Birth of a whale

We live by the sea. It is our constant companion. One spring morning, there occurred an event so rare and wonderful as to momentarily usurp all other activity and focus full attention on the sea.

Russ was the first to notice the gray whale circling about in our cove, so close in, thirty feet from shore, as to cause instant concern. We had heard the tragic fate that might befall a beached whale. The danger of overheating, of being crushed by its own weight, of drowning when the rising tide covered its blowhole. As the giant creature continued to circle and the pounding waves seemed to be sweeping him ever closer to shore, we found ourselves audibly addressing the situation -- encouraging, urging, insisting -- not unlike a coach supporting his players from the sidelines.

''You are an intelligent idea. You can turn back to sea, now!''

''You don't need to beach yourself, you can swim out into the deep, where you belong!''

For a moment, the gray mass in the surf appeared to be responding. He did head away from shore, but then circled back again, dangerously close to the rocks and the pull of the crashing surf. Then, from the vantage point of our third-story balcony, Russ made another discovery.

''There's a second whale out there,'' he said, ''and the first whale is circling around it.''

I reached for the binoculars. He was right. But what was the second whale doing so close to shore? Was it in trouble? Caught in the rocks, tangled in the kelp? Surely not! No kelp or crevice could hinder this powerful creature. With one thrust he (she?) could be out and away. Suddenly it was all quite clear -- to us and to the small cluster of people watching from the nearly deserted beach below. We were witnessing a minor miracle of the sea. The birth of a whale! Not in far-off Baja, but right in our own neighborhood cove. These two denizens of the deep had sought out a safe harbor for the event. According to the ways of her kind, the mother whale had carried her calf-child ten to twelve months through endless stretches of ocean, and now the young whale emerged, tail first, into the shallow water of our bay. Not more than ten minutes had passed altogether, and it was over without fuss. Father whale (or it could have been a nurse-whale), mother whale, and baby whale headed out to sea in orderly procession and resumed their northward journey.

''It's interesting that they turned into this particular cove,'' Russ mused, ''as if they were seeking some human 'midwife' support.''

''What an example they are for humans!'' I marveled, ''That huge baby whale born so quickly and effortlessly -- and able to swim right out to sea without a single lesson!''

''And without crying,'' Russ added.

''Baby whales don't cry,'' I pointed out. ''They just blubber.''

''No puns, please.''

We both continued to gaze out to sea, watching as long as we could as the three gray mounds receded into the distance, seeking their home in the deep.

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