Love it or hate it: Whales

by David Holub

Love itAs a kid, I had a Golden Book that showed pictures of objects in scale to one another: The Eiffel Tower compared with the Statue of Liberty or the space shuttle next to an elephant or brontosaurus. But my favorite comparison was anything next to a blue whale. My young brain could not grasp a living creature so large, and my old brain still can’t. Whales ignite my imagination and intrigue unlike any other living thing.

Blue whales are as long as six elephants, three school buses or a jumbo jet. Their hearts stand as tall as a full-grown dude. I could sit around and ponder the immensity of whales for days. And there are other fascinating physical whale wonders, like the narwhal’s unicorn horn or whales’ ability to produce symphonic songs full of harmony, meter and melody.

But the thing that gets me most is their intelligence. We know they’re dauntingly intelligent, but because they’re intelligent in different ways than humans and other primates – because they can’t speak English or make and use tools with hands – their intelligence isn’t as easy to grasp.

But, whoa, is it mind-blow(hole)ing! Scientists are beginning to understand that whales can send “visual” images through sound, the equivalent of a human projecting a hologram to another human. And the part of a whale’s brain responsible for emotions and memories is more complex than ours. Whales have the ability to learn as individuals but can also pass along things they learn to other whales, something quite uncommon in the animal world.

That’s it: I’m seriously voting “whale” for president.

— David HolubHate itLong before I was forced to read “Moby Dick” in high school or watch Shamu perform his antics, I’ve harbored an extreme loathing for these sea mammals. They’ve had starring roles in the Bible and “Star Trek,” but I’m still not swayed by their enormity that others proclaim as breathtaking. Whales are large, blubbery creatures with no respect for fellow sea-goers. They have no desire to share the ocean with boaters, paddle boarders or kayakers. Instead, they breach for seemingly no reason, trust-falling onto the surface of sea vessels with great spectacle. Their showy “look at me” style screams narcissist. Many call these displays exhilarating; others call them playful and intelligent. I see dead eyes skulking below the water’s surface waiting to swallow me whole.

Whales claim to be vegetarian, opening their mouths like yawning cats to filter millions of helpless plankton for their meal, but I’m not buying it. Baleen looks more like a bunch of tiny swords crucial to spearing surfers who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Eerie whale songs? No thanks! Ambergris? WTF! Blowholes? More like snot holes!

My true hatred is reserved for killer whales (technically not a whale, but let’s not quibble). They don’t need to be in the ocean to be reviled! Beaching themselves to snack on a moist seal, these guys just get off on playing with their food before flopping back into the ocean. I freely admit to my pants-wetting cetaphobia, but I also believe these mammals are one of the biggest jerks in the ocean. I’m skeptical of our need to save them.

— Stephanie Gall


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