Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Baby Humpback Washes Up Near My House

On Wednesday afternoon last week, a dead baby humpback whale washed up on a rocky part of the beach near my house. This caused quite a stir, as one can well imagine. The body of the whale drew a crowd, with people stopping by the side of the road throughout the day to view the unusual and sad spectacle.

I joked with my husband that I hoped they got rid of it before it exploded. Roadkill is one thing, but whale entrails spewed across a major roadway was not something I was interested in encountering.

I was hesitant to go see it myself. While I've long since become relatively inured to roadkill, I'm still not one to view carnage with aplomb. But then I decided that a whale was no ordinary dead animal. This might be my only chance to see a whale up close, dead or not, and it was probably worth taking a peek. Besides if all these other people were happily whale-gazing, it couldn't be that bad, right?

I wasn't sure if I should let the kids look. We tend to want to protect our kids from disturbing or upsetting sights. The seven-year-old mentioned that everyone at school was talking about it and that many of his friends had gone to see it. Maybe it was the right thing to do, to let my kids have this unusual experience. And this was something we'd be talking about for a long time. "Hey, do you remember that time the whale washed up on the beach?" It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and I decided I'd regret not taking the opportunity to see a whale up close.

We stopped by the side of the road on Thursday evening, after confirming that it had not yet been removed. The seven-year-old and 2.5-year-old wanted to get out and see it, so I left the five-year-old and baby in the car and took the others out to take a peek.

It was not at all gory, but it was sad. The poor baby was on its back, its neck and belly bloated from the gasses building up inside (my worry about it exploding was not, after all, unfounded), and with each wave, it was banged against the rocks. This poor, majestic creature was just another piece of flotsam. Why was it here? I wondered. How did it die? Was its mother looking for it? Was she mourning? I've read that whales mourn.

We looked for a few minutes with a few dozen other people, everyone with a camera or phone in hand to capture the image and the memory. Then we hopped back in the car and went home.

The next afternoon, my five-year-old declared that he actually did want to see the whale. I asked my oldest if he knew whether it was still there - he seemed to be in the loop, since everyone at school was talking about it. He said he didn't know, but the question was quickly answered as we headed down the road and saw that people were still standing around on the rocks and parking along side. I pulled over and got the five-year-old out.

To my chagrin, between Thursday afternoon and Friday afternoon, scientists had been by to study the whale and perform a necropsy to see what they could learn about this whale and how it had died. They had pulled it farther up onto the rocks and most of the way out of the water, flipped it over, and cut it open. It was not as majestic or pretty a sight as it had been the previous day. I was morbidly curious about it, having never seen a whale cut open before (really?), but I am also not able to view these things with as clinical an eye as others. I worried that it would be upsetting to my son, but he didn't seem at all disturbed by it. He pointed out the tail and the mouth. I'm not sure he even realized that it had been cut open. (At least the release of gasses meant that there was no longer a danger of it exploding!) I later read that they had determined it was a juvenile female, about 25 feet long and perhaps less than two years old, and appeared to have experienced some trauma, but the carcass was already too decomposed to determine a cause of death. Too bad.

I knew they'd be towing it out to sea soon, so it could go to its proper graveyard and no longer be subject to the morbid interest of tourists and onlookers. I hoped it sank and rotted far, far from shore.

All-in-all, I'm glad we decided to go see the whale. I think I'd have regretted missing out. When something like this happens practically just outside your door, it's worth taking a few moments to appreciate the wonders - and sadnesses - of nature.

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