I arrive home to find dozens of people standing on the bulkhead looking out into Puget Sound… I open the door and shout: “Hey, who had a party and didn’t invite me?” As I run down to the lower deck, I can see that they are all mesmerized by something dark and ominous floating in the water just a few yards offshore… As I get closer, I realize that it’s a whale and my next thought is: ‘Oh, wow… must be mating.’ “It looks like you guys are watching National Geographic –are there whales mating?”
A neighbor grimly tells me, “No—a whale beached itself and hasn’t breathed for a half hour…” We watch. And wait. A man from NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – noaa.gov) sits in front of a black case, jotting notes on a clipboard. More minutes pass… still no breath. Someone asks how long a whale can go without breathing? The NOAA man says, “About 45 minutes…” An hour passes. The whale appears lifeless… Its dorsal fin moves but it could be it’s just the tide moving it back and forth.
A NEWS CHOPPER POUNDS OVERHEAD… A frenzy builds as more neighbors trickle thru Bill’s yard. The local news crews arrive and set up with expert precision, having done this a thousand times before. There’s Channel 4… Channel 5… Channel 7… Channel 13… They interview the teenage girl who first saw the whale. “I saw it and ran home to tell my mom and get my camera!” Her ponytail flips as she looks from the whale to the camera and back.
Then the NOAA expert huddles the crowd together: “It’s a Gray whale, female, probably died of malnutrition like the other four we’ve investigated in recent weeks. We’ll try to tow it away on high tide and perform a necropsy (whale autopsy) but may have to do it here…”
Judy invites me to come to her house and watch the TV coverage. When we emerge again, the crowd has dissipated and the TV crews—like anxious fishermen eager to hook their lines—are itching to get fresh sound bites. I tell Judy she should do it, but she replies that she is too shy. Then someone from KOMO 4 asks me to share my thoughts. I look around and see that there are only a few of us left so I agree, thinking someone has to say something about the tragic demise of one of the ocean’s most majestic creatures!
The next morning, the tide is out as I take the dog for a walk on the beach—the motionless whale, a mere 100 feet off shore. It’s as if she showed up in our backyard hoping someone would invite her in and help her! I stand only a few feet from the whale, closer than I ever have in my entire life and marvel at the fact that I get to see a gray whale up close. It’s long with a graceful tail, but surprisingly thin for a whale. I’m suddenly intrigued by her mouth—rows of long white flesh, about two inches wide that look like piano keys. Dozens of scrapes and scattered white barnacles cover her massive body.
When I return to the house, there are over a dozen new messages:
“Hi, Serena, this is Joyce… I just wanted to call and tell you that I keep hearing about this Gray Whale on the news. It must be a big deal….”
“Hey, Wale Lady! What is going on with you and whale? This is Uncle Joel. Give me a call.”
“Hey, it’s Aaron. I saw you on the news… You should become a local anchorwoman.”
“Hi, Serena, it’s Harry. I was at work this morning at 6am and someone said, ‘Hey, that girl has the same last name you do!’ I couldn’t believe it was my sister on the news! Maybe I’ll come over with my gear and check it out.”
“Uncle Joel, here. I was wondering what the whale was doing…? Is it tied to the buoy yet? Hope you’re not on the same line,” he chuckles.
By 11am, yellow CAUTION tape encircles the whale which appears to be about 35 feet long. Moments later, a group of school children, maybe 10 years old, carefully circle the whale, pausing to stare at its mouth and tail… I am struck by the thought that it looks like they are on a field trip at the Seattle Aquarium and this was something that the teacher had planned months ago. In fact, they were kids from a private school—the twins that live down the street told their teacher and they all got to come experience this amazing sight. When I run down to see the kids, I hear one ten-year old sigh, “It’s so sad, he starved to death. He didn’t have enough to eat.”
There’s a photo in The Seattle Times of the whale’s stomach contents spread out on a table: plastic bags, bottles, trash…a pair of sweat pants!? Not only did she not have enough to eat, but she ate human garbage as her last supper! This has to be a wake-up call: “It’s time to clean up the oceans and stop polluting the planet… We are just as vulnerable as that mighty whale and our demise will surely follow if we don’t stop this cycle of toxic waste.”
As I sip coffee and talk to Uncle Joel on the phone (about the whale, what else?) the doorbell rings. It’s KOMO news 4—a newscaster and camera woman wait on the path (surely they can see thru the tiny wood slats that I’m in my pajamas?) They ask if I have anything else to say about the whale. Panic-stricken, I manage to muster, “So sorry, I really can’t help you right now…”
I was suddenly crippled with embarrassment. Did hair, makeup and a lack of wardrobe prevent me from giving a 30 second sound bite? OMG! Did I just miss an opportunity to save the planet and implore people to “save the whales”?
The next time I look out the window, a 12 ft aluminum boat with the words: RESEARCH on its side bobs—as they work tirelessly to tie the whale to our buoy.… My heart sinks. I just hope the boat doesn’t sink.
12 NOON: I look out the window to see a vigil—nine kayakers form a circle in the water where the whale took its last breath. The water, like glass as rain gently falls…
2PM: A flocks of Geese—dozens of graceful birds dance in the sand—in the exact spot where the whale had died. It is a sight to see as they peck at the sand, scooping up what I think must be… holy whale water.
Now I can honestly say, “I saw a whale in my backyard!”