WRESTLING A WHALE, AND OTHER POLITICS

Don Reed
4 min readMay 23, 2024

by Don C. Reed

From 1972–86, I worked as a professional scuba diver at an aquarium-zoo (Marine World Africa USA) in Redwood City, California.

Most of the work was peaceful, scrubbing the tanks, feeding the fish. But there was also a more strenuous side.

Patches and Koko were pilot whales , jet black, each about 20 feet long, not violent, but extremely strong. Memory says they were Navy whales, part of the U,S. Navy project Deep Ops, initially trained off Point Mugu, where they learned to recover objects from depths of 500 feet or more. But those had different names, and may be different whales.

But the whale I knew as Koko liked to play a game with me, when we were both underwater. I did not understand why — — see if you can figure it out.

The game had two parts. First. while I used a scrub brush to clean the tank floor, Koko would lean her melon-shaped head against my back, and push. I would push back. She was stronger. In the second part of the game, she would lift me across her head and swim me to the surface.

What was she doing?

First, a small adventure.

One day the park’s veterinarian told us he needed to take a blood sample from the two pilot whales.

So about ten of us clambered down a ladder into the tank. The water level had been adjusted to knee depth, so she could be comfortable, but not swim full speed.

I grabbed the tail — — the whale exploded into motion, flinging us off like ragdolls.

We tried again, with similar results.

Finally it occurred to me that we were not using our strength as a unit. We were grabbing on individually, , and all that did was make the whale nervous.

But maybe, if we all grabbed on at the same time… “and don’t let go”, I said…

“One,, two, three!”

Ten divers, one whale (actually a giant species of dolphin,) I had the tail flukes. We all made the grab at once.

I felt a surge of energy rush through her body. She moved us all, but no one let go. The vet came over, got her blood sample, and that was that.

Later we learned to put the whale in its travel pen first, which made everything easier.

What was the whale doing when she pressed against my back?

Koko’s’ job in the Navy was to retrieve unexploded “ordinance “ (fake bombs), which had been dropped to the sea floor. She wore a detachable metal cap to clamp onto the “bomb”. The cap would release and her job was done. The people above would haul up the ordinance, and Kokp would collect her payment in mackerel.

When the whale picked me up, she was practicing her bomb retrieval. Fortunately, she did not get angry with me for not rewarding her with fish.

But what sticks with me, to this very day?

When we divers worked together, we held a whale still.

And why does that matter?

Right now, America is engaged in the political battle of our lives. We must do as the divers did, pick a spot to help, and hang on with everything we have.

However… Some on the Democratic side are looking for impossible purity on some issues, and may decide to stay home — and not vote — if they do not find it.

You know as well as I do…the guaranteed way to lose is to stay home. And what will we lose, if Democrats do not participate?

Donald Trump has promised to repeal Obamacare. He does not believe in climate change. And he has promised to cut taxes on the rich — again — which will make it impossible to balance the budget.

Not to mention Medical, Medicaid and Social Security itself will be on the chopping block — if an unbound Trump is given the keys to the White House.

Think of those divers, holding the whale. How many years has it been? I was 20 then, 78 today.

And now? Our country calls; we must deliver. We must rally once again.

Tennyson said it best, in his poem about Ulysses, the great warrior, facing age:

As the poem goes, Ulysses stands ankle-deep in the surf, readying himself and his men for one more grand adventure:

“Push off! My purpose holds, to sail beyond the baths of all the Western stars…

“And though we are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

— ULYSSES, Alfed Lord Tennyson, 1833

I am 78 now; my time of wrestling whales is done. But I can still fight by writing, and I will.

You too, please — find a place, and grab a whale.

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Don Reed

For 23 years, Don C. Reed has supported medical research, ever since his son Roman Reed was paralyzed in a college football accident.