I was too young to be a father.
I couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t handle the pressure knowing she was out there, living in this world. How could I care for her? How could I care for a child when I was just a child myself?
I was 10. And she was a 74-ton finback whale I adopted through Bubblicious.
In 1990, I participated in the Allied Whale/Bubblicious Adopt-a-Whale Program. I sent in a dollar and some chewing gum proofs of purchase and received an “official” Certificate of Adoption with my name typed in a blank spot, a book on whales called “Finbacks and Friends” and a photo of my new cetacean daughter, Bolshoi.
I’ve had them all for years, tucked on a shelf next to an old Far Side collection and the program from my college graduation. It’s the type of thing you keep unthinkingly. I’ll never have a need for a photograph of a whale or “official” proof that I chewed sugary gum as a child.
But I haven’t thrown it out, either. I won’t claim I thought about it much, but there was something about that photograph, a distant gray lump cruising on the surface of perfect blue water, that always put it just on the side of “keep” in my occasional declutters.
The back of the photo has information about Bolshoi—Fin Whale #0184. It talks about her scars, possibly from a boat propeller. It lists her 10 sightings in the 1980s, first around Stellwagen Bank near Cape Cod, Massachusetts, then shifting to Mt. Desert Rock, Maine.
It talked about her associates, the other whales #0184 was spotted near. An unknown whale in June ’87. Elvis (#0111), Sigma (#0151) and a group of white-sided dolphins in August of that year. Flat Top (#0073) and her calf four miles east of Mt. Desert Rock on July 12, 1989.
The card ends with a sighting of Bolshoi alone, three miles northeast of Mt. Desert Rock on July 13, 1989. That’s the last time anyone saw my daughter.
“We haven’t seen her for years, but we’re behind on data for comparisons,” the young Maine woman on the phone said Wednesday morning.
Funding issues and a shift to humpback research meant that any sightings in the ‘90s would be the most recent Allied Whale would have on record, the woman said. They have some photos on the Allied Bay Harbor Whale Watch Flickr page that might include #0184, but they don’t have the funding to pay someone to go through and identify individual whales, she said.
“That project kind of ended,” she said.
I thanked her and got off the phone.
Fin whales live around 94 years, the internet says, although some have been found that they think might be as old as 140. “Finbacks and Friends” was surprisingly quiet on the topic, leading me to suspect the worst.
They are still endangered. Hunting, mostly, but a bit of disease and pollution too. Iceland and Japan still hunt them, as does a small population of indigenous Greenlanders given an “Aboriginal Subsistence Whaling” exemption.
Bolshoi, the little girl a dollar and some gum bought, could still be out there in the perfect blue water, with a century or more left in her.
She could be in a sandwich in Japan.
I’ll never know.
It’s the type of thing you keep as a kid, a relic of that era when environmentalists had “Save the Whales” instead of climate change slogans on their bumpers. The team-up with the chewing gum company was meant to get kids to care about the earth around them, forge emotional connections, as tenuous as they might be, with some other creature sailing somewhere through a plastic-clogged ocean on this planet of ours.
I guess it worked.