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|Breaking Through - Page 6|
In college, Whyte abandoned the pleasant meadows of art and literature for the "salt mines" of biology, chemistry, and physics. A few years later, he emerged blinking into the daylight with a university degree in marine zoology, ready to embark on his oceanographic career. Unfortunately, thousands of other young people, also inspired by Cousteau, had the same idea and the same kind of degree, and were looking for the same kind of work on the same kind of ship. The jobs just weren't there. "Not only were there not enough Calypsos to go around," says Whyte, "there probably weren't enough dolphins—about 1.5 per graduate, I guessed."
Within a couple of months after graduating, Whyte serendipitously snared one of the two openings (there were 500 applicants) for a job as naturalist guide in the Galapagos Islands. For the next two years, he lived on sailboats plying the rough and dangerous waters around the islands, getting to know an intensely beautiful but disturbing and overwhelming world of wild, teeming creation. The Darwinian struggle for survival was laid out in all its primordial grandeur right in front of him, not as a stage-managed tourist attraction, but "nature red in tooth and claw"—and he wasn't exempt from its unforgiving laws.
"It was an incredible place, very scary and fierce for a young graduate trying to order nature according to Linnaean taxonomy," he says. "I was so bloody frightened of it all, the daily intimations of mortality. You witnessed creatures dying all around you. Humans were only recent interlopers there and had never taken dominion, and you were forced to realize that most of creation operates in a way not ordered according to human mercies. Nature was not going to take care of you in the way you had become used to. It all made the name you might have given yourself seem small: you were like everything else, and you could die very easily."