“Last night” I said, “I picked up Melville’s Moby-Dick to check on a certain passage. It made me think back on what we were talking about last time -- whales and dolphins and their intelligence.”
“And what did you come up with,” asked Jack.
I said “First of all, I wondered why whales, if they were all that smart, let themselves be killed by the thousands. I mean, nowadays, what with all the scientific gear fishing boats are equipped with, it would be difficult for a whale to escape from a pursuing ship. But in the old days, when it was little rowboats with harpooners that hunted them, surely any whale with a bit of sense could easily have escaped an harpoon by diving and changing its course. Any whale worth its salt can stay submerged for at least twenty minutes, some of them up to an hour. And even one with the smallest lung capacity and the slowest speed could have been away from the rowboat by about one or two miles. In fact, a smart whale would have dived and come up right under the rowboat and turned it over and its occupants into the sea. So if whales are all that smart, why didn’t they do that?”
Jack said “Maybe they allowed the harpoonist to kill them, because it was one way of protecting the rest of the herd, giving the others a chance to escape. Maybe it was a self-sacrifice.”
I said “I think you’re imputing to whales a sense of charity that equals, in fact exceeds, that of humanity.”
“OK,” said Jack, “maybe you’re right. After all a lot of whales did put up a fight.”
“How’s that?” I asked.
“I’ve done some checking up on my own,” said Jack. There are any number of cases where whales have attacked not only the rowboats with the harpooners, but the sailing ships themselves – and destroyed them. Which reminds me – what do whales eat?”
I said “I don’t know; what do whales eat?”
“Fish and ships,” said Jack. “ Along that same line, what did the Indian say to the mermaid?”
I said “Alright, what did the Indian say to the mermaid?”
Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.
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