The Cove Journal
by JoDee Samuelson
You never know how a day is going to unfold. You think you do, but you don’t.
One morning after a heavy rain we went to the woods to see if a new crop of chanterelles had appeared. Sure enough, dozens of golden Cantharellus cibarius were proudly pushing their way up through the mossy forest floor. All perfectly clean, no slugs lurking underneath. Yay! Snip snip snip.
Our plans for the day being indeterminate, we decided to slip down to the shore and see if anything new was happening. The tide was out, the beach was bare, everything was calm and quiet… but what the heck? A large sea creature lay on the rocks—sleeping? No, absolutely dead. In perfect condition except for one eye plucked out by crow or gull. Flies buzzed around inquisitively as if saying: Now what do we have here?
It wasn’t a seal (we see them all the time), and it wasn’t a shark (its skin was slippery both ways: shark skin is smooth one way, sharp and unfriendly the other.) Here’s what we observed: white belly, silver-grey back; one dorsal fin, two flukes; stub nose, small mouth with Mona Lisa smile; eyes parallel to ends of mouth; blowhole indicating air-breathing mammal; more than a metre long; about the weight of a chunky adult human.
Could it be a dolphin? Hmm. Whatever it was, it deserved to be studied. We hurried home and called Fish and Wildlife, and an officer told us he’d come right out: “But first, would you go back and cover the animal?” Of course. “From your description of the head,” he continued, “it sounds like a porpoise. Dolphins have a beaky nose. We don’t see a lot of porpoises on PEI but they show up occasionally. They’re our smallest whales.” A whale! On our shore!
I took an old blue tarp and biked back with camera and notebook. Took a few shots of the porpoise, then sat by my new friend and sketched him. (Male: no nipples.) Opened his mouth and looked at his tiny teeth. Held his tail between my hands. Examined the flap of skin that covered his blowhole (nostril). Rubbed his smooth glossy skin. He smelled so fresh and sweet. It was obvious that he been alive just a few hours ago, his heart pumping red blood through his warm body, his brain perhaps making plans for the day. Why had he died? Was he sick? Maybe he was lonely and depressed or just wanted to get away from the crowd and think things over, and got caught by the tide.
Neither the little whale nor I ever imagined that this is how our day would unfold.
I rolled him onto the old tarp, tucked him in, and biked back to the road to wave down the men from Fish and Wildlife. It’s amazing the things that can happen when you’re not even looking. You go down over the bank and find that a whale has landed on your shore.