Encounter with a Dead Sperm Whale

(Warning: The photos and descriptions in this post are graphic and may be disturbing. Be advised.)

I had to go see it. It was news. It had happened in one of my favorite hiking/walking spots. And I love whales, anyway. I had never been up close to a real whale before, except last summer when I went up to Newport, Oregon with my family and was lucky enough to be within 100 feet or so of a diving pod of gray whales. But then, all I got to see were a few brief glimpses of them surfacing and then diving again, their graceful flukes displayed for a second or so before re-submerging.

I heard about it from my daughter, whose high school science teacher had told her about it in class: a whale had washed up on Sharp Park Beach in Pacifica. Scientists from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito and the California Academy of Sciences had come out to investigate, and to do a necropsy.

They found the whale on April 14, a Tuesday. The brief news blip said the whale was beached at Mori Point—the site of an old inn, turned speakeasy in the 30s, that had since burned down. I wasn’t able to go see it until Sunday, the 19th. I drove over as early in the morning as I could, arriving in the gray mist of 10 a.m. Mori Point is at the end of a several-hundred-foot stretch of beach and embankment running along Sharp Park Golf Course, accessed from a parking lot at the north end. I stepped onto the beach and looked toward the other end to see whether I could make out the whale. There were a handful of walkers in the crisp morning air, dressed in layers as they performed their habitual workout. I peered out toward the large black rock marking the end of the point, where a 200-foot bluff rises up from the beach. I could see no sign of the large black carcass that had bobbed around in the news footage. Maybe I’m too late, I thought; the scientists may have taken the whale back to their labs at the marine center for analysis. Or perhaps the crashing waves of the rising morning tide had already taken it back to sea. No matter. I needed a good walk in the fresh air, and this, after all, was one of my favorite walks. I stepped onto the gravel walking path that parallels the beach. About a quarter of the way down the path, I heard the wheels of a vehicle on the gravel behind me. I turned around to see a U.S. Park Ranger truck slowly making its way to the point. I wonder what business they have here, I thought, as the ranger slowly passed me. It gave me hope that maybe the whale was still there, and they were checking up on it in some way.

Whale against cliffDog & Whale blubber

[The whale described in the news blogs was a sperm whale—the species chosen as the object of Captain Ahab’s obsessive vendetta in Herman Melville’s classic Moby-Dick. As it turns out, sperm whales have never exhibited any hostility toward mankind, and were severely hunted for their spermaceti oil, considered the finest oil for ointments, creams, pomades, and candles. Interestingly, they were hunted almost as much in the period following World War II as they were in the 19th Century, during both periods of which their populations were cut to approximately 30%. They are now considered a vulnerable species, as their numbers are slowly recovering.]

As I approached the end of the beach, I looked down at the foot of the cliff. I could see what looked like a long, grayish-pinkish rock formation along its bottom. A woman and her dog were walking around it, seeming to linger as they looked at it. As I got closer, and the pair finally went on their way, I could see the formation more clearly. No, it wasn’t rocks; it had the vague shape of a whale or large fish. Was this it? As I stepped down a small path onto the beach and got nearer, I could see that it was indeed what remained of a once majestic sperm whale, caught between an outcropping of rocks and the bottom of the cliff wall. It was laid out with its head pointing to the water, the length of its right side fully visible to beach walkers. I could see the massive fluke semi-buried in the sand at the other end. While its shape was generally whale-like, its skin seemed to be entirely gone, exposing the pink and gray mass of its flesh and inner organs—the work of the scientists and their necropsy.

Whale headWhale Onlookers


But what was grotesquely evident, even before getting close to the whale’s cadaver, were the huge, yard-long, one-to-two-foot-thick chunks of flesh, unceremoniously flung and scattered along the beach. Crows and gulls lighted on them to peck at a bit of blubber. Dogs regarded them gingerly. Apparently, the men of science had no sense of neatness or propriety. The small, picturesque beach at Mori Point looked like a battle zone, bespeaking a crude disregard not only for the creature that had been so callously butchered, but also for the people who regularly use and enjoy the beach, now defiled with this carnage.

The small, picturesque beach at Mori Point looked like a battle zone, bespeaking a crude disregard not only for the creature that had been so callously butchered, but also for the people who regularly use and enjoy the beach.

Looking again at the whale, I could see that on the side exposed to the beach, about half of the flesh—not just skin but tissue as well— was ripped away from it, and the grayish-pinkish color was the exposed, raw insides. The entire side of the animal that I could see was decomposing, drooping dejectedly into the elements. The jawline, abutting in a characteristic cetacean point, was pinkish-red and grayish-white, the thin bottom jaw having been removed. It was almost surreal. Grayish shapes that looked like sandbags were stacked in the middle of the creature’s body. Could they have been put there to weigh the animal down so it wouldn’t float away while they were taking tissue samples? As I came closer, I saw them buoyed and rocked by the riplets of tide that began to wash in around the huge corpse: they were massive intestines, reticulated in smooth, grayish folds. The smell was there, but not overpowering in the cool air. I felt a great sadness at the death of this noble, intelligent, social animal, likely caused by human insensitivity. I remembered hearing that the sound waves emitted while searching for offshore oil deposits are devastating to whales’ navigational sonar, and increasingly cause whale beachings and deaths. In fact, in the latest issue of the UK magazine New Scientist, whales fatally beached by human-generated noise pollution have been discovered to have not just ear damage, but brain hemorrhages. How sad a commentary on human insensitivity and destructiveness.

When I looked at the side of the poor beast that faced the rocks, I saw that only half of the skin and flesh had been removed on that side. I was troubled to see a tag spray-painted the length of the remaining skin, from left flipper to tail: “East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club.” What glory could they hope to find in further desecrating this poor creature’s body?

I took a lot of pictures of the poor beast, out of curiosity, scientific enquiry, and a need to understand. The tide was beginning to come in almost immediately after I arrived, so I had to work quickly. I took videos and even photographed a man who wanted his portrait next to the whale. I was so engrossed in my task that a small wave that lapped ashore got my shoes and the bottom of my pant-legs wet, with blood-tinged water.

As I turned to go, I was again confronted by the rectangular cubes of whale flesh scattered across the beach.

Turning away from the whale’s body, I looked at a low cliff dropping down from the embankment. There was a makeshift crucifix there, seemingly a memorial to the whale. But upon closer inspection, it turned out to commemorate a dog. “Best dog in the world,” it said, “We love you.”

The death of a dog, I thought, gets more concern and compassion than the death of our mysterious, maligned, magnificent ocean cousin. And as far as defiling the whale’s body goes, or general insensitivity, I don’t think the scientists behaved with any more class or basic manners than did the East Bay Rats Motorcycle Club.

Feet

feet

In honor of National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo) during the month of April, I am unveiling the following poem, inspired, probably, by Shel Silverstein.

Feet are good to walk upon

and good for running, too;

Without them very many things

would be quite hard to do:

like pedaling, kicking, standing, stomping,

wading through the goo;

like dancing, skipping,

skinny-dipping,

frolicking and fun;

playing piggy-toes and footsie,

and swimming in the sun;

and trekking, climbing,

double-timing,

lurking, lunking,

slam-dunking;

car driving,

snorkeling, diving,

bungee jumping,

bumper bumping;

hunting, planting,

lumbering, panting,

slinking, sliding,

marching, riding;

hang-gliding,

skipping, striding,

passing, blocking,

sleep walking;

base running,

engine gunning,

dunking, spiking,

boating, biking;

high jumping,

floor thumping,

volleying, serving,

steering, swerving;

dashing, fleeing,

springing, skiing,

skate boarding,

river fording;

beach yoga

in a toga,

lunging, stretching,

drink-fetching;

standing up and balancing,

or stretching out your toes;

or wearing shoes or sandals,

or snowshoes when it snows;

or socks or clogs or moccasins,

sneakers, skates, or cleats;

flip flops, or flippers; even bare

we love our feet;

Through blisters, cuts, and bunions,

twisted ankles, and stubbed toes,

our feet are always there for us,

just like our eyes or nose;

Digging into sandy surf,

on mud or grass or street,

our feet are here to ground us, so

appreciate your feet!

Footprints on the Moon

Apollo 11 Logo

(Click here for “Get Your Ass to Mars” image)

It’s all about perspective; every great (or even good) artist knows that. Art educates. Education is the sending; the learning happens in the receiving: the re-schematization of received information.

Here’s an example of perspective: seeing Michael Collins, one of three members of the Apollo 11 crew, 45 years after his pioneering moon-landing mission, now an elderly gentleman wearing a t-shirt reading “Get your ass to Mars.” The whole image puts everything into a kind of perspective:

That life is short and people age. That those bitten by the space colonization bug never give up on their dream. The image says it all. This is the Art for me; the education.

Collins never set foot on the moon, but instead piloted the Command Module while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin each spent around 2-1/2 hours on the lunar surface, collecting moon rocks and leaving oversized space-shoe footprints on the eerie powdery surface. I recall seeing the images as a 9-year-old on my family’s black and white television set. They seemed surreal. It was surreal that these men were on the moon to begin with, and even more surreal that through the miracle of video, these images, almost 300,000 miles away, came to us with only a few seconds’ delay. I remember the slightly asynchronous communication between the ground controllers and the astronauts. I also remember President Richard Nixon congratulating them from Earth for their achievement. I heard this on the radio. I later learned that Collins stayed the Command Module, a kind of orbiting taxi driver, waiting patiently for his fellow space travelers to finish exploring, before shuttling them back to earth.

I’ve been doing research on the Apollo 11 mission, having seen this picture. Collins designed the mission logo: a bald eagle with an olive branch in its talons, hovering over the surface of the moon. I like the significance of the olive branch. It signifies that our spirit of endeavor and exploration can best be served when we work together, as is demonstrated in the cooperative venture of the International Space Station, and the multi-nation partnerships into which NASA is entering in order to continue its engagement with the Great Beyond.

Send Us to Japan!

Hello there, folks.

SendUsToJapan

https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/send-us-to-japan–3

I don’t normally post things of a personal nature or talk about my family online. But I have a really good cause that I’m trying to promote right now: intercultural learning. My daughter Katie (on the right–a junior in high school) is going to Japan this summer to study anime and manga art. She has dreamt of this trip for at least three years, ever since she knew about it. She also happens to be, at 16, a very talented artist, whose preferred format is manga. I would post one of her drawings, but she is shy about sharing. She and her friend Jennifer have posted an IndieGogoLife site to raise money for the trip. If you would like to help sponsor them, please click on the link to read their statement, and if you can contribute any amount, they would be very grateful!

Thanks so much, and God bless. (The good karma of your actions will come back to you!)

100 Years of High Tech

IMG_1239What’s this? Is it the Enigma Machine made famous again recently in the film The Imitation Game? No. That’s not what this is. It’s the keyboard for a Monotype machine, one of the last machines to produce individual type for letterpress printing. The Monotype machine was unveiled at San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition (now celebrating its centennial with programs and exhibits around San Francisco). With the machine, operators were able to create individual pieces of metal type required for a specific print job, specifying not only the letters they needed, but also the spacing and special characters. On the other end of the system, a Monotype caster would pop out the individual type, cast out of a molten metal mixture using a matrix of individual brass character molds. This was cutting-edge high-tech at the time. It sped up the typesetting process by creating all the individual characters needed on demand, rather than having to search through typecases and hoping you had enough t’s, r’s, e’s, etc. to set a given job.

Now of course, we type on the computer and text on our phones, and can change the size, style, and font of our words almost instantaneously. But letterpress printing was the name of the game from the 1440s when Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type until the mid-20th Century, when offset printing took over as the dominant form of graphic reproduction. In the 1980s, however, letterpress printing experienced a revival, as appreciators of the fine, old-timey craft created a demand for old-fashioned, high quality printing. Nothing in modern printing compares with the “bite” of real metal type into the paper, creating a highly tactile art form.

On February 28th, 2015, the Monotype system was on display at the centennial Open House of M & H Type, a craft foundry that has partnered with Arion Press, both housed in San Francisco’s Presidio, where they continue to publish limited-run, fine-art books for the discerning bibliophile. M & H type has the only monotype foundry that runs year-round, continuously since 1915.

India’s ‘festival of lights’

Writewireless:

In the midst of all the ghoulishness and turmoil of our western calendar, here’s a bright spot!

Originally posted on Yoga & Joyful Living:

Every year in autumn, Indians are celebrating Diwali, or Deepavali, by lighting earthen lamps and distributing sweets. Firecrackers are part of it, too. So what’s it all about?

The “festival of lights” is a cornerstone of the Indian calendar. Each year, Indians celebrate – in a symbolic way – the eternal conflict between good and bad and (of course!) the victory of the good. Lighting lamps signifies the victory of light over darkness, and hope over despair.

In yogic terms this can be understood as a renewal of our inherent capacity for clarity in thought, word and action. Lighting a lamp signifies the dominance of sattvic qualities over rajas and tamas which are considered to be chaotic fluctuations.

And not only Indians in India are celebrating – Diwali is an official holiday in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Mauritius, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, Malaysia, Singapore, Fiji and Pakistan.

Here’s some eye candy, and maybe some inspiration for future trips! 

Happy travels,

~ Andrea

View original

A New Economy: The Chocolate Standard

Moonstruck Chocolates

Why do people value gold so much?

I think the standard for wealth should be chocolate. It is much more nourishing, more coveted, and more satisfying. Do you ever develop a sudden craving for gold in the middle of the day? (or the night?) Does gold satisfy a deep-down need in your soul as it transits your tongue in serendipitous sweetness, bathing the back of your throat in warming smoothness, as it enters your stomach and fills the hollow of your being? I think not. But chocolate does. Chocolate is love. It is perfection. It is the answer to all prayers, the righter of all evils. Nothing gratifies as well. Nothing else delivers its promise so instantly.

No, gold is only a second measure of wealth, in that you can buy chocolate with it.

Imagine if the world economies shifted their wealth standard to chocolate. At first, people would fight over it, destroy the earth for it, horde and covet it, and lord their possession of it over others. But eventually, the chocolate would melt, get that powdery, grayish film on it, and decay. Mice would break into the chocolate coffers and nibble away at it.

You see, you can’t keep chocolate forever. You have to enjoy it when it’s in its prime. This knowledge would convince rich people to share their chocolate with others, rather than letting their investment waste away. There would be a self-limiting factor to this type of wealth: overindulgence in this commodity would lead to visible and palpable illness: bloating, weight gain, acne, tooth decay, and ultimately, diabetes and certain nervous disorders.

Over time, the wise (or anyone paying attention) would realize that wealth—chocolate—is a fleeting thing that must be shared in order to be fully enjoyed. Failure to distribute wealth would lead to grotesque body deformations such as overextended bellies, saggy butts, and craterous acne. Wealth hoarders would be easy to spot, and would bring shame upon themselves, and, even worse, be openly ridiculed. Fear of public derision would make everyone want to share their chocolate.

On the other side, those who had been shared with would be so elated (by both the generosity of the act and by chocolate’s pheromone-mimicking effect) that they would want to pass the experience on to others, creating over the longer term a sort of Economy of Euphoria. The exchange of chocolate would supplant all other trade, because when people are in a good mood, they don’t ask for collateral, don’t price-gouge, don’t mount hostile take-overs and leverage other people out of the market. They just naturally share what they have, and the good will that sharing creates makes others want to share as well.

Photo: Moonstruck Chocolates by Eszter Hargittai, 2009
Creative Commons License