Two days earlier, a friend I was visiting on Long Island mentioned that a whale had washed ashore. The conversation moved to other topics and I did not ask where.
A day later, I visited the ranger station at the wilderness area. While in conversation with a ranger, he mentioned that a whale had washed ashore. I thought to myself that this must be the same whale my friend told me about. Quickly, I asked the ranger where and he said about three-quarters of a mile down the beach heading west.
I was camping at Smith Point County Park and the Otis Pike Wilderness area is adjacent. How fortunate I was, I thought, to have the opportunity to see a whale.
I would rather see a live whale then a dead one, but I was aware of the human-caused perils they face from hunting to ship strikes to pollution. Not knowing just what had killed the whale -- perhaps it was a natural death -- nevertheless I wanted to pay my respects and knew I had to make the trek.
I had a tight schedule that day so I planned on going early the next morning.
And here I was. The parking lot was deserted when I arrived and the sun was not yet over the horizon.
Determined, I began my hike into the wilderness.
|Dawn at the Otis Pike Wilderness Area looking west|
I walked quickly and it was not easy going. There was little, if any, hard areas of the sand to walk on and my sneakers sunk in. The tide was coming in and I knew I had to move quickly. I kept looking to the west down the long stretch of shoreline to see if I could sight the whale to get a sense of the distance. I saw nothing but beach.
Suddenly, I realized how alone I was. There was not one other person on the beach. It was me, the sea and the seagulls.
I liked the feeling and, oddly, had no fear at all.
I continued to hike, and at one point, sunk deep into the sand from the incoming tide. I kept my eyes on the beach, continuously stepping around saturated sand and hiking around slowly filling pools of water.
I was so preoccupied by navigating a safe route, I lost track of time and distance.
After a bit, I looked up to get my bearing and about thirty-feet before me lay the whale.
I was immediately overcome with a humbleness that I've never experienced before.
I walked slowly to the whale, keeping my eyes on it as I drew closer. I stopped, not more than five feet away and stared. I grew emotional. I felt a deep pang of sorrow for this majestic giant of the sea lying alone on the beach.
I walked slowly around the whale, a humpback, taking in its eyes, mouth, baleen, fins, tail , skin and size - at least thirty-five feet in length.
Staring at an eye, I sensed an ancient and deep intelligence. I wondered where this whale had been, thought about his travels, his family, his life. What songs* had he sung? What could he tell me about the sea, his world?
I hoped that the demise of the whale was not human caused and I suddenly blurted out loud an apology to the whale for all the pain humans had caused his kind and that I had hoped he did not die because of something my kind had done. I would be ashamed if that were so.
I stood awhile with the whale, not wanting to leave.
I knelt down next to the whale, reached out my hand, lay it flat on the smooth skin in an act of connection and deep reverence for his life.
I then walked behind the whale and stood there staring out to sea then to the whale several times imagining him swimming back to his home.
Farewell, my friend.
Note: Two weeks after my visit, it was determined "the whale suffered some type of trauma to its body which resulted in its demise."
I also found out, that another whale had washed ashore a week previous to this one, a victim of a ship strike.
*Humpback whales are known for the complex songs they sing to communicate.