Oregon writer, Rain Trueax, and Oregon painter, Diane Widler Wenzel co-author Rainy Day Thought. Diane generally posts on Wednesdays and Rain on Saturdays. There may be extra days or changes as situations warrant. Comments are always welcome and appreciated as it turns an article into a discussion.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Whales and mankind

  The Green Man is a symbol of rebirth and of spring. The mythology is part of many ancient cultures but was only called the Green Man in the 20th century. In its various forms, it is a symbol of hope... and some of us need all the help we can get right now.

Pretty much, I assume that most who read this blog are well informed on climate change. They know the Antarctic is melting faster than experts had expected. They know the likelihood of an ocean rise of 10 feet is what most scientists assume will be the result. They also know that sea life is being much impacted by these changes. 

This year, since January, 1100 starving baby seals have been found on the California beaches. Some could be saved but many could not. This starvation is most likely due to their mothers having to leave them to go farther for food because the food supply is not where it always was.

Human climate is seeing changes of greater storms, less rain some places and more others. Colder some places and warmer others. In my part of Oregon, our rainfall hasn't been that much less, but the mountains got virtually no snow, which will impact rivers this summer. Our own farm may not be able to irrigate for long, but it's been because of heavy logging on the hills around us, which means the land holds less water when the rains do come. 

Mankind is responsible for a lot of what happens in nature because of our numbers and habits. Some of that can be changed-- some maybe not. So while humans argue over taking any responsibility, what do you imagine it's like for the intelligent mammals that live in the ocean. I am not so much thinking of the seals now as the dolphins and whales.

Into this mix of change coming, I learned of something that kind of blew me away. One of the writers, who I know through the Internet, was heading for Baja and a whaling experience. The idea is the tourists stay in shacks on the beach of the Sea of Cortez. They ride out to the sea on pangas operated by guides to interact with the whales. 

This place is known as a breeding grounds for whales. Since the 1970s, it's been known for something else-- a place the whales will come up to the humans in the boats and let them touch them.
"highlights of any trip to this "Mexican Galápagos": tickling implausibly friendly grey whales under the chin, listening to humpback whales singing their haunting, unearthly songs, and enjoying unforgettably close encounters with gargantuan blue whales." from Telegraph
When I first heard about this happening, I thought-- this can't be good. Animals should never trust humans that much. Almost every species of animal out there keeps its babies away from humans at any cost. And yet, these whales were not only letting their calves do this but encouraging it. The whales are not forced or chased. They make the decision, and many do just that. So what's up?

After reading the experiences of my writing friend and seeing her videos and photos (definitely spend time with her link above), I was scratching my head. What is going on? Her father's cousin said that this all began with one man in the 1970s, a fisherman who said a whale came up to him and let him touch it. His community did not believe him. He took others out, and they saw for themselves. The whales chose to do this. They still choose to do this. 

What I am about to suggest will sound wacky to practical minded folk-- even though most know whales are the most intelligent in the sea and some think they are smarter than humans (and considering the cockeyed values of a lot of humans, that's not too hard to imagine). Here's what I wonder: what if the whales sense the changes in the oceans, the pollution, the feeding grounds being threatened? What if they understand that humans could help them if they would?

I know-- Bambi complex. Or is it? Do we not give animals enough credit for understanding what is happening? They are being threatened before we are by these abrupt climate changes. Can they sense this? Do we give them credit for realizing it and thinking what can they do about it? I know humans who believe they can communicate with whales and claim they very much can know and reason.

The Sea of Cortez, where the cows nurse their calves until they are strong enough to make the long migration to the Alaskan waters for feeding, provided a safe place. Maybe because of a reef, maybe for other reasons, the orcas, who would eat the babies, don't come into this breeding ground. They do though kill a lot of the young ones on their way north in places like Monterey Bay. If the reef is a factor in their safety here, then having humans supporting them has been a benefit. Many human governments need an economic reason to support any cause. The government of Mexico can see an economic benefit in the people coming down there on tours that aren't cheap. There is however, another benefit for the whales. The humans who do this are interacting with a wild creature in a way that educates the humans and makes them care about these mighty leviathans. 

Does it also give these humans a reason to support efforts to protect them, seeing them as kindred spirits? It will take that kind of love and a strong purpose as human actions are constantly making their lives more dangerous by examples like the one described in the following link. It will spoil more fisheries. It's a Mexican company but a subsidiary of an American one (no surprise that). What will it take to stop it? 

In our modern world, true love is the only thing that I can think of that can be more powerful than dollars! Some humans say we can't fix it all so why try to fix anything. Others say-- one step at a time and we can make a difference. That's my philosophy.

Finally, this is a link to a video made from that trip--  

Definitely check it out as the music, seeing the whales interacting, ends this on an upbeat note. Maybe we can keep it that way! 


Tabor said...

There was a news report...maybe a short documentary... about the friendliness of a while in North American waters...wish I could remember more. But, the whole thrust was to get the whale away from human contact, to push it back out to become wild again, to ignore it when it came close to the boaters. It was a very sad and heartbreaking story that created more questions about our relationship with these animals than answers.

Linda Kay said...

There is no doubt in my mind that some of God's creatures have an innate sense of changes in their surroundings, as we have seen many migrate, disappear, or adapt. Great post.

Rain Trueax said...

Last night VICE on HBO had a report on the overfishing in much of our oceans and the threat it will have to those who depend on the oceans to survive. With the big trawlers, they are taking in all the sharks off Madagascar. Some countries are trying to protect the fisheries and they showed how that helps the overall population. It takes humans caring and a LOT of humans as money is still all some think about-- and very short term.

Rain Trueax said...

If the wild things are being fed, that's a problem but to allow them to come close just to contact each other, well, it depends on the type of human it contacts, i guess :(

bev said...

Relevant to this post. From the letters to the editor of The Chronicle Herald paper out of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Litter lethal to wildlife:
Folks who think that it’s OK to litter might want to think again. Recently, a dead pygmy sperm whale was discovered washed up on McNabs Island. A necropsy was performed and several plastic items were discovered in its stomach. These items made it impossible for the poor whale to feed.

Rain Trueax said...

Thanks for adding that, Bev. I saw how it impacted a small turtle with that thrown away plastic. Very sad :(

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Wonderful post, and very thoughtful. I'm glad my experience offered you a spark into exploring this issue further. After visiting with the gray whales in Baja, I'm both thrilled by it and a bit ambivalent. I agree in the broader sense that humans interacting with wildlife is generally a detriment to that wildlife, and in many instances that interaction must be forced. In Baja, the calving lagoons are a very different environment. It should be noted that it's not illegal to touch a whale in the waters of Mexico, but it is off of U.S. waters. The whales are genuinely curious and interested in the humans, and this process has been reinforced over the past 30 years. The mothers teach the calves to approach the pangas. Why do they do it? There are many theories. I just think they're as intrigued by us as we are by them. They also have some downtime, so to speak, as the moms wait for the calves to get bigger before migrating north. Playing with the humans is a diversion for them. Still, it's extraordinary that a wild mother would bring her babies to meet strangers. It's very humbling. I don't think that the calving lagoons bring the Mexican gov't a lot of revenue--it's highly regulated, with only 16 tour operators running and plans to let no more in. In this instance, enough people put pressure on the gov't and they did the right thing by protecting the area. Because it is the right thing, forever and ever. Also, I should add that the gray whale calving lagoons aren't in the Sea of Cortez but rather on the opposite side, facing the Pacific Ocean. While some grays do travel to the Sea of Cortez, there are more blue and humpback whales present, as I understand.
Thanks again Rain! I believe small steps can make huge differences, and we all have the ability to do SOMETHING. Cheers!!

Rain Trueax said...

Thank for the additions, Kristy. Everything I know about this I learned after hearing of your experiences. Until then, I had no idea this was going on although I have long had a concern and fascination with the whales. We see them off our Oregon Coast also and it's always a thrill.

The program on VICE last night emphasized how managed fisheries can be good for humans and sealife. They weren't concerned with the whales in that program but it's obvious that a healthy fishery is good for them. The worst of what was happening off Madagascar is the fishermen were using explosives to get the fish-- which are slowly destroying the coral reefs. It's ignorance and short-sightedness that leads to that kind of thing :(

robin andrea said...

Thank you for raising all of the issues and questions. The impact of humans on the planet continues to be problematic. I don't see how it can stop, with 7 billion people needing to eat. I think it will only get worse for all the animals on land and in the sea.