Stern: Whale community a place to find inspiration on land
- Feb. 11, 2013
- 4 Comments
If you are looking for a new role model, I suggest turning your attention to the ocean.
I’ll be honest; I love whales a little more than the average person. I was in fifth grade at the Shedd Aquarium when I decided I was going to devote my life in pursuit of becoming a Beluga Whale Trainer.
I think there is a lot to learn from these magnificent creatures. Whales exemplify ideals that we all wish we could live up to everyday. Yes, there are plenty of examples within our human life, but there is something about whales that makes daily inspiration just a little more potent.
Whales accept everyone. Although behavioral ecologists Alexander Wilson and Jens Krause warn about reading too much into this story, ScienceNOW reports over a group of sperm whales that have taken in a bottlenose dolphin with a spine deformity. It is speculated that this disfigured dolphin either couldn’t keep up or was kicked out of his dolphin group. Sperm whales don’t usually commingle with other species so although cautioned, I still think this is adorable and inspiring. Alexander Wilson and Jens Krause reported reciprocated nuzzling; if that doesn’t scream acceptance, I’m not sure what does.
Whales really know how to take a deep breath. Whales can exchange 85 to 90 percent of their air while humans exchange about 15 percent. You may be thinking it is because they have way bigger lungs yet as Alex Brylske said whales have about half the lung volume of terrestrial mammals proportionally.
Whales relate to others, even if it means speaking another language. Recently, a beluga whale named NOC received a lot of attention for mimicking human conversation. He transcended his normal octaves to make human-like sounds. BBC reports, the mimicry was not easy. To amplify the comparatively low-frequency parts of the vocalizations, NOC over-inflated the vestibular sac in his blowhole, which usually keeps water from entering the lungs.
Whales know how to love. Patrick Hof and Estel Van Der Gucht, of the New York Consortium in Evolutionary Primatology, discovered the presence of spindle cells in humpback whales, fin whales, killer whales and sperm whales. Based on the human experience of these cells, this discovery suggests that whales are capable of experiencing love as well as deep-rooted emotional suffering.
Whales have a unique culture. According to Reader’s, Professor Hal Whitehead said, “until a few hundred thousand years ago most of the culture was in the ocean. Certainly the most sophisticated cultures on Earth were whales and dolphins, until the strange bipedal hominid evolved.”
Each species has a different culture much like different populations of humans have different cultures. Their culture hinges on their method of communication, their pod structure, and their hunting technique. Each species has a set of societal rules much like us. Lori Marino, a member of the group of scientists who produced Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans, said, “killer whales, for instance, do not kill or even seriously harm one another in the wild, despite the fact that there is competition for prey and mates and there are disagreements. Their social rules prohibit real violence, and they seem to have worked out a way to peacefully manage the partitioning of resources among different groups. That is something we humans haven’t done yet.”
Beyond respecting each other, whales show gratitude. New York Times reports that in December 2005, a humpback whale was trapped in crab-trap lines. A rescue team arrived and got in the water and cut her out. Once the whale was free, she continued to swim around the divers and returned and nudged them all gently as if to show her thanks.
So next time you are looking for some inspiration, think of our underwater friends. Where there is a whale, there is a way.
Jenny Stern is a freshman majoring in biology from Lawrence. Read more from Jenny Stern.