Memorial planned for gray whale deaths

07/03/2019

The gray whales that washed up along the Pacific coast in record-breaking numbers this spring prompted researchers to launch an investigation into the cause—but several authors and artists in the area are taking another route to grapple with the loss. The group will hold a memorial service for the 171 whales found dead along the Pacific coast, including 37 in California, at Dillon Beach on Saturday, July 20. “Our intention is not to make a political statement, but simply to offer an opportunity for people to meet together and share our grief and sense of loss at what’s happening,” said Larry Robinson, an author from Sebastopol and one of the event’s organizers. “We want to give a place to sacralize our feelings. It’s non-religious, non-threatening, just earth-based and emotionally based. Everyone is welcome.” Attendees can expect some singing and movement, and are encouraged to bring two stones, one roughly the size of a fist and the other smaller. A poem written by Sebastopol poet Elizabeth Herron helped catalyze the event. After the second whale washed up on Limantour Beach this spring, Ms. Herron drove south over Memorial Day weekend to see the carcass. She brought with her copies of a five-liner, which she handed out to anyone who stopped to look: Great swimmer/ We pray your spirit travels swiftly/ To the Other World/ May you find your kindred/ May you swim in safe seas. Ms. Herron said the poem made people pause, and sparked the idea of a formal event. “Even something so simple like that made people stop and ask questions,” she said. “Poetry is like prayer, allowing people to open their hearts a little bit more and get curious about what’s going on.” Francis Weller, a psychotherapist from Forestville who specializes in ritual, is among the event’s contributors. A ritual space, Ms. Herron explained, will help send energy “straight to the whales. There are all these discoveries they are making in physics about how the earth is a mass of interweaving systems. When we gather and focus our energy, it has an effect.” In May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared an “unusual mortality event,” prompting the investigation that includes research and monitoring to determine the cause of the die-off. This year, there are several leading theories. Many gray whales that died were malnourished, and some showed signs of emaciation. Insufficient layers of ice in the Arctic—which create the habitat for the algae that in turn feeds the bottom organisms the grays typically consume—is a possible factor. Another theory is that the population is leveling out, exceeding the ocean’s capacity to support it. NOAA Fisheries is coordinating the investigation with international partners in Canada and Mexico, as well as with state wildlife agencies and local stranding networks. For information about the memorial, scheduled from 9 to 11 a.m., write to Elizabeth Herron at poetherron@gmail.com. Parking is $10.