Over the years I’ve talked with hundreds of whales and every conversation is an honor. Sometimes the connections are made at the request of other people and sometimes it is for myself--talking with whales with whom I have a personal and intimate connection. I don’t share a great deal of the latter type conversations because they are private. I’m making an exception with this story because the fact that a whale with whom I have a long history and I are involved is just background context for the story. The real meaning is about how we all relate to whales--what we expect when we are with them physically or communicating with them telepathically--and how they relate to us.
In March 2015 I was in Silver Bank on a tender when I heard the magic words we all love to hear from the captain, “Okay, there is a very settled mother, calf and escort straight ahead. Gear up, and quietly get in.” My heart was racing with love and anticipation. My psychomotor skills never work as fast and efficiently as when I am putting on flippers, mask and snorkel to get in the water with the whales. I am not an athletic person and was definitely not in good shape during this trip. But something happens to me when I am near the whales. Not only is my emotional heart overflowing with love, but my physical heart and whole body functions like I am in good condition. I slipped into the water swiftly and very, very happily swam in the direction of the whales. After perhaps just 30 yards or so, I saw the escort (an adult whale accompanying a mother whale and calf) at the bottom. The visibility was perfectly clear so I could see the escort about 40 feet below me. The mother and calf were about halfway between the bottom and the surface of the water, but further off from the escort by perhaps 10 yards. I stopped, gently floating, keeping myself perpendicular to the mother whale and her little calf who was under her with his or her little rostrum (head) peeking out and watching me.
I immediately began telling the whales that I was there in peace and started gently showering them with an abundance of love. I was just settling into the sacred stillness of being with them when the mother, with her baby still under her, turned her body and started slowing moving directly toward me. I was over the moon ecstatic. I continued showering them with love, told her that I loved her kind, humpback whales, more than anything in the world and thanked her for the incredible privilege of being so near her.
Meanwhile, I realized she was not only moving directly towards me, but she was rising close to the surface as she was approaching me. By the time the tip of her rostrum reached me, her body was only about three feet underneath me. My God, I could count the tubercles on her head. Her blow holes looked like craters so close and directly under me. Her gorgeous, smooth black skin was all I could see as she kept slowly and gracefully moving under me. It was like having a wall of slowly moving black, shiny whale underneath me. I didn’t bring my camera in with me, but if I had I don’t think I could have broken the spell of those precious moments to even push a button.
Once her dorsal fin passed beneath me, I had the passing thought, “Uh oh, here comes the fluke. I don’t really have time to move away. Hope I’ll be OK.” Before my thought was even finished, she gently lowered her fluke a few feet lower than the rest of her body. Later she confirmed that she heard my thought and moved her fluke so I would not worry about being hurt. I was overjoyed and thanked her profusely for coming so close to me. As her fluke and her baby beneath her completely passed under me, I turned around to continue watching them. In just moments, they increased their speed and swam deep and away.
The encounter was only minutes long, but the privilege and energy of it will remain with me the rest of my life. At the time, I was overflowing with gratitude and love, and I still am.
Later that evening, when a few participants on the trip asked if I could talk with the whales we’d interacted with so far I happily agreed. As we sat together pajama-party-like in someone’s cabin, I connected with this mother whale and shared our conversation. Libby Hopkins took notes (thank you Libby!), which helped me recall some of her comments.
As I began by thanking the mother whale for the grand privilege of being near her that day, I felt myself tear up. She asked why I was crying. She did not understand my tears of joy in connecting with her. I explained that they are an expression of the love that many of us feel when we are with whales such as her. She didn’t quite understand. I could tell that she was very much a “thinker” in her orientation. It’s an understatement to say that I love humpback whales am very passionate about them. When I am with them, talking with or about them, it’s often a very emotional experience. I love them beyond description. Having sensed this mother whale’s style of communication as more logical and dispassionate than mine, I tried to attune to her vibration and way of communicating. While still being myself, I pulled back the level of my natural effusiveness when with whales to meet her on common ground. Had I not recognized and respected our personality differences and attuned and adjusted myself to her energy, I could have simply seen her as some sort of Mr. Spock-from-Star Wars-type whale and missed the nuances of her communication. And she may have seen me as some airhead or overly emotional human. Instead, despite both our species and personality differences, we did meet on common ground.
Regarding the encounter she said, “Of the three of us [mother, calf and escort], I was the one who decided to stop for the humans. I told my friend (the escort who was a male) that I wanted to handle this.”
Someone asked why she came so close. I communicated our routine of swimming out from the tender and lining up as a group, but she came very close before we even had the opportunity to create our line. “I didn’t want to wait. I went toward Teresa because Alfie asked me to.” When someone asked later if she had any special connection with anyone in our group, she said: “Yes, Teresa--you’re Alfie’s girl.” Hearing this, I felt as giddy and happy as a sunflower basking in the sun. I was filled with gratitude.
She continued, “While I had this favor to do, while we were there I wanted to show my child what love from humans looks like and feels like, and how to be safe around them. I am a strict mother. ” She made it clear that they felt our love long before we got into the water. She briefly thanked us for all the love that we gave her.
I asked her about her calf’s experience and she told me to ask her directly, so I did. The calf showed me how much she loved it. She said: “I wanted to stay, but we had to leave.” The mother said she is also teaching her calf “to not go up to just any boat. It’s not all fun and games with humans.” I told her that some of the females in our human group were also mothers and would understand this. She very much liked hearing this.
I explained that some of us had come from far away just to be near the whales, and for some of us these encounters were our first experiences and were very deeply moving and wonderful for us. She was surprised that we felt that deeply--that it was a life-changing event for some of us. Attempting to understand, she showed me the energy and love she felt when her current daughter was born and asked if this is how we felt. I said, “Yes, very similarly--a feeling of great love that cannot be easily explained or measured and doesn’t need to be.” She nodded in acknowledgment and was gone.
Later, I talked with her privately. I thanked her again for the grand privilege of being so near her, and asked her what the experience was like for her. In a crisp, no nonsense manner she said, “You are Alfie’s girl. He told me you dreamed of such a close experience with a whale and asked me if I would provide it. I agreed and came to you.” I could tell that she didn’t want a long conversation, she was about to leave. I wanted to ask her a bit more. I responded to her comment by thanking her for doing this favor for Alfie and for me, and asked what the experience was like for her. In the same matter-of-fact tone she said, “It was a favor. He asked me to do it and I was happy to do it. It’s really nice that you love us all so much, but I am not interested in an ongoing relationship. But by the way, yes, I heard your concern about my tail perhaps hitting you when I was under you. I never would have let that happen. We know how small and fragile humans are. We have great control over our bodies and would not harm you.” She bowed slightly with a sense of kindness and said goodbye.
She wasn’t cold, just abrupt and so clearly had a different personality type than mine. The well-known Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator includes a scale that helps us understand our preferences about how we make decisions about information that comes to us in our environment. Briefly put, we have a preference for either assessing information from a left brain analytical, impersonal perspective, or a right brain emotional, personal value based perspective. “Feelers” place a high premium on harmony and feelings while “Thinkers” highly value logic and objectivity. Whatever our preference, it does not mean that we have no competence or ability in the “other” way, just that we have a preference that is most comfortable to us and very likely the one most used.
I am definitely a “Feeler” on this scale and the mother whale seemed very much like a “Thinker” (also likely an introverted thinker who would also say far less than an extrovert like me). When physically with whales, I am a feeler off the scale. They are my ancestors and my family who I do not get to see frequently. When I do, I am filled with a sense of vast love, excitement, and being home. However, this mother, who is a “Thinker” personality, was just not all that excited to meet me and be with me. She didn’t resent it or dislike it, it just was not the same mystical and extraordinary experience for her as it was for me. That, coupled with our personality differences, made this a very different experience for each of us.
I loved experiencing this difference with her. Why? Because I’ve been teaching my animal communication students, clients and whale trip participants for years how important it is to recognize and respect whales and all animals as unique individuals, understanding that they are not all spiritual leaders or teachers just waiting to tell us the secrets of the universe or the purpose of our lives. It’s not just their flukes that are unique to each humpback whale--so are their personalities, life purposes, life roles, and their level of interest about being in close proximity to humans.
I was humbled by my experience with the “Thinker” whale. To me, being with this mother whale and her calf for those few minutes was both exhilarating and sacred. To her, it was simply a favor, an errand really, that she did for a friend. We had very different experiences of the shared encounter and that’s okay.
Not every whale loves humans and wants to be around them. It’s an unrealistic expectation to assume that every whale in the universe loves us as much as many of us love them, or that they all want to be near us as much as many of us treasure being near them.
Not every physical encounter with a whale (or other animal) includes a mutual experience of deep emotional or spiritual intimacy. Sometimes one party is far more excited by and thrilled by it than the other--just like with our human relationships.
We can be in awe of the whales, be enthralled with them without romanticizing them with unrealistic expectations of a peak experience or a personal healing experience with each encounter, or for messages about the meaning of the universe in every communication. We do best by them by accepting and treasuring each encounter and communication--be in mundane or exciting.
Thank you mother whale for reminding me of this. And thank you for accepting Alfie’s request for the favor. I will treasure those minutes you were so near me always.
1 The fluke (tail) and the caudal peduncle (the area from the dorsal fin to the fluke) are the strongest and most powerful part of a humpback whale. Even an unintentional swipe could cause great bodily harm to a human. In Silver Bank, all guests are taught to avoid being near the flukes.
2 Alfie is the name of the first whale I ever saw, in 1988. Now in spirit, he is the main spiritual guide of my life. We have been together many lives, always in significant relationships. As whales, he was my father and we had an exceptionally close relationship. We still do. In this lifetime, having had an abusive human father, I would not be comfortable and certainly not proud with someone calling me “his girl.” But to be referred to as Alfie’s girl--and to be known as Alfie’s girl by whales no less--puts a smile on my face and in my heart that will last forever.
3 For more information on the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator http://www.personalitypathways.com/type_inventory.html
Links for More Information:
If you want to read another story that Teresa wrote about a mother whale’s journey of loss and healing, read Dolphins and Whales Forever in which she wrote a chapter:
For more articles, read Teresa’s blog, For the Love of Whales:
Learn how you can help whales:
Teresa’s Facebook Page on whales: Sacred Activism, Healing, Communication & Celebration of Whales
Learn more about communicating with whales:
Learn more about swimming with whales:
Photo Credits ~ All used with permission and gratitude:
• Whale head at surface: Copyright Tom Colin of Aquatic Adventures
• Whale underwater with white flukes: Copyright Sierra Goodman, www.divinedolphin.com
• Two flukes:
L: Silver Bank photo purchased from Kaz Zirkle 1999; R: Silver Bank photo by Amanda Bryan, Aggressor Fleet 2007
• Graphic of woman with whale: Copyright Teresa Wagner
I remember the exact moment I fell in love with humpback whales. They were the focus of an hour show. I thought how beautiful, graceful and majestic they were--but huge! Then I heard the male singing--that was it, I was hooked. That was 20 years ago. Since then I have spent my time collecting everything and anything on or about humpback whales. Loving them from afar, my office and home filled with pictures, sculptures, etc. I dreamed and dreamed of seeing them in real life, not just on a TV screen. Finally, I was able to take my first trip--destination Cape Cod. I was so excited, finally a chance to see them in their home. I can only explain the experience as "Wow, tears of joy, 20 rolls of film and I don't want to leave." I came home with a new, greater sense of longing that I couldn't explain and a lot of tee shirts!
Tiki was born from his mother with four other puppies, outside, alone, with no human nearby. But months later, she found herself at a shelter in Florida when her meant -to- be family found her and took her home to be loved! In March 1999, she came aboard the ship Bottom Time II where her human Dad is a Captain. Other humans come on the boat to see whales, but they were also immediately charmed by Tiki.