“There is nothing in here. Let’s go”.
I must say, people were not like this fifteen years ago. Fourscore and @#$%&! years ago, my career began as a zoological educator and I’ve had the opportunity to observe people of all walks of life in many scenarios. Recently, I returned to the education side and I’m sad to report that our world of instant gratification and technology has accidentally reinforced an undesirable learned behavior: Impatience. Oh friends and neighbors, the struggle is… self-created.
Here I stand, ready to talk biology and behavior with anyone that will make eye contact. I’m dying to talk to you, this is what I do! That’s hard to do when families and individuals breeze past me, possibly stopping for a few brief seconds, giving up immediately and exclaiming, “This is boring, there is nothing in here.” Now, don’t get me wrong. Lackadaisical observations have always been a trademark of the zoo and aquarium guest but this? This is a whole new level of haste. My thoughts are that in this age of internet, WI-FI, cellphones, and overall direct access to anything you could want in seconds (Amazon Prime!) that we have taught ourselves that instantaneous results are the norm. We have set ourselves up for frustration and the inevitable stress of not getting what we want right now. Now! RIGHT NOW! Where the hell is it?
As anyone worth their salt (or neoprene) in the training world will tell you, undesirable behaviors are incredibly hard to extinguish. As yet another group of people whisk by and miss the opportunity to observe our female beluga blow bubble rings (she is a bubble ninja, that one), I couldn’t help thinking, “when did we attach our expectations of our technology to the organisms surrounding us? Why does the public expect animals and nature to produce instant results?” If an animal is out of sight for more than 30 seconds it is practically guaranteed I will have to start the mantra of, “They have access to several areas and swim into this area at their leisure. Just give it a couple of minutes and…”. I stop there because typically the beluga (or dolphin, seal, sea lion, otter, whale, shark, tiger, penguin, orangutan, sloth…ok, the sloth was there the whole time) reappears and off goes my guest to frantically take a selfie. Two to three minutes later the animal typically works its way out of sight and the process starts all over again. Fifteen years ago people would stand in front of an aquarium for 10 minutes just to get a glimpse of an eel. Now? Now I’m lucky if I can tackle them to stay put longer than 10 seconds to see a critically endangered animal and spit some knowledge.
So, friends and neighbors, take a small piece of sage advice from the lady in the wetsuit and flops. When you visit your local parks, zoos, and aquariums make sure you slow down. Enjoy your day, revel in the wide eyes of your kids or those around you. There is nothing quite like seeing megafauna for the first time through a child’s eyes. Take time to smell the flowers, literally. Most of the places you will visit have horticulture departments that provide ample opportunities for this. Animals are in no rush to adhere to whatever time constraints you have created so just sit and watch. Watch how they swim, graze, sleep, and eat. Did they chew their food? Did they flip it around to eat it head first? Are they shearing off that grass when they graze or are they ripping it out by the roots? Not sure? Ask us! That’s why we are there and we live to talk behavior and biology. Not to mention, our families and friends are sick of us. Help them out so they can have a night off and not get a crash course in the dangers of fishing down the web or hearing how you were really impressed with yourself for utilizing Premack’s Principle during your session that day.
So, in close, just give them a minute. Give nature a few minutes, she doesn’t tend to rush for anyone. I promise, it’s worth it no matter how long it takes.
Hugs and fishes, ya’ll!