Jane Eaton Hamilton

"I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year’s fashions.” – Lillian Hellman

Tag: whales

Whale Party

Whale Party

Tonight, my visiting daughter pulls me from my recliner to go explore bio-luminescence. At the first beach, there are some sparkles in the water, but a lot of ambient light too, so we decide to go north. At our second beach we need to use a flashlight to creep down over roots and rocks. We can’t see phosphorescence from shore, but the view is stunning: calm water, humpbacks of rocks, a wild-star sky.

Slowly, we wade out.

We begin to laugh like kids because every step stirs up sparkles. Underwater fireworks, or the fairy dust that falls from Tinkerbell’s wand. It really does look like stars. Unable to stop giggling, we stir, we splash, we kick. “I have superpowers!” Meghann says and tosses phosphorescence in an arc of blue.

“We’ve got to go get your sister and the kids,” I say. It’s way after bedtime in their house, but a holiday weekend—no work tomorrow. I call, Sarah wakes the 2 and 3-year-olds and we pick our way with them half asleep back to the beach, and hold them tight. They can’t figure out what’s going on. They’ve never even seen stars before, and now we want them to dunk their sandals. They’re very impressed, though, with the lighthouse in the distance. Naiya spies a falling star. “With no tail!” The dog swims through the bio luminescence, and it looks like she’s swimming in the Milky Way. “She looks magic,” I say. Sarah says, “She’s always been magic; you can just see how it sparkles tonight.”

Naiya says, “How did the stars fall into the water, Mom?”

How did the stars fall into the water? Do blue butterflies eat parts of the sky?[1]

Finally the kids, chilled and sleepy, think it’s time to go back to bed. They don’t realize that there isn’t year-round phosphorescence.

I hear loud breathing sounds as we negotiate for a minute more. Huffs. Not very far from us at all, and close—perhaps 30 feet out?–I realize I’ve been hearing it a while, and I wonder if it’s a sea lion coming in to heave herself atop the rocks.

Sarah says, “Whales.”

“Shh, shh,” we all say, and even the chatterboxes quieten. The baby is nervous and cuddles her mom close.

We talk about Tahlequah, J35, the orca mom who that night still carries her dead baby on her snout, and wonder if the close whale or whales breathing at the surface might be Tahlequah and her close family, lagging behind, resting their bellies on the rocks a few minutes.

As we listen, at least two of us hope the whales don’t mistake us for seals, but even so we’re reluctant to get out of the magic water connecting us to the whales in the bio-chain of life. I’ve never been in the water with whales before. I think about how many orcas are in the resident population: 75. I think about how many people are in the world who aren’t hearing whales tonight: I wish there were a way to whisper this beauty into every person’s ear. I wish people could wake up restored, a little braver for the tasks at hand, as I will.

As we muddle to leave, off in the distance, in between where we stand and the nearby island, we hear slapping sounds.

“Tail slaps!” I cry.

They’re loud—surely they could be heard on land by the people who live here on the edge of land and water–and Sarah explains to the children that the whales can’t play during the day with all the boats around, but they can at night under the moon. Maybe the orcas are hunting, but whatever they’re doing lasts a long time, and is noisy, and I like imagining they are playing, making a fine night racket, breaching, slapping for joy, loving the perfection of the bay and the beautiful clear sky. Who knows, maybe they’re enjoying stirring up bio-luminescence. Maybe they’re playing just to ignite it, so they can swim in sparkling orca soup. Meantime, the pod, or members of a pod, who are closer to us swim off and return, rising and diving–and breathing.

We stand until the whales, both groups, dive, before making our charmed and stunned ways back up to the car. The experience beats in a chamber of our hearts devoted only to magic.

#orcas # whales #Tahlequah #eatonhamilton #bioluminescence #phosphorescence



[1] How Does Life Live, Kelly O’Brien, NY Times


Every day, I bang my mind up against the thickening jail of my skull.  So many bars, and the bone hard, the bone exacting, smooth and slippery, pale as a tulip bulb under its brown jacket, and everywhere I turn, no matter how I hope the osseous matter won’t contain me, won’t be the edge of me, it does, it is, relentlessly.  This is where my mind ends. Finis, completo.  This is where the jig is up for me. Filigree, lace, dendronitic and slippery and slackly synaptic, rolling like sea snakes off ecru bone. My cell bodies have nerves; my eels are electric. I have this much space, this hairy coconut’s worth, and not a centimeter more.  One stifling cave is all I get for spelunking.  Speleothems at every turn, stalagmites and stalactites mineralizing.  I’m not trying to say that I know the place, but rather I’m saying that even in its mysteries it lacks scope. Sure, it loves a long rope swing over a blue unknowable cenote. What brain wouldn’t?  But what’s down there? People, I am terrified.  Jellyfish.  Once off Fiji I got stung by too many jellyfish and afterwards it looked like red lips had kissed me a hundred times. But they can kill a person, some jellyfish, in merely minutes.  Today I read a long review in the New York Review of Books called ‘They’re Taking Over,’ by Tim Flannery discussing ‘Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean’ by Lisa-ann Gershwin and let me tell you, my entire mind lit up like an underwater beacon, quivered twice, and then collapsed. Here are some of the gaseous tidbits I siphoned up just from Tim’s review: jellyfish can reproduce at 13 weeks via sex or self-sex or cloning, and when they die, cells wriggle free of the snit and snot of decomp and re-jig and make new jelly babies.  Here’s the rub, here’s the part that ricochets around my over-taxed mind-mush:  those jelly babies are right this minute colonizing the wet.  And wreaking destruction.

Gershwin says, “If I offered evidence that jellyfish are displacing penguins in Antarctica—not someday, but now, today—what would you think? If I suggested that jellyfish could crash the world’s fisheries, out compete the tuna and swordfish, and starve the whales to extinction, would you believe me?”

Scientists are calling this phenom jellification.

And yes, Lisa-ann Gershwin, I believe you.

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