Please subscribe if you like what you read here thank you. This piece doesn't appear in my forthcoming book A Creature Wanting Form but it maybe should have (?)
Indigenous people in Alaska and other northern regions have been hunting whales for thousands of years which sounds almost impossible doesn’t it. I can barely reconcile the fact that whales even exist today never mind think about seeing one hundreds or thousands of years ago and saying to myself I am going to eat that. I can’t boil rice without my wife having to come in from the other room frowning.
Have you ever been on a whale watching trip and you go out in the little sad boat the guy owns and you sit there for a while like this blows and then you finally at long last see a whale and you’re like holy shit are you seeing this shit? Your entire life changes right there next to some guy from Arizona.
Holy fucking shit.
Now imagine you’re a guy in a much shittier boat from a thousand years ago and you gotta go fight the whale. Where would you even start?
I suppose if you are very hungry there are no limits to the ingenuity of man. There are also no limits to the greed of man which is why we aren’t allowed to hunt whales anymore. We got so good at killing them and making money off of it we almost ruined them and everything forever.
Bowhead whales for example were almost wiped out by commercial whaling from 1848 to 1915 which brought the population of the species down to around one thousand worldwide. Scientists estimate there are about fourteen thousand of them swimming around down there now oblivious to our bullshit so that is good. Until we boil them later.
On one particular whaling expedition in 2007 Inupiat hunters in Alaska pulled in a fifty-ton bowhead somehow (?) and after digging deep through the layers and layers of blubber they found something curious which was a harpoon lodged in its shoulder bone. The weapon was dated to the late 1800s and the experts said it was a type of exploding lance produced in New Bedford when it was the whaling capital of the world and long before I used to have to ride on a bus down there in high school to go get my head stomped in playing football.
Whalers back then would fire the harpoon from a shoulder-held device and it would shoot out and chunk into the whale and then explode inside of the whale and it would kill the whale if all went well. Sometimes in other cases like this one the whale would say fuck you and go swim off to live the rest of its whale life in peace while the guy on the boat maybe thought ahhhh I’m ruined and then would starve to death or go to jail for his debts. However people got fucked over back then. Same as now I suppose.
The fact that this whale had lived so long with a century-old weapon inside of its bones was revealing because while scientists have long estimated that whales could live for a very long time they didn’t know it was that long. This one had lived for at least one hundred and fifteen years meaning as far as they could speculate the idea that whales could live up to two hundred years wasn’t out of the question anymore.
Can you imagine living that long with a harpoon lodged inside of your body or even living that long in the first place? Two hundred years. That means there are maybe whales swimming around out there right now that were born before Moby Dick was written. Some of them still meaning to finally finish reading it when they have some free time.
Traditionally the way scientists determine the age of a whale is by studying the amino acids in its eyes. Another weird thing about bowhead whales is that they tend not to develop cancer which is very surprising considering the vast number of cells they have. Cancer absolutely loves cells. Cancer cannot get enough of that shit.
Scientists who have sequenced their genome are hoping to figure out how to apply that sort of thing to humans to help prevent aging-related diseases which sounds pretty cool until you think again about the idea of living for two hundred years. I’ve lived barely a quarter of that and I’ve already almost seen enough. The way we’ve treated whales for one example. Everything else also.
Research into all that is being funded in part by a group called the Methuselah Foundation whose mission is “to make 90 the new 50 by 2030.”
After poking around their website they look like the type of corporation who end up accidentally inventing vampires in a video game. Or maybe they’re just trying to invent the unkillable Boomer.
Methuselah was the oldest dude in the Bible and Noah’s grandfather. The Bible says he lived nine hundred and sixty-nine years before dying in the flood we all know about.
I suppose it would be a pretty grim irony if humans finally figured out how to live to one hundred and fifty and then we all died in the other flood that’s coming and it didn’t end up mattering after all.
Here’s a paragraph from the famous whale novel:
“Consider the subtleness of the sea; how its most dreaded creatures glide under water, unapparent for the most part, and treacherously hidden beneath the loveliest tints of azure. Consider also the devilish brilliance and beauty of many of its most remorseless tribes, as the dainty embellished shape of many species of sharks. Consider, once more, the universal cannibalism of the sea; all whose creatures prey upon each other, carrying on eternal war since the world began. Consider all this; and then turn to the green, gentle, and most docile earth; consider them both, the sea and the land; and do you not find a strange analogy to something in yourself? For as this appalling ocean surrounds the verdant land, so in the soul of man there lies one insular Tahiti, full of peace and joy, but encompassed by all the horrors of the half-known life. God keep thee! Push not off from that isle, thou canst never return!”
I don’t know what it means but I think it means humans much like every other beast want to kill each other all the time but unlike them we have a gorgeous island inside of our souls where they make very good rum?
There’s a bunny I see out in my backyard all the time and since I was thinking about whale lifespans I just looked up how long they live in the wild and the computer said one or two years which isn’t very long at all. Domesticated ones can live around nine years but it’s admittedly a bit of a tradeoff for them freedom-wise.
I saw some fresh tracks in the snow this morning and I was thinking about how cool it would be to be able to jump as far as they do. Not cool enough to be worth dying after like fifteen months but still pretty cool you have to admit.
I’d jump so much if I could.
I never jump anymore. I was standing under a basketball net inside of a gymnasium recently when I went to vote and change the world via my single responsibility under democracy and thinking about how pathetic it would look if I tried to jump up and grab the rim which is something I unimaginably could actually do at one point in my life.
Never dunk though. I could have easily lied about having been able to do that here but a man’s integrity is all he has in the end.
When was the last time you jumped?
Some day will be the last day you ever jump and you won’t know it and then you’ll never jump again. Really jump I mean. You’ll live the rest of your life planted firmly on the ground and getting closer and closer to being inside of it with every passing minute until one day you’ll be floating for eternity among whatever it is that’s swimming down there in the soil all devouring each other.