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There She Blows?

Trout RiverThere are a few beaches in Newfoundland that I hold in especially high esteem. Bellevue obviously comes first and foremost –– it is the place, after all, where my mother retrieved the piece of an iceberg that ultimately inspired our company name. Near St. John’s, there’s also the small beach at Middle Cove, which is the perfect place for kids to learn the inexplicable joy of endlessly tossing rocks into the ocean. The latest addition to this special lineup, though, has been the sand-and-pebble beach at Trout River, in Gros Morne National Park.

I’ve previously explained how this beach inspired the very first chapter of Champions –– it is, in fact, the beach to which Alex delivers two young fishermen and their drifting dory. Last summer, it was the place where I became envious of our whitecoat, for her ability to swim the North Atlantic, and see my home island from a point of view no ordinary human could quite manage.

And now, this beach has a new… um… feature.

Let’s not be coy: there’s a big dead blue whale rotting on the beach, and it has the folks of Trout River a bit nervous. Because at some point, it’s probably going to explode.

For those unfamiliar, blue whales are the largest known occupants of our oceans –– and they’re unfortunately endangered, too. As I understand it, only 240 or so of these massive mammals live in the waters around Newfoundland, and the ice this season was apparently too much for an unfortunate few of them. After being killed by the dense floes, a number have washed up on shore in the Bonne Bay area… and one has made his (or her) final landing in Trout River.

Now, as final resting places go, it’s hard to do much better than Gros Morne. I’d certainly consider passing eternity there… though I’d probably opt to be cremated before being spread on a beach (and even then, I’d probably feel awkward being spread on a beach where kids routinely go to play). Of course, I’m not blaming this poor whale; it’s just bad luck the way things worked out for her (or him).

Perhaps, in a few years, his (or her) bones will stand on the beach as monuments to the unusual communion between land and sea that seems to occur in Newfoundland. More than anywhere else I know, my homeland levels the playing field between species. Never is there a sense that humans command the landscape, so moose, or whales, or seagulls don’t quite seem to be intruders in our domain. Instead, they’re our fellow castaways, and while sometimes we find ourselves at odds with them, we often feel a kinship. After all, we’re all at the mercy of the land and sea.

For example, as much as we might fear moose on the highway, we delight when they attend our universities:

Just a normal day at Memorial University of Newfoundland –– Stephanie Shylock‘s Alma mater. Photo by Gordon Little.

Perhaps this why the Saa dragons in Champions feel so at home in Newfoundland… and why a cathedral of mighty whale bones could be a fitting addition to Trout River beach.

Problem is, getting to the ‘bones’ part will almost inevitably be messy. See, whales do explode. If you’ve managed not to see this happen on YouTube, I invite you to watch this (but not while you’re eating):

I’m a fan of whales. Like most of the free world, I enjoyed Star Trek IV, and I was delighted when a pod of Minkes were in Bonne Bay during my stay at Seaside Suites last summer. But having to watch a rotting corpse (of any kind) explode all over the place, casting a stench over your community? That’s a bit much.

Honestly, I’m not sure what the people of Trout River can do about their new, um, feature. Blue whales are huge –– they were used to set the scale for our Saa dragons –– and as they rot, the chance of them exploding while being dragged away gets progressively worse. Knowing the layout of Trout River reasonably well, I’m pretty sure there are only two narrow roads that could get this cadaver off the beach and through town… and even then, where would they put it? Maybe we can all just hope for a good storm to blow through, detonate the late whale, and wash away her (or his) particulars? Alternately, the community of Lewisporte has some ideas… but those might not be viable for a whale so big.

I guess we’ll see. There’s a website dedicated to monitoring this situation, so if you’re concerned, visit Has The Whale Exploded Yet?

I’m due back in Gros Morne at the end of July, for another eleven days based in Woody Point –– the next community over, 20 kilometres away. When I’m in Gros Morne, I like to visit Trout River at least every other day, and I don’t intend to be scared off by a decomposing whale…

I just might need to toss a gas mask… or a bomb disposal suit… in with my hiking gear.

Good luck, Trout River. And remember: we’ll love you… no matter how you smell.

Trout River Whale seaside suites
A Minke whale visiting the deck when I was staying at Seaside Suites in Woody Point, in 2013. Sorry it’s blurry, I’m a terrible photographer.