whales mate

There's a 'Very Lost' Whale in the Thames; Does That Remind You of Someone?

I've thought about this too much, I'm sorry.
Lauren O'Neill
London, GB
September 26, 2018, 2:34pm
Image via, CC By 2.0

Jesus, this is horrible, isn't it. If you haven’t heard, there's a little Beluga boi – that is, an actual whale, native to the Arctic – swimming about in the Thames. "Benny", as the whale has been nicknamed, is being described by the BBC as "very lost", but quite honestly there is "very lost" (me falling asleep wine-pissed on the all-night Overground and ending up in Crystal Palace), and the very lost where you end up being spotted near Gravesend when you live up by the North Pole.

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The current status of the whale is unconfirmed: the last concrete update came when the British Divers Marine Life Rescue organisation told the BBC that it was sending a group of experts to the area where sightings have happened – but none of the reports have actually been properly confirmed. The small matter of verification, however, has never stopped me from making any situation a) about myself and the world I inhabit, or b) into pointless existential questions. So: I've got a proposition to make.

In many ways, isn’t the Very Lost Beluga Whale an almost perfect metaphor for millennial life? Isn’t the Very Lost Beluga Whale… us?

For one, can't you see a bit of yourself in how the VLBW (I won't patronise this noble beast by calling it "Benny", a puerile alliterative moniker) has just kind of, gone with the flow? And found itself in a weird city where it doesn’t really feel a sense of belonging, but it’s mostly fine so it’s just stopping there for now? Isn’t that… you? Maybe it too left uni and thought, 'You know what, I’m just going see what happens. I might give London a go, could be cool,' and then floated for a bit before waking up one day to realise it was adrift in an oily shit pile in zone 6, from which everyone wants to evict it. See? Just like you. There are, therefore, important lessons to be learned from the VLBW.

In lots of ways, I would like to be treated like the whale – for example, the BBC reports that "the public have been asked not to take to the water to watch it". This is a approach that I would enjoy also being taken towards me, though admittedly there is slightly more to be gained via viewing this situation figuratively. The whale, by definition, is lost. It – a sweet, water-dwelling baby – emphatically does not belong in the Thames, which is essentially a large bin, and therefore it is lost in a dual sense, both in the "me when Citymapper fucks up" way, and also in the (much worse) spiritual and emotional sort of manner, whereby all you can do is listen to Frank Ocean and go to the shop in your pyjamas.

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It’s thought that the VLBW made what Julia Cable, a spokesperson for British Divers Marine Life Rescue, has called "a navigational error" – which: no kidding. Though I do sympathise. In your twenties, navigational errors feel very familiar. We’re all the clumsy old whale. Maybe you’ve just been following someone else around, or remained in a shit job, drifting along, waiting for a way out to present itself, just like the VLBW, who needs to get the fuck out of the Thames basically immediately unless it wants to be engulfed by plastic bags (in this metaphor, the plastic bags are loveless marriages and dead-end careers).

Cable also added "we haven't got an idea about the health of the animal" (at this point, I'd like to signal towards a too-easy "same" joke about how Tory cuts to medical services have depersonalised our awareness of our own bodies), while Tanya Ferry from the London Port Authority noted, "We're hoping if we give it enough space and keep an eye on it, it will find its own way out of the Thames," which, hilariously enough, does very much seem to match the laissez faire attitude of the government towards issues like the renting racket, don’t you think!!!

I’m being glib, I know, but there is something about the surreal image of a serene Beluga whale bobbing up and down in filthy London water that strikes a weird chord and makes me dead set on extending all fuck out of this metaphor. I feel a kinship with the VLBW mostly because it’s ended up somewhere weird, and is trying to sort its shit out – trying to get back on course – as it goes. It feels heavy handed to say that this feels particularly applicable to my generation, fucked by our elders from every direction, but it’s also kind of irresistible to point out.

In happy news, the whale is currently moving towards the Thames estuary and "appears to be feeding normally", which is a nice ending to the story and to the metaphor – a sense that natural instinct has prevailed, that the whale’s way of understanding the world it is in has ultimately helped it. Am I saying that maybe a whale – vast, beautiful – showing up in the filthy river Thames and surviving is… hopeful? Do you know what? Fuck it, I think I am.

@hiyalauren