Reflections on a Dead Whale The sound of surf; the scratch of sand on feet; The sight of distant ships; the taste of salt; And on the gentle springtime ocean breeze The putrid, pungent, rotting stench of death. A behemoth, a California Gray, A biblical leviathan, as still as stone. A girl, she was, and thirty-eight feet long, I know, because I paced it off myself. Marine biologists from Portland State Were finishing a full necropsy which Had disemboweled the whale and left a large Entangled pile of entrails on the beach. One eye excised, her uterus exposed; Her liver splayed upon the blood-soaked shore, Her stomach opened up for all to see, And skin as thin and soft as Naugahyde. Her body pierced, her flesh and blubber flayed, Her blowhole left atop her head unscathed. Her gaping maw and still-intact baleen Forced open by her massive, swollen tongue. I asked if they had found the cause of death. “No human interaction,” they replied. “We think there may have been a hemorrhage, And malnutrition could have played a part.” And then they left, a caravan of trucks, Returning to their lab to do more tests. The stranded whale was left behind to rot; Too large to bury, burn, or haul away. Three whales were washed up on the shore that day, The other two, ten miles to the north; Too isolated to attract a team Of scientists to find out why they died. At least one whale or two wash up each year And most are Grays, although a Humpback and A Sperm once came ashore within a week Of one another, not too long ago. The long migration of the Grays each spring Is arduous enough to cull the herd Of weaker whales who fall behind and die, And float ashore along the Northwest coast. The strongest make it to the Bering Sea Where calves are birthed and nursed by mothers who Engorge themselves on krill until they start Their Fall migration back to Mexico. To see such animals that large up close Is quite impressive, even when they’re dead. But even more impressive is to see Them in the ocean when they are alive. Death is a most impressive mystery. But more so, life. Or so it seems to me. Whale Watch At first, a single whale (a humpback stray) Was acting crazy half a mile off-shore. I watched it bobbing up and down at play In ways I’d never seen one act before. But she (or he) was clearly not alone, For as she danced upon that unseen shoal I counted at least five whales, fully grown, All breaching like a game of Whack-A-Mole. And on it went for more than half-an hour, With splashes, spouts, jetés, and pirouettes Exquisitely performed with grace and pow’r. It was as good as nature ever gets. Perhaps a feeding frenzy . . . nothing more. But what a thrill to see the humpbacks soar! James A. Tweedie is a recently retired pastor living in Long Beach, Washington. He likes to walk on the beach with his wife. He has written and self-published four novels and a collection of short stories. He has several hundred unpublished poems tucked away in drawers.