A Whale of a Tale in Queens

January 3, 2013 § Leave a comment

This past semester, I had the pleasure of taking a course on Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. The entire class revolved around that one book, and as I slowly read the chapters and took in all the beautiful images conjured by Melville’s prose, I grew to fall in love with whales. They’re majestical creatures–graceful, powerful, beautiful, and unfortunately vulnerable to our harm. Of course, Moby himself was more of an unconquerable force who somehow managed to escape the pursuits of various ships over the years, but many other whales in the story fell prey to the chase.

But this story is not about the horrors of the whaling industry. Rather, it’s about one whale in particular, who was found beached near Queens, NY, in the neighborhood of Breezy Point, which suffered widespread damage from Hurricane Sandy not too long ago. About a week ago, a whale was found on the shores of the beach, still fighting for life despite being largely out of water.

Biologists who came to the scene identified the animal as a Finback Whale. Finbacks are second in size to the Blue Whale and an endangered species. Of the Fin-Back, Melville romantically writes, “his great lips present a cable-like aspect, formed by the intertwisting, slanting folds of large wrinkles. His grand distinguishing feature, the fin, from which he derives his name, is often a conspicuous object….The Fin-Back is not gregarious….Very shy; always going solitary; unexpectedly rising to the surface in the remotest and most sullen waters; his straight and single lofty jet rising like a tall misanthropic spear upon a barren plain; gifted with such wondrous power and velocity in swimming, as to defy all present pursuit of man; this leviathan seems the banished and unconquerable Cain of his race.”


Selbe B on Flickr Creative Commons

And yet this beautiful 60-foot animal was not unconquerable. Firemen called to the scene used a fire hose to pour water over the whale’s body in an effort to hydrate the animal. Apparently the whale opened its eyes and moved its tail in response to the water, but could muster no more strength. The whale died a day after being found.

Although the necropsy has not been conducted yet, the whale’s emaciated figure suggested that the animal had been suffering from starvation for some time. Biologists stated that the animal would have had to be euthanized because of its helpless condition anyway.

Plans are to bury the whale by the sand dunes on the same beach where it was found.

I tell this story not to mention death at the beginning of a new year, but rather to look back on the events of 2012 and remember that we as a world are one, indelibly connected. We all share this planet; we experience loss, life, happiness and tragedy the world over. And the earth belongs to everyone and everything. So whatever the reasons were for this whale’s death, let’s be mindful that we can all work to make this earth a better, cleaner, healthier place. Let’s all seek to help each other in the new year and improve our cooperation and our understanding. Just because the cycle of life is something we can’t alter, it doesn’t mean that life itself is not capable of being improved and brightened. Here’s to a new year.


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