Whale Songs

Some arctic baleens can live for over two-hundred years. What do they remember from their centuries of knowing?

photography of whale tail in body of water

My first memory of the largest creature known to ever exist on the planet, is of the ninety-four-foot blue whale model suspended from the ceiling in New York’s Museum of Natural history. It was amazing to me that something could grow so large from eating such tiny creatures.  I was relieved to know that it wanted nothing larger. 

Their songs are complex and can be heard for miles.

Some arctic baleens can live for over two-hundred years. And what do they remember, I wonder, from their centuries of knowing?

Killer whales, more porpoise than whale, live in family groups centered around the mother. The beluga earned the name canary of the sea, for its complex repertoire of chirps, whistles, and clicks.

The round trip of a grey whale is ten thousand miles. 

Some beaked species have been known to dive nearly two miles beneath the surface, have been known not to surface for two hours.

The round trip of a grey whale is ten thousand miles. You can tell their age by the accumulation patterns of ear wax. Alternating rings of light and dark record the number of migrations. This because the color of the wax changes with water temperature.

The humpback may live off fat reserves for over half a year.

It is suspected that they grieve. This because mothers and related kin have been known to carry the body of a dead calf for some time after death, even when doing so threatens their safety. 

The thing about whales is that no matter how hard you try to track them they tend to disappear for stretches of time only to reappear where the researchers don’t expect. The calves whisper to the mothers while migrating, and during these travels the mother will not eat. Instead, she will wait as her baby feeds, conserving her energy for the trip. 

They don’t know why the calves whisper, but it must be learned.

Their ancestors had four legs, and whenever I learn this about a sea creature, I can’t help but wonder about what was happening on land, to drive whole species away from it. And I think about certain things, and wonder: at what point do you –––?

Notes:

Here’s a photo and information about the blue whale model in the American Museum of Natural History.

The last passage about migration is excerpted from my story “Twilight at Blue Plate” which appeared in Oyster River Pages in August 2019.

Author: Stacey C. Johnson

I am here to wonder out loud. The point is not to get a clear answer, a complete picture, but to remember how incomplete the picture is, to embrace the process once again, of discovery, of questions, to notice the stirrings of wonder. To leave crumbs behind, for the next traveler.

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