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Watching Whales Watching Us

In case you’ve ever wondered why whales are again and again found stranded on beaches, as if they wanted to commit suicide; in case you find whales somehow attractive creatures; in case you don’t know much about whales: Take half an hour to read this very long, but very worthwhile article by Charles Siebert in the New York Times of today: “Watching Whales Watching Us”.

Siebert presents a readable mixture of stories he was told, his own experience on whale watching expeditions, and recent scientific discoveries, e.g. that the brain structure of whales is very similar to that found in human beings. Whales teach their children, they learn from each other, they recognize each other and mourn the deaths of companions; they work together in short- and long-term strategies, and it seems some are even interested in getting into contact with humans.

I’m quoting one of the stories towards the end:

A female humpback was spotted in December 2005 east of the Farallon Islands, just off the coast of San Francisco. She was entangled in a web of crab-trap lines, hundreds of yards of nylon rope that had become wrapped around her mouth, torso and tail, the weight of the traps causing her to struggle to stay afloat. A rescue team arrived within a few hours and decided that the only way to save her was to dive in and cut her loose.

For an hour they cut at the lines and rope with curved knives, all the while trying to steer clear of a tail they knew could kill them with one swipe. When the whale was finally freed, the divers said, she swam around them for a time in what appeared to be joyous circles. She then came back and visited with each one of them, nudging them all gently, as if in thanks. The divers said it was the most beautiful experience they ever had. As for the diver who cut free the rope that was entangled in the whale’s mouth, her huge eye was following him the entire time, and he said that he will never be the same.

see also:
Humpback Whale (Wikipedia)
Gray Whale (ib.)
Pictures of whales on flickr.com
And, if you’re not a diver, you won’t have heard of “the bends” before; look here: Decompression sickness (Wikipedia)

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