Of Angels and Argonauts?
T’is the season for reflection. It is the time of year where, the nebulous, undefinable but essential life forces of hope, love and spirituality may burn brightest.
So for you, I share the following story.
I emphasize that this is an atypical blog item for The Marine Detective and I have had to wrestle my left brain into submission to write it. I am very fearful too of feeding the monster of human need to get up close and personal to whales and claim a “piece” of them.
With that preamble and context – I give you this story for Christmas:
In the fall of 2011, while aboard with Orcella Expeditions and talking about my whale research with the Marine Education and Research Society (MERS), I explained how and why we nickname Humpback Whales.
In short, we nickname the whales for a feature on their flukes since the scientific alphanumeric names (e.g. BCZ0297) are much more difficult to remember. [See my past blog item “What’s in a Name” for a more detailed explanation including photos of nicknamed Humpbacks.]
Where we can, we like to have local school children nickname the whales for reasons I am sure you understand.
But that day, just after talking about the Humpbacks, I learned of the death of man who loved the sea – a man of depth and creativity who should still walk among us. I heard about Jason from his father Cliff, whose eyes of course told more about the pain, loss and love of his son than words could. I had only recently met Cliff and never had the privilege of knowing Jason.
Immediately, I thought of the Humpback Whale BCY0729 who has a marking on his left fluke that looks very much like the letter “A”.
As an exception to having children name the whales, I decided we could nickname this whale “Argonaut” in honour of Jason. [if unclear about the association between “Jason” and “Argonauts”, please click here].
It was a simple thing to do. We had a good nickname for the whale and Cliff and his family had some comfort in the sentiment and symbolization of a whale being nicknamed for Jason.
That was September 3rd, 2011. Below, email correspondence to Jason’s father on September 22nd.
“Cliff, I got goosebumps today and had tears in my eyes.And – you’re going to get the same.I saw Argonaut today, for the first time since September 30th, 2010. He was very near Telegraph Cove feeding in the area with another juvenile whale that we have named “Guardian” because there is an angel-like marking on this whale’s tail (rimmed in a yellowish shade).You’ll see from the photos that it was a very wet and misty day . . . beautiful. I was on a school trip [for Stubbs Island Whale Watching] with a group of local First Nations school children . . . I shared the story of Argonaut with them and of course, it moved them.”
I saw Argonaut and Guardian every other day I went out up to October 30th, 2011. They were not always right beside one another but they were within the same general area.
Does this have any significance beyond two Humpback Whales with distinctly marked tails feeding together? The beauty is, I’ll never know, no matter how much data I collect.
There is “something” about whales that I use almost daily to try to engage and motivate and frankly, plea with people to get their heads out of their bottoms and realize that their daily frivolous actions (and inactions) collectively cause such needless environmental damage.
Coincidence such as this story of “Angels and Argonauts” is the kind of thing that throws my structured-science-oriented left brain into discussion with my philosophical-reflective right brain about the undefinable and intangible. But something both sides of my brain agree upon . . . these giant sentient beings inspire marvel and wonder and hope and comfort and, so often . . . they inspire us gangly bipeds to understand connectedness and the truly important things in life.
May the greatness we sense from whales inspire us to bigger things that benefit society and the environment.
Merry Christmas readers.
I leave you with this sound clip of Jason singing “With or Without You” – a small indication of the depth of the man who loved the sea. Click here to listen.
Update December 2014: Since writing this blog in 2011, Argonaut has become one of the most predictably sighted whales in our area. Guardian too is seen very predictably but is rarely with Argonaut. When Cliff came back in 2013 hoping to see the whale named in honour of his son, we spotted Argonaut within minutes of being on the water.
Update July 2016: Argonaut is now part of our Marine Education and Research Society’s Humpback Sponsorship Program as a means of funding research and education to reduce threats to whales like Argonaut. Please see here.