Excerpted from Among Whales, with permission from the author.
The amniotic fluid of all mammals is remarkably similar to seawater, both fluids contain the same salts in almost exactly the same proportions. Amniotic fluid mimics the seas that nourished our ancient ancestors. Mammalian mothers reconfect it in their bodies in order to brew for their embryos the best conditions to foster life. It is this ancestral sea that is lost when a pregnant woman’s waters burst shortly before the birth of her child. At birth, we humans reenact life’s transition from water to land as we are born from the ancient seas of our mother’s amnion to the dry land of our terrestrial existence. A school of psychology professes that much of human anguish has its genesis in the sense of loss that comes with leaving the womb. Over such a loss a whale need not mourn, for she is born out of the amnion of her mother into the amnion of the sea.
Thus generations of whales are like those pictures within pictures, forever recreating their origin from an ancient singularity of life, each nestled within the next amnion awaiting birth, all of them suspended within the earth’s vaster amnion, the seas, out of which they will never be born but in which they will live out their lives. When a whale strands and expires, is her death not her first real birth out of the sea? As she lies beached and dying, does she not feel for the first time what it is to be like a human infant wailing in rage as she is stranded on dry ground out of her mother’s womb? Does the anger that terrestrials show to each other and to the rest of life have its origins in the loss of our marine oneness – a regret for the mistake made by our ancestors who chose to be born out of the sea? And is that sense of oneness with life in the sea the thing to which people are keying when, for the first time, they swim alongside a whale, their hearts in their mouths, and discover that rather than killing them with a single swipe of his tail, this huge creature greets them with a deep and ancient ocean peace?
Photo credit Mazdak Radjainia.