The Deep Sea Light - Minke Whale

Gaelic: Muc-mhara-mhionc




A purple whale
Proudly sweeps his tail
Towards Nineveh;
Glassy green
Surges between
A mile of roaring sea.

“O town of gold,
Of splendour multifold,
Lucre and lust,
Leviathan’s eye
Can surely spy
Thy doom of death and dust.”

On curving sands
Vengeful Jonah stands.

“Yet forty days,
Then down, down,
Tumbles the town
In flaming ruin ablaze.”

With swift lament
Those Ninevites repent.

They cry in tears,
“Our hearts fail!”
The whale, the whale!
Our sins prick us like spears.”

Jonah is vexed;
He cries, “What next? what next?”
And shakes his fist.

“Stupid city,
The shame, the pity,
The glorious crash I’ve missed.”

Away goes Jonah grumbling,
Murmuring and mumbling;
Off ploughs the purple whale,
With disappointed tail.

Robert Graves

For up to half a century this ubiquitous little leviathan, with its sporty stripes and pointed snout, will sift through whatever the Hebrides has to offer. A bit of a loner, it occasionally gets together with a few mates to investigate the odd boat, but more often than not is quite happy meandering between warmer waters and the west coast of Scotland - as the season dictates.

Up to 10 metres long with a drink problem, it will dive for up to eight minutes before rising to the surface with a mouthful of sand eel, herring, whiting, along with some plankton. Individual whales can be identified by their grey dorsal fins, but if that’s not enough they will on occasion breach the ocean surface to strike a more definitive pose.

Originally thought mute (by whale standards), it turns out they are very communicative, with a huge range of other-worldly sounds. Big Kraftwerk fans, one suspects, or certainly Flock of Seagulls – under which they are often spotted feeding.

If they had any sense more would stick around as their migration routes bring them into contact with whalers and other oceanic detritus – both to which they are susceptible. Though they are relatively fast swimmers, their curiosity can get the better of them, and there are a number of instances of them being hit by shipping and also being caught up in fishing nets.

Also, our explosive sub-sea pursuit of minerals and oil poses real problems for Minkes. If the blast doesn’t get them the change in their habitat certainly will.