FLURRY AND FIN OUT
Jeff Parkes © 2005
was slowly travelling north, drawn by an age old mysterious instinct, a
tradition which stretched back millions of years. Every year throughout her
life she had followed the retreating ice up the Davis Strait and along the east
side of Baffin Bay. She kept going until further progress was made impossible
by the solid ice field and there she would stay until the onset of winter drove
both her and the ice southwards; but on the return journey she used an ancient
route down the west side of the Bay.
It was a habit she was unable to
break, known to man for hundreds of years. On three previous occasions, whilst
in the southern waters, she had mated and given birth, but this last time she
stayed alone, resisting the plaintive cries of bull whales seeking a female.
Perhaps old age was creeping up on her, but she had no desire to be saddled
with another cub; she had done her share of maintaining the species and now she
wanted time for herself.
Feeling the pangs of hunger she opened her
great mouth as she slowly swam along; cold sea water, hundreds of gallons,
poured in and swirled around, bringing with it a multitude of krill, small,
shrimp-like creatures about an inch and a half long. The krill became entangled
with hairs hanging like a fringe from the baleen, a horny substance growing
from the roof of the mouth; it was this that gave her the name of
She closed her mouth and pressed her huge, flabby tongue
upwards, thus trapping the krill. Water poured out between the baleen and back
into the sea; once her mouth was empty she flicked her tongue backwards and
swallowed the krill. Balaena repeated this action for the next twenty minutes
then, her hunger placated and feeling the need to expel stale air from her
lungs, she rose up and breached. Blowing through two nostrils on top of her
great head, a huge plume reached high into the sky as the expended air, full of
warmth and moisture, condensed in the frozen atmosphere of the Arctic. There
was a loud noise as valves, usually closed to prevent water entering her lungs,
opened for the exhalation. She wallowed on the surface for a minute or two
before once more sinking down into the depths. Remaining below for only a few
moments, Balaena breeched for a second time, then twice more in quick
With her lungs fully cleared, she dived deep and swam slowly
along, happy and content in her solitude. In the distance she heard another
whale calling, but took no notice, altering course to keep clear. She wanted no
There was another sound, much closer, but she was unable to
place it. Some creature was disturbing the water above and around her. She had
a strong desire to go deeper, stay submerged and swim away fast; a desire, but
not the capability.
She changed direction once more and increased speed,
but was still only making about six knots. The noise above her was growing
louder; fear began to contract her stomach; fear of the unknown. Balaena's
heart began to beat faster, the blood pounding in her head. It was time to take
in air for her lungs were bursting.
Against her better judgement she
pushed up to the surface.
She barely had enough time to release the
foul air which had built up since she last breeched, before there was a violent
blow on her side, followed by an agonising pain that sent shock waves through
her entire body from head to tail. She reared up, almost clearing the water,
then plunged down, down, down. The pain was still there, but growing dull and
concentrating on one spot at her side.
It was the necessity to breathe
once more than sent her up again. She had kept swimming as fast as she could,
but a heavy weight seemed to hold her back, making her expend more energy than
usual to go only a short distance. As soon as she gained the open air there was
an even greater pain than before and she could feel blood running along her
back and draining into the sea. Her mouth opened and closed in agony.
She sank down, the cold water closing over her. This time there was a
heavier drag than before, making it seem as if any progress at all was
physically impossible. She twisted and turned in a frantic flurry, trying to
rid herself of the weight that was holding her. Nothing happened except more
pain such as she had never felt before nor had any wish to feel
Her mind was becoming muddled. For some reason she began to think
of her last cub, a fine, sturdy male. He was old enough now to have sired his
own cubs; where was he now, she wondered. Perhaps he was close at hand; maybe
it was him she had heard calling not long before the pain struck her.
She closed her eyes as if that might diminish her
A searing, intense, unwavering agony.
Suddenly madness overcame Balaena. With a swiftness that even took her
by surprise, she shot to the surface, leapt into the air, her tail wildly
beating, then plummeted down sending a great wall of water rushing towards the
Dull and throbbing; almost fading away to
All movement stopped.
The flurry was over.
slowly drifted upwards and as soon as her back was clear of the water there was
more pain, but she could hardly feel it. She opened her mouth to cry, but there
was no sound, only blood pouring out. The sea around her reddened as she lay
still, barely breathing. Eyes that could no longer see flickered momentarily,
Scoresby's "History of the Arctic Regions" Vol. 2
was the first man to scientifically study the Greenland Right Whale - whilst
killing it. The species is now almost extinct. The Greenland Right Whale is
about 60 feet (18m) long with a circumference of 30 to 40 feet (9-12m). Total
weight is about 70 tons. Hull, on Britain's east coast, was the main whaling
port during the first half of the 19th century. A return in 1821 shows a total
of 61 vessels sailing, 31 to Greenland and 21 to Davis Strait. 498 whales were
caught, producing 322 tons of whalebone and more than 5,188 tons of
However, the whalers did not have it all their own way. A quick
calculation shows that the figures are adrift. That year nine ships were lost.
The port second in importance, Peterhead in Scotland, had a total of 16 vessels
with 155 kills.
British whaling decreased dramatically during the second
half of the 19th century. The last vessel to sail from Hull, the Diana, was
wrecked off the Lincolnshire coast on her way home in 1868. The last Scottish
whaling vessels were requisitioned at the start of the First World War and the
old style fishery was over. High powered steam catcher boats and explosive
harpoons meant that species of whale inaccessible to open-boat whalers with
hand thrown harpoons had become the new target. Restrictions have been put in
place, but many people think to little effect.
The IWC allows
Greenland's Inuit population to hunt whales for subsistence needs. Over the
last 14 years reports have indicated that whale products are highly
commercialised. The Whale & Dolphin Conservation Society believes that
Greenland can no longer justify the number of whales killed in the name of