Fin Whale

An emaciated fin whale washed up off of Queens today. Most people wouldn’t think twice about it. No more than a curiosity to so many passers-by. But I sat watching the news and my mind traced back over all the years whales were a part of my life. I know, most people never think about whales, let alone touch them. I grew up living and breathing whales. I knew all the varieties, and could demonstrate how a baleen whale sifted the copious amounts of plankton from the sea. Pieces of baleen hung on our walls. I could tell you where narwhals were found and that some even ended up with two tusks. I still have a Narwhal tusk in my home. It has a place in my living room. It isn’t the magnificent 8′ tusk that was in my childhood home, but it is no less majestic. I was taught everything about these incredible mammals from my father. At the time he was one of the only vets in the world treating and researching whales. I loved them, as I loved him. We shared that. I sat at the edge of my recliner watching the news, noting it was a fin whale. I knew that because of the smaller size, though in shape it is much the same as the enormous blue whale, the largest whale in the ocean. This little whale lay listing in the shallows all of its ribs protruding. A whale’s ribs never show. This was a sick starving creature. I thought about the spring of 1981, when I met Physty, a 25′ ailing young Sperm whale of the coast of Long Island. He too lay listing in the shallows. Physty was dying. We all knew that. People sat vigil and prayed for him. All the while my father struggled in those frigid waters trying to get antibiotics into that whale. They eventually succeeded and Physty returned to the wild. That is what my dad did. Crazy, huh. yeah, his life was flying to one stranding after another. Figuring out why these massive creatures threw themselves upon beaches to die. There were no answers back then. These days the field has come so far. Specific response units exist just to deal with strandings. Even if the whales have no chance of survival, their death is studied and data complied so that maybe the next will have a chance. Aquariums around the world have learned a great deal from all these years of studying sick and dying whales. I didn’t know it back then, but my father was beating a path thru virgin jungle. It was just guessing and trying different things. I was along for much of that journey. A whale will never be just a whale. The whale is so deeply intertwined with my father, and the trajectory of his life. He was busy studying whales, and traveling those years before his accident. The small plane he was in was flying a test flight with equipment for his next trip to the great white north chasing the illusive narwhal. That trip never happened, the Narwals continued hunting off the Baffin islands while he lay in a hospital bed comatose. That pursuit of the whale came to a stop for a while, though he never lost that passion. Our house held every manner of whale object, from massive vertebra mounted on stands in the yard (talk about getting shit from the other kids, try have whale skeletons in your yard), to the sperm whale teeth, or the beautiful tusk. They all had places amongst the Inuit art he brought back when his hunts for the Narwhal were over. I keep a number of pieces in my house, and find them each comforting reminders of the best part of this difficult man. Regardless of all he has done wrong, at the end of the day he was a dreamer. No dream too big, no adventure to grand. He is one of a kind, those whales remind of that. Watching the news I thought about him and just how much he has given to this world. Watching that dying whale rekindled all those wonderful memories.


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