Water on Mars and a Beluga Headed West

30th Oct 2015

I have seen photos and videos of Beluga whales throughout my life. They captured my imagination, so I read more about them, which I could do with ease with the rise of the internet. With our amazing network of transport, it was conceivable that I would one day travel to see them in Svalbard. And with the wonder of social media, I knew within one day of it arriving that there was a beluga on the North Coast. Yes, one of those, yes, there. No, I’m not joking. I could even see video of that exact whale from the comfort of the boat where I was staying. Being lucky enough to have the car at my disposal I took off literally hunting a white whale.


Beluga whale off Dunseverick Head, Co Antrim © Gordon Watson

The concept of being able to do this would have been, to my ancestors, as absurd as the idea that I might see the streams flowing on Mars at some point in my life. Literally impossible. And yet there I was, in Portballintrae, spending the day sea-watching, knowing there was almost no chance I would see the Beluga whale. Then a horrible hail storm came down and I considered taking off, back to the comfort of a hot shower. But then I decided to stay, feeling guilty and privileged at lucky I was to be there, whether or not I succeeded. Not ten minutes later, the hail cleared off a little, the swell died down just a bit and the sea had a dark, mild-steel colour. Suddenly, silently, I saw it cruise into view. It was unmistakeable, it stood out like a glass of milk in a bag of coal. I won’t even attempt to describe how amazing it was. It remains the best thing I have ever seen in my life.

Beluga whale off Dunseverick Head, Co Antrim © Gordon Watson

There are things that humans are getting up to that are beyond my comprehension, we are breaking records and raising the bar all of the time. At the very least I will take away from this the knowledge that there is never “nothing” to do. Billions of humans have lived and died, have built on the knowledge of others and have left us with a world of possibilities. What better use of our knowledge and freedom could there be than to go out and connect with the other species? It seems to me that those humans who pushed the boundaries to bring us here have more than a little in common with a lone Beluga whale pushing on past Svalbard, past Norway, through the North Sea and ending up at the top of our little island, still heading West. Maybe this whale has died at sea by now, far from home, far from relatives, familiar sounds and sights. Maybe the beluga was lost or confused. Maybe its travels were deliberate. I will never know. But I know that without these seemingly random leaps from normal behaviour, through determination or illness, for exploration or out of desperation, the kind of progress we all benefit from is impossible. I hope that magnificent beast of a beluga is still swimming, still pushing boundaries, still learning. I can sympathise, I get out of my depth and past my horizons as often as I can. I can’t help myself, I'm an addict.

Fergal Glynn,

Sionnach Environmental and Marine Consultancy


This article is extracted from the IWDG Autumn Ezine 2015, which is sent to members.

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