Once upon a time I placed my palm to my face as my friend announced that she thought there was only one type of whale.
“And which type might that be?”
I asked, surprised at the thought of this concept.
“You know, the whaley type.”
She responded, content with her answer.
Maybe she was thinking of the biggest animal known to man, the blue whale, who’s heart is the size of a small car. The whale that marks the benchmark for awe inspiring mass amongst the animal kingdom while somehow simultaneously achieving such incredible levels of grace and beauty in its movements.
Or maybe she was thinking of the Beluga whale, such a unique looking specimen which is so pale grey it almost appears to be white in the right levels of sunlight. Its bulbous forehead housing a rather intelligent brain, with aquarium workers claiming to hear the Belugas speak to them through the glass panels.
What if she was thinking of the Sperm whale, known for its giggle-inducing name, which appear to me to look like big long rocks with tails. Maybe she was thinking about how they sleep vertically in a circular group to resemble pillars of ancient ruins in order to be protected against loitering predators.
In my brain, there are too many whales to name. Toothed whales, baleen whales, smaller whales and gigantic whales. Lonely whales who call long distances to find somebody, anybody to share their lives with, whales in family groups migrating long distances together and whales who have succumbed to the whaling villages who use their meat for food and their hide for their homes. I wonder how a person can believe there is only one species of whale in amongst all of the vast diversity.
Personally, I never grasped the true awe of whales until I was acquainted by many mother Humpbacks, teaching their calves to breach in order to rid their backs of parasites. I watched intently as the mothers jumped first, heaving their huge and weighty bodies out of the ocean, somehow defying the laws of physics, flipping over and slamming themselves back into the ocean causing an enormous splash. The calves followed, they were babies by name but hardly by size. They heaved their smaller bodies out of the water and following mum, awkwardly fell back into the ocean from which they came.
Seeing them up close was only reaffirming what I saw in National Geographic photographs and David Attenborough documentaries. The bumps on their head gave them a unique texture along with the straight ridges that they sported on the underside of their bodies. The smooth skin on their backs and dorsal fins were marked and nicked from a rough ocean life of predators, rocks and communication with other whales, as if they were covered in graffiti like common street mammals. Their dorsal fin was the most peculiar of all however, as its small bulbous point was hardly the angular fin that most cetaceans possess. They were absolutely stunning, and happy to show off their tails and flippers to us mere humans while we were ogling at them from the boat.
Watching these beauties I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with the feeling that these creatures were real and alive in front of me, in a way that led me to believe I formerly regarded them as fictional and magical beasts. It is one thing to accept that whales exist from watching them in documentaries and seeing them in photos but it is another thing to sit in wonderment as they dance through the ocean around you. To add one last slice of magic, their song reverberated through the boat and filled our ears with the most wonderful sultry melody. They truly were the best performers of that slice of ocean.
It is a shame that whales are hunted so dramatically all over the world, especially in Nordic countries, and more so, it is a shame that something so vast and magnificent is confined to a life behind glass for human entertainment. Seeing whales in the wild is a truly amazing experience and I urge you to add them to your bucket list of animals to see. I was planning on swimming with the Humpbacks, however due to the young calves being present, we didn’t come between the mums and their babies within their safe haven and put ourselves in potential danger. Whales taught me a long time ago that seeing animals perform their song and dance for you in the wild on their own, is a far more breathtaking experience than knowing a human orchestrated their behaviour. The world is magical without our interference, and whales are definite proof of that.