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Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Whale Song


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A 42-foot fin whale is stuck on Stinson Beach, Monday, August 19, 2013. The whale was alive when discovered early in the morning, but died before it could be moved to safety: photo by Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal

Heathcote Williams: Whale Song


From space, the planet is blue.

From space, the planet is the territory

Not of humans, but of the whale.

Blue seas cover seven-tenths of the earth’s surface,

And are the domain of the largest brain ever created,

With a fifty-million-year-old smile.

Ancient, unknown mammals left the land

In search of food or sanctuary,

And walked into the water.

Their arms and hands changed into water-wings;

Their tails turned into boomerang-shaped tail-flukes,

Enabling them to fly, almost weightless, through the oceans;

Their hind-legs disappeared, buried deep within their flanks.

Free from land-based pressures:

Free from droughts, earthquakes, ice-ages, volcanoes, famine,

Larger brains evolved, ten times as old as man’s…

Other creatures, with a larger cerebral cortex…


Whale families, whale tribes,

All have different songs:

An acoustic picture-language,

Spirited pulses relayed through water

At five times the speed sounds travels through air,

Varied enough to express complex emotions,

Cultural details,

History,

News,

A sense of the unknown.

A lone Humpback may put on a solo concert lasting for days.

Within a Humpback’s half-hour song

There are a hundred million bytes.

A million changes of frequency,

And a million tonal twists…

An Odyssey, as information-packed as Homer’s,

Can be told in thirty minutes;

Fifty-million-year-old sagas of continuous whale mind:

Accounts of the forces of nature;

The minutiae of a shared consciousness;

Whale dreams;

The accumulated knowledge of the past;

Rumours of ancestors, the Archaeoceti,

With life-spans of two and three hundred years;

Memories of loss;

Memories of ideal love;

Memories of meetings…


Heathcote Williams: from Whale Nation, 1988



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Protected whales: Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus): Edward Fugiø, Faroe islands postal stamp, 17 September 2001; image by Arne List, 18 October 2005

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A fin whale thrashes its tail as it tries in vain to get off the sand on Monday, August 19, 2013, in Stinson Beach, California. After this last attempt, the whale died: photo by Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal

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A fin whale thrashes its tail as it tries in vain to get off the sand on Monday, August 19, 2013, in Stinson Beach, California. After this last attempt, the whale died: photo by Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal

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A fin whale lies stuck in the sand on Monday, August 19, 2013, in Stinson Beach, California. After a last attempt to free itself, the whale died: photo by Frankie Frost/Marin Independent Journal




A juvenile fin whale, approximately 40-50 ft in length, washed ashore at Stinson Beach in Marin County today, August 19, 2013. A call was received from a volunteer at around 7 a.m. this morning and The Marine Mammal Center assembled and dispatched a veterinary team to investigate. Sadly, the whale was found dead upon arrival.

The veterinary team has since performed a necropsy (animal autopsy) to try to determine the cause of death. Once the whale was rolled over, The Marine Mammal Center's Director of Veterinary Science, Dr. Shawn Johnson, discovered trauma to the sternum area and internal hemorrhaging around the heart. In addition, air was present in the subcutaneous tissue -- tissue between the muscle and fat -- indicative of trauma. There were no broken bones discovered.

Further studies will be conducted, including histopathology testing -- microscopic examination of tissue samples. At this time we can't conclusively say what caused this animal's death, but hope to determine this in the near future.

The whale has now been buried at Stinson Beach by the National Park Service.
__

In 2012 a fin whale measuring approximately 47 feet in length washed ashore at Point Reyes. Dr. Frances Gulland, Senior Scientist at The Marine Mammal Center, along with Research Associate Lauren Rust, and National Park Service scientist, Sarah Allen, examined the whale and completed the necropsy. They found that the whale had external wounds as well as trauma resulting in fractured ribs and vertebra, and had died as a result of a ship strike.


In 2010, the carcass of a fin whale washed ashore at Ocean Beach in San Francisco and a necropsy determined the cause of death in that case to be from a ship strike as well.

Fin whales are the second largest marine mammal on earth, next to blue whales, and belong to the family of baleen whales. Also called razorback whales, fin whales are federally listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Their only know predator, excluding humans, is the killer whale.

Threats include: historically, commercial whaling; collisions with vessels; entanglement in fishing gear; reduced prey abundance due to overfishing; habitat degradation; disturbance from low-frequency noise.


A Juvenile Fin Whale Strands at Stinson Beach: The Marine Mammal Center, 19 August 2013





Fin Whale (Balaenoptera physalus), Ligurian Sea. Showing distinctive asymmetric coloration: photo by Tim Stenton, 8 July 2006

13 comments:

TC said...

A lovely forty second capture of these grand endangered beauties in motion, in their natural element.

A curious party atmosphere seems to develop on the beaches at their funerals. Tragic events these really, as the creatures often have been cut up by boats.

Fin whale killed by ship strike, Puget Sound, April 2013

ACravan said...

I really love this. Heathcote Williams' words alert me to the fact that I've only skimmed the surface in my understanding of whales. The times we have seen whales, from the shore in Mexico and out in the sea off the coast of Maine, are among the times I remember best and treasure most in life. I have a pretty clear memory of a time when I was a child that a whale washed up on the shores of Atlantic Beach, Long Island, near where we lived, after a very bad storm. I remember fire trucks trying to unstick him from the beach, but as I recall, their efforts were unsuccessful. I'm struck by what you said about the sort of whale funeral parties that have grown up in California. All I can say is that death tends to bring out all sorts of weird, unworthy behavior in humans that we tend to try to put out of our minds, either to be charitable or because the memories are so painful and unpleasant. I was reading over the weekend about the funeral of an old friend that took place in Europe last week. It was a minor news event, so there was actual newspaper coverage. I was embarrassed and mortified by what I read and then angry with myself for feeling that way. I don't think I've ever been as excited as I was when waiting to see a whale surface and then actually seeing any part of him break through the water. That feeling lasts forever and is a great one. Curtis

TC said...

Curtis,

I elected not to show the numerous photos of the bystanders and spectators in this ceremony of curiosity, and then of mourning. The stories of the crowds growing through the morning as the whale gradually expired, thrashing ineffectually and gasping for its last few breaths, with dogs being permitted to run up and nip at it, were not pleasant.

When we lived up on the reef near there, passing groups of whales were now and then sighted, and whale carcasses were occasionally washed ashore on the beaches. In one case, in the 1960s, the remains of a whale very slowly decomposed, over a very long period, in a particularly remote spot. When hiking up that stretch of beach, one always smelt that whale long before coming upon it.

STEPHEN RATCLIFFE said...

Tom,

"acoustic picture-language"

Beautiful film of fin whale in motion, sad to see the end this one came to yesterday over there across channel (the beach now closed I hear, for fear of sharks). Another whale washed ashore last winter "in a particularly remote spot" north of the reef, its carcass there for months (yes, what a smell) until only a few large beautifully curved bones were left.

8.20

grey whiteness of fog against invisible
ridge, drops falling on brick red plane
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

that these are it, since it
is here that we comes

is, in the modern view, has
in several variations

sunlit white cloud above shadowed ridge,
fog on horizon to the left of the point

mistah charley, ph.d. said...

the motto of my undergraduate institution, a university polarized around science, is "mens et manus" - mind and hand - whales may arguably be more intelligent and better at agreeably associating with one another, but we naked apes are handier and having a bigger impact

Nin Andrews said...

Just back from Maine--and yes, the whales, seals, porpoises, and that feeling of some other intelligence . . .
And I don't think I will ever recover from watching that film, The Cove. About the dolphin killing and with some references to the whale killings . . .

Even in a more isolated part of Maine, I can't escape the sense of environmental disaster. The coastline is dragged so, where only a few years ago there was a world of sea life-now there are shells of the dead mussels and clams . . . They are even dragging for seaweed now to make it into fertilizer.

But that aside, thanks for this beautiful post and poem and more . . .

Unknown said...

"the planet is the territory
Not of humans, but of the whale."

Beautiful, brilliant observation and poem.

Thanks once again Tom,

Harris

Unknown said...

Regarding your sense of environmental disaster, Nin, and more proof that we humans do not have the intelligence of whales:

“Under all report scenarios, the acidification of the world's oceans will increase—the draft report calls this outcome "virtually certain." As we have previously reported, more acidity "threatens the survival of entire ecosystems from phytoplankton [food for many species of whales] to coral reefs, and from Antarctic systems reliant on sea urchins to many human food webs dependent on everything from oysters to salmon."
From 5 Terrifying Statements in the Leaked Climate Report

Harris

De Villo Sloan said...

"Call me Ishmael.." Extraordinary resonance, Tom.

Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore said...

WHALES

In Orange County they're excavating the remains of a
6 million year old baleen whale,
and nearby, a smaller one that
may be its baby, on a
construction site that
was to be the building of
ocean front homes.

For six million years those
bones have lain deep in the loam, the
curved ribs and
inner ear-bones, the
baleen itself that
once sieved krill when the

leviathans pushed, open-mouthed, through the
same waters six million years ago that
somehow circulate in our
oceanic atmosphere now.

See the wise whale eye casting
protective glances on her calf!
It paddles gracefully but
innocently through million year old
waters unaware of
long-toothed, beady-eyed predators

of uncertain description, with
horns on their noses or
strange knobs on their
foreheads, who knows?

Sunlight dim on the
watery world,
moonlight shining down on our
living tonnage now just

a sideshow of spiritless
bones exposed in the

bulldozed dirt in
Orange County this
Ramadan, 1406,
six
million
lunar years
later.

8 Ramadan(Ramadan Sonnets/1986)

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

As you say, Tom, the spectacle of humans making a spectacle of themselves over the demise of such beautiful creatures is a sad, ugly spectacle indeed.

Wooden Boy said...

Whale language

Whale culture

"If a human could sing, we wouldn't understand it".

TC said...

Many thanks to all for sensitive thoughts.

Beautiful poem by Daniel.

WB's Wittgenstein paraphrase is resonant in so many ways, here.

The American naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews called the fin whale "the greyhound of the sea... for its beautiful, slender body is built like a racing yacht and the animal can surpass the speed of the fastest ocean steamship."

The Marine Mammal Center of Sausalito issued this release following an on-site necropsy and beach burial on Tuesday:

"A 42 ft juvenile fin whale washed ashore at Stinson Beach in Marin County, CA on August 19, 2013. The whale weighed approximately 22,000 lbs (10 metric tons or 10,000 kg). Based on the length, it was more than double its size at birth. That suggests that it recently weaned and was likely less than one year old.

"A call was received from a volunteer at around 7 a.m. and The Marine Mammal Center assembled and dispatched a veterinary team to investigate. Sadly, the whale was found dead upon arrival.

"The veterinary team has since performed a necropsy (animal autopsy) to try to determine the cause of death. Once the whale was rolled over, The Marine Mammal Center's Director of Veterinary Science, Dr. Shawn Johnson, identified possible trauma to the sternum area. Upon dissecting tissues beneath the skin, hemorrhage (bruising) and emphysema (air bubbles) were discovered on the right side of the whale extending from the mandible to the sternum. Hemorrhage was also discovered in the pericardium (membrane that surrounds the heart). There were no broken bones discovered.

"Further studies will be conducted, including histopathology testing -- microscopic examination of tissue samples.

"All we can determine at this stage is that the animal appears to have suffered blunt trauma which either caused or likely contributed to its death. The cause of that trauma is unknown at this time. Additional testing will potentially reveal other findings.

"The whale has now been buried at Stinson Beach by Marin county officials."

RIP, lost child of the ocean.