Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Orcas in grief

[A]n adult male and female [were] swimming side by side in the weak November light. One had a baby draped over its head. Van Ginneken had seen this activity before as a form of play, with the mother lifting the infant from below or the baby swimming onto her head as if to hitch a ride. But there were only two spouts rising from this group of three. The baby, she realized, was dead.

Next, van Ginneken saw the male rise with its head high above the water as in a spy-hop. It was carrying the baby on its pectoral fins, held forward the way we would carry a child in our arms.

The observer, Astrid van Ginneken, is a scientist studying whales. She loses track of the infant and the male/female pair as they come upon a larger group of orcas. The orcas formed a stationary circle, “heads partly raised and facing inward …”

There in the middle floated the baby’s corpse. Time and again, the whales broke off, reformed their line at a distance, approached the infant, and spread out to face it in a circle. A storm gathered, sucking what little brightness remained from the sky. As van Ginneken’s boat left for shore, the ceremony was still being repeated.

source: The Grandest of Lives: eye to eye with whales by Douglas H. Chadwick

6 comments:

Jim Murdoch said...

Fascinating this. I posted a link on Facebook. I even sent the link to a friend saying that this deserves to be a poem. She has a special affinity to things aquatic and I hope she can do something with it.

Sarah Byam said...

beautiful find, Glenn.

Art Durkee said...

Anyone who still thinks that humans are the only sentient species on our planet is being willfully, stupidly ignorant.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

I've just started a book on dolphins, the author says on an early trip out to visit these friendly dolphins off the Bahamas one of the passengers in the boat was, unknown to everyone aboard, probably including himself, in a very bad way. He died in his bunk that night - of a heart attack? The author says the dolphins escorted the boat in a formal line-up that she hadn't seen before and hasn't seen again in the twenty years since. She does not say, but I presume, that no one has died on her boat in the intervening twenty years.

The book: Dolphin Diaries by Denise Herzing

Elisabeth said...

There's an ancient respect for death here Glenn, among the animal kingdom as among humans. I agree with Jim and others here, this is beautiful and very moving.

Glenn Ingersoll said...

Thanks, Elisabeth.

When I copied the passages into a word processing document I thought I was going to add commentary, so it sat awhile. Eventually I decided not to and went ahead and posted it.