SONG OF THE HUMPBACK WHALES
© Arthur Green
Winner, 2014 Yass Show Written Bush Poetry Competition, Yass NSW.
`Twas barely just a month ago, while sailing Queensland’s coast,
we anchored in this bay that seemed more picturesque than most,
but once ashore, we came across this twitchy, wide-eyed guy,
who said his name was ‘Crazy Sam,’ and wouldn’t let us by.
“You’re taping Humpback whales, I hear, to analyze their song?
Well, I can tell you what they sing, though some folks claim I’m wrong,”
and this is what he told us, in his broad Australian drawl,
that made us think he wasn’t quite so crazy after all.
“They come from the Antarctic every year, to mate and play.
The males sing this intriguing song – about what, who can say?
But through the years, I’ve worked out what they sing about, and why,
and feel compelled to share their tale with every passer-by.
“There’s Shiska-Na-Shagumi – forty tons of Alpha male.
When faced with Shiska’s massive bulk, all other males turn tail.
And Whelak, now aged eighteen months, and just like any boy,
the apple of his mother’s eye, and Shiska’s pride and joy.
“And Mahlu, Whelak’s mother – Shiska’s mate, three years or more,
who’s due to raise the number of their pod, next year, to four.
Their song’s a living heritage, passed down through countless years.
Destroy them, and that priceless store of knowledge disappears.
“Their story spans ten thousand years, or maybe ten times that –
a homage to their ancestors – not simply whale chit-chat,
and since they haven’t things like books, to pass their tale along,
they hand it down, as Sharmans do, in verbal chants or song.”
Old Crazy paused, and gripped my arm. “Don’t go, there’s still lots more
of stuff like that I’ll share with you, next time you come ashore.
But hear me out and then I’ll stop – on that you have my word,”
and as we hesitated, Sam continued, undeterred.
“When homeward bound, until they reach Antarctica again,
their world abounds with whale-song sounds we humans can’t explain –
a beautiful but haunting song, conveyed to Shiska’s son,
to one day be, in turn, passed on, when Shiska’s time is done.
“ 'Long, long ago,' male Humpbacks sing, 'the sea was our domain –
our refuge and safe haven, and must always so remain.
Compiled by generations past, we now, as those before,
pass on, in song, this legacy of ancient Humpback lore. '
“Like wolves,” said Sam, “the Orcas hunt all Humpbacks down in packs,
and one day zeroed in on Shiska’s pod with their attacks.
Sounds travel underwater – Orca sounds, instilling fear,
which Shiska, recognizing, scanned the ocean to their rear.
“Four upright Orca fins were closing fast with grim intent,
and Shiska-Na-Shagumi had no doubt just what that meant.
'Flee, Mahlu – flee the Orcas and take Whelak with you too.
I’ll find you, come whatever, once I’ve done what I must do.'
“Propelled by massive tail-flukes, he selects the nearest foe,
and breeching, crashes backwards on the Killer whale below.
Repeatedly, the Humpback’s body breeched and crushed and smashed,
ignoring pain inflicted as the Orcas bit and slashed.
“ `Til Shiska, badly wounded, felt his strength begin to wane,
and charged the final Orca, disregarding his own pain.
The sounds of death pursued Mahlu and Whelak as they fled,
while early twilight darkened sky and ocean overhead.
“As twilight fell, the two whales paused, exhausted by their flight,
with Mahlu growing ever more concerned at Shiska’s plight.
No song or sounds of conflict came to help her mind dispel
the fear his words 'I’ll find you,' might be Shiska’s last farewell.
“Then gently, unbelievably, the water all around,
vibrated with the echoes of a now familiar sound.
'Long, long ago, in ancient times ...' though faint, and wracked with pain,
the words were those the two whales feared they’d never hear again.
“And Whelak answered too, in song, 'the sea was our domain' –
the words his father’s song had helped imprint upon his brain.
And Shiska, having found them, led his small pod south once more,
as had his Humpback predecessors, centuries before.”
We stood impressed, despite ourselves, by Crazy Sam’s discourse,
and wondered if he had some solid proof to reinforce
this way-out claim of his, that he’d conversed with Humpback whales,
who’d then, in turn, regaled him with such fancy, far-fetched tales.
“We’re coming back tomorrow, and we’ll get this down on tape,”
we promised Crazy Sam, whose vice-like grip defied escape.
“Your story’s worth a mint, if we can only prove it’s true,
but I’m afraid, to manage that, we’ll need more facts from you.”
But Sam, our whale-song man was gone, next day when we returned.
“Old Crazy Sam’s been dead for years,” surprisingly, we learned.
“He claimed that he could talk to whales, but you know these old guys.
They always sound convincing, but their tales are mostly lies.”
The locals seemed to think our sighting Sam was not that strange,
which made us think it’s just some tourist stunt that they arrange.
And if that’s so, we’ll never know if Old Sam’s tale was true,
but I’m inclined to hope it was. Be honest ... wouldn’t you?