Yesterday I went to investigate reports of a porpoise on Tramore Beach to record its particulars for the Irish Whale & Dolphin Group(IWDG) for whom I volunteer. Sometimes people approach when I am doing this. I often expect them to ask, as I would, “What is it?” or “Are there a lot out there?” or “Where can I see a live one?” but the majority express great sadness at this ‘terrible thing’ that has happened as if a crime had been commited.
It could be that dolphins and porpoises have gained the mythical proportions of the unicorn and are on some level deemed immortal. After the sadness is expressed I am often asked “Who did this thing?” as if finding someone to blame would fix everything and make all the sea animals immortal again.
I don’t find it particularly sad that animals die and occasionally their bodies wash up and considering the amount of life in the sea very few bodies seem to wash up. I am not insensitive and have grieved over my fair share of pets but when a pet dies before their time it is more than likely because a human neglected them as pets depend totally on us for their survival.
A dead wild animal is a different kettle of dolphins. Wild animals don’t answer to anyone, they’re just out there doing their thing for the span of their years. True, it is terrible when human intervention causes the unnecessary death of wild animals and a mass stranding as the result of an oil slick or some such would be a terrible sight to behold but in the case of a single stranding, well, more often than not that’s just nature taking it’s course.
When I find a dead animal I know their bodies are there but the spirit is gone. That’s not to say I don’t feel respect for the corpse left behind I just happen to be curious about a lot of things and animals and death are two of those. Before you mark me down as weird I think death, it being the natural conclusion to life, is a main human motivator.
Before I ever did reports for the IWDG I used to take photographs of everything that washed up on the beach from the seals and dolphins to starfish to jellyfish to the crab shells lined with startling blue or mauve as well as the shells and seaweed and mermaids purses. Of all of these it is the mammals that affect us most and with whom we identify.
I cannot say I am free of this impulse. I stopped taking photographs of dead mammals after taking a photo of a large seal whose flesh had decayed and whose skin was peeled off to the waist revealing the skeleton beneath. The eye sockets seemed to look at me with some reproach as if I had caught it in a state of undress and I realised that I did not want to photograph the dead anymore not unless I had a good reason. I remained curious though
Now as a volunteer for the Strandings part of the IWDG I take photographs that are some use in that they along with measurements and skin samples add to our knowledge of the animals that inhabit the sea near us, knowledge which we hopefully use to live in better harmony with the world that supports us.
So don’t be sad, get out and have a look around, there’s not only death on our beaches but plenty of life and colour too and if you have a little patience you could see many more live dolphins and porpoises than you’ll ever see dead ones.