When I first saw this photograph I was struck by its beauty: the blue waters with an island in the right hand corner background; the Humpback whale’s tail, its graceful curve as the ocean water cascades off of the flukes. Then I noticed the clear image of the baby in the left foreground. What a magnificent shot!
I kept looking at the photo, entranced by it’s clear delineations, especially of the calf. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a photo like this. On further study, I noticed that the right fluke of the Humpback (in reality, it would be her left fluke) is not only damaged, but half gone. When I went to sleep, my last thought was what could have caused it? In the morning, I started researching. Two hours later, I’ve learned a lot.
For the last four years, my husband and I have lived in Hawaii in the winter. (When we were younger, we’d say that when we got old, we’d do just that. One day, we looked in the mirror and decided unanimously that it was now or never. The time had come!) We love the Big Island (Hawaii) and love sighting the whales that come by from December through March. But I wasn’t extremely curious about the whales–just accepted their presence while marveling at seeing them breach and slap their tails loudly on the water’s surface.
I knew that the Humpbacks left Alaska in the fall, but I didn’t know their annual migration of 6,000 miles is one of the longest of any mammal’s. It takes them six to eight weeks to reach Hawaii. This is where they mate, give birth, and begin nurturing their calves. A calf spends about a year with its mother.
But seeing the injury made me curious. I now know, for instance, that it’s called lobtailing when a whale sticks their tale into the air, swings it around and slaps the water. It’s thought that lobtailing could be a form of communication or a way to loosen parasites from the tail. It’s very loud.
So back to the injury. What could cause it? In my reading, I found out that there could have been a killer whale attack, or a collision with a ship. But the number one reason for the whale tail injuries is that the whale becomes entangled in some fishing gear. Of course, I have no notion of what caused this Mama Whale’s injury. I just wish the both of them well on their long trek back to the reality of icy waters in Alaska.
Whalefacts.org has a lot of other great information.
I arrived at yoga class feeling edgy. I’d walked there along the path, which bordered the ocean. The waters were usually calm, but yesterday the waves churned blackened seawater. I’d passed a bulldozer moving sand as it built up a berm on the beach. Clearly there were preparations underway to protect the shoreline.
But the approaching storm was only a parallel to my internal turmoil. I’d been talking on my phone as I walked. I should have been a better listener, but instead my own feelings about the situation we were discussing had leaked out. Instead of being a help, I’d piled onto the agitation.
I couldn’t settle to the class. Usually I can attune myself rapidly but not yesterday. I went through the motions but I wasn’t really there. When one of the women pointed out a rainbow on the horizon, I couldn’t even see it. As the minutes passed, I played the conversation over and over in my head, wishing I’d not spoken off the top of my head.
Finally, I began to calm and my senses took over. At about the same time, the rainbow became more visible, and began to spread across the ocean. Usually I get a sensory Ping with these marvels of nature. I searched my mind for a meaning behind the vibrant arc of colors, but I felt nothing. Then I saw a whale breach, its body totally out of the water.
The awesome sight of the huge mammal doing what it’s natural for it to do gave me insight into my own heart. I didn’t have to delve too far into the metaphor file to gain some understanding that I’m but a grain of sand on this planet. My perspective returned as I witnessed the on-going and powerful forces of Nature. And I saw being played out in front of me, the reminder that no matter how much we humans think we control what is around us, we’re mistaken. We can prepare ourselves, yet the best laid plans often go awry.
As I walked back home, the skies opened and I was drenched before I reached my walkway. With my perspective still in tact, I didn’t fret. I knew that this is what can happen even in a well ordered life. And I knew shelter was close— I’d be dry and warm before too long.
Today dawned sunny and calm, but the aftermath of the storm lingers. Huge waves are pounding the shore. More preparations have been made to limit the possible destructive force. Sandbags are stored on the walkway, ready to use if necessary. That is what we human beings do. We get ready and we do our best.