Watching the Whales

This morning I saw a pod of whales swim past. I missed the dolphins in the harbour a couple of weeks ago, when the children went in to swim with them. But I think I may have been the only one to see the whales.

I went out in the early morning to bin the rubbish, and walked up to the edge of the cliff to look out to sea. The sea was calm and almost silver, the sky so pale and clear, that the horizon and sky almost merged.

As I stood there in the stillness, a fin appeared, and then the rest of the whale, and a  white fountain before it plunged back into the trackless sea. And then another, a little further over, and then another, fins and fountains of water…less than quarter of a mile away.

For a few minutes they sprang and blew and dived. Then I saw them no more. But I was blissed out… just to know that there was still life in the sea. It’s only in the last twenty years that anything has been known in this country about orcas, or killer whales as they’re also known. There are three groups, it’s now estimated, and about three hundred only in New Zealand waters. They live in pods of two or three according to researchers, but I’ve seen up to a dozen adults and their babies cruising up Auckland Harbour.

The ones I saw this morning were Antarctic orcas, a steely grey, compared to the black of other groups… and a long way from the Antarctic. They travel fast at more than 50 kilometres an hour, and though the males are between 20 and 30 feet long, the females slightly smaller, they are not truly whales, but belong to the dolphin family.

We have a marine reserve a few miles north of our harbour – the first to be established in the world – and it teems with fish of all kinds, the way the sea used to be before man pillaged these unpolluted waters and in less than two hundred years managed to deplete them to the point of worry. I sometimes wonder if the fish know they’re safe in the reserve, the way the ducks all fly to safety in the lakes and ponds in the parks around the city, in the days before the duck shooting season starts.( how do they know the date ?)

When Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian anthropologist who sailed across the Pacific in 1947, made his voyage, the world was still fairly un-despoiled. (writers may be cheered  to know that his book, The Kontiki Expedition, which was a best seller, was turned down about two hundred times by agents and publishers, including author William Saroyan)

Heyerdahl, who wanted to prove that people had sailed from South America across the Pacific and peopled islands in the Pacific, made his boat the way the ancient Incas would have done – a sort of raft out of balsa-wood. I’ve recently re-read this book and the picture he gives of the ocean made me ache for the same experience.

He described the intimacy of being at sea-level, with the sea washing over the raft, so that they never sank in rough weather, and how when they killed a big fish like a shark to eat, all the shark’s pilot fish then attached themselves to the raft. The natural balsa wood of the structure also began to grow its own collection of sea-weed under the water, and among the pilot fish and the sea-weed, hermit crabs and barnacles began to make their home.

So this floating travelling home for six men became an organic part of the ocean, with its own micro-life, bobbing along like a cork on top of the water, but also in it. They were part of the life of the great ocean, visited by strange un-named and unknown forms of deep sea life, and travelling with the winds and the currents, accompanied sometimes by dolphins, sometimes by sharks, flying fish landing on the raft, and at all times, living as an integral part of the sea and the winds, the storms and the stars.

The immense nostalgia that I feel on reading Heyerdahl’s description of what was a pristine ocean, untouched by pollution, is because of course, it is a very different experience today. The water is now filled with floating plastic on its way along the currents to tag onto the huge continents of plastic rubbish which kill birds and fish, and slowly bio-degrade into tiny particles which will make their way into the fish, and finally into the human race, a well-deserved fate. And not just plastic rubbish, of course, but floating lost containers, hidden in the water, which are a constant hazard for boats.

A couple of years ago, David de Rothschild and a handful of adventurers, including Heyerdahl’s grandson Olav, built a similar raft, called Plastiki. Rothschild wanted to make the point about all the waste that we don’t recycle. His boat was built, from amongst other things, 12,500 used plastic bottles, and fitted with solar panels, propeller turbines, urine to water recovery systems, and was completely ‘green”.

He sailed from Sausalito, California to Sydney, taking nearly four months. His report on the ocean was devastating. He saw hardly any fish, – the crew couldn’t have survived by fishing every day, as Heyerdahl had done – the ocean was empty, except for plastic rubbish and other floating discards.  The plastic of course, was heading for the Great Pacific Rubbish Dump, which I see official sources have tried to downplay, and suggest is not as bad as it seems.

But if you follow up the unbiased reports, the pictures are horrifying; of dying seals entangled in nets, dead ones with plastic rings clamping their mouths shut; fish and birds strangled by plastic bags and fishing lines; and worst of all, a turtle who must have got entangled in a plastic ring less than a foot wide as a baby, who is now a grown animal, strangled in his middle by this plastic ring and completely deformed. These pictures will prick your conscience.

The plastic mountain is not just growing, but also breaking down, so that shards of plastic are entering the food chain through the fish. So the chances that we too may start to ingest the rubbish from the oceans is quite high – sailors passing across the Atlantic have also reported that they were never out of sight of rubbish floating in that great ocean too.

So what can we do? We are consumers. We can start to refuse to buy stuff that’s wrapped in plastic, and everything is. We can lobby our politicians and convince them that doing something about this issue is quite as important as drilling for oil. We can spread the word so that more and more people become aware that we are endangering our oceans.

One English scientist was so appalled when she saw the Great Pacific Rubbish Dump, that she went home, and lobbied her home town, and they are now plastic- free; no more plastic bags in shops and supermarkets, and they are now working on the rest of the plastic menace.

The crazy thing is, if we all used string bags and baskets like we used to, we wouldn’t need a lot of that oil that they’re looking for under the ocean. Bloggers of the world unite, and refuse to go on using plastic wrappings and plastic bags and all the other plastic throwaway stuff that doesn’t last as long as a china bowl, or a wooden chair. Unwrap the shirt, the scissors, the mosquito repellent, every single item, and leave the rubbish on the counter  – let’s be counter revolutionaries and clean up our world.

If you want  to know more, there’s lots about it on Google. The Great Pacific Rubbish Dump will take you straight there.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

A friend came for lunch on a chilly spring day, so we had celery soup, followed by one soft cream cheese, and one soft blue one locally made, with tomatoes and celery and hot rolls, followed by my standby, lemon tartlets with homemade lemon curd given me by a friend at the weekend, prettied up with a dab of crème fraiche, and coffee.

The celery soup was good, I added a leek to the sauted onion and celery, for another layer of taste, and a small potato for thickening. When the stock (a couple of vegetarian bouillon cubes) had been added, and the soup had been whizzed  and was just about ready, I whizzed up some of the celery leaves and some parsley with half a cup of milk in the blender, poured it onto the soup and brought it back to hot to serve straight away. The sharp green flecks of parsley looked lovely in the smooth pale green soup, and the celery leaves gave it a zingy peppery taste. We had a nice chilled Pinot Gris with the cheese.

Food for Thought

If it is to be it is up to me.

Advice from an anonymous English schoolmaster to his new students. I’ve used it before, but it seemed appropriate today.


Filed under books, cookery/recipes, environment, environment, great days, life/style, pollution, sustainability, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

57 responses to “Watching the Whales

  1. This pollution stuff really scary! You are my hero…you take on the hard stuff!!!



  2. Woo Hoo, you are ringing my bell!! And so say all of us.. I so completely agree and so do my grown up NZ living children. no-one uses plastic supermarket bags in my family. I HATE PLASTIC. and i completely agree about the oil used to make the plastic, why don’t we look at that equation? because the oil barons pay us not to.. There are tons of good plastic products that last for years and years recycled amongst families, it is the packaging we must protest about, the disposable plastic.. how about starting this christmas, ‘no plastic packaging under our trees’.. how about THAT for a challenge.. I’m in! c


    • Hello Celi, don’t know how you have time to read and comment on other people’s blogs, with your extra writing challenge, so pleased to hear from you…
      One of the things I’ve noticed in traveller’s pics from the East, is that all the lovely baskets that used to hold fruit and veg in the market, have gone, and plastic bowls and bags are being used instead, along with plastic chairs and plastic buckets, even in remote places. The skills of basket-making, and how to wrap and tie goods in leaves with reeds, are all disappearing.
      That;s how we used to buy all our fruit and veg in Hong Kong forty years ago – but not any more…


  3. Yaz

    I couldn’t believe to read that rubbish can be seen way out in the middle of the ocean. That’s just horrible. My God, Valerie. Thanks for this post.


  4. That island of trash in the Pacific should be a wake up call for all humanity. And it is criminal how many people don’t even know that it exists.


    • Yes, it’s actually one of five, including one in the Atlantic…One of the worst things is how it’s destroying wild life- apparently a third of albatross chicks die from ingesting plastic which is in the food their parents feed them.. and we only know that because they’ve been found on the islands where they breed. We don’t know what is happening to other species…


  5. What a sad state we’ve made this world. I abhor all the packaging but if we left it on the counter it wouldn’t be recycled, just thrown away. We recycle like it is going out of style but do try to buy things that limit the packaging. It is seriously out of control!


  6. Amy

    This is scary… We always bring our string bags to shopping all the time. If the item is bigger than the bag, I simply tell the clerk to put the item in the cart (without bagging it). How to get more people to change the bad habit, I don’t know… Also, people depend too much on plastic bags to hold trashes.


  7. You have touched on a topic that is close to everyone’s heart. There is a lot of talk, but very little action. Not because people don’t want to do their part, but it takes time to recycle, and there are additional costs that many people are unable to sustain.. I live in Vancouver, Canada, where we are fighting for our coastlines. David Suzuki lives only a few blocks away – he is pushing for more education and greater public and private support. Everywhere I have travelled, there is garbage and it is mounting. Pollutants abound. I agree that there must be a groundswell! Individual efforts can lead to a global movement. It looks like we have a starting point right here on your blog.


  8. Wonderful words to spread the alarm. Hope more of these folks follow through. The Great Pacific Gyre is truly as large as the state of Texas. Horrific – and what debris that does separate out ends here on Hawaii shores. Thanks for passing on this important info….and I’m off to find a copy of Kon Tiki.


  9. Valerie! You draw us in and get us where it hurts. I just logged on for a few minutes, but this one is bookmarked for sharing! What a gift you are… 🙂


    • Hello Alarna Rose,
      What a delicious comment from you as usual… yes, I just wish the word could go round us all, and we could start to turn the plastic tide, starting with refusing to take away the wrappings on everything we buy!


  10. I loved hearing about the whales through your beautiful sea bound soul, the love that you express for barnacles and moss becomes so romantic even I fall for the image until I remind myself of the smells. Love the raft and the excitement at sea still….I was right there with you, for a while at least….beautiful, wondrous post with a mighty tasty ending, Thank you! Sending you all of my Love, Linda


    • Hello LInda, thank you for your thoughtful comment as usual. It is a real and deep grief to me to know that our beautiful world is being trashed. I long for us all to realise what is going on, so we can all start to take some responsibility for changing things…with love, Valerie


  11. Wow, how lovely. I saw some in Canada once, it was just an amazing experience. And I whole heartedly agree about the plastic. We are the consumers, we have the power to say No.


  12. So well done. This truly makes you wonder what we are all thinking. Many of us in the US are pushing to legalize Industrial Hemp, to replace plastics and so many other non-biodegradable items. It is ridiculous that we haven’t done so already. Industrial Hemp could replace so much!


    • How interesting about the hemp, I didn’t realise how versatile it was. My sofa is covered in hemp,. and still looks like new over twelve years later.
      Thank you so much for your comment and support…


  13. How wonderful, Valerie, to be able to watch the whales. I caught a glimpse of a pod many years ago when I was cruising in Hawai’i. Breathtakingly beautiful! The plastics situation is a huge problem. Our family does our small part: we all carry compact fabric bags tucked into our backpacks for those unexpected stops at the market on the way home. It helps a little! xoM


    • Thank you Margarita for your comments – its really interesting how many of us bloggers are trying to do our little bit by not sing plastic bags… but of course, there’s all the wrappings as well! Leaving them on the conter is catching on in some places like Germany… would be great if we all rose up and got the message back to the manufacturers!


  14. Your post starts with such a beautiful picture and then comes the crunch! Mr S leaves the packing at the supermarket and sometimes I feel embarrassed! From now on I won’t. I’ll join him! We saw so much plastic rubbish in India and were appalled by the problem which seems to be completely out of control.
    Many supermarkets here in the UK now sell cheap ‘bags for life’ which they replace free of charge but they do still give out free plastic bags to those who want them. If they charged every time for them, people would soon go back to using canvas or string bags as we all used to!
    Another pleasingly simple Frugal meal. We enjoyed your brocoli soup from the freezer on our return from our holidays!
    Love the quotation too, very fitting for today’s post. 🙂


    • Hello Sally, what a wonderful holiday you shared with us! How interesting that you were aware of the problem in India. It saddens me in all the pics from people’s holidays in the east how all the fruit and vegetables in the markets are now in plastic bowels and bags instead of lovely baskets. So the art of making those lovely baskets, as well as the art of wrapping things in leaves and tying them up with reeds, is dying…
      So glad you enjoyed the recipe and the quote – yes, I thought it was appropriate!


  15. Yes, yes yes! My island home promotes recycling like its an art…and it is! One grocery store has paper bags for those forgetting their cloth bags and the other has plastic bags, but they are offered with a mother’s tone of displeasure.

    I read that German consumers are leaving the horrid plastic coverings at the store when purchased…so the retailers will pressure the manufacturer to stop the nonsense. I don’t know if that is catching on or not, but stores had to accept the dreadful wrappings.

    I’ve lived on the island for 33 years and have NEVER seen a whale here – though many have watched them from ferries. We now have a pod who hunt in our harbour. They’ve discovered they can train their young by herding some poor Minsk whale into our village waters and killing it. It’s very hard for us – it’s the balance of nature, but so violent and sad!


    • Amy, how great that your community is onto it. let’s hope it spreads…Yes, I thought a counter revolution, leavings the plastic wrappings at the shop is probably the best first step… wish it would catch on everywhere!


  16. Reading your post gives us always a load of knowledge! Thanks


  17. thoughtsfromanamericanwoman

    What a treat to see the whales. I like your message, someone asked me once why I don’t recycle plastic and I tell them because I don’t like using it, then they ask how I drink my water and I said in a glass or a water bottle! We use as little as possible. We also use canvas sacks when we shop and if we do get a plastic bag we recycle its use. But if they stop making plastics I would never miss it. There are so many ways we can take care of our world. We also recycle food – called left overs!! 🙂 I like the idea of leaving plastics at the stores that should get their attention.


    • It’s really interesting that all the bloggers are onto this already and doing their bit… we just have to spread the word, and send a ball rolling round the world! – Yes, Liker you, I have almost nothing made of plastic in my house… real things made of china or wood or glass are so much more aesthetically pleasing and beautiful to use…good to hear from you…


      • thoughtsfromanamericanwoman

        So true. It takes each of us doing our part – imagine living in our world that way we were meant to…


  18. Great post, Val. Where is the picture of the whale? OAN The plastic is indeed a major problem…wish the bags would just be banned! Cloth bags are so much better and you need less of them anyway::>)


  19. Thank you Sharla – but it isn’t just the bags of course – there’s all the unnecessary wrappings round shirts or toothbrushes, pencils or soap!
    It sounds as though bloggers are on to it – we just need to get the message out to the rest of the world!!!


  20. indiferent

    That is why I want the clean blue ocean of humanity. Thanks for your valuable information and congratulations for your wonderful post !


  21. How wonderful to see the see the whales but i believe you “felt” them. Your description is a part of you. So beautiful. Waste, plastics, recycling…a world wide problem. Begin with pure, clean water for the world to drink and there would be no need for packaging bottled water. The list is endless, but each person does need to do his or her own part. We live on the water and spend time boating and fishing. It hurts to see the damage done to wild life. Thanks, Valarie for your thoughts on this subject.


  22. Hi Valerie, I know it was you who saw those whales and I know what a wonderful woman you are, hence deserved of this treat BUT the fact is I’m just so bloody jealous I may not speak to you again….well at least for 5 minutes…all joking aside I’m so glad you had this beauty show itself to you who could appreciate it. Sorry I’ve been delayed in catching up again but again I’ve been away and we have no internet at our old holiday house. Regards Leanne


  23. HI Leanne,
    What a hilarious comment – I laughed and laughed – how mean of me!
    I actually feel jealous of you being at your old holiday house,, and being able to make plans and enjoy life… my husband is not too good at the moment, and our life is very limited – hence my angst!!!!


    • I am very sorry to hear of your husband’s ill health. I hope he is able to recover soon. Now I feel really bad about being jealous of you and the whales…..oops, I just got over it….still jealous. xxxx


  24. Aren’t orcas wonderful creatures? I had the good fortune to get within 18 inches of a pair of bull orca’s as they passed under my kayak (in British Columbia). It was one of the most exciting moments of my life!

    The waste plastic thing is terrifying though. Who was the British scientist who convinced her town to go plastic free?


    • Hello – how wonderful to be so close to the orcas. They been back here, six of them thrashing around the little bay round the corner. Someone took a video of it, which is on Youtube now. A labrador -great Dane cross – a very big dog, nearly got eaten up as he swam as fast as he could away from a determined orca. If he hadn’t swerved to the right at the last minute, he would have been seal-substitute for lunch! No maddeningly, I can’t remember the scientist’s name, I read about her several years ago… best wishes, valerie


Leave a Reply

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