Monday, 29 October 2012

Song of the Humpback Whale - or 'Scientific Research'? The annual whale wars begin in the Antarctic.

Hi friends!

Sitting on the deck at the beach watching the humpback whales (Latin name  Megaptera novaeangliae - 'big-winged New Englander') take their annual migration south to the Antarctic, I wonder which of these beautiful creatures is destined to board a Japanese whaler ship bloody and battered as a 'scientific experiment' and which will swim past heading north after its annual feed in the cold Antarctic waters during  the Southern Hemisphere's summer. 

Some whales stay in the mid-Southern Ocean, while others feed at the edge of the pack ice. Their hunters understand their predictable movements, making them relatively easy prey. This annual battle is fought in the Antarctic with the Sea Shepherd and Greenpeace vessels hounding the huge Japanese refrigerated ships. Their philosophy is while the Japanese are fighting them they're leaving the whales alone. All the action is live on our television screens nightly. It's about to begin again...

Whaling has a long and cruel history. Australia itself, even though vehemently opposed to whale hunting today, only ceased to participate in the 1970s. Today it is easy to judge the Japanese who continue to claim they need to kill whales for 'scientific research' and that it's part of their culture, even though many Japanese people have joined in the global protests against this practice, claiming that tons of unwanted whale meat and by products languish in cold rooms.

According to the anti - whaling 'terrorist' Sea Shepherd captain, Canadian Paul Watson, alongside Japan, other countries and tribes continue to whale hunt. There's Norway, the Inuit in Alaska, USA, the Yupik in Siberia, Denmark, along with aboriginal groups in Canada and Iceland. 

Where there's whales there's birds aplenty.

Whaling is a topic dear to my heart. I have explored this issue in one of my novels. I found this poem for the frontispiece:

           Song of the Humpback Whale

From oceans huge with time the whales surface

and plunge in a rolling of hills. The curious soft
indigo explosion of their cries
that trail like comets in the night are heard as

trumpet-calls, submerged, sharp, shuddering,
as the spatial music of gulls, as sounds of blunt
tugs nosing mournfully through eternal mist.
It is a salt-white sorcery: they sing

of artic pilgrimage, the bleak migration
ordained by the rhythm of seasons. Buffeted
by surface storms of their known world, they flow
as we ourselves in terrible formation,

trapped each a lifetime in compelling seas,
plunging half-blinded, calling one to another
from green-scarped waves, set on divergent courses
but frozen, frozen to our destinies.

From Song of the Humpback Whales, Selected Verse by Jill Hellyer - open copyright

I am currently applying the final layer of nail polish to my first NaNo novel, Ruby, aimed at the HarlequinEscape market. This novel is a love story between a French girl, an Aussie sea captain and humpback whales. This scene is taken from Chapter Eleven where the heroine Ruby confronts a Japanese whaler. (I wanted to give both sides to the story). He addresses the diners at Ruby's hotel restaurant:

My name is Izuru Ito. I was brought up in a tiny fishing village in Japan. Everyone was involved in whaling, including my whole family. You must understand. It was our life for generations. I followed my father before me, becoming a scientist, then a whaling ship’s captain. But it was different for me.
‘My voyages to hunt the whales started my love affair with the Southern Oceans. I fell in love with the wildness, the vastness, the remoteness. The different breeds of whales–from the humpbacks to the majestic bluestook my breath away with their haunting whale songs. To hear them singing amongst the icebergs changed my life.’
The restaurant was quiet–no one lifted a knife or fork–no one swallowed–all were mesmerized by Ito's story.
‘My voyages through this great ocean overwhelmed me. There life is in its rawest, most primal form.’ 
To Ruby it was a Moby Dick tale. She leaned closer.
‘It took me many expeditions, but I came to appreciate how fragile and utterly beautiful life and the natural environment really are. Seeing whales harpooned became an ugly paradox. I had to make a choice. I chose life over death. I still hunt whales, but as an object of beauty, not prey.’
Some of the guests were dabbing their eyes. A slow clap began, picked up by everyone. Ito looked around, humbled.
‘Tomorrow will be an experience none of us will ever forget. The whales await. They are close. Tonight gave us a glimpse. Tomorrow, the conditions will be perfect. For those of you who have never seen whales up close, prepare yourself. It is a most spiritual moment.’ He gave them the thumbs up. ‘Thank you for listening to my story.’ 
He stood and bowed politely.
And was gone.


Charmaine Clancy said...

Izuru is a bit charming ;)

Sounds like you'll have a beautiful story with lots of imagery!

Luanne G. Smith said...

Living in land-locked Colorado, USA, I have never seen a whale. I've been to the coast many times, but still haven't seen one. I have seen documentaries about Greenpeace where they confront the whalers. Pretty scary stuff, but I'm glad someone is out there trying to stop it.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

Glad your character had a change of heart. Whaling is so cruel. I've seen humpbacks off the Oregon coast and they are so beautiful.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you have a beautiful view and a beautiful story for us. I do feel so sorry for whales :(

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Scientific research, my...
Well, you know what I was going to say!

Jai Joshi said...

I've always been fascinated by whales and abhor the practice of whaling. I'd love to spend time on one of those greenpeace ships, doing something to help the cause. As if our eco-system isn't threatened enough that people want to destroy one more bit of it.

I heard just recently of beluga whales can mimic human voices. And of course whale song is still one of those great mysteries we're still trying to decipher, despite the many years scientists have spent already trying to understand it. There's still so much to learn.


Nas said...

A beautiful story in the making Denise!

Denise Covey said...

Yes it's a David and Goliath story every year!

Denise Covey said...

Women are welcome on the boats. I have a couple in my story. Whale song is a fascinating study.

Denise Covey said...

I hope so Nas. Time will tell.

Golden Eagle said...

It so sad how many whales are killed each year.

Your story sounds intriguing!

dolorah said...

I love the Wale Song Poem. Your story has a good beginning; this character sounds conflicted, but with a strong sense of justice.


Denise Covey said...

It's not the beginning Donna. It's well into the story.

Linda Gray said...

This is wonderful, Denise. I love stories that illuminate important issues. I think we learn from them far more effectively than from news or scientific articles. And this is lyrical in its beauty, too. "It is a salt-white sorcery." :))

Talli Roland said...

I hear you, Denise. Whaling, like the seal hunt, is a tricky issue in Canada. The Inuit claim it's keeping hold of tradition.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Denise
I always seem to be late for your post, my apologies. I want a chair next to you on your porch to watch the whales. Amazing.

You have a great story idea. Love the character already. You've made a villain into a hero. Kudos.

Some of my favorite music have whales song in the background. Just thinking about it moves me to tears. May the Japanese realize soon, life is more precious than whale oil.

Lynda R Young as Elle Cardy said...

I love the way you start the excerpt with "My name is..." Very Moby Dick.

Denise Covey said...

Thank you Lynda.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Nancy. It is a high point of the year to watch the whales happily swimming past! Sad to think about the hunt though.

kjmckendry said...

We got to see some whales off the coast of California in September. Such beautiful creatures.

Yolanda Renée said...

Great story, thanks for sharing, especially that your working on it for NANO. I was privileged to she whales when I lived on the west coast and in Alaska. Whales are magnificent creatures and I can't believe that in this day and age they are still hunted. Doesn't make sense, no more than deer farms for hunters here in PA, or shipping wild hogs to an island to be shot by men calling themselves 'hunters' -- the idea of it sickens! Sorry, sore subject.
I look forward to reading more of RUBY.

Denise Covey said...

Yolanda, I'm glad to hear from people who share my passion. This type of hunting is sickening all right.

Yolanda Renée said...


Just bestowed upon you and a few others the Super Sweet Blog Award. I know this is a busy month and most of us have stepped away to do NANO, but if you get a break and can stop by and pick up your award, please do. Also, just let us know the answer to one question.
If you had a sweet nickname, what would it be?
:) have fun. After all everyone needs a break from NANO and why not enjoy something sweet!

D.G. Hudson said...

Loved this post. Living on the coast of British Columbia, I too have seen whales in the distance off the coast of Victoria BC. I'm a member of Greenpeace and have been for years. I understand that whale hunting is necessary for some cultures or so they believe, but I see no reason they should be hunted to extinction to suit mankind. Why cannot a quota be stipulated and enforced for these cultures, but not enough for them to spin off other industries - that's when they over-cull the herds so they can export. Greenpeace serves a purpose to humanity by trying to preserve our ocean species.

Enjoyed those excerpts; two different viewpoints. But we have to consider the world as it is today, not as it has always been. (that's a stale argument)