- Same BonesGreat Bear Sea, British Columbia
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The boat lay quiet. Then a sudden blast behind us, a breath impossibly loud. One whale was very close. Mist drifted over the deck, then our feet dipped to port. She surfaced, blowhole whistling, a bugle that echoed across the fjord. One huge fin lifted up and crashed down. Now she was under the boat somewhere, still shouting, doing somersaults. Our senses end at the surface. We had to imagine. To us, she appeared gone. She burst up again, giant. Likely she didn’t intend to spray water onto the captain’s glasses, but how else to explain the way her tail came so close to the deck yet did not touch? How she moved with such restraint, how she held her body just there, enormous and precise. She could have crushed us, rammed us, broken this thin, floating shell and tipped our lives into the sea. And yet. // Her waves rocked the mast, the great pleats of her throat rolled over in the sun, near as a friend. No accident. The water bubbled and whitened, the way some people talk louder to foreigners. There was no reply but silent fiberglass, a faceless vessel full of who knows what, all of us looking hollow and blank. We could see her. We could hear her, smell her, feel her moving the ocean. If we could listen, she might have told us of her travels, or explained the art of the Earth’s currents. She may have telegraphed happiness. We couldn’t reply. // The whale raised one fin. They have the same bones as in our own hands—proof of kinship. Her bright bubbles said farewell the way one does to a statue. “Good talk,” she might have smirked. We watched, uncomprehending. [End Page 18]
Luke Padgett is a writer and photographer from Tennessee. His work has appeared on the BBC, NDR, CBS, and in National Geographic Magazine. He codirected Hallowed Isles, a film about the remote Chatham Islands of New Zealand. Padgett was a 2007 Thomas J. Watson Fellow and is working on a film in East Africa.