Anybody who knows me can tell you I’m not an animal person. But even I know that dogs, for example, show gratitude. They’ll circle, bark, jump up, and lick someone’s face. It’s their instinctive way to acknowledge or thank her. Other animals surely do the same sort of thing in their own ways.
Evidently a humpback whale off the California coast thanked her rescuers for cutting her free from ropes that were threatening her life. If she didn’t, it sure looked like it. The story was carried in the San Francisco Chronicle last month.
Humpback whales are those huge creatures whose complex vocal sounds resemble singing. They are also incredibly acrobatic and can be seen to soar majestically from the water and splash down. On the second Sunday in December, a 45- to 50-foot humpback was spotted between the Northern California coast and Baja California. It was entangled in long nylon ropes.
Rescuers said at least a dozen crab traps – each weighing about 90 pounds – were strung together by the ropes. And the female humpback was not only snared in them but being pulled downward by their weight. She was struggling to keep her blow-hole out of the water and was in serious jeopardy.
Four divers spent about an hour cutting the ropes off the whale’s tail, left front flipper, and mouth. It was extremely risky for the men in the water. One flip of a humpback’s massive tail can kill a human being. But she stopped struggling and lay passive in the water as the ropes were cut off her to set her free.
As soon as the enormous whale was free of the entanglements, she began swimming around in circles. Like a puppy happy to see its owner, she swam to each of the divers in turn, nuzzled him gently, and moved to the next one. Then she moved out into the open waters off the coast of San Francisco. Amazing!
When I read the news story, it made me wonder about human ingratitude. I’ve always tended to excuse my own and that of others with neglect. Or maybe just forgetfulness. But I wonder now if that could be mistaken.
If gratitude is natural and instinctive to animals, that would seem to imply that human ingratitude is deliberate. It is the suppression of a natural urge. It is a choice to think that I am due any breaks or good fortune that come my way.
All of us have had parents or mentors, friends or teachers, employers or strangers who have helped. Gone above and beyond. Made critical differences.
If gigantic leviathan can express gentle thanks, then why can’t we?