When dating someone new, the inevitable and awkward getting-to-know-you questions always come up in the first few conversations. So when a conversation on a first date veered toward the topic of which animal I’d choose to be if given the chance, I already had an answer prepared.
My date said he’s always admired wolves. He appreciated their fierce will to survive and strength.
I respected this choice. I too find wolves remarkable. I like their bright eyes and their persistence. I like the idea that on the night of a full moon, somewhere a wolf is howling, even if it’s a cheesy image to call to mind.
But I wouldn’t want to be anything like a wolf. I don’t like the thought of having to be menacing or ferocious — for my survival to be so reliant on toughness. If I could be any animal, I’d want a life so much bigger than that. Literally.
So when my date asked me which animal I’d like to be, I confidently told him, “I’d want to be a humpback whale.”
He raised his eyebrows and threw me a look of surprise. But I was so confident in my answer. I’ve found whales marvelous ever since I was a child.
In elementary school, Friday was my favorite day of the week. Not just because it meant the weekend was here, but also because every Friday we got a new issue of Scholastic News — a small magazine for students with articles about history, science and more.
I was always intrigued by issues featuring a story about animals, especially when the story focused on ocean life. I tried hard to imagine what life must be like immersed in a big, blue world.
The magazine often inspired me to go home after school and watch shows on National Geographic and Animal Planet, hoping there would an episode about marine animals. I celebrated the moment when a breaching whale graced my TV screen.
And when I learned that the average blue whale is the length of two school buses, my little world flipped. I went to school with this fact lingering in my mind, especially when the big yellow buses lined up for field trips.
I suddenly had a new perspective on how small my being was compared to the rest of the world’s creatures, and how precious it was to exist alongside such colossal animals.
All of this should’ve frightened me when I was a kid. After all, I was afraid of the sharks at the aquarium for quite some time. But the magnitude of whales didn’t scare me at all because I had also learned how friendly many of them are.
For instance, I’ve grown to associate humpback whales with beauty and ease for the way they communicate through song. And when two humpbacks prepare to mate, they do more than sing: they often twirl about the water in a serenading ballet.
When I first saw videos of this, I couldn’t help but smile at their grace — the way they seemed to move in perpetual slow motion.
And humpback whales typically don’t swat their prey with their hefty fins or put up a fight with a show of their great force when hunting. They simply open their tremendous mouths and scale the ocean to swallow krill, a small crustacean like shrimp, as they swim.
It amazed me that a creature could be capable of so much force, but rarely capitalize on this power to instill fear or create devastation the way other animals might — including humans.
In fact, a phenomenon regarding the behavior of humpback whales has left biologists baffled. Humpback whales have been intervening in fights on behalf of smaller prey trying to defend themselves from vicious predators, like orcas.
Scientists have been searching for explanations for this behavior, and empathy is not out of the question. This makes perfect sense to me, given how sophisticated humpbacks have proven themselves to be.
While it may be impossible to know exactly why humpback whales choose to display such compassion, I’ve always seen their generosity as something to aspire to.
When I explained my appreciation for humpback whales to my date, he was no longer bewildered by my choice. He agreed it made sense.
To live life as a creature known by its heft but admired for its kindness seems like an honorable way to exist in the world. I obviously can’t become my favorite animal, but I can certainly take the effortlessness and benevolence of humpbacks as inspiration in my own life.