Saturday, May 11, 2013

Prompt: The Loneliest Whale

She rests on the water’s surface, idly slapping her long fins against the small white-capped waves that flow over her delicate grey skin. After her first mighty exhale, blowing a stream of mist high into the air, she is content with shallow breaths that echo in her ears like her heartbeat, slow and steady against the water’s sweeping tide.

Two gulls and a tern swoop overhead, calling for food. She has not eaten for days and has nothing to offer them. She hopes they will land in the water anyway, but they circle once, twice, then fly on, their raucous cries fading in the distance. She will search for a krill ball to push to the surface after her next dive, so she can eat and maybe attract some company for awhile.

The sun is low in the sky, getting ready to sink into the water for the night. Surely there would be others clustered around its bright light and warmth in the ocean. She has swum and swum in hopes of finding it underwater, but she never does.

With a last exhale, she prepares to dive. She will sing, as she does every day, and listen for an answering song. It’s been so long since she heard one, when she still swam with her mother. She dimly remembers the warm shallow bay where they lazed and played with others. In all her years of searching, she has never found it again.

She dives and tilts toward the distant bottom of the sea, as her mother taught her. “Your song reflects best through the water like this, little one” her mother said, tilting down and singing her own song. “You must find your own song,” her mother chided when she tried to copy hers. Without a tribe to help her find her life’s song, she can only sing of loneliness.

Her song is short, not full and rich like the one she remembers her mother singing. She sings it three times through, then listens to the echoes fade through the water. She waits, hoping for some answering song. There is none. Eventually, she swims on.

Paul Winter, “Lullaby from the Great Mother”
Time writing:
20 minutes
May word count:


  1. Prompt: The Loneliest Whale

    We were waiting out the storm at anchor, and after listening to Amy rage about how much each day was costing us--as if she had expected a 3-month research cruise to somehow encounter absolutely no bad weather whatsoever--I slipped away to go analyse some data. The analysis suite was on the top deck, and the sway from the waves was quite noticeable from this height. No wonder everyone was lounging about in the mess, instead. But I had never had trouble with sea sickness, and so I fired up the computer and tabbed through the dtag downloads from the last few weeks.

    I was working on my own pet project: Amy's main focus was the whales' vocalisations, but I was interested in where they were going. In addition to the dtag's audio feeds (and temperature, salinity, pressure, and the rest), they also had a gps stream, which tracked exactly where the tagged animal had gone. I had written my own little script to process it and plot it, but it required loading every dtag file one at a time. I picked up a steady pattern of click-open-type name-click, and wondered where the cut-point for writing a better script to handle multiple files versus just keeping doing this was.

    Before I had decided to start programming instead of analysing, I was done. Thirty-four paths traced along a sea-floor map, colour-coded for date. Most sprawled in a long tangle, but three diverged to the west, nearly exactly on top of each other. I wondered if I had accidently loaded the same file three times, but there were enough variations to say not--and plus, the dates were different. The end of the path was unusually shallow for a whale.

    I would have to check the log books to tell which whale or whales that was--I couldn't decide if it would be odder for a single whale to follow exactly the same path several days apart, or for multiple whales to do so. Or perhaps I should double-check my script, first. Because whatever was going on, that wasn't whale-like at all.

    Time writing: ~30 minutes

  2. Oh, how beautifully melancholy. I really got into the whale POV quite quickly.