More on the magic of whales.
My gift, in addition to Big Wing’s song and my kayaking not too far away when he came to the surface, was to swim with a mother and calf Humpback whale under careful conditions designed to protect the whales. Tonga and the Dominican Republic are the only two countries that allow this, as far as I know. In Tonga, we could surface snorkel in small groups of five with a guide, but only after it became clear that the mama whale was not intimidated by the nearby presence of the boat. No touching, no coming between the mother and calf, no close proximity.
The conditions were met, and I was in the water. I noted the barnacles on the mother whale’s skin, the coloration pattern of her flukes, the number of shark suckers in the vicinity.
I had learned that a female doesn’t reach maturity until between six- and fifteen-years old and then has a calf only every one to three years. It takes about one year for her pregnancy before the birth of the calf. Her mammary nipples are hidden in a slit, and the calf is fed not by suckling, but by a quick burst of potent mother’s milk that she squirts down the calf’s throat when it nudges her briefly exposed teat. I didn’t have to read this, I saw it with my own eyes! I watched the calf nurse from his mother, a thin spiral of the thick viscous creamy milk swirled up to the surface near me, a vision I will carry in my archival memory forever. Finished feeding, the baby rested under his mother’s head as she floated about twenty feet below the surface.
This calf was a curious little fellow. He slipped up to the surface frequently for air as he needed to breathe more often than his mother. When he came to the surface, he seemed to look around with wonder. Staying away from him became impossible as he swam up to me, and we swayed slowly in the water face to face, our eyes studying each other with curiosity, and, on my part, deep affection. I remained still, enchanted. His mom looked up at me, but stayed where she was, deeming me no threat to her baby. For an instant, I was part of their world.
There are some events that seem so out of the realm of a land-based time/space plane that for a moment I am carried into eternity. Looking into the eye of a whale in her watery home can do that. This is not philosophical, not an affirmation of the unequivocal truth that we are all connected, not a liberal environmentalist expanding her horizons. This is palpable. This is knowing beyond intellect, even beyond compassion—more than my heart and soul are touched. This is, perhaps, enlightenment.