I wanted to say a few words. Not to the whale, who had no need for them in life or in his death. Rather to my own sadness that throbs as big and blunt as his shock-wave of a head. But in the end it was better to sit and look. To look closely. So easy to miss the details when my words flap about my head like seagulls on the make.


Whale at Machaire Rabhartaigh
Whale at Machaire Rabhartaigh

This is, to the best of my knowledge, a sub-adult male sperm whale. He was forty-four foot long and weighed maybe forty or fifty tons. The scars and lines you can see in the photograph are mostly or all made by squid. Sperm whales dive to thousands of feet in order to catch large squid and fish. As well as the obvious scars there were, on close inspection, clusters of perfectly round, shallow indentations in the skin around the mouth. Each circle within the cluster was about a centimetre across, where squid suckers had marked the face of the whale.

I try to imagine the tempo of those deep dives and the hunting by echolocation. It is night on the beach – the first falling tide to expose the whale to scrutiny after it drifted inshore earlier today. I am alone with this body which is so much bigger than I am. But even with my eyes closed there is no narrative that makes the slightest sense to the whale. So I look again at the small squid tattoos which the whale wears. Within each individual ring there is a regular pattern of points around the circumference, as delicate as a jeweller would fashion. He had lived, this whale. Oh, how he had lived!

19 comments on “Ambergris

  1. David, could I post the URL on my Facebook page? I want many of my friends to read this and to be introduced to you. As I read this aloud, my voice was quivering. My two constant companions, my studio dogs, could sense my emotion. I had to go pat each on the head and assure them everything was alright, though I know it is not. Thank you for the beautiful words you place next to one another to create your art. What a gift.

  2. After my husband of forty-two years.died in the hospice bed in our home, I sat with him in the same sacred way you sat with the whale, David, and loved each of his scars.

Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s