thomas m wilson

Tribute to a Long Lived Bowhead

July 2nd, 2007

Around six weeks ago a Bowhead whale was caught off the coast of Alaska. Inside was found the remains of a lance bomb, an explosive harpoon head. Knowledge of this weapon shows that the whale had last been attacked around 1890. Using knowledge of the rate of decay of the lens inside the eye of the whale, as well as the age of the lance bomb, the whale was estimated to be around 120 years old. Some Bowhead whales are thought to live as long as two hundred years, so this whale could have lived decades longer. When I heard this bit of news yesterday my imagination was fired.

Tribute to a Long Lived Bowhead

Singing through deep, icy blue space, while the author of Moby Dick lay on his death-bed.

Engulfing a great cloud of krill, while Australia became a nation.

Crashing down out of the sky in sport, while the Depression washed over the Western nations.

Drifting slowly past an Artic ice pack, while jazz was invented.

Taking a leisurely draft of oxygen through the blowhole, while Britain introduced rationing.

Finding a baleen lover, while my grandparents had their first and only child together.

Growing old and wise, long before my own conception as a human being was credible.

Watching the Bowheads become strong again in numbers, after the IWC banned commercial whaling in 1982.

Diving deep into the blackness, while humanity decided to use the atmosphere as a sewer, and digital technology went online.

Finally, in 2007, facing a human with a harpoon again.

Facing blood and extinction a second time.


Know that even now, drifting in sequestered blue, the brothers and sisters of this fifty ton being are going to see more suns set than you.

Know that all the details you call modern, all the details of our ‘twentieth century’, are rounded by the life of one Bowhead whale.

I’ve read the news and I feel a fresh breeze in my room.