The Colours of Death and Life and the Circle Going Around

Churrete on Whale

Churrete on a whale, photo by Keri-Lee Pashuk 2016


More than a hundred of the three hundred plus whales that mysteriously died sometime in 2015, lie in various states of decay, strung out at uncannily regular intervals along the 14 mile eastern shore of Seno Newman.    Each carcass is in a different state of decomposition, some washed high and dry by storms and lying along the edge of the high tide line with skin desiccated, fungi, moss and bacteria painting the whales in preternatural oranges, pinks, reds and greens.  Others lie semi -submerged in the sea, waterlogged skin and blubber undulating gently on the calm waters of the fiord, skeins of oil floating on the lines of current.   Others are disappearing into the sea, skeletons washed apart by the wave action of the westerly gales and storms that periodically blast their way across the fiord.  Vertebrae, ribs and even entire skulls are revealed in the shallow waters of low tide and lie scattered along the rocky sandstone shores.   Under the surface of the peat coloured water, black snails, sea urchins, chitins and limpets graze the dark green algae covering the bones while small centolla crab circle the scene.
Meanwhile, on shore, baleen, sometimes intact, sometimes in bits and pieces, lie washed up in the intertidal zone.  One intact section of baleen hosts bog daisies and prickly heath bushes, the healthy looking plants reaching up through the individual baleens, stretching toward the low winter sun.  Vultures, giant petrels and seagulls feed on the putrifying flesh, cinclodes, blackbirds and Chilean swallows are all feeding on and around the dead whales on who knows what…perhaps eating the oscillating larvae spotted in the windows of decayed flesh?.. or snapping up the blue tailed fly that laid the larvae?.. or maybe even on the decaying flesh and fat of the whale?
The colours of each dead whale are as individual as I imagine each whale to have been.   I am not sure why, but always imagined whales to be sentient.   Perhaps it comes from our past experiences with humpback, minke, orcas and even beluga whales and our moments shared with them when their curiosity seemingly outweighed their fear.  Many times the whales swam alongside us for hours, some larger than our first boat, Northanger, swimming the bow wave, following behind in the wake or diving under the hull and resurfacing on the other side.   They seemed to know we were there, watching, sharing the moment with them.  We did not go to them, they chose to accompany us.
On the second day of this current trip, navigating on unusually calm seas in the Golfo de Penas, two sei whales found us on Saoirse and stayed with us some time, feeding around the boat.  This was a first for us, sei whales being normally very timid.  It also seemed a good omen for the beginning of the follow up of the whale study project.  Life, vibrant life where as before, on our previous expedition, we found only death.
After life, is death and after death, colours.  And life.  The circle going around.
Caleta Yvonne, Messier Channel


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