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RIP, Paul Walker. The Ocean Has Lost a Friend.
Most people mourning the death of Paul Walker know him best in his roles as an actor: The Fast and the Furious series, Varsity Blues, She’s All That and Pleasantville, among many.
We knew him better as an aspiring marine biologist and a lifelong friend of the ocean. And we miss him so much — because he was a true advocate for healthy oceans.
Growing up, Paul was inspired by Jacques Cousteau — his mentor and role model, as he is for many of our staff. He studied marine biology in college and planned to make that his career before he was drawn into acting.
But the ocean was never far from his life — or his concerns.
Mind-blowing ocean life
“The sea is just a big mystery,” he said in a video interview with fabela iMag to to promote Fast and Furious Five. “There are things that are more alien in the ocean than I think are alien in space. It seems like every other day, there’s a new discovery. You look at it and you’re like, ‘Really!’ … Things that are so bizarre … it’s mind blowing.”
An avid surfer (“a zen experience for me”) and scuba diver, he described himself in his Twitter profile as an “ocean addict”. And as he told Entertainment Weekly in an interview, though he became an actor, his work was not his life.
The ocean was always his first love.
Marine biology: “My first passion”
"The passion for marine biology is still there,” he said. “That was my first passion, so I still find other ways to fulfill that.”
One way: Inspire others to get involved in protecting the ocean.
Paul came to the aquarium in 2005 to help us celebrate the opening of our Ocean’s Edge galleries, and the connections each individual has to the health of ocean life. He talked that day with visitors about his personal commitment to ocean conservation, and urged them to step up their own involvement.
Paul was on the board of the Billfish Foundation, and took part in scientific tagging expeditions of great white sharks that were part of National Geographic’s “Expedition Great White”. When he described tagging great whites, it’s not as an actor but as a marine scientist.
"I’d walk away from (acting) to do this full time," he said.
He cared for people in need as well as the ocean. He founded Reach Our Worldwide to provide disaster assistance in places from Haiti to the Midwest to — most recently — the Philippines, in the wake of typhoon Haiyan. He died in a car crash just after making an appearance at a fundraising event for Haiyan relief work.
Above all, he cared about family and friends. As he told Flaunt magazine, “You know, all that really matters is that the people you love are happy and healthy. Everything else is just sprinkles on the sundae.”
We will miss his spirit, his caring, and his love of the ocean.
Photos ©Monterey Bay Aquarium/Randy Wilder
Mae, First Otter to Raise a Pup on Exhibit, Dies
We’re sad to report that Mae, an 11-year-old female sea otter who had been part of our sea otter exhibit since she was eight months old, died over the weekend from a seizure disorder whose cause is still unknown. Her seizures began suddenly just a few days before her death on Saturday afternoon, November 17.
Mae was rescued as a two-day-old pup near Santa Cruz in April 2001, and raised by our Sea Otter Research and Conservation (SORAC) program team. She joined the sea otter exhibit in December 2001 when it became clear that she was not acquiring the skills she needed to be returned to the wild. She was the first animal we’d added to the exhibit since 1986 – starting a new generation of exhibit animals as our original sea otters reached the end of their lives.
That wasn’t Mae’s only “first” with us. In 2010, she became the first surrogate mother otter to raise an orphaned pup on exhibit at the aquarium. Her pup, Kit, is now living at SeaWorld San Diego. Mae served as a companion animal to several otters as part of the SORAC program.
Her name – that of a truck-stop waitress with a screeching voice in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath – was chosen in another first-ever process. It was selected for her by the public in an online poll.
Mae, nicknamed “Mayhem” by her caretakers, was a vocal and feisty sea otter who would make direct eye contact with and stick her tongue out at trainers when displeased, according to staff who worked with her. She was also an enthusiastic partner in training sessions, said Chris DeAngelo, associate curator of marine mammals.
“Mae definitely knew the most behaviors of any of our otters and was wonderful to teach new behaviors,” Chris said. “She was one of the first animals that new trainers learned to work with because she was very consistent and good with dealing with ‘trainer errors.’ We’ll all miss her terribly.”
Chris and the sea otter staff also called Mae “the monkey” because she would hold objects like ice molds and toys with her tail, leaving her paws open to accept whatever came next. While none of the other adult otters displayed this behavior, it was picked up by some of the pups Mae raised.
Senior Sea Otter Aquarist Cecelia Azhderian appreciated Mae’s playfulness.
“She loved big buckets,” Cecelia said “She could hardly wait for them to be filled with water before she’d get inside, even though she didn’t like the water hose, which she’d attack it if it came too close.”
Our sea otter exhibit is currently closed for renovations and will reopen in mid-March. Exhibit otters Rosa and Abby and are being housed behind the scenes.
Watch Mae, who passed away last weekend, play with sea otter pup Kit. We’ll miss her!