Photo of the Week presents      

Photo of the Week 302
"The tale of a whale"


photo of this weeks photo of the week
Photo: Maarten Zeehandelaar

Once upon a time there was a whale that was so strong, so strong, it could slap its tail from any position in the water. Now, you should know this constitutes a remarkable feat. Most whales, especially the large ones, can only slap their tail when suspended in the water vertically. They back up their tail into the air and then let it come down hard on the water’s surface. This whale however, could do it from any position, vertical or horizontal, even while swimming.
          Not many people ever saw this whale, but those who did lived all around the globe. Their common denominator seems to be that they belonged to the indigenous peoples living in the area. Among the lucky few were Viking descendants in Iceland, Giraavavaru on the Maldives, Griqua in South Africa, Inuit from Arctic Canada, Kalinago in Dominica, descendants from the Pericú in Baja California, Guugu Yimithirr from Queensland Australia and Tupiniquim from Brasil. From these and many other peoples a legendary story has been handed down to us, from generation to generation.
          Whales use their tale-slapping, amongst other purposes, to strike fear into the hearts of fish. To round them up, make them swim in tighter schools, which in turn make more easily accessible diners for them. Thus tale-slapping is a rather aggressive gesture, but also, a warning. And this is how the great whale used its tail. Every now and then, it would surface in some part of the world, where it would backup to the coast, lift up its tale and slap it down hard on the beach, sending a thump through the land that could be heard miles away. While the tribes around the world had no means of communicating with each other, in time they all arrived at the same conclusion: the land-slaps were a warning to them, to start paying more attention to their surroundings, their living conditions, their treatment of nature and their resources. For sure enough, when they didn’t, something disastrous would come to pass; they learned that quickly, and the hard way.

The Spanish neofuturistic architect, structural engineer, sculptor and painter Santiago Calatrava has worked this legend into his design for the Museu do Amanhã (Museum of Tomorrow) in Rio de Janeiro. It’s a museum where you can catch a glimpse of 50 years forward into humanity’s impact on our environment and on life itself. In fact, as you can see here, the museum is a perpetual tail-slap – a constant reminder of the message that the strongest of whales used to send to us, humans. Back in the day when it could still manage its warnings, when it didn’t have to be everywhere on the planet at the same time, every day, of every week, of every year. The last registered sighting of the whale dates back to 1903. Now, it’s Calatrava who reminds us.

Text by: Peter-Jan Vermeij

Until the next Photo of the Week!

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