Can You Take a Moment to Rate This Whale? or, The Appening

A Whale App? But not one like the one in my poem-story, I hope.

It appears I’m once again interested in all things animal (as opposed to all things Cosmic) right now – so, from Tyrransauridae last week, to Cetacea this.

Last week, I read a story about the Boston Port Authorities encouraging ships’ captains to use an iPad app which locates the likely positions of whales off the coast and then enables them to chart a slightly different course – thus avoiding the whales. It sounds like a very successful and important initiative -and a great use of the technology. We’ve been making the seas increasingly-noisy for our Baleen cousins which – so research suggests – is making life very hard for them down there. Not only that, but sometimes ships (as per the horrible image on the news story above) even strike whales – causing them injuries and possibly death.

In fact, it’s not my first piece of writing about whales – there’s another piece I wrote, called Whale Fall, which you can read by clicking here on the site for Heads and Tales (a storytelling group with whom I was involved in Bristol). The image of ‘whale fall’ – when a whale dies and sinks to the bottom, creating a ‘feeding frenzy’ as its nutrients and body dissipate amongst the bottom-feeders of the abyss – is at the centre of the story.

But save that for later, until you’ve read today’s poem-story about – well, decide for yourself. Certainly, the idea stemmed from this feeling of intrusion (an Intrusion is the collective noun for cockroaches, by the way – about which there’s a poem-post here). What would it be like if there was something we were drawn to, but which hurt us? (Such things are plentiful, actually). And which kept filling our space until we couldn’t avoid it any more?  I think that was what my subconscious was getting at – how the whales must be with Sonar signals – but I really can’t speak on its behalf, or on whales’ behalf.

And, as someone quoted to me – and I don’t know who said it, or something like it, so this may be a misquote: “Structure the things that come to you”. So that’s what I’ve done. The chance to fuse the ever-more-pervasive app-culture and this news story in s lightly sci-fi way was too tempting . The intersection between nature and technology is of great interest to me: what is ‘natural’, what is ‘technological’, are they always and forever anathema?

The results, I admit, are…odd and perhaps unsettling. But imagine how the whales feel.

 

Can You Spare a Moment to Rate This Whale? or,

The Appening

 

It was not even a noise, to begin with:

hovering somewhere between

sound and sensation. Not quite

synaesthetic – more like a key

which accessed new depths formerly

inhuman, imperceptible.

 

That was at around

10,000+ downloads, but

with each it became

more abyssal.

 

Your lowest vertebra would chime,

softly, sending the feeling through

the tissues joining the spine

to the ribs, oscillating up the neck and

the inner-ear’s instruments –

boiling like a fumarole –

clanged.

 

At around

500,000+ downloads

you could not tell whether the object

you were looking at was itself shaking

or if the optic nerve was being played

as a myelin harp in your head.

 

By that point, on the large screens in cavernous

departure halls, edited-in

between rolling news, the image of a winning

Humpback would flash up, having supplanted

last week’s five-star Narwhal.

 

Then, the merchandise, mimicking

the rounded-off baleen icon: children

wore woolly-hat Rights (attesting

their allegiance to a species) with

a broad hair-toothed grin

on their foreheads, and fleecy-fins,

flopping down, at once

scarf and mittens.

 

But as the number became ever larger,

100,000,000+ downloads,

words began to be missed, then sentences.

Records were broken and now

graphs and arrows struggled

to find space on the screens

between fast-cut images

of flippers, flukes and spouts.

 

On one occasion, a dolphin was slipped in

to the slide-show – a test, perhaps – but

the tabloid headlines and message-boards

turned the air blue

as the Atlantic once was.

 

At some point, the written reviews

stopped – when download figures exceeded

the screen’s capabilities – and there were only

five-star ratings. The app store, mute,

silently swam in icons

of cetaceans.

 

And then the first trip to A&E,

the first fatality. But still the stars,

still the sensation.

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