A Whale's Last Song

credit:  Darryl Dyck, The Canadian Press

A juvenile humpback whale washed up onto the beach a couple kilometres from our house this morning. By the time my girls and I arrived a few hours later the beach was swarming with a crowd of the curious. Yellow police tape circled the 10-metre long whale, making it look like a crime scene, which I suppose it was -- the fishing net tangled at the whale’s fluke clearly indicated foul play. The Vancouver Aquarium folks were on hand as were the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. It was a strange atmosphere of mourning and festivity. I heard one man say to his son, “Isn’t this exciting?” I think he meant being so close to a whale.

There are only about 2,000 humpbacks that travel up and down the B.C. coast. They don’t often come near shore. They do sing, however -- haunting songs. And they’re intelligent. I thought of a story related by a marine biologist about another species of whale -- Orcas. Each of the three Orca pods that live in the Northwest’s Puget Sound sing in their own distinct dialect. When one pod failed to return one particular spring the other two pods went out to sea, singing the third pod’s song in an attempt to woo it back to their common summer waters.

And I thought of my grandparents’ neighbours on Orcas Island who once ate a Robin that had smashed into their windshield. Not wanting its death to have been in vain they collected it off the road, brought it home and cooked it for lunch. I remembered how our financial advisor trapped, killed and made stew of a squirrel who had taken up residence in his garage. He encouraged his kids to eat the stew as a living case study of “waste not, want not” (you got to love such conservatism in a financial advisor).

But how could we redeem this whale’s death? We couldn’t eat it. We couldn’t use its blubber for oil. We could, however, lament. Before the crime scene tape went up some thoughtful souls placed flowers on its head. And just before we arrived three elders from the Semiamhoo First Nation beat drums and sang songs, honouring a rare and singing whale.
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