Friday, November 27, 2009

Mighty Monarch of the Ocean!

                 Photo of Humpback whale from Wikipedia by Zorankovacevic

It is the eve of American Thanksgiving, and I am thinking about being thankful, giving thanks for all that we have.  For some reason the Whale song, popped into my head.  First Nations people often refer to whales as the Record Keepers, the ones who have been here since time began.

I was lucky enough to visit  Kuujjuaq in northern Quebec a few years ago.  The Inuit people who live there were very gracious to me, and during my stay, some of the Elder women took me with them to visit nearby islands which are a special place to them.  Whales are sacred to the Inuit, and their livelihood in times gone by was totally dependent on these majestic animals.  When I left, the women gifted me with an ulu necklace made from whale bone.  An ulu is a kind of knife, shaped like the tail of a whale; it is usually made from bone.  I felt deeply honored to have been given this gift.

A few years later, I decided to write a song about whales.  I was having a hard time finding the melody and just couldn’t find the song!  I suddenly remembered the ulu necklace and thought it might help me find the inspiration I needed!!  I went looking for it, but couldn't find it anywhere.  Finally I gave up and went to bed.  The next morning when I awoke, the necklace was lying on the floor.  I kid you not!  I put on the necklace, went into the living room, picked up my guitar and Mighty Monarch of the Ocean just flowed right out! That is the magic of whales; they are ancient creatures that have watched this world unfold from the depths of their watery kingdom.

Whales are Cetaceans, aquatic mammals that include whales, dolphins and porpoises.  There are two types of cetaceans, those that have teeth and those that have baleen.  The order Cetacea is again divided into three subgroups:
Ondontoceti: Otherwise known as toothed whales this group includes over 65 different species of dolphins, porpoises and whales such as the belugas, narwhals and sperm whales.  All of these have teeth and toothed whales feed mostly on squid and fish.
Mysticeti: otherwise known as moustached whales, this group includes ten living species of baleen whales including the blue whale, which is the largest animal on earth – 100 ft!  Also included are the minke, humpback and grey whales. 
 The Archaeoceti: these were the ancient whales that are now extinct.

There is so much to learn about whales and there are some great websites from which to learn.   Whales, like all ocean creatures are impacted by the health of the ocean and whales and dolphins are particularly impacted by sonar.

We all have an effect on the ocean, even if we live inland, because everyone lives on a  watershed - this is the area of land from which the rivers, canals, streams and underground aquifers feed into the estuaries and then the ocean.  When it rains, all that water runs into one or other of these aquatic systems.  Harmful pollutants such as pesticides, herbicides, oil, paint, car oil and pet waste all mingle with that water and eventually end up in the ocean.  Minimal, if any, use of such products, coupled with responsible disposal of hazardous and pet waste can help to minimize pollutants reaching the ocean.
Lessons Plans:
1.  The Blue Whale  is the largest mammal on earth and they have been seen in every ocean.  What are the names of the different oceans?  Explore on a globe, the possible routes that Blue Whales might travel.

2.  Whales sing to each other and their songs echo through the water for hundreds of miles.  Find a CD of whale songs and invite the children to sit quietly with their eyes closed and listen.  Look at some pictures of different whale species, then invite the children to write a story about a whale; or paint a picture.  I heard a biologist tell of two whales communicating to each other over a thousand-mile distance!
3.  Watch the film The Whale Ride ; it is quite beautiful and very inspiring.
4.  Whales are sometimes found beached, meaning that they are washed up on the shore.  It is still a mystery as to why this happens, but when it does people come together to do everything they can to help.  This Video shows a group of people in Australia doing this.

Story: The story of  Finbo the Blue Whale:

Interconnections: Because many of them travel such large distances, whales have some interesting interconnections.  They interact with very different habitats, for example grey whales travel from Alaska to Baha, California.  The relationship between whales and krill is remarkable; blue whales and humpbacks are dependent on these tiny, shrimp-like marine invertebrates.  Such large creatures feed on such a tiny organism!

Song:  I have up-loaded my song, The Mighty Monarch of the Ocean to MySpace along with the lyrics – this is the song that was inspired by my ulu necklace!  The song begins with whales singing.

Other ideas:
David’s Book The Thousand Mile Song is quite fascinating!
David Rothenberg plays music with belugas in Russia on this YouTube Video

I hope you have enjoyed this short exploration of whales.  I am so grateful that I have actually seen them in the ocean and been close enough to hear the sound of the water spouting from their blowholes.  It is an awesome sound, evocative of ancient times!
With thanks to the Earth and all life!

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