Naturalists Notes 11-13-17
November 13, 2017
Good tidings awaited us from the Atlantic sheath that cloaks its underlying secrets for only so long. North of the shipping lane were the Humpback whales known as Nile and Paravane. Nile was well-received as she has been celebrated by the whale watch community for 30 years, and is recognized by both pigmentations upon fluke and dorsal fin. As a naturalist I have invested interest in her ventral markings, and have illustrated her several times in the artist studio. However, the origins of her accomplice perplexed us pilgrims of the M/V Aurora. The latter behemoth was identified by BHC naturalist Kelsey for the streak of black tissue at the leading edge of the whale’s left fluke, which seemed akin in silhouette to aquatic tools called paravanes.
Paravanes were winged blades of metal towed from the bow of vessels for the purpose of snagging cables fastened to naval mines, to prompt the combustible weapons to float to the surface for controlled detonation by gunfire. If the anchor cable to the mines failed to separate, the mine and the paravane would be brought together and the mine would explode harmlessly away from the towing vessel. This sweeping device even functioned as an anti-submarine weapon, sometimes retrofitted with a warhead of TNT while towed at up to 25 knots! There is humor in the irony of naming complacent, peaceful creatures after weapons of wartime, by simple markings upon one’s tail!
The 10 minute dives of Nile and Paravane prompted investigation into southern waters, and across midbank we located Columbia, Dross, and Jupiter! Jupiter was clandestine in her subsurface itinerary, surfacing but once in our vicinity. Dross proved generous as she partitioned the swells off our bow with consecutive fluking dives of artisanal grace, and Columbia imparted a few encounters as well. Upon her pelt of metallic sheen gleaned a scarification from an encounter with a boat propeller, a frightening mill of metal that does not discriminate in its churning of mediums of water or hallowed creature.
The masses of these Humpback whales are indeed tapestries, woven with histories of living in harmony with, and under duress of, humanity. In the finality of the season we hope for more tales imparted by these leviathans, in hopes of expanding our own worldview and cultivating empathy with the wilderness just within reach.
Periscope Down, Richard W Dolan