This little guy looks brand new. But I haven’t cleaned up after a complete birth yet this year–though I did see evidence a birth had begun. If disturbed, they can halt the process and carry on elsewhere. That may have happened here. She may have gone to the yacht club next door to finish.
After four years among the Selkies of Dogfish Bay, I remain perplexed by their mysterious ways. This is the blog post about the 2019 seal birthing season.
This whale has been here for a week or so. The good folks of Fisheries and Wildlife have been monitoring it for signs of distress. It seems the local gray population has been undernourished, possibly due to climate change and it’s effect on availability of krill–on which these majestic creatures feed. The important work on my libretto has been sidetracked by several factors: this elderly gray, the immanent seal birthing season, and a group of clueless youth harrassing pregnant seals with a volley of rocks from a skiff. All this stress reaches a fevered pitch this time of year, when the birthing season of local species interfaces with Summer Yahoos bent on pleasure in its multifaceted allurements.
These developments will not distract from my most pressing task–the creation of the opera. Stay tuned for the next chapter in which Drumph drafts a brilliant memo–a work of awesome fictive power–explaining his justification for Comey’s firing.
Last June I had the good fortune to land a job at at the Dogfish Bay Marina. Aside from sweeping the docks, parking lot and the endless chores, I found myself cast in the role of a sort of ambassador between the human and the pinniped populations. I experienced the trauma of a seal pup, abandoned by it’s mother, slowly die from starvation.
Seals must get a firm scent at birth in order to establish contact. Immediately after birth, the mother clasps her newborn by the nape of the neck in order to get the scent. If this process is interrupted, the mother fails to establish the link which allows her to “recognize” her pup. Through the interference of a well-meaning child, this process was interrupted, and the mother let her offspring starve. After the poor pup’s demise, she haunted the dock near where her pup had hauled out on the low swim-step of a speedboat; her eyes streaming with tears.
For ages, seals have emanated an aura of magic. In the Celtic stories of the Selkies, a hunter, on a quest for worldly riches, is summoned into the depths by a shape-shifting, seal messenger of Lachlann’s undersea Kingdom. After a lengthy stay, the hero returns to terra firma transformed by his experience–a wiser, more compassionate being. His cruel, rapacious heart is softened by his ordeal and he emerges a changed man; one who has seen the depths of profound reality below the selfish preoccupations with material gain. Such a visitation by the Selkie heralds an epiphany– an awareness of our deep relatedness with all creation.
Among Northwest tribes, seal people played a role as emissary of their guardian King, Komokwa, in the winter Tseteka–shaman–dances where supernatural beings came from the spirit world to initiate the young into the dancing societies. A seal conducted the novice into the submarine world where, after a period of fasting and prayer, he returned to the tribe in a canoe laden with a wealth of copper, to found a new lineage which was then honored in the dancing houses.
By day, the lumbering hulks of seals lounge on the docks. One night, I saw a flash of green phosphorescence as the seals sped below the surface of Dogfish Bay. These mercurial denizens of the deep bridge the yawning divide between the conscious and unconscious energies, and guide the seeker into timeless mysteries where shadowy beings lie below the reflective surface of the sea. Their uncanny visitations shake up our smug assumptions of human supremacy and herald a new awareness based in feeling, compassion, and illumined by the transfiguring light of dreams.
This is my first post telling of my experience as pinniped ambassador, documenting scientific observation, and evoking the mythology of seals. I hope my blog is informative as well as therapeutic. After the traumatic death of Bobby last Summer, I wish to be better prepared to deal with all the many, tragi-comic aspects of the birthing season.
George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).