(In honor of Earth Day)
Once upon a time there was a whale. He wasn’t a great white whale, or even a blue whale. As far as whales go, he was kind of shrimpy. So at whale parties, which are the world’s best karaoke, he rarely got to sing lead. The top whales would sing lead, and he would occasionally get to do a background grunt, which are the whale equivalent to do-wop, do-wops.
Other mammals might think that being a non-alpha male whale is just peachy, but our whale, who we’ll affectionately call shrimpy, didn’t find his whale life to be particularly rewarding . Shrimpy never got the first pick of the plankton, and forget about mating season.
What other mammals don’t remember is the battle scars of most male whales. That’s right, battle scars from getting hit, really hard, in the water. If you’ve ever tried to hit someone in the water, you know just how much force it would take to hit somebody hard enough to leave a cut that would be visible from a boat hundreds of yards away. That’s right. Those babies have got to hurt something fierce.
Shrimpy wasn’t covered in battle scars, so he wasn’t likely to be anyone’s mate. And forget about being someone’s “primary escort,” which is the name of a whale that stays near a female and her newborn calf. Shrimpy wasn’t primary escort material.
It should come as no surprise that Shrimpy was a humpback as well. This wasn’t really a problem for Shrimpy, because his entire whale species is humpbacked. But I thought I should mention it because it just adds insult to injury.
So what Shrimpy needed was some way to climb the social ladder. Other mammals may use other talents to gain status in their tribe. Shrimpy needed something other than brute strength and size to gain a mate. Maybe even a better place in line at the banquet table of the ocean.
What Shrimpy needed was a new way of relating, a new song.
Shrimpy had lots of time to work on his new song. He practiced far away from other whales, because whale songs can reach for twenty miles underwater. What many other mammals don’t know is that at any one time all the male humpback whales sing one song. It changes, but then they sing another one song. Forget your top forty. What you need is a number one hit or you don’t make the humpback whale charts. So it wasn’t enough for Shrimpy to release an intro. Album or a you tube video or something and wait for some fan following to build. He had to hit the mark right on with his first try.
Now, if this was a story, then Shrimpy would have a hit single and make a change in his social status. But that would be ignoring the fact that the song charts that Shrimpy was trying to break into were male dominated. These were war songs, songs of challenge and triumph. Deep, manly songs about losing your dorsal fin rather than letting another male get near your woman. How well do you think Shrimpy did at writing those songs? That’s right, he pretty much sucked.
So after two failures at setting up the dominant mating tune, Shrimpy was close to giving up. Then he heard another sound. It wasn’t the booming military voice of the males. It was the gentle crooning of a mamma for her calf. Other mammals don’t think this sort of song even exists, because all they can hear is the loud macho songs. But while the primary escorts are flexing and posturing, it’s up to the mommas to calm the calves. Shrimpy had been chilling in some coral when a momma passed by, and that’s the only reason he heard it. Her escort would have kicked his butt if he’d been seen.
So Shrimpy started practicing some quiet songs, gentler songs. He had a lot of quiet time on the edge of the big pods of humpbacks. When he thought he had one down, he played it out during an off-mating time. The other male humpbacks were all like: “what is this girly-man singing about sand and coral and sea flowers for?” But the female humpbacks were all bopping along to the beat and loving it.
Come that mating season, Shrimpy got picked out for a mating season. When a female humpback gave him the come hither, he was there. Some other mammals even got it on film, and posted it all over the internet. The amazing thing is that it isn’t even rated PG-13, which is definitely showing some mammalian prejudice over what qualifies for what rating.
The next time someone listens to a humpback whale pod, they should tune out the loud manly sound and listen in to the gentle, higher lullabies. That’s Shrimpy’s work, and the mommas and the calves all love his number one hit lullabies.
Moral: If your box doesn’t work for you, change the box.
- Humpback Whale Freed of Life-threatening Entanglement in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (hawaiireporter.com)
- Listen to Hawaii’s Humpback Whales Singing LIVE! (pacificislandparks.com)
- Entangled humpback whale rescued (mnn.com)
- FINAL Humpback Whale Watch for 2013! (pacificislandparks.com)
- Crew rescues entangled 40-foot humpback (wwlp.com)
- Whale entangled in fishing gear freed (science.nbcnews.com)
- Having a whale of a time: The baby humpback which appears to levitate in incredible snap (dailymail.co.uk)
- Study: Blue whales at higher risk from ship strikes (ocregister.com)
- Fisherman rescues humpback whale with piece of lumber (cbc.ca)
- Whales of Maui (ireport.cnn.com)