Moby Dale



Video of “Ode to Blubber” sung by Edwin Vega (5 minutes)..

Sperm whale with mouth open showing teeth by Archibald Thorburn (1924) (Wikimedia Commons).

INTRODUCTION TO MOBY DALE

Moby Dale is a minor character in the comic, whimsical-science novel The Muskeg Eden: Planet of the Singing Apes by Madelon Mottet. Following is an excerpt from the book when Moby Dale first appears. In this scene Moby Dale meets a romantic couple who are traveling in a small skiff to an offshore yacht in Southeast Alaska. They are all in an enchanted Eden where Animals-With-Souls can talk. The story is being narrated by the woman. The man is temporarily unable to speak.

Moby Dale – Male Sperm Whale

As Adam and I approached the yacht, we heard a loud clicking sound and saw a large pumpkin-sized and pumpkin-colored buoy moving towards us at a high rate of speed. The buoy stopped moving just before it hit our boat; and a mottled white sperm whale, a behemoth, suddenly surfaced next to us. A spout of water angled forward at 45 degrees shot over our head, and misted us with water.

This was followed by overwhelmingly obnoxious blasts, sounding much like a machine gun magnified through high-voltage speakers. A small pod of harbor porpoises also appeared nearby, and I could hear their snickering laughter.

Size of a sperm whale relative to a human. (Drawing copyright Chris Huh, Creative Commons Attribution-3.0 Unported license, Wikimedia Commons.)


~~~~~~

Video of people swimming with a small sperm whale.
~~~~~~

Irritated, I bellowed, ‘Stop it! Cut the racket!”

The clicking ended abruptly, and I heard a youthful male voice in my head. The voice was polite but had an odd cracking quality like an adolescent going through a voice change.

“Good day. I’m Moby Dale, Male Sperm Whale. Can you hear me?”

The sound was still deafening. “I can hear you! Can you turn down the volume!”

“OK, OK, already.” The obnoxious sounds stopped rattling my head, but was replaced by a peevish taunt. “What’s with you? You should be properly impressed at being addressed by the loudest voice in the animal kingdom.” Then under his breath, I heard him say to himself, “What a wimp!” Apparently, Moby Dale was not aware of the volume that was suitable for communication with humans, or that I could overhear even his private whispers.

Moby Dale had the distinctively pronounced bulbous forehead that occurs in species of whales and dolphins that specialize in echolocation. Sperm whales produce loud clicks that can be heard over 60 kilometers away (40 miles). These clicks are the loudest of all animal sounds, which is why he was so annoying up close.

The clicks are a type of sonar that is focused by structures in the head. These sounds are extremely directional and penetrate deep into the dark depths of the ocean. When the sound waves hit potential prey, the sound echoes back to the whale, and that provides the coordinates for the whale’s next meal.

Although sperm whales are always noteworthy, this one stood out particularly. Sperm whales are almost always found far from shore, and they are rarely seen by people in small coastal skiffs. This was the first one I had encountered, and it provided far more excitement than I cared for.

I would have assumed it was a male even if he had not informed me of this fact. Females with their calves do not make the long migrations that bring the males far north to feed. Mature males grow two- to three-times the weight of females. That’s why they have to migrate to the world’s best feeding grounds in order to develop the mass they need to compete with other males for harems.

Sperm whales are the largest of the toothed whales and have about 50 teeth in the lower jaw. The teeth are cone-shaped and weigh up to 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) each. The teeth are not essential for eating, since the whales swallow their prey whole. Healthy sperm whales have been captured that had no teeth.

However, these teeth once provided a convenient source of ivory for sperm-whale hunting seamen, who were turned in times of boredom into scrimshaw artists. Also, sperm-whale teeth were once the most valuable trade item in Fiji.

Scrimshaw

Scrimshaw carving on sperm-whale tooth by Edward Burdett (about 1830).

There was no physical reason why this boisterous and talkative whale could not have overturned our skiff and gobbled us up. Sperm whales have sunk whaling ships, much as was described in the novel Moby Dick. Fortunately for us, sperm whales have been notably benign, unless harassed, since whaling boats have mostly stopped hunting them.

Like the original Moby, this whale was abnormal because its forehead and dorsal-fin hump were blotched with white. Both Moby Dick and Moby Dale were not totally white like beluga whales, but were distinctively whiter than is normal for sperm whales. Also, both had unfortunate contacts with the world of man. Moby Dick was harpooned by Captain Ahab while Moby Dale had a buoy rope wrapped around its head that clamped his mouth shut.

Nevertheless, other than the unnecessary spray from the spouting and the barrage of sound, Moby Dale did not behave aggressively towards us.

Moby Dale continued at a lesser, but barely tolerable volume, “I felt the energy vibration that signifies the presence of humans who can communicate with Animals-with-Souls. I can’t say I’ve ever had any desire to communicate with a human before, although their pets can be quite entertaining. Anyway, I suppose you can figure out why I thought such a thing was important at this juncture in my life. If I can’t eat, I’ll soon die. I hope you won’t say some rot about this being my destiny and the Circle of Life. Living as a sperm whale is amazing, and I would like to continue my current existence.”

His plight was clear. A rope was wound tightly around his head, and his jaw was clamped shut. Without using any specific words, I imagined a Swiss army knife and I handed it to Adam. He leaned over the side of the skiff and started to slice through the entangling ropes. It was all over in moments. The whale opened his mouth and let out a belch-like sound that I interpreted as yelp of glee.

Moby Dale then joyfully galloped around and around our boat. I know, the word “galloping” is a stretch for an animal in water and without legs. But his happy exuberance was infectious, and we were also jumping up and down, copying his delight, nearly sinking our skiff. The whale continued, putting on a 10-minute show of leaps with full-surface displays, while slapping his tail and pectoral fins on the surface of the water.

~~~~~~

Display of humpback whale after being cut out of a net.
~~~~~~

Then, although the whale was free to leave, he returned with thankfulness and continued the conversation.

“I suppose you know that we sperm whales have the largest brains on this planet, six times larger than yours. I can’t imagine how any of my thoughts might be of interest to you, a mere human, but I intend to show my gratitude. I give you permission to educate yourself. You may ask me questions.”

It was a marvelous opportunity to ask about the inner life of whales, something that had been the focus of dozens of researchers (and thousands of new-age philosophers). But unlike the biologists most commonly quoted in the press, I had never had much interest in whales or in what whales thought. I figured they needed a bigger brain to coordinate the nerves and muscles for their enormous mass and for analyzing echolocation data. I did not assume he was smarter than me, although I thought it best to keep these thoughts private.

In my teen years, I was an avid reader and had read through a long list of classic books that were recommended as preparation for college. So I was very familiar with the 1851 novel, Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. I remember that when I read it, I had agreed it justly deserved the title of the first “All American Novel.” I loved the book and had totally identified with the profit motive of whalers.

In my later travels, I had even eaten whale meat. From my perspective, whales are just too large to be in my sphere of interest. Even new-born whales can weigh a ton. There is never a size during the life cycle of a whale in which you can capture it in nature and put it under a microscope. Thus, whales do not fit with my own science missions, which all have been linked to those secrets that could only be revealed while looking though the double barrels of a binocular dissecting microscope.

Besides, from a purely biological point of view, anything with a backbone had too many points of familiarity with my own species to appeal to my eclectic and curious tastes. I much preferred the secrete lives of invertebrates—especially clams and other molluscs.

If anyone had offered me funding to study anything I desired, as long as it had something to do with whales, I would have chosen to elucidate the life history of the rarely discussed sea angels and sea butterflies. They are sometimes abundant enough to replace krill in the diet of filter-feeding whales.

Sea butterflies and sea angels are thumb-nail sized marine slugs that swim in the ocean with two wing-like appendages. They glide slowly and gracefully through the water with motions that give them the appearance of butterflies or angels. To me, these little swimming mollusks seemed far more desirable as an object of veneration and study than the massive whales that prey upon them.

Sea angel, a type of swimming slug.


~~~~~~

Video of sea angel and sea butterfly.
~~~~~~

So given my perceptual bias and this once-in-a-life-time opportunity, I had blurted the question, “Do you like the taste of sea angels?”

“What?” he exploded. “You think I’m a stinking filter-feeding baleen whale? Are you purposely insulting me?”

I was puzzled. “What’s wrong with baleen whales?”

“Have you ever smelled one?” he replied with distain. “They have rotting, stinking krill caught in their baleen.”

Brush-like whale baleen.

Brush-like whale baleen used to sieve small krill and other small animals out of seawater. (Photo © David Monniaux 2007, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 France license.)

The fact that baleen whales stink did not explain anything as sperm whales lack a sense of smell, though I suppose they might be able to taste the odor. I presumed Moby’s contempt must be towards the nature of the prey itself. Krill are the dominant food of filter-feeding whales, and these shrimp-like crustaceans are closely related to bugs. Humans also generally have a lack of respect for bug eaters. (For example, we are repelled by both bats and spiders.)

Antarctic krill.

Antarctic krill. This shrimp-like species grows to a maximum size of 6 centimeters (2.4 inches). It is probably the most abundant animal species on the planet in terms of biomass. (Photo by Uwe Kils, Creative Commons Attributes-Share alike 3.0 Unported License from Wikimedia Commons.)

Giant squid make up the main diet of sperm whales, and it is estimated that these whales collectively consume more squid than the entire human harvest of all commercial fisheries. Hunting giant squid requires great skill, stamina, and braveness. So I tried to focus on the whale before me rather than my own perceptions of what was interesting or important and humbly apologized. “I recognize you as a proud toothed whale, a master predator, one who hunts the giant squid, the most monstrous prey on the planet.”

Sperm whale eating giant squid.

Sperm whale eating giant squid. (Image at American Museum of Natural History, photo by WikiRaW31, Public Domain.)

Sperm whale skin with giant-squid-sucker scars.

Sperm whale skin with giant-squid-sucker scars. (Picture by J. Murray. and J. Hjort, NASA, 1912, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain,)

Hard serrated suckers of giant squid.

Hard serrated suckers of giant squid.

That seemed to be in keeping with what he expected me to say. At least his offense faded. I glanced around looking for a more suitable topic and asked the obvious. “So then, how did you get tangled?”

“At a fisherman’s fast-food feeding station,” he answered.

“Fast food feeding station? Whatever do you mean? It is highly improbable that a fisherman would be voluntarily feeding sperm whales.”

“Thanks for your insight,” he replied sarcastically. “ I could have used that bit of information before I got into this predicament. Lately, I’ve been feeding at what I thought was a fast-food feeding station that had been kindly provided by an Alaskan fisherman. Catching food closer to the surface, requires a lot less work. That leaves me with lots of left-over calories to turn into blubber.

“The way this had been working was that a boat came all the way out to where I live, and the fisherman sank longline ropes to the bottom. Every meter or two along the longline, a piece of twine was attached, and at the free end of the twine there was a baited hook. The bottom-living fish that take the bait, get stuck on the hooks. About twelve hours after a longline is put down, it is studded all over with fish.

Longline

Figure 25. Longline for catching bottom fish. The balls floating at the surface support the buoy lines. [Drawing by GeSHaFish, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.]

“I used to dive all the way to the bottom to pick fish off the lines. But then I realized I didn’t even have to do that much work. The fisherman seemed happy to pull the fish to the surface for me. He even let me know he was ready to do this by making distinctive mechanical noises with his boat as the lines were winched to the surface. Thus, I could feed near the surface by grabbing any fish I pleased as the smorgasbord went by.

“So I wouldn’t get caught on the hooks, I bit each fish from the tail end and pulled. The system was excellently designed so the hooks had just the right amount of tensile strength that they straightened right out and released the fish with a minimum of pulling. Eating the fish off the longlines was a lovely change in diet, and so relaxing.

“Even if the fisherman accidentally pulled the lines up too fast for me to get all the fish, he made up for it afterwards. Once the fish were on the boat, the fisherman cut them up and dropped pieces over the side. The best and tastiest parts, too, the head and giblets. I could just pick up my meal as it slowly floated downward. The swim bladders of the dead fish kept the pieces from falling very fast, so a meal served like that could be most leisurely. I could almost take a snooze while I was eating.”

~~~~~~

Video of sperm whale pulling black cod off fishing lines. The clicks are the echolocation sounds made by the sperm whale.
~~~~~~

I replied, “I’m certain fisherman have a different perspective on this smorgasbord concept. One of my fishermen friends said he wasn’t able to make his house payments because of what he described as ‘sperm-whale thievery.’”

“Oh. Really?” he replied with a snoot. “A more objective view would be that sperm whales have learned to adapt to the modern world—and very clever of us, too. But to tell the truth, even I had begun to wonder whether that fisherman was as happy about this feeding arrangement as I was. He was playing games almost like he wanted to keep the fish for himself. He actually tricked me with those mechanical noises into thinking he was going to pull up fish in an area where he hadn’t even put down any lines. The insult of it!

“As though I could be so easily fooled. When I came to see what he was up to, he raced me back to where he had set his real longlines. I fell for that trick a few times, but only because I had no reason to think he was smart enough to try to trick me.

“And then there was this unfortunate incident with that same fishermen cutting the line, which snapped and wrapped around my head. Not cool. I don’t know whether or not I’ll be feeding at his station again anytime soon. Too bad, because his longlines always had lots of black cod, which are marvelously oily and delicious.”

“Good Lord,” I thought to myself, “black cod (sablefish) are the most expensive fish caught in Alaska, and are worth more than halibut. The fisherman must have been furious!” However, I thought better than to mention this to Moby and replied noncommittally, “Yes, black cod are really marvelous smoked.”

“Don’t be silly,” he replied. “Fishermen don’t smoke fish. They smoke those little white rolls with a noxious smell. Really, there should be ‘No Smoking’ signs on every boat. This is not ‘out in the middle of nowhere.’ It’s where I have to breathe.”

“Yes, burning those little rolls is a health hazard,” I agreed.

Meanwhile, Adam had been silently laughing and miming everything the whale was saying. Both the whale and I did our best to ignore him.

“Say, just to change the subject,” Moby said, “Did you know sperm whales are Jewish?”

“What a surprising thing to say. No. It never occurred to me that whales would have a human religious faith. Why did they choose to be Jewish?”

“Second totally stupid question from you,” he said derisively. “Are you being silly deliberately? Of course, we didn’t choose to be Jewish. Who would? We’re God’s chosen whale. That alone could help explain our near total extinction by whalers over the last few centuries.”

Hunting of sperm whales in the 1800’s by William Bradford.

“Oh. That.” I sympathized.

“Fortunately, humans have finally nearly stopped hunting us sperm whales, and these days we mostly only fear pods of killer whales. One of them took a bite out of my tail when I was young.” He lifted his flukes so I could see a crescent-shaped hole where the right edge of his fluke should have been. “My mom and her sisters were able to protect me, but their efforts were futile against brutal attacks on my younger sister and some of my cousins. They didn’t make it.”

“How horrible!”

“Yes it was. But I am big enough now that I am safe from killer whales. Anyway, back to our Jewish heritage…. You probably know most of the story, as many of the particulars were also extensively documented by humans in the Bible and the Koran. According to our version, which differs in only minor details, God chose a very specific sperm whale to deliver a request that couldn’t be refused to a reluctant prophet named Jonah.

“Now, any adult sperm whale could have easily accomplished the part about swallowing Jonah. What made this ‘miracle’ difficult to achieve was that Jonah had to be spat out alive after three days. Only a female named Deep Throat was anatomically capable of accomplishing this specific requirement. She could do this because she had learned to suppress her gag reflex when engaging in deviant sexual acts with her lover’s 6-foot long penis (actually a dork).

“The task of swallowing Jonah was actually a double punishment, with Deep Throat getting the worst of it I think. The event still surfaces in some of our idioms like, ‘Fish and stomach guests stink in three days.’ This all happened about 2700 years ago, and the up-chuck event was considered so significant by humans that it makes up a chapter in the Biblical Old Testament. It is mentioned by Jesus, and it even appears in the Koran. The episode is still having an impact on human affairs even within the last few decades.”

“Why? What happened recently?” I asked, intrigued by the whale’s odd slant on the Jonah story.

“Well, for one, there was the chic pornographic movie about “Deep Throat” using a female human in the role. Imagine my surprise that humans can perform an identical sexual act. But the most amazing thing is that the Whaling Wall, that was dedicated to Deep Throat, is still standing after 2500 years.

“Where is that?”

“In Jerusalem. It’s part of the Second Jewish Temple, the most revered, holiest site in Judaism. I’ve heard that millions of humans have touched it to feel the emanation of its sanctity, and some believe the gate of heaven is situated directly above it.”

“Wait!” I interrupted. “Are you talking about the W A I L I N G wall?”

“You say ‘wailing.’ I say ‘whaling.’ A mere dialectical difference I presume. It’s all the same to us. Anyway, after Deep Throat passed away, God stopped using whales, and started using pickles instead.”

“Pickles?”

“Don’t make me explain human stuff. All I know is that people stopped saying, ‘He got eaten by a whale,’ and started saying, ‘He got into a pickle.’”

“Mildly funny,” I commented. Moby seemed to be warming up to me, if only as a sidekick for his humor.

Moby’s tone changed; he was a few degrees less pompous, almost confiding. “By the way, I was only joking about me being so smart. I don’t know what I would have replied if you had actually asked a thoughtful question. To be truthful, I think I use 50% of my brain to handle my body, 40% to analyze clicks, 5% for thoughts that can only be described as pornographic, and the remainder is for the topics of migration, food, poetry, and song. No wondrous insights, I’m afraid. I’m just as puzzled about the ultimate purpose of humans, life, and whales as humans are. By the way, did you ever wonder if female sperm whales have sperm?”

“No. I’ve never wondered. Do they?”

“Sure. Hundreds of gallons of it, but it’s all in their heads.” He chuckled at a joke I didn’t quite get, but I’m sure it’s funny to whales.

“Are you referring to the liquid wax-like material in your head called spermaceti that is part of your sound-making and buoyancy system?”

“Yeah. But saying it that way, it’s not at all amusing.” He was right.

Adam started gesturing and pointing at Moby while miming something with his mouth, which I made out to be, “Ask. Ask. Ask.”

After struggling to figure out what Adam wanted, it dawned on me what he wanted, so I inquired, “What do male whales think about blubber?”

Adam soundlessly laughed, pleased that he had engineered this preposterous moment.

The whale though, considered this question of great importance. Moby said with a poor attempt at modesty, “Interesting that you should ask. That’s the very topic of my most recent song. I’ll sing it for you to show my gratitude.”

“How thoughtful,” I said in my most sincere voice, even trotting out my warmest smile. It looked like for politeness sake, I’d have to endure a sperm-whale song. As a scientist I was mildly curious, but as a music lover, I cringed.

Unlike humpback whales, sperm whales are not notable for their singing. Sperm-whale vocalizations are variously described, even by their fans, as clicks and creaking. Throw in the cracking voice of an adolescent male, and the experience did not promise to offer any enjoyment potential.

Nevertheless, I was most pleasantly surprised when Moby made the necessary adjustments for my sensibilities. Somehow, he mined my mental repertoire of music, and sang to the tune of my favorite piece of music (Pasquinade by Louis Gottschalk, published in 1870).

And this is what he sang. The porpoises joined in whenever he said, “Sing with me.” After we figured out what the porpoises were doing, we chimed in, too.



“Ode to Blubber Sing Along” sung by Edwin Vega. Lyrics by Madelon Mottet. Music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk. This is the full version of the song (six minutes 38 seconds). It has segments in which the audience is invited to sing along.

~~~~~~
ODE TO BLUBBER SING ALONG
Ahoy! You up there!
So small and unimpressive.
With time to spare,
And mentally defective.
For my debut,
Give me your full attention.
I’ll sing for you,
Though you show misapprehension.
I’m Moby Dale, a male sperm whale. Yah!
Moby Dale—The Great White Whale!
I’m seventeen and still a growing adolescent,
Swimming to my northern feeding grounds. Yah!
I hunt squid with massive blasts of sonic sound.
The loudest voice that’s heard on Earth is mine. Yah!
I’m fantastic, terrific, super imposing, splendid, majestic, impressive.
Plus, I’m covered with blubber, wonderful blubber.
I’m corpulent, gigantic, obese!
Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh!
Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh!
Blubber’s warm, a most luxuriant body padding.
It is soft, resilient, jigglely. Yah!
When I’m all grown, I’ll weigh fifty tons or more,
So have no fear that I’ll have washboard abs. Yah!
I am covered with blubber, wonderful blubber.
Filling my heart with such pride.
The weight will help me to fight with pugnacious valor,
And I’ll win a harem that loves me.
Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh!
Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh! Tuh!
My thoughts are deep, and of the most important kind.
My brain is big, six times the size of yours. Yah!
Dazzling thoughts that you could never understand.
The largest brain that’s ever been is mine!
Oh! I’m fantastic, terrific, super imposing, splendid, majestic, impressive.
Plus, I’m covered with blubber, wonderful blubber.
I’m corpulent, gigantic, obese!
Sing with me!
And yes I’m great! And blubber’s great.
And yes I’m great, I’m great, I’m great.
And yes I’m great! And blubber’s great.
And yes I’m great, I’m great, I’m great.
Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great BIG!
That’s good.
Each day I’ll seek another new adventure,
At deep depths of all the Seven Seas.
Boring days will never by my destiny,
Though sometimes pain will be synonymous. Yah!
I’m fantastic, terrific, super imposing, splendid, majestic, impressive.
Plus, I’m covered with blubber, wonderful blubber.
I’m corpulent, gigantic, obese!
Sing with me.
And yes I’m great! And blubber’s great.
And yes I’m great, I’m great, I’m great.
And yes I’m great! And blubber’s great.
And yes I’m great, I’m great, I’m great.
Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great, Great BIG!
That’s good.
I’ll use sound to hunt for ancient primate fossils,
Off the shores of coasts like Zanzibar.
In a sunken limestone cave off Pemba,
I’ll find bones of Australopithecus.
I’m fantastic, terrific, super imposing, splendid, majestic, impressive.
Plus, I’m covered with blubber, wonderful blubber.
I’m corpulent, gigantic, obese!
Sing with me.
And yes I’m great! And blubbers great.
And yes I’m great, I’m great, I’m great.
Great. Great. Great. Great. Great. Great. Great BIG!
That’s good.
I am through with singing in this Muskeg Eden.
Good by all!
All’s been said
Where even you can understand my
Brilliancy,
Fluency,
Radiancy,
Constancy,
Decency,
Modesty!
Celebrate what you are to become something new!
I’ve watched ships as they laid trans-Atlantic cables,
Ate food scraps, and talked to human pets.
Swimming through the ocean world of man and nature,
I have seen the good, the bad, the weird.
Like pampered pink poodles,
And artwork as doodles,
And ships that were feudal,
And oodles of noodles,
And fish schools with pupils,
And fish that can tootle,
With eyes that can ogle,
And whales that were brutal,
And fights that were futile,
And leatherback turtles
With branches of myrtle, and Hey!
That’s all folks!

~~~~~~

“So Human, what do you think?” he asked.

“It was wonderful!” I enthused. “And it certainly answers the question of what male whales think about blubber.”

“Yes. I know. I’m great!” And as he said “I’m great,” his voice cracked into a high falsetto. “And I’m still so young.”

“You do sound a bit boastful, though,” I cautioned.

He laughed sweetly but derisively, “How could that be when everything I said is true. You must celebrate what you are to unlock the power to become something new.”

Moby flipped his flukes and dove under the skiff, coming up briefly on the other side. When he resurfaced he said, prophetically as it turned out, “Wait until you see me in Africa. I’ll be even greater! I must be off for more engorging. Gotta go. Gotta grow. By the way, you’ve made a good start on your own blubber under-layer. I would recommend a few ton of squid to finish the job. And thinking of squid, I’ll leave you with a ball of undigested squid gunk. I’ve heard you humans are quite fond of it.”

“Until then, have a whale of a time,” I answered, but inside I was pondering what he meant about Africa. If I had known then about the prophetic abilities of animals in Eden, I could have made more constructive use of my time in the Muskeg Eden and perhaps avoided much of the coming misery.

Adam and I heard the sound of rapidly receding clicks, just as a black odoriferous blob of the promised muck floated to the surface. And there before us was another extraordinary addition to what was rapidly becoming the most pleasantly memorable day of my life. The promised “gunk” was my weight in ambergris, which was worth a small fortune. I had never encountered this valuable substance before, but recognized it as it was waxy and studded with squid beaks. Sperm whales are the only animal that produces ambergris.

Adam industriously snagged the buoy and line and was about ready to retrieve the floating blob when I interrupted. “Why are you doing that?”

He looked at me with an odd, expectant expression. I had forgotten he couldn’t talk, so I spoke instead. “I know it’s used in expensive perfume and is potentially worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I was told we were not allowed to take anything with us when they let us out of this Garden.”

With a nod, he acknowledged my comment, and I was relieved to see the blob float away. After being exposed to sunlight and air, it would oxidize and harden into a marbled grayish substance with a waxy appearance. Then it would be pleasantly aromatic with a sweet, earthy smell. We would be better off without it until then.

And we proceeded on our way to the yacht.

Bonobo chimp wading

Comic Whimsical-Science Novel by Madelon Mottet

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