Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Bat Rays and the Bees

We went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium this past weekend.  We saw trained sea otters perform amazing tricks like swimming in circles and eating fish. We saw huge bluefin tuna swimming at dizzying speeds in order to eat squid. We saw swirling silver clouds of sardines and anchovies eating krill. Basically, everything was eating. Except us. We did not have a spare two hundred dollars to drop on five sandwiches and a bottled water.

I say everything was eating, but that's not entirely true. The bat rays were engaged in another kind of life-sustaining activity. We were at the petting zoo portion of the aquarium, where you can lean over the edge of the shallow pool and pet a bat ray as it swims by you. I was on one side of the exhibit with our two older boys, and my wife and Son Number Three were on the other side. Suddenly, a great commotion arose around them. Thrashing and splashing could be seen from the water in front of them, and the crowd around them erupted in a mixture of oohs and aahs and laughter. All we could see from our side was the splashing.

I half-yelled over the water to my wife, "What's going on over there?"
"Uh... They're wrestling..." (sound of adults in crowd snickering)
"Is that right?" I replied, skeptically.
"Yep. Wrestling. Silly bat rays. C'mon, son, let's go see the otters again."

Since the bat ray petting pool is geared toward kids, I would expect the aquarium to try and limit any hanky panky by the bat rays to the holding tank in the back room. In their defense, however, I would imagine it’s pretty tough to tell the males from the females, given they all look like a squashed cartoon head with wings.

Speaking of inappropriate animal behavior, do you know what else is not geared for kids? Bat orgies, that’s what. The bat ray incident reminded my wife and me of another captive animal nookie situation we encountered a few years ago. I can’t remember if we were at the zoo without our kids (which seems highly unlikely), or if we had just abandoned them to fend for themselves (which seems totally plausible), but somehow my wife and I ended up in the bat exhibit without kids. That turned out to be a good thing. A very good thing.

The crowd in the bat cave was stirred up by something. Nervous laughter, giggling, exclamations of “Oh my!” and “Honey, close your eyes!” greeted us as we made our way to the glass. Inside the bat enclosure we were treated to a sight that still haunts me to this very day. Hundreds of horny little bats were engaged in what can only be described as a Sodom and Gomorrah-type free-for-all. It didn’t seem to matter to the male bats if the freaky winged mammal they were hanging next to had compatible reproductive organs or not. Bats apparently have a “love the one you’re with” mentality.

Bats are scary enough just in general, but what we saw that day cannot be unseen. I felt like I might need therapy afterward, so I don’t even want to imagine the fallout if our kids had been with us. I can tell you that a lot of little bats babies were probably made that day, along with a lot of uncomfortable situations the next day at the bat coffee shop.

“Oh, Jim, look. It’s Dave and Marcie. Let’s go say hi.”
“No! We’re leaving, honey. Don’t make eye contact with them. I don’t want to talk about it.”

I’m just saying, zookeepers of America, a little sign or something at the door would be nice. “Warning, bat orgy season. May not be suitable for children or most adults.”

At least put a coat hanger on the bat cave doorknob to warn a guy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I realize nature is going to take its course. And, nowhere is that more evident than the sleepy little beach town of San Simeon, California. It is sleepy for most of the year, actually, except when the elephant seals are in town. For reasons known only to these ridiculously large sea mammals, they show up every year on the same beach to breed.

A few years ago, we were visiting the coast, and we were told by some locals, “You must go see the elephant seals. They’re amazing!”

So we went to see them. When we got there and witnessed the scene, my wife and I immediately wondered why the folks that told us to go there didn’t mention what the seals were doing there.

The seals go there to do other seals, if you know what I mean. Seeing two gigantic male elephant seals fight is pretty impressive. Seeing a gigantic male elephant seal “wrestle” with a female elephant seal is also impressive, but in a much different way. Boy, can those things wrestle!

Like the bats, they really aren’t too shy, either. The San Simeon Elephant Seal Voyeuristic Society has even erected, if I can be so bold as to use that term, a nice wooden boardwalk overlooking the breeding beach, with fun facts about the elephant seals.

“Never go near an elephant seal, especially during breeding season.” Yeah, based on what I’m seeing here, that one didn’t really need to get written down. It’s fairly obvious that I do not want to get in the middle of any of the activities I’m seeing here.

Luckily, the kids were all pretty young at the time, and the “wrestling” up on the beach was explained away, and we could fairly easily divert their attention back to the bloody tusk fights taking place out near the water.

“Why are they fighting, Daddy?”
“To see who gets to… uh…”
“To see who gets to do what?”
“Uh… to see who gets to eat all the food. They’re very hungry. Speaking of food, let’s go get some in another town.”

Son Number One is in the fourth grade now, and the boys are already coming home from school with all sorts of fun “facts” they learn on the playground. I know it’s getting close to the time when I’ll need to start having “the talk” with my boys, but I’d like to put it off for a while longer. And I’d like to have that talk on my own terms. I’m not interested in having any unplanned visual aides to explain. Bat, bat ray, or otherwise.

One thing is for sure. If we are going to keep taking the boys out to view the birds and the bees, I need to have the talk pretty soon, or “wrestling” is going to start taking on a really weird connotation for them.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2014 Marc Schmatjen

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