In my heart I knew it was coming. This moment.
I’ve been dreading it for months, hoping somehow I would be wrong. It was a slow decline, but really it wasn’t slow at all. It just feels that way. Usually it doesn’t happen like this. One day they’re here and the next they’re not. Is it always like that? No. But most of the time–and we don’t realize how lucky we are–they vanish and we’re only left searching for a fin, a saddle, a life that is no longer there. These past weeks I have found myself more than once wishing it wasn’t this hard. But I’ve realized something as I’ve struggled with what is finally this new reality.
It should not be easy for me. It should not be easy for any of us.
We’ve watched the decline of two our whales over the past few months and we’ve struggled with what that means—for the message we’re spreading, for the community’s recovery, for what action it may or may not inspire, and for some what it might mean for business. For the bottom line.
But our struggle is miniscule in comparison to theirs. A mother just watched her daughter and grandson waste away, and all those years of nurturing, of teaching, of loving, they weren’t enough to save them. An almost eight year-old daughter and sister has lost her entire world in the space of a few short days. I wonder if they prepared her for it? Surely they knew it was coming. But how do you prepare a child for something like this? What words are enough? Or did they keep holding onto hope until hope ran out? If I could ask her anything it would be if she will be okay; tomorrow, next month, some day. I have to believe she will be; I’d like to think she has her mother’s determination and tenacity.
We have earned this struggle. I have earned this struggle. With every wasted fish, with every defunct dam, with every chemical poured down the sink. It hasn’t been a give and take in a long time, maybe ever, surely longer than I’ve been alive—though it hasn’t changed in the decades I’ve been here either. We take, we use, we want. What pain and heartache I’ve been dealt has been wholly earned and I bear a burden for the fault of our collective mistakes.
It shouldn’t be easy.
Somewhere out there in the waters of the Salish Sea the whales we cherish are dealing with another loss, another two losses, more countless losses. Perhaps they’re singing a song of mourning or perhaps they’re trying to comfort an eight year-old daughter and sister. At least I imagine they would try. Perhaps she’ll let them coax her from her sorrow for a minute, an hour, a day. Or maybe she will turn away and remain inconsolable a while longer. She has just lost her world after all.
We teach people that in this community of whales children stay with their mothers for their entire lives. We’ve seen it. Generations of whales swimming together. What happens when those generations are gone?
Her death, their deaths, crush us. And we make them count with aptly-timed announcements meant to inspire the masses to save them, to act on their behalf. And I understand using these moments even though I often struggle deeply with it. Polaris is more than her death, Dipper too, though their loss is yet another wake-up call that will hopefully provoke more people into action. Let their deaths stand for something---for as much good as something so terrible can bring---but let us not forget that they were more than that.
She was more than what her death can bring to our cause.
She was first a daughter, a sister, a mother, an aunt. She was a member of J-Pod. She was the newborn calf that sparked the single witnessed clash between residents and transients, a clash we still talk about to this day. She raised a daughter, bore two sons. She loved, she nurtured, she passed on the knowledge she gained from her mother, from her mother’s mother.
She was a life and she was important.