The Shapes of Our Scars —by Jinny Batterson
This Mother’s Day brought cards and good wishes from the next generations. Although I once in a while miss the annual homemade breakfasts I used to get years ago, having grown-up children is much less hectic. I’m very glad I’ve had chances to be a biological mom. I’m grateful that the generations after mine are coming into their own, establishing their own patterns of family and civic life.
Mother’s Day observances for me can bring comparisons with other mammalian mothers. Someone has recently started a “dog moms’ day” (celebrating the women who care for their pet dogs) on the Saturday just before (human) Mother’s Day. Lots of internet images these days feature women mothering their pet dogs, or cute dog mothers with their pups, or cat moms with their kittens. What intrigues me most, though, are humpback whale moms.
Many members of my age cohort were introduced to the songs of humpback whales during the 1970’s, when popular singer Judy Collins produced a duet of human and whale songs based partly on humpback whale recordings captured at sea. The whale songs were haunting. The songs of the humpbacks added impetus to a movement to curtail whale hunting internationally. Humpback populations have since rebounded, though still only at about a third of their estimated 1940 levels.
Marine biologists are learning more about the migration patterns and behavior of all whale species, including humpbacks, one of the larger whale species. Mature humpbacks are about the size of a school bus, weighing 30-40 tons. Humpbacks migrate huge distances between feeding and breeding grounds each year. Scientists are not sure all the reasons that the whales vocalize—sometimes to find a mate, perhaps to share news, perhaps at times just for fun. Humpback whale mothers can produce a calf every 2-3 years, and nurse their new calves for up to a year. It takes about a decade for whale calves to reach adult size. A normal humpback lifespan is about 50 years, with ocean pollution, boat collisions, and fishing gear entanglements having replaced whale hunting as main sources of premature death.
Identifying individual humpbacks can involve studying the patterns of light and dark colorations on the underside of their tail fin, or “fluke.” Sometimes these patterns are interrupted by scars, which can also help with identification. Recent studies have indicated that many of the scars on mature whales are the result of accidents or attacks when they were calves—often during their first migration.
In a way, such news is reassuring to this fellow mammal. Regardless of my best attempts, sometimes I may have exposed my human children to harm. Sometimes that harm may even have come from me, passed down from the generations that preceded me. I’m grateful that whatever the scars I carry or have inflicted, both I and my children have survived to adulthood. With wisdom, I may be able to use the shape of my individual scars to help heal myself and others. With wisdom (and perhaps with song), we may be able to heal ourselves and other species from the scars we have inflicted on the planet.
For more about humpbacks, check the internet—one fairly good introduction has been posted by National Geographic: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/h/humpback-whale/