Recently I met a friend from the Pacific Northwest who told me the story of the Orca (Killer whale) ‘Tahlequah’ who lives in the waters off Washington State and Canada.
Early last year Tahlequah gave birth to a female calf who died shortly after. Following her death, Tahlequah kept the body of her dead daughter afloat for 17 days. She swam, nudging her baby along for over 1000 miles. Other members of the pod brought her food as she couldn’t hunt while supporting the body. Orcas had previously been witnessed holding dead calves afloat for a day or two, but 17 days was unprecedented.
The Southern resident population of orcas has fallen to its lowest point since monitoring started in 1976. Only 75 orcas remain in the group and the population hasn’t given birth to a surviving calf in over three years. Researchers estimate the pod has only 5 years reproductive life left, meaning that if they don’t give birth to a female calf capable of reproducing, the population will disappear. The calf died because there aren’t enough wild Chinook Salmon to feed the population, which has been decimated by dams, pollution and fishing.
The reading below is by Joanna Macy, recalling what the Industrial Growth Society is doing to our fellow species. It serves to honour the unique and irreplaceable life forms that are passing from us. I don’t share this to invoke guilt. Guilt tends to close us down. Instead it is an opportunity to honour the beauty and wisdom of each unique, irreplaceable species.
From ‘World as Lover, World as Self’ by Joanna Macy
Hawksbill sea turtle
The lists of endangered species grow longer every year. With too many names to hold in our mind, how do we honor the passing of life? What funerals or farewells are appropriate?
Dive deep, brother whale, in this time we have left. Deep in our mother ocean where I once swam, gilled, and finned. The salt from those early seas still runs in my tears. Tears aren't enough anymore. Give me a song, a song for a sadness too vast for my heart, for a rage too wild for my throat.
Giant sable antelope
Ooze me, alligator, in mud whence I came. Belly me slow in the rich primordial soup, cradle of our molecules. Let me wallow again, before we drain your swamp and pave it over.
Quick, lift off. Sweep me high over the coast and out, farther out. Don't land here. Oil spills coat the beach, rocks, sea. I cannot spread my wings glued with tar. Fly me from what we have done, fly me far.
West african ostrich
Mexican prairie dog
Hide me in a hedgerow, badger. Can't you find one? Dig me a tunnel through leaf-mold and roots, under the trees that once defined our fields. My heart is bulldozed and plowed over. Burrow me a labyrinth deeper than longing.
Lotus blue butterfly
Crawl me out of here, caterpillar. Spin me a cocoon. Wind me to sleep in a shroud of silk, where in patience my bones will dissolve. I'll wait as long as all creation if only it will come again - and I take wing.
Atlantic Ridley turtle
Steller sea lion
Swim me out beyond the ice floes, mama. Where are you? Boots squeeze my ribs, clubs drum my fur, the white world goes black with the taste of my blood.
Sway me slowly through the jungle. There still must be jungle somewhere. My heart drips with green secrets. Hose me down by the waterhole; there is buckshot in my hide. Tell me old stories while you can remember.
In the time when his world, like ours, was ending, Noah had a list of the animals, too. We picture him standing by the gangplank, calling their names, checking them off his scroll. Now we also are checking them off.
Indus river dolphin
West Indian manatee
We reenact Noah's ancient drama, but in reverse, like a film running backwards, the animals exiting.
Your tracks are growing fainter. Wait. Wait. This is a hard time. Don't leave us alone in a world we have wrecked.
i) Orange bellied parrot by @DVATE - Little Bourke St, Melbourne.
iii) Recycling Kingdom by @RustamQBic, Seawalls Project by Pangeaseed - Napier, NZ
iv) Fisherman by @elliotfrancisstewart, Seawalls Project by Pangeaseed - Napier, NZ
v) Critically endangered NZ Storm Petrel by @Vexta - Seawalls Project by Pangeaseed - Napier, NZ
vi) Fiordland Penguins by @celestialterrestrial, Seawalls Project by Pangeaseed - Napier, NZ
vii) Reweave the unraveling world by @heypatyeah - Seawalls Project by Pangeaseed - Napier, NZ
viii) Last Island by @Onurpainting - Seawalls Project by Pangeaseed - Napier, NZ
ix) The Ivory Trade by @louismasai - The Walls Project, Waterford, Ireland
x) The Castle on the cliff by @monkeybirdcrew - The Walls Project, Waterford, Ireland
xi) Time to scream and shout by @phlegm_art, Reykjavik, Iceland
xii) Rising Sea Levels by @CarlyEaley - Seawalls Project by Pangeaseed - Napier, NZ
All images taken by Richard Lawless