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Posts Tagged ‘whale’

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Art: Olga Shvartsur/Fine Art America
Humpback whale and baby. Recently, a humpback whale appeared to intentionally protect a researcher from a tiger shark.

A scientist who studies whales underwater was astonished and more than a little frightened in September 2017 when a whale kept pushing her toward her boat. After her colleagues pulled her to safety, she saw that in the other direction a dangerous tiger shark was lurking. The researcher believes that the whale was intentionally trying to protect her. Other scientists argue that whales aren’t altruistic.

I say, Who cares? The point is the whale’s action moved the diver away from danger, and she is grateful.

Sarah Gibbens writes at the National Geographic, “For 28 years, Nan Hauser has been researching and diving with whales. The biologist is the president and director of the Center for Cetacean Research and Conservation. … During a trip to look at whales in the Cook Islands in the South Pacific last September, Hauser says she had an encounter unlike any she had experienced before.

“A humpback whale, a marine mammal capable of weighing 40 tons and growing 60 feet long, swam toward Hauser. For ten minutes, it nudged her forward with its closed mouth, tucked her under its pectoral fin, and even maneuvered her out of the water with its back. …

” ‘I was prepared to lose my life,’ she says. ‘I thought he was going to hit me and break my bones.’

“In addition to conducting research, Hauser says she was also in the Cook Islands to work on a nature film, so at the time the whale approached, both she and a fellow diver were armed with cameras. Hauser’s point-of-view footage shows just how persistently the whale nudged her. A second whale can also be seen lurking just behind the first.

“When she finally made it out of the water and up onto her boat — bruised and scratched from the barnacles on the whale — Hauser saw a third tail moving from side-to-side.

” ‘I knew that was a tiger shark,’ she says.

“Now, after viewing the footage and reflecting on the whole harrowing experience, Hauser concludes that the whale who nudged her likely exhibited an extraordinary example of altruism. …

“Hauser’s retelling isn’t the first time scientists have questioned whether humpback whales can show signs of altruism. A 2016 study in the journal Marine Mammal Science looked at 115 instances from the past 62 years in which humpbacks interfered with a pod of hunting orcas.

“Banding together, humpbacks were seen effectively protecting their calves. But there were also examples of humpbacks showing the same behavior to protect other species of whales, seals, and sea lions. …

“Martin Biuw from the Institute of Marine Research in Nowary is skeptical of Hauser’s claim that altruism is at play in the video. Hauser had speculated the whale was male, but Biuw believes it appears to be a female.

” ‘If that is the case, it is possible that she may show protective behavior towards a human (or other animal for that matter) if she has for instance recently lost her calf,’ he says.

“Biuw explained that hormonal changes could have spurred the whale to show protective behavior.” Oh, ha, ha, hormonal changes? Good grief, give me a break.

More at the National Geographic, here.

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I wish Pete Seeger were around for this story. The folksinger spent many years sailing his sloop the “Clearwater” up and down the Hudson River to draw attention to pollution. Today the river is in good enough shape to attract a whale chasing its dinner.

Recently, New York Times reporter Katie Rogers interviewed Dr. Rachel Dubroff, whose apartment overlooks the Hudson. She writes that the first time Dubroff spotted a whale swimming outside her living room window, “she didn’t quite believe the sighting was real,” but news reports in November confirmed that “the Hudson River has a resident humpback.”

Continues Rogers, “The Hudson, as scenic as it is, does not scream ‘whale habitat.’ But experts say cleanup and conservation efforts have led to cleaner waters and an abundance of fish. …

“A whale appearing in the Hudson is very rare, [Paul Sieswerda, the president of Gotham Whale, an organization that tracks marine life around the city] said, which is why he thinks this one is a solo traveler. But the whale still faces significant danger because it is swimming in traffic-laden waters. …

“ ‘When you have whales chasing the bunker [menhaden], and fishermen chasing the stripers that chase the bunker, accidental interactions between whales and vessels can occur,’ Jeff Ray, a deputy special agent with NOAA’s law enforcement division,” added.

I hope everyone using the river will watch out for whales and try to coexist. It would be great if the whale came back after the usual typical retreat to warmer breeding grounds in winter.

More at the New York Times, here.

Art: Amy Hamilton
A humpback whale like the one spotted in New York’s Hudson River in November 2016.

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I spent four months reading MobyDick in 2010, and I must say that for me there was way too much information about different kinds of ropes, how to cut up a whale, and the categories of seagoing creatures. I could not figure out why people I admire read MobyDick over and over.

So, avast! There is now a way for people like me to grasp the essence of Herman Melville’s classic. It’s a one-man show performed by the Irish actor Conor Lovett, who — along with his wife and director, Judy Hegarty Lovett — adapted the book’s highlights.

ArtsEmerson presented this wonder in Boston recently, and I’m in awe.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that the actor in his Ishmael role has the stunned, wounded look of Tommy Smothers (remember the insecure brother in the 1970s comedy duo?), Conor is heartbreaking. His facial expressions and body language before he speaks Melville’s famous opening, “Call me Ishmael,” convey a haunted man, one who, like Coleridge’s ancient mariner, has witnessed mysteries beyond human understanding and feels condemned to tell the story to anyone who will listen. His look says, Why was I spared? Why did I choose this voyage? Why did I listen to the prophetic mad sailor Elijah on a wintry Nantucket dock and still choose to sail on the cursed Pequod?

The production is full of dark musings, the roars of a crazed Captain Ahab, and the savagely raging elements of air, water, and fire. But at the outset, stage time is lovingly devoted to the humorous side of Ishmael searching for New Bedford lodgings, having to bunk with the “harponeer” Queeqeg, and learning to recognize the interior decency behind the mask of the “cannibal.”

That the novel is deep is clearer to me now. I’m still pondering Ahab’s speech about whaleness being merely the “mask” that MobyDick wears. When the devout first mate Starbuck says it’s wrong to seek revenge against a whale that is merely a dumb beast — a creature of God — Ahab counters that beneath the mask is an infinitely malevolent force that must be conquered at all costs. We never feel sure what this force is supposed to be. Satan? Then why do the natural elements seem to take the side of the whale? I’m still wondering why we never learn if the whale dies or lives to wreak havoc another day.

But at last I see why people admire this book. Read more here.

P.S. The play is part of Imagine Ireland, “a year of Irish arts in America.” Check it out.

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