This is one of my favourite pieces. It’s my most popular post online, and was also published in the Now Newspaper as So Sorry Little Whale.
I woke up this morning to a message from my little brother. ‘There’s a whale beached east of the pier in White Rock’.
I am an animal lover, and my husband has a pretty intense photography passion, so not really thinking about it, we threw on our best sweats and toques and headed for the beach, hoping to catch the rescue of a young whale.
When we got there, we could see from the opposite end of the promenade that there was a large circle of people surrounding what was clearly the whale. It gave me a little tweak of wrongness in my belly, but we decided to head towards the commotion to witness for ourselves.
When we got closer, I could see it was a full-on circus. Helicopters circled overhead, media crews interviewed local authorities, the police were stationed outside the circle, and screaming children were running everywhere. We made our way into the circle, past pushing people and camera-phone pointing onlookers. Some of the kids were poking it, petting it, posing for their parent’s cameras. For the most part there was a respectable space around the young body. The air smelled slightly of rotting.
Lying on its front in the middle of the circus was a small young humpback whale. Its skin looked like dried out rubber, and there was a small accumulation of barnacles around its fins and on its knobbly head. Its eyes were closed forever, and a puddle of water rested still in the space where its throat pleats met what would best be described as its upper lip, the space where it would open its mouth.
I am a sensitive girl.
Seeing this dead creature on its back with cracked, open wounds bleeding on the sand and accusatory murmur of the fishing wire that was pulled off its dorsal fin and tail made my throat choke. Watered down remorse clouded my vision of the sad sad scene, and just for a moment I bowed my head and closed my eyes. I felt my chest swell, and I intentionally opened my heart to this beautiful creature as the inappropriate tears fell down my face. I felt self conscious. The only other person I saw crying was a little girl in pink flowered gumboots, and here I was with my bunched up crying face on, full lip quiver, in the middle of the suburban beach carnival. But then I started to think.
Why should I be embarrassed of my tears? Why did we come in the first place? I didn’t know it when I got the message, but what became appropriate to do in that moment was to pay my respects to this young, prematurely dead animal. If that involved tears, then tears I will cry.
When I tuned in to the sounds around me, I heard such a wide array of comments that it was overwhelming. A marine biologist being interviewed by a T.V station, saying that the whale was likely ‘strung up’ for weeks, if not months, dying. Conversation buzzed of how the police have the wire that disabled the whale and will be following up on tracing it. People on their phones. ‘Dude, you should see this…No I wouldn’t bother coming down, it’s a zoo.’ A mom says to her child ‘C’mon hon, let’s get out of here, it stinks’. Three helicopters made their sounds above.
When we turned to walk away, I wiped the tears from my face and sloshed through little tidal pools that soaked my soak-able boots. People, most in their best sweats, made their way towards the circle. A mother asked her adult son ‘Is it dead?’, and he responded ‘it doesn’t matter if it’s dead or not, let’s just go see it.’
I fell quiet as my husband and I walked hand in hand back towards our day. I thought big thoughts of animal activism, of whale documentaries, of humanity, desired connectedness and the intense separation that is our reality. In my spiritual practice, I try to accept reality as it is and demonstrate equanimity, but in this case I felt a macro sadness at this micro reflection of a world that is still very unconscious of the bigger picture. It’s getting better, but it still makes me so sad.
Sorry little whale, that you will no longer sing your song. The song that is so beautiful, even though we humans don’t yet know its purpose.
I’m sorry little whale, that irresponsible fishing companies leave nets in the ocean to increase their efficiency and productivity.
My apologies, little whale, that 90% of your species was killed before governing agencies got their shit together and introduced a whaling moratorium.
I’m so sorry little whale, that the state of the oceans is in such sad disrepair that noise pollution, collision with fishing boats, and entanglement in fishing nets kills thousands of your dwindling species every year.
So sorry little whale. May the increased attention given to the oceans over the past decades actually make a difference in minimizing the number of dried up whale bodies tangled in fishing wire left dead on a beach to be surrounded by pokers and picture takers who later come back to the beach to eat their fish and chips. Fish that was, for the most part, caught in the very nets that tangled your rubbery body and disabled your ability to swim with your pod.
Everything is connected. Our actions all have consequences.
I love you little whale, may you rest in peace.