Fox Network’s right-wing talk show host Sean Hannity once asked me what is the difference between a chicken and a whale. After asking Hannity if he had ever been to a farm, I told him that there were many differences beyond the obvious. A chicken is a domesticated animal whereas a whale is not. There are billions of chickens, but not so many whales. No abattoir in the world would condone or be allowed to slaughter chickens and cows utilizing methods of prolonged suffering, and any slaughterhouse that took a half-hour to kill a chicken or a cow would be shut down by law.
There is a greater difference, something intangible, mysterious even, that connects us to whales and dolphins at a subconscious primal level. A connection that is deeply emotional, and in many people’s opinions, something that is truly rooted in an ancient spirituality. People respond to whales and dolphins differently than practically any other species, and they have always done so as far as ancient writing and art can attest to. There is no other group of animals that have an entire industry devoted simply to observing, instead of hunting them. People like to see whales and dolphins. They feel an affection and kinship for them, and they feel connected to them for reasons most cannot explain.
It is for this reason I have just completed an epic poem to attempt to describe this unknown connection between whalekind and humankind. The book is titled Planet of Whales and includes three parts: (1) The Evolution of Sedna, about the whales themselves, (2) Primate Monsters of the Deepe, about the hunting of whales, and (3) Whale Wars, about saving the whales. Each part is composed of 64 six-line verses for a total of 192 verses. The lines below are from part one, The Evolution of Sedna.
The Evolution of Sedna
Whales! How do we describe such unique sentience?
How does one describe such amazing creatures?
Musical, marvelous, mystical,
Monstrous mysterious, magnificence,
Beings with a diversity of features,
Intelligent, aware, sociable, whimsical.
They are the deep salty ocean breath of the sea,
Great whales are the awesome conscience of the sea,
They are the self aware minds in the sea.
They are the philosophers of the sea,
The great whales are the protectors of the sea,
The greatest noble minds that we will ever see.
When and why did the great whales first emerge?
What are these great creatures to us?
Why do they hold for us a special place?
With them one day maybe we will converge,
And someday we will earn their trust,
With humility to the human race.
Whales, where art thou?
There have been many poems written by poets about whales. The most famous of which is Whales Weep Not by D.H. Lawrence. It is this poem that we gave to William Shatner in 1976 that inspired his script for Star Trek IV that saw a Klingon Bird of Prey starship intercept a Norwegian whaler.
Whales Weep Not!
They say the sea is cold, but the sea contains
the hottest blood of all, and the wildest, the most urgent.
All the whales in the wider deeps, hot are they, as they urge
on and on, and dive beneath the icebergs.
The right whales, the sperm-whales, the hammer-heads, the killers
there they blow, there they blow, hot wild white breath out of the sea!
And they rock, and they rock, through the sensual ageless ages
on the depths of the seven seas,
and through the salt they reel with drunk delight
and in the tropics tremble they with love
and roll with massive, strong desire, like gods.
Then the great bull lies up against his bride
in the blue deep bed of the sea,
as mountain pressing on mountain, in the zest of life:
and out of the inward roaring of the inner red ocean of whale-blood
the long tip reaches strong, intense, like the maelstrom-tip, and comes to rest
in the clasp and the soft, wild clutch of a she-whale's fathomless body.
And over the bridge of the whale's strong phallus, linking the wonder of whales
the burning archangels under the sea keep passing, back and forth,
keep passing, archangels of bliss from him to her, from her to him, great Cherubim
that wait on whales in mid-ocean, suspended in the waves of the sea
great heaven of whales in the waters, old hierarchies.
And enormous mother whales lie dreaming suckling their whale-tender young
and dreaming with strange whale eyes wide open in the waters of
the beginning and the end.
And bull-whales gather their women and whale-calves in a ring
when danger threatens, on the surface of the ceaseless flood
and range themselves like great fierce Seraphim facing the threat
encircling their huddled monsters of love.
And all this happens in the sea, in the salt
where God is also love, but without words:
and Aphrodite is the wife of whales most happy, happy she!
and Venus among the fishes skips and is a she-dolphin
she is the gay, delighted porpoise sporting with love and the sea
she is the female tunny-fish, round and happy among the males
and dense with happy blood, dark rainbow bliss in the sea.
- D.H. Lawrence
In 1988, Heathcote Williams published his epic poem Whale Nation, the following of which is a verse:
The first sound a whale calf hears
The mother lifts her new-born calf to the surface,
And then rolls on her side,
Expressing her milk into its mouth with muscles deep inside her breasts:
Twice as rich in protein as human milk,
Richer than clotted cream.
The songs of their escorts
Filter through the water,
The element of baptism,
In which the whale calf is to be perennially immersed.
Should anything untimely happen to it,
Its mother will support her calf upon her back
Until it disintegrates.
I wrote a little piece for the Whale Nation publication at the request of Heathcote Williams, but finally 23 years later, I have completed my own epic poem and it is now ready for publication. I’ve already included an excerpt above from the Evolution of Sedna. The following are a couple of excerpts about whaling in Part Two, Primate Monsters of the Deep:
Primate Monsters of the Deep
In ancient times Leviathan was a mystery
A mythic creature of wonder much revered
But humankind was seeking dominance
And thus began a bloody history
And mankind became a species to be feared,
With whales dying in pain for wealth and prominence
Intelligence willfully destroyed to read books
Moby Dick read by the light of burning whales,
Without a thought, blind to the connections
By death’s bright light, is read another book
Thou shalt not kill is one of the lying tales.
We define what is right by biased selections
The third section in Planet of Whales titled Whale Wars includes the following excerpts:
So much slaughter, cruelty, and so much blood
Sickened by such atrocities
My anger is a compassionate wrath
Strategy cools my enraged heated blood
Forever battling hypocrisies
Allowing me to focus on the path
The path led to the northern land of fire and ice
We took out half the Icelandic whaling fleet
Sending two ships to the cold harbour floor
The Icelanders paid a pretty high price
We destroyed the plant where they processed the meat
Striking successfully, creating great uproar
The cause to save the whales is a noble and historic cause and as such, I feel that poetry is a wonderful way to tell the story of the whales, whaling, and the movement to defend them.
In truth, the whales are the real poetry, poetry of intelligence in motion within the dark and dense cathedrals of the living oceans. I would imagine that whales, with such large brains and the power to communicate, are also poets.
Some songs of humpback whales have been sent beyond the solar system via the Voyager spacecraft. Perhaps somewhere out there in that vast void, there will be an intelligence that recognizes the genius that we are willfully blind to.
The Voyager spacecraft carries the songs of whales
Whose song will extraterrestrials favour?
Earth creature of the land, or of the deep?
Whose strange alien song will best tell Earth’s tale?
What will be thought of our earthly behaviour?
And if aliens visit, which species will they greet?
I have had the very great privilege of serving the whales as a defender and champion for nearly four decades. During those nearly two score years, I have seen the enchanting wondrous beauty of the whales but I have also seen the bloody horror of whaling and experienced the great joy of saving whales from the hands of their killers.
This poem sums up all three emotions I harbor with regard for the whales, the love of whales, the anger and hatred towards their killers, and the joy of defending the lives of these magnificent sentient beings whose very existence both humbles and enthralls, not just me but millions of people worldwide who realize that for some unfathomable mysterious reason these great creatures with their remarkable grace and intelligence are important to us.
Even important enough to die for!