Thar she blows!

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Every year, if things work according to plan, you get older. And, many moons ago, for my 25th birthday, I got a great gift: a whale-watching excursion.

I lived in Provincetown, MA, at the time, on Cape Cod, an area known for centuries for its whaling fleet (“Moby Dick,” which is such a fantastic book it doesn’t make sense, begins in New Bedford, MA, not too far away). But by the 90s, the tide had turned on whaling, as all manner of cetaceans found themselves on endangered and threatened lists. By the last decade of last century, whale watching was the way to go.

We set out on a beautiful day in late May and, in a word, the experience was astounding. Actually, make that humbling. North American right whales — so named because they were considered the “right” whale to hunt because, once killed, their bodies would float — came up to the boat. One swam alongside our non-motoring vessel for a good two minutes, on its side, an enormous eye checking us out as we all bent over to get a look. Another whale breeched in the near distance. Whales circled us for a good 15 minutes. I was in a state of awe: How could a creature so massive, so beautiful, so obviously intelligent actually exist? I felt so tiny, so inconsequential. On the ride back to land, I realized what a fortunate life I lived, to be able to experience a live whale, in a way most people haven’t. And I couldn’t believe that an intelligent animal killed in such great numbers by humans would still interact with us, and decide not to steer clear.

Since then, whales have been a big love of mine. That’s why when I hear, or see, anything about whales, I stop and listen or watch. And just the other day, I found this: Down in the Antarctic, Japanese whaling vessels have been battling it out with Bob Barker.  No, not the former “The Price is Right” host, but a ship named after him, that’s part of a fleet of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which exists to protect marine life. Bob Barker has been rammed; water cannons have been fired from ship to ship. And, while most of us live our lives up here, down in the cold oceans near the South Pole, a battle wages for the lives of whales.

Say what you will about the society’s leader, Paul Watson, and his tactics, his organization makes it hard to ignore the reality of whales, the giants that exist in the watery sphere of our planet. And it’s hard for me to fault him too aggressively when I remember gazing into that whale’s eye and witnessing the worlds I saw contained within.