I haven’t written anything yet for this blog as I have not been able to find the words I need to describe what I have seen in these past weeks. Photos are the way I communicate my experiences and my personal goal for this voyage is to document through images, all the whales we encounter on this voyage, alive or dead. The death has outweighed the life part of the equation and is taking a toll.
If a photo can tell 1000 words, then it would take 266,000 words to tell this story so far. 12,000 words would be needed to describe the new whale deaths we have since leaving Puerto Eden three weeks ago.
So until I can bring my photos of words to you, here I attempt a seemingly insignificant few to try to describe what I have seen.
To access the whales for documentation and study, we must leave Saoirse with the Oceanographic Research team and head out everyday as weather allows in the dinghy with Ana, Francisca and either Katie or Alex. I am the dinghy operator, Ana photographs the whale carcasses, Francisca positions them on the GPS and Alex or Katie sit at the bow watching for rocks. I also photograph each whale carcass we come across as part of my art project within this whale study project, my ultimate goal being to bring these images and the plight of these whales to the world via photographic exhibitions.
Our days are long, often spending 8 hours or more away from the boat, going along the shore from one whale carcass to another, each person focused on their job of documentation. When there is opportunity to stop, usually only once during this time as the fiords are very long and there is much distance to cover, Ana and Francisca measure the whale carcasses while Alex collects plants for the stable isotope studies. With the dinghy safely secured, I focus on taking photos of the whales, strangely fascinated with the artistic way in which they have decayed and how other creatures are sustained by their death. I am also taking video, trying to bring life and movement into the daily images I am accumulating.
Our first stop on the voyage was in Seno Escondido. Being one of the main study areas of the project, we spent a number of days there covering the entire fiord in the dinghy and photographing and documenting 61 whale carcasses. For some reason, the reality of the situation did not disturb me as much as one would have thought. The discomfort began after leaving Puerto Slight, where we documented another 60 plus dead whales. And now, after covering 14 nautical miles in the dinghy in Seno Newman and photographing 105 dead whales, I feel what I can only explain as a profound sadness, the disassociation of the war photographer having worn thin.
Seno Newman is like a battle field, rotting and decaying carcasses of whales strewn haphazard from one end of the fiord to the other, some whales already stripped to clean white bones, others with skin mummified in a semblance of form. The putrefying whales still have remnants of what they once were, a flipper, a tail fluke. The newly dead whales are the most disturbing. Whales. Whales which were just recently swimming, feeding, breaching and living are now washed up like shipwrecks on a lee shore. They are mostly intact, black velvety skin peeled back by the hundreds of giant petrels feeding on their bloated bodies. Saucer-sized eyes glazed, vacant, devoid of life glare at me through my camera lens. These whales shouldn’t be here. We shouldn’t be here. But we need to be here.
My photos and our words are only part of what is needed to take action. The science that we are accomplishing aboard this vessel is the first and important step in trying to determine what is happening to these majestic creatures. During our month long expedition we are gathering as much information as we possibly can, pieces of a very complex puzzle, perhaps one we may not be able to solve, but one that we must attempt to solve with all our efforts.
Whales are still dying. And this is only the early part of the season. What are we going to find here in April when we return for the second half of our project?
How many more hundreds of thousands of words will my photos be worth then?
February 21, 2016