Splashing with Whales

I want to introduce you to a friend and colleague who has recently returned from Baja. Megan LeBoutillier is an artist and naturalist, her work inspired by the sheer beauty of life of all kinds in its natural state, and, on this occasion, the lives of gray whales. These are her words:

Recently I had the pure joy of being in an inflatable boat in Bahia Magdalena off the western coast of Baja California when a grey whale mother brought her calf up to the side of our boat and offered it up to our waiting hands, and excited ooohs and aaahs. The baby rolled onto its side and appeared to look at us with its giant eye. It put its face close enough to our outstretched hands to touch its magnificent head. Camera shutters clicked; I could do nothing but weep. How can one question the close connection between all creatures on the planet after having such an experience?

For some time, I have no real idea how long, the mother and calf played with each other and with our boat. They rolled over one another. They blew bubbles and splashed. The mom went under the boat, and as I watched her enormous body I had a intense feeling of vulnerability—is this going to be OK? She gave the boat a gentle nudge and we all squealed. But had she wanted to, she could easily have tossed us all into the lagoon.

The list of common household products for which these magnificent creatures have been slaughtered is not only extensive but shameful: animal feed, industrial oils, fertilizers, perfumes, soaps, shampoos, gelatin, even margarine. By the 1950’s, the blue whales had all but disappeared, yet it wasn’t until the mid 1970’s that global protections were conveyed on the blues, greys, and humpbacks, protections still ignored by whalers from Iceland, Norway, and Japan.

Megan writes, “this change of heart, mind, and practice concerning whales has allowed them to survive and perhaps even teach humans a thing or two. I certainly pondered what it means to forgive when I saw the friendliness with which we were greeted by these great mammals.”

Once again, National Geographic finds power in images to remind us of our need for one another, human and non-human alike.

Consider it this way. Whales eat plankton, particularly the crustacean krill which is rich in iron. Iron is essential for the production of algae, which absorb carbon dioxide. When the whales are extracted from the food chain, less iron is released into the oceans; fewer marine plants such as algae are produced; less carbon dioxide is absorbed. As a result of the increased levels of carbon dioxide, oceans become increasingly acidic; as oceans become increasingly acidic, coral reefs become imperiled; without the coral reefs, marine life ceases.

Begin virtually anywhere in the marine eco-systems, extract one more of the key players – in this case, several species of whale – and we end up at the same place. The astonishing thing is that we simply are not understanding that we are integral to these very systems we are destroying, and, therefore, both agent of and subject to, our own blindness.

A Homework Assignment

In the congregation of my first solo pastorate, was a four-year old boy whose name was Ian. Ian loved bugs. Every Sunday, without fail, during the congregation’s prayers, Ian would come forward with a small scrap of paper, introduce the rest of us to an insect on the endangered species list, explain its purpose – why it was important to pray for it – and then ask us to pray. We always did.

I am asking you to step into Ian’s shoes. Choose a particular casualty of the environmental degradation we are seeing all around us. You might choose a copse of trees, a species of whale, the herd of caribou which will be displaced should drilling for oil be authorized for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a specific beetle. Choose one. Place it in the context of its habitat, and become familiar with its purpose and place. Then simply extract it from its ecosystem. In a way similar to an earlier blog post, describe the chain of events that necessarily occur as a result of its removal.

You might explore this as a family, or perhaps assign it as a biology exercise in your classroom.

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