Do you get as tired and depressed as I can after listening to the latest news reports which seem to to be getting worse with each passing day? Having heard enough about the unthinkable catastrophe quickly unfolding in the Ukraine, I was about to turn off my radio when I heard Matt Galloway, on CBC’s The Current, suggest we stay tuned for his next interview about a rare kind of whale recently sighted in the St. Lawrence River.
Since COVID arrived with its challenges two years ago and our changing climate has so far tested us with a winter like no other that we have ever seen, I have developed the ‘not so great’ habit of listening to the morning news over a larger than usual cup of coffee. I rationalise this by telling myself it’s better to hear about the catastrophe taking place in the Ukraine in the morning rather than seeing it on the late night news before going to bed.
Returning now to the narwhal sighting, for some inexplicable reason this was a story I felt I needed to hear more about. It’s not surprising that whales, birds and other wildlife are being seen outside their natural habitats these days as our climate changes. So what is so unusual about one baby narwhal sighting so far south when normally he hangs out in the far north of the Arctic? Hoping it might possibly be a good news story which could help shake off my doldrums, I grabbed a pen to make some notes because down deep I could finally feel a topic to write about for my next blog post.
The surprising thing about this narwhal story is that the beluga whales who normally live further south in the Arctic waters are no strangers to the St. Lawrence. They have been appearing for many years in the winter because of the warming waters of the Arctic. However, to have a narwhal appear and a baby one at that is a first, and a source of great excitement for Robert Michaud, a biologist and president of the WDC, Whales and Dolphins Conservation. First sighted in 2016, he has been monitoring the baby’s progress…now a teenager…ever since which has led to some interesting discoveries on the behaviour of both species who appear to be more similar than different in their behavior. He has found that both communicate with odd, highly vocal sounds, and that both like to make funny faces when they are communicating which, of course, endears them to humans but has also led to their abuse. Michaud is certain this narwhal is a male judging from the size of his tusks and his gravitation to the male pod of belugas. Their liking to be social seems to be another similarity between the belugas and the narwhals. As belugas emerge into their teenage years, they gravitate into two separate pods according to their sex. Finding the baby narwhal in the male beluga pod reveals that they are willing to accept and possibly adopt him. After all, this is the third time he has returned to the St. Lawrence and joined with the beluga pod. According to Michaud, it’s looking like the young narwhal will stay with his male buddies until he’s mature enough to visit the female pod. So the question that remains for Michaud is will nature be allowed to take its course and will a “narluga” be born?
I don’t know about you, but it appears to me that we humans are finally catching on that we aren’t the fount of all knowledge despite the fact we may have larger brains than most animal species. Furthermore, we certainly aren’t the only living creatures on this planet that have feelings. As most pet owners of namely cats and dogs, we have had experiences where these animals can easily pick up on our feelings and act accordingly. If we don’t pay enough attention to them, they don’t hesitate to let us know. Just ask all those pet owners who have discovered that they can be as much of a challenge as their kids.
Then there is Dr. Jane Goodall, a champion for the chimpanzees, who has devoted her life to protecting and teaching people around the world, on the importance of animals to humans and our environment. For some it might be rather scary to see the similarity between us and the chimps, but to me and others it’s all reaffirming that we all have a place in nature no matter how we look or act.
A few years ago I discovered the work and writings of the Australian biologist, Jeremy Griffith, who has devoted his life to trying to explain why we humans have become so destructive. My attention was immediately drawn to his work because of my interest in psychology and human behaviour. It was an ‘ah hah’ moment for me to hear him being interviewed in discussions with other like-minded people. To understand the ‘why’ of things is important to me because it helps me to understand not just myself but others. His starting point for this huge project began by interacting and studying the behaviour of a group of apes called the banolos. The world’s largest apes… what is left of them…. they can be sighted throughout Asia and Africa. Griffith chose to study them because of the similarity in their physical appearance and social behavior to us humans. Since his book “The End of the Human Condition” is gigantic, the better way to find out more about his explanation for our behavior is to listen to one of his more notable interviews on Youtube or by Googling the book title which will take you to his web site at http://www.HumanCondition.com. He does an excellent job of covering our human story by going as far back as Plato which explains the book’s size. It would be somewhat like reading “War and Peace”. If you should get inspired to become a follower, you can download his book for FREE. You might also consider joining his discussion group by becoming a member of his movement where he and his followers delve into the huge issues we face today as human beings and what we can do to overcome them to save ourselves from the destruction we have brought to our planet.
I personally can attest to how similar our ape/monkey population is to our human population. In 2018 on my second visit to the beautiful island of Bali, I overcame my fear of monkeys when I was invited to go with some friends to visit The Monkey Forest, a sacred park dedicated to the makaka monkeys who live there smack in the centre of Ubud. This village is the most popular place for the hordes of tourists who have flocked to Bali over the years before COVID. Not surprising that these monkeys who lived there long before us, aren’t as friendly as the banalos. In fact,they can be down right nasty. Can you blame them when their habitat has been bombarded with uninvited visitors? Sure, we tried to give them something in return, such as bananas, however, having tired of the bananas, they began to demand other morsels by becoming very aggressive and actually attacking their visitors. On my first visit there, I had one try to attack me so I wasn’t too keen on ever returning. On my second visit, however, I decided to make my peace with them. It paid off when it turned out to be a positive experience. Watching the babies play and the way the adults handled their parental duties, I found a new kind of admiration for them.
All living things have something to teach us so I could go on forever and write a book. However, there is one more teacher who has become very popular as witnessed by the slew of books being published. Have you already guessed that I am thinking about the trees? Yes, our attention is being drawn to how they communicate or as some like to say…how they actually talk to one another. One of the first to come out within the last several years is written by a German forester, Peter Wohlleben. Entitled “The Hidden Life of Trees” he writes about how trees feel, how they communicate with each other, and how they manage to look after their new saplings. It’s a difficult theory to grasp at first…that trees can talk… but if taken seriously as many of us are beginning to do, it makes perfect sense and could help us save our planet. Another book to read, a more recent one, is by Suzanne Simard entitled “Finding the Mother Tree”. I’ve heard lots of good things about it so I’ve put in on my list. Finally, I want to add, for those who like a lighter read involving humans, animals and trees, there are two that I am aware of…“The Overstory” by Richard Powers and “Prodigal Summer” by Barbara Kingsolver. I have read and enjoyed Kingsolver’s novel. It’s a good read where she lovingly intertwines the stories of three farming families living in Appalachia. Somehow the characters manage to discover how they are connected, not just to each other, but also to nature…the flora and fauna all around them.
We have so much more to learn from our environment or Mother Nature. It really has just begun. We can read and learn through books and documentaries on Youtube and TV, but we must not forget that we can also learn from our Indigenous peoples who were here long before those of us who came to the western hemisphere first as settlers and now as immigrants. In fact no matter what part of the world we live in, we all have the responsibility of caring for it. Isn’t that what we’ve been put here for, not to use up all our resources and kill our planet, but to learn how to live with what we have been gifted. We have faced many devastating storms as our climate keeps changing, we have faced diseases and pandemics, we have had endless wars over land and resources, we have always been faced with racism and colonialism, and we have had five extinctions and are now facing our sixth. Our biggest challenge now is to prepare for all of them. Whether we can do it is up for debate. Do we have time to learn to live together in accordance with the laws of nature and the Universe? Perhaps we can if enough of us can open up our minds to a new way of thinking and our hearts to a new way of loving.