Gray Whale Deaths


East Hampton Star
August 15, 2014


An alarm call needs to be sounded, but not one that blasts the ears of whales to the point of death. The recent deaths of three whales in Hawaii were not due to parasites or pollution. They were caused by sonic blasts delivered by the United States Navy, which are costing the lives of hundreds of whales every year.

In January 2009, 45 sperm whales were marooned off the coast of Tasmania. In January 2005, 33 pilot whales were beached on Oregon’s coast. In March 2009, 90 pilot whales and bottlenose dolphins were beached in Hamelin Bay, Australia. The world needs to condemn the Navy’s use of sonar. They need to alter their ways. The paranoia of the Cold War still haunts us. Our military acts of folly are destroying the largest beings on earth. We supposedly need to defend ourselves. From what?

From an ocean that could become largely lifeless this century? Playing Cassandra is not fun, but we as a species have become deaf to the song of the earth.  A few months ago, our son Lysander touched and kissed a gray whale on the head in Baja, California. It was assuredly among the most sacred and ineffable exchanges between two species that can be had on this planet. What is remarkable is that the gray whales allow us to do this. It is as if a truce had been achieved. It is as if they knew that we are not all wanton killers. If is as if we had been forgiven. We almost exterminated them utterly from the face of the earth. It began in the 19th century. Tens of thousands were exterminated, and then in the early 20th century a moratorium on whaling was passed.

We in essence are being asked to meet the whales halfway. When the gray whales of Baja urge their babies to touch us, the bond is an exchange, a communion of the most transcendent order. Their minds incarnate the purest example of the psyche of Creation and inhabit our subconscious like no other group of beings. For we all originally came from the sea.

What would Cousteau say if he were alive? He is not, but I have heard Paul Watson speaking out like a depth charge of conscience against the violent insanity of human mindlessness. It was when a sperm whale was dying, in a maelstrom of blood. The whale looked at Paul and his crew, who could not save the great being from the Russian harpoon, two generations ago. It started to sink and in that act shot a terrifying look of pity — not for itself, but for the human race. And then Watson realized humans had gone completely mad.

The Russians were using whale oil to lubricate I.C.B.M. nuclear missiles. Now is the time to awaken. There are stirrings that the Japanese would rather see whales in the wild than on their dinner plates. The Russians have ceased their slaughter. That leaves Iceland and Norway and the shenanigans of the U.S. Navy and its military inferiority complex as the main whale-destroyers. Who exactly is the enemy? Do we really need to knock out the life force while trying to preserve the American way of strife?

In one of the “Star Trek” films, future earthlings come back to earth and communicate with the humpbacks. In Baja, the whales urge us to commune because they need to affirm their place in the world and they know we desperately, desperately need to make contact as well. This exchange is a baptism no religion can match. The whales are the monarchs of the oceans and they have been for tens of millions of years. We can search for life elsewhere but it is essentially a misguided endeavor. Life is here on earth like nowhere else. And even if those special someones exist out there, they will wonder what kind of creatures humans are, or were, to have dismantled a miracle called earth. We are exhibiting incredible ontological bipolarity. Do we want to cherish life to destroy it? Why? We have found life here on earth and it is irreplaceable.

Roger Payne, the whale expert, reminded us in “Among Whales” that no Shakespeare, Van Gogh, or Beethoven could ever make amends for what we have done to the life force. Creation stares us in the face and asks to change course now. We are literally playing the violin while Rome burns, and Rome is not classical antiquity, it is the entire chalice and fabric of life. Roger reminds us that if earth should lose the life force because of humans, Creation might have to decide that humans are a species that should never have been! If we are so special, why are we knocking the life force senselessly? Everyone should do what he or she can to let the Navy know that a lifeless ocean is not in our best interest. Who indeed is the enemy? Maybe the enemy lies not outside the gates of Rome but within.

If we should lose the whales and the elephants, who are being cruelly executed and butchered for trinkets and baubles, then this century, this decade in fact, represents our last chance at redeeming ourselves. In a purely manmade world, there is no room for man either, as the great French visionary writer Romain Gary once expressed.

It is time humanity acted as an adult species, as opposed to the belligerent, war-mongering, desecrators of life we have become. The next five years are absolutely critical to the life force as we have known it. It is only a little more than a century and a half that Darwin marveled at life and evolution. And what on earth have we done in that time? Mommy, Daddy, what’s a whale? What’s an elephant? What’s a bee? Otherwise the children will never forgive us.


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