"What Have We Done to the Whale?"

"The creatures once symbolized our efforts to save the planet; now they demonstrate all the ways we have devastated it."

"Last November, drone footage was posted on Instagram of a gray whale swimming near the surface just off the coast of Dana Point, California. In the video, the whale, a juvenile maybe twenty-five feet long, cruises slowly into a lineup of surfers, its undulating tail casting arcing ripples, and then emerges from the water, exhaling through its blowhole. A few surfers paddle off in alarm, though most seem oblivious. The whale dips below the surface again, a ghostly silhouette, and glides out beyond the surfers, away.

I had been surfing in that spot just a few weeks before. Had I been in the water that day, and suddenly seen the whale’s body beneath me, gargantuan and silent, I would have, for a moment, gone cold with dread. How could I not? To be close to a whale, in the wild, not in a boat but in the water itself, is to encounter an embodied agency that exists, across every dimension, on a scale that swallows our own: its physical size, its evolutionary age, its polar voyages. The fear evoked by the whale is not a judgment on its character. Whales almost never harm humans, and when they do it is invariably the humans’ fault. And yet: what am I to a whale? After the whale passed, terror would have melted into an abiding thrill: of having met life in its largest, ancient form. Of having been blessed, in the most pagan sense of that term. In drawing close to those surfers, the whale drew them closer to its own alien dominion, offering the watery communion for which every surfer quietly longs: to be absorbed, returned, dissolved into the sea."

Amia Srinivasan reports for the New Yorker August 17, 2020.

Source: New Yorker, 08/18/2020