around the Pacific between their nesting seasons. We magnify ocean water and find bacterial species in excess of 10 million.
Q: Do you have a favorite place in the ocean?
A: The beauty of the ocean is that it's profoundly connected by its constantly moving waters. Most ocean life is nomadic, at least for some stage of its development. Jellyfish drift through their adulthood yet are anchored to the seafloor when they're young. The opposite is true for many fish that inhabit a small corner of the seafloor in adulthood yet drift as plankton in their larval stages. The majority of sea life follows temperature gradients the way we follow roads and highways. Which means that a changing climate carries marine life with it. The ocean defies all our anchors.
Q: Do you consider the ocean your home?
A: The deep blue home is home to all of us no matter our address. We feel the gravitational pull of its tides and the spiritual lift of its infinite horizon. Today we understand that it's also the single most powerful arbiter of well-being for the seven billion human beings living on a small planet misnamed Earth. In my career on the water, I’ve witnessed some of the ocean's many miracles, absorbed its punishments, felt my way along the edges of its unexplored frontiers, dived with its musclemen and its ballerinas, sailed with its swashbucklers and exiles. Working beside scientists, I’ve learned to translate a word of two of the ocean’s native tongues. The time I’ve spent at sea has also proven a brief yet decisive window into changes underway: oceanic problems, once local, now gone pandemic to compromise the equilibrium allowing us to flourish. Yet nature is beneficent too. For every reprimand from the deep blue home, we are offered a dozen forgivenesses. When we listen, we can hear its song of sustainability.
(Photo © Sharon Urquhart)
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