Going Belly-Up
Whales and People

Many years ago, when I was young, my family lived in South Jersey, which meant that we would go down to the Shore in the summers. As a young boy, I loved walking on the beach retrieving sea shells and other things that the ocean deposited upon the beach. I was intrigued by all the various things that washed ashore all day long. I found loads of horseshoe crabs, jellyfish, hunks of cork from buoys, and skeletons of a vast assortment of fish. I’d bring them back to my parents at our rented cottage. For some reason, they didn’t allow me to take any of my treasured finds home. I would have impressed my neighborhood friends with my discoveries from the beach at Ocean City, NJ..

All of those memories floated back from long ago when I happened upon The New Yorker article about whales that went belly-up and wound-up beached on a shoreline. I would have loved to see a beached, dead whale when I was in elementary school. In the article, a couple marine biologists towed the 60-foot, 23-ton whale back out to sea. There they released the whale, which is called a whale fall among marine biologists. The whale merely dropped to the oceans floor.

The marine biologists wanted to study what occurred once a whale became a colony of various aquatic life forms, which assisted the degrading of a whale. For those in marine biology, watching the development of life around the decaying hulk of a whale was what science was all about.

The whale’s final resting place

It is interesting that during my journey down my yellow brick road of life, I have spent most of my life around oceans, rivers, and lakes. I am writing this essay looking out of my office window in my home. I’m not viewing the world; I am viewing my backyard butting up to a lake. For some reason, water fascinates me.

When I was in high school, I memorized several parts of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. These two I still recall.

Alone, alone, all, all alone,
Alone on a wide wide sea!
And never a saint took pity on
My soul in agony.


The Mariner, whose eye is bright,
Whose beard with age is hoar,
Is gone: and now the Wedding-Guest
Turned from the bridegroom's door.

He went like one that hath been stunned,
And is of sense forlorn:
A sadder and a wiser man,
He rose the morrow morn.

Years ago, I was the co-pastor of an experiment in joining Protestant churches together. I lived in Kingston, PA where the Susquehanna River flowed. The river separated Kingston from Wilkes-Barre. I had a small congregation with loads of money and across the street was a larger church without money. Both churches were minding their own business until Hurricane Agnes roared up from the Caribbean. By June 23, 1972, much of the area was inundated by flood waters. I lived in one, of less than two dozen homes, that wasn’t flooded. The rest, over 25,000 homes, were either totally destroyed or severely damaged. The Susquehanna River crested the next day at 32.6 feet, which was 15-feet above flood stage. The town next to Kingston was Forty-Fort. The river cut through their cemetery and washed 2,000 caskets down river to Kingston.

However, in the midst of the chaotic mess that lasted for years, I suggested that we merge the two churches as an ecumenical example of what is possible, which we did. Interestingly, one of the elders who voted to merge the churches found a coffin in his flooded backyard. It was his father’s coffin who had died over two-decades prior.

This is an aside, I got, on my birthday, a card from a colleague of mine at the merged church. Over the past month, we have had several telephone conversations. Interestingly, in the mid-90s, she was involved in a near fatal accident. We talked about what it means to have danced with death.

Finally, this brings me to the death not of a whale but of Citizen Kane. This is Kane’s last word.

The storyline of the movie, Citizen Kane, was a reporter’s attempt to discover who Rosebud was. At the end of the movie, he discovered that Rosebud was Kane’s sled. Kane died a wealthy man filled with a long legacy of misdeeds and corruption. Kane was a precursor to our fake president, Donald the Dumb. I wonder what his last words will be.

Rosebud was thrown into furnace.

PS Orson Welles retrieved the sled named Rosebud from the furnace as soon as the cameras were turned off. I wonder who possesses Rosebud today?

The following video is an interesting discussion about Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.