#53 A skeleton for Ontario
April 03rd, 2016
The TV news had images of a gray whale washed ashore, then reports of a baby Orca found dead on a beach.
As if those losses weren’t enough, an Orca was towed in to Tahsis and put on the boat launch ramp. The rope around its tail was tied to a massive log so the corpse could not float back out to sea on high tide, and it lay there, waiting for whale experts to arrive to try to determine why this poor thing died.
Seals and sea lions were gathering in the bay, looking for a meal.
Someone said the poor thing was about seventeen years old, not yet old enough to breed. Couldn’t tell from looking at it if it was male or female, the gases of decomposition had burst the body at just about the same place you’d look to see the gender, and there was a spill of intestines on the cement of the ramp.
The black we expect to see on an Orca was disappearing, it looked to my entirely untrained eyes as if that black skin isn’t any thicker than our own, and as the body swelled with putrifying, the skin split, then seemed to dry and flutter in the wind. I saw a piece of black skin, about the size of a woman’s hanky, pull free and blow away. The orca was rapidly turning pink, the fins were flopped and lying pathetically.
I didn’t cry, but I came close. It seemed an insult. This iconic symbol of freedom, tied to a log, lying leaking in the sunlight. If it had still been at sea, other creatures would have gathered and would have been feasting on the ton or so of meat, and that’s sad enough but not, to me, as sad as being tethered and lying on a cement ramp.
I was told “they” would take samples to try to find out why this gorgeous creature died, then the meat would be stripped so the bones could be taken to be cleaned and prepared and the skeleton be given to a museum in Ontario. Why Ontario? Do we not have room in our own museum in Victoria?
The Village of Tahsis public works crew were preparing a pit at the landfill site, a grave, where the boneless meat would be buried.
So why are three whales dead in such a short period of time? What’s going on out there? I listened to some of the people who had gathered to look at the Orca, some took pictures, most just stood and stared in silence for a while, then turned away, obviously touched.
Nobody mentioned the smell, I found that interesting. More than a few wondered if the radiation leaking from Fukushima was why this miracle was dead, and one woman said she wondered if the loss of most of our starfish was in any way connected to the deaths of at least three whales.
I really wanted to touch it. I wanted to say goodbye. But I didn’t want to touch the body because it was beyond ripe and leaking oil and body fluids. So I reached out and touched a tooth.
Teeth as big as my thumb, one of them broken. Oddly, I felt better after touching that tooth, and I have no explanation for why.
I was on the very verge of weeping, and then that roiling feeling passed, and I was calmer. Sad, yes, but the creature seemed less pathetic, somehow, and maybe even at peace.
I hope Ontario appreciates the skeleton.
I hope we all learn something. And I really hope the experts release the results of their tests, and maybe even provide some answer as to why three whales are dead in so short a period of time.
Something is going on out there and we have to find out what, then we have to DO something to improve the way we treat our oceans and the miracles who live in them.
Anne Cameron grows pussywillows on the western edge of Vancouver Island. She received the George Woodcock Lifetime Achievement Award for an outstanding literary career in British Columbia in 2010. Her 23 books include Daughters of Copper Woman, the bestselling work of fiction ever written about B.C. and published from within B.C. She has banished herself to Tahsis, a small town not far from Friendly Cove where the shenanigans called British Columbia all began.