The Moon by Whale Light by Diane Ackerman

The Moon by Whale Light by Diane Ackerman

Author:Diane Ackerman [Ackerman, Diane]
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 978-0-307-76334-1
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Published: 2011-05-17T16:00:00+00:00

One morning, though the seas were galloping and high, we stood on the promontory in back of the house, binoculars pressed to our eyes, searching the horizon for whales. Actually, all we were looking for was a “blow,” the misty spout a whale leaves when it surfaces to breathe. This was not the only sighting cue we could use. Whale watchers have learned to look for a rolling animal and for a whitecap splash of flukes or flippers. A sperm whale throws its flukes very high into the air and their trailing edge has a big notch on it; humpbacks have multicolored flukes; a right whale has broad, lip-shaped flukes with a shallow notch. Whale scientists look for changing color under the water—say, the pale blue of humpback flukes near the surface. They look for “footprints” in the water, rings that look like slick footsteps, caused by animals swimming just below the surface. They look for a dorsal fin. The killer whale has a very tall, erect dorsal fin, whereas the southern right whale has no dorsal fin at all. But the most common guide is the blow, because it varies so much among whales and can be seen at such a distance. In the dry Antarctic air, the blue whale shoots up a thin column that can rise a hundred feet and stay visible for thirty seconds. The sperm whale has a forward-canted, left-sided blow, easy to identify. Right whales and bowheads make a misty, V-shaped blow from their twin blowholes.

“There’s a whale!” Roger said, pointing to a wedge of ocean just off the southern end of Molokini, a crescent-shaped island across the bay from the Mosses’ home. “It’s moving north along the island.”

A moment later I saw a low, bushy balloon of vapor, the signature of the humpback. Early mariners used to think that the exhalations of whales were poisonous, a caustic mixture of brimstone and sulfur that could strip the flesh from any man who chanced too close. Perhaps the blood entering the lungs of wounded whales sometimes tainted their last breaths, giving them a fetid odor. But scientists who have been drenched by the breath of healthy whales say that it feels like a delicate mist; some report a faint odor of musk.

The clouds had begun to swarm again, and to keep ourselves dry and warm, we put on many layers of clothing over our swimsuits, then took green plastic trash bags and cut arm- and head-holes. No one else was crazy enough to be at the marina when the sky was like clotted milk and a blue veil of rain hung on the horizon. Roger steered the Zodiac out to where the waves were heaving, toward Molokini, where we knew that at least one whale would be singing. And what a song it would be! It was said that the shape of the island created lovely echoes when the whale and his listener were in just the right position. The farther we got from shore, the higher the waves became.


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