Growing up as an Indiana girl, I’ve always been fascinated by the sea. Except for an 18-month interlude in my childhood, I’d been without it, and because of this lack of familiarity, it’s exerted an inexorable pull on me. On one of the first vacations I can remember my family taking, to the Atlantic seaboard, the ocean was one of the most memorable parts of the trip. I remember my father admonishing my sister and I to keep our eyes on the waves while his own back was to the surf – and subsequently being boweled over by it. I can remember taking a look at one seaside park late in the afternoon, and just begging and begging to go out and play in it – my parents eventually acquiescing, and themselves having a delightful and riotous time, despite gritty swimsuits later. The sea plays powerfully in my imagination, and can create a kind of almost-magic in my stories.
It was especially powerful to me then to read this news article today. Not only was I amazed at the cooperation exhibited between the beached whales and the dolphin that lead them out to sea, but by the intelligence of the dolphin and its ability to communicate with the whales. These are two different species, albeit related ones. I don’t know much about whale or dolphin noises or soundings, but to me they seem very different. How did the dolphin communicate effectively? Do they, in fact, ‘speak the same language’, or did they communicate in other ways? How do you earn the trust, in moments, of an animal of another species? There are messages here we all could learn from.
To me however the most interesting aspect of the article was the whales themselves. Due to past research of my own, the pygmy sperm whale, or Kogia breviceps (yes, I know the Latin name – it makes a good story title, but you can’t read this one yet as its main character remains…elusive) , is pretty familiar to me. They are a strange and secretive species that we don’t know much about, perhaps due to their generally shy nature. In fact, much of what we do know comes from dead or beached whales of this species who are probably not the average in behavior.
Perhaps the Japanese know them best, dubbing them the ‘floating whale’ due to their surfacing habits. They don’t rise quickly or flash their tails a lot – they simply surface slowly, float silently for awhile, and then sink back down without really ‘diving’. They are not much bigger than dolphins themselves, which is perhaps why they seemed to cooperate so well with the dolphin of the story. They have teeth (unlike most sperm whales) and spermaceti, that substance we don’t exactly understand. They also have a sort of reddish stuff they can expel in fear – to confuse enemies, to mask scent or hide, or for some other purpose as yet unclear. It is perhaps because of these secrets, these mysteries and unusual habits that I am drawn to this particular animal. What mysteries could they unlock for us if we could, like the dolphin, communicate and share with them?