Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Ocean is a Giant Grave

I was watching this old news footage of a dying whale beached somewhere near Vancouver and it really bothered me that all these people in business suits were on the beach, taking time out of their morning commute to watch and touch a whale who was taking its last breaths. It seemed awful to me that this beast was not dying with dignity, had become a side-show in its last moments and that people just naturally assumed they had a right to witness what should probably be a very private moment, even if it is a whale. Or maybe because it is a whale. It's not a human, so how dare we impose our own (lack of) morals upon it?

Then I wondered what a "normal" whale death consisted of. Do they go belly-up and sink to the bottom? I imagined what the ocean floor would look like with thousands of hundred-tonne whale carcases strewn around. But then I wondered if perhaps they tended to float, like a human body, if it fills with gases and rises to the top and bakes in the sun. And then I figured that whale or not, in death it would probably become food pretty quickly, and somehow I find that a comforting thought, like the deep-sea version of "dust to dust."

They say all dogs go to heaven, but I wonder if heaven has a place for whales, and if so, it must be a pretty big place. I mean, the world is overpopulated with just the people who live here now - imagine how big it would have to be to accommodate the souls of all the dead people and animals who came before. I think it must be crazy to be rubbing shoulders with dinosaur ghosts. I don't think you'd have to worry about getting eaten though, because you have to be on your best behaviour in heaven. Probably heaven is like a party after everyone's had a few hits from the same bong, mellow and polite, a little stunned, but you forget about grudges and grievances and just wink at each other an awful lot.

If there was a beached whale in downtown Toronto, I wonder if I'd go. I mean, it's easy to be outraged by the whale's invasion of privacy when it's all the way in Vancouver and the only ocean for 1700km is in a small vial on the top shelf of my closet, smuggled in from a trip to the Caribbean, but what if it was right here? An accident always attracts a crowd. I don't usually like to gawk, but we're talking whale here: the closest to a mythical beast as we are ever likely to get. They've been around for millions of years, and can apparently live longer than we can, if only we'd stop killing them, and man, if they could talk, imagine what they would tell us! But whales are excellent at keeping secrets, so we can only guess, but they fascinate us so we build theme parks and cheesy movies in their honour. They're like fish, but not. And they sing so beautifully we bottle it and pipe it into spas.

I think I remember reading somewhere that some cultures revere whales and hold funerals for beached whales, and I can't help but think of how beautiful it would be on a beach at night, with hundreds of people holding flickering candles, the smell of the salt water and the sound of little splashes with the water lapping on the beach, trying to reclaim one of its own, and the low hum of sad voices, and this huge, mysterious creature lying in the middle of it, still slippery, seaweed still clinging to its body, sandy and sparkling in the moonlight. And then, perversely, I think of the size of the calluses on the hands of whatever poor sucker is roped into digging the grave.

But then I'm sad that this poor whale has to die alone, without his mummy or his wife, or his close "companion" or whatever. I think most of like to picture ourselves going quietly, maybe even in our sleep, in our nice warm beds with a loved one's arms wrapped around us. And while whales don't have arms, I like to think that they have their prefered death rituals too, and being poked by curious investment bankers wearing suspenders and appearing in the latest youtube video probably doesn't factor into it.

I hope, at the very least, that the whale can close its eyes and think of a happy, kelpy place, and as he drifts into whatever afterlife awaits him, that he's swum a few good laps, eaten some succulent fish, and given at least one Ahab a run for his money.

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