The December 8 story sounded so wonderfully normal.
A group of researchers had made a discovery that had nothing to do with viruses and face masks and social distancing and getting vaccinated and, and, and…
The researchers believe they’ve discovered a new whale species:
In mid-November the researchers were working with the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society on this ship:
They weren’t in a lab in a building wearing tons of protective gear, working with a highly infectious virus.
Instead, they were in the waters surrounding the San Benito Islands off the coast of Mexico looking for a species of beaked whales.
What are “beaked” whales?
Beaked whales are a group of cetaceans noted as being one of the least known groups of mammals because of their deep-sea habitat and apparent low abundance. Only three or four of the 23 known species are reasonably well-known.
Their key distinguishing feature is the presence of a “beak” somewhat similar to many dolphins:
The researchers were hoping to identify a beaked whale species associated with an unidentified acoustic signal previously recorded in the area.
Why an “acoustic signal”?
According to Smithsonian Ocean,
“Just like dolphins, beaked whales send pulses of high-frequency sound through the water that work like a SONAR ping to find prey in the dark waters of the deep. Each species of beaked whale sends out a unique frequency that scientists can use like a fingerprint to estimate how many individuals of a specific species are in a given area.”
Based on the acoustic signal, the team thought they might be looking for Perrin’s beaked whales:
But when three beaked whales surfaced nearby…
The experts on board reconsidered.
According to SeaShepherd.org,
“Scientists and Sea Shepherd crew captured photographs and video recordings of the animals and deployed a specialized underwater microphone to record the acoustic signals emitted by the whales”:
“‘We saw something new. Something that was not expected in this area, something that doesn’t match, either visually or acoustically, anything that is known to exist,’ said research scientist Dr. Jay Barlow.
“‘It just sends chills up and down my spine when I think that we might have accomplished what most people would say was truly impossible – finding a large mammal that exists on this earth that is totally unknown to science.’”
OK: Maybe the possible discovery of a new whale species doesn’t send “chills up and down” your spine.
But let’s look at it this way:
Life is going on.
Life that has nothing to do with sickness and death and tragedy:
In spite of the worst public health crisis ever to hit this country, there are people out there doing other things, unpandemicky things, and that tells me that one day, someday, we’ll all be back to doing those other things.
Things that don’t involve face masks and social distancing and missing holidays, missing family, missing friends.
For me, it’s about much more than the possible discovery of a new whale species.
It’s a reaffirmation of life.