Do your children have a favourite animal? Both my babies love beluga whales. They giggle every time they see a picture of one. Their favourite bath toy is a little beluga replica. (We only have one, so fisticuffs often ensue.) My daughter has to listen to Baby Beluga sung by Raffi approximately 1,200 times before she goes to sleep every night. One of her first words was “Booga!”
Belugas are my favourite, too. When I was pregnant with my son—and had already suffered an early miscarriage, so was feeling afraid that I would lose him, too—I went on a trip with my husband: whale watching in eastern Quebec’s Saguenay Fjord. But the trip suddenly seemed misguided when we arrived. How had I thought I could go on a whale watching boat? There were even signs on the docks saying not to board if you were pregnant. And going sea kayaking just seemed foolish, considering I was terrified that anything and everything I did could cause me to lose my baby.
I remember sitting onshore, on an outcropping of rocks, feeling dejected. And then a beluga swam by, so close I could have touched her. Her calf was beside her. It was a beautiful moment I’ll never forget, the reasons it was so profound somewhat inexplicable but very real. I remember thinking, Whoever this baby inside me is, I don’t want him or her to grow up in a world where these whales no longer exist. It’s partially how the idea for my first novel was born. In my novel, an eco-justice intern heads up to Canada’s western Arctic to save beluga whales from the perils of offshore drilling. Hilarious hijinks ensue, but it’s not all about humour.
I read an editorial in The Globe & Mail this weekend about an oil spill in the Arctic having the potential to be worse than the one in the Gulf of Mexico. And I was saddened to see that BP, the company responsible for spilling 750,000 litres of crude into Gulf waters every single day since April 20 is already operating within some of Canada’s most environmentally sensitive areas. “BP’s Beaufort Sea lease overlaps with two areas identified by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as environmentally sensitive,” the editorial reads. “The first marine protected area proposed for the Beaufort—a beluga whale sanctuary—has an operating gas well inside its protected zone. Should a blowout or spill occur, we would have little time before damage is done.”
There’s no simple solution to the problem of our hunger as a society for oil, but a start is fostering awareness of the long-term effects of our quest for the stuff at any cost. (All one has to do these days is turn on the news, and it’s right there, in waves of sludgy water completely destroying livelihoods and an ecosystem.) Another important step is learning to value what could be lost if an oil disaster happened here. In Canada’s Artic, belugas are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Finally, we must start focusing on renewable energy and wean ourselves off of fossil fuels. (This is a great CBC article about why and how we should do this.)
Because wouldn’t it be horrible if our kids missed out on something beautiful just because of the careless and selfish mistakes of the generation that went before them? Let’s start being the change we wish to see in the world, just like Gandhi said.
—Marissa Stapley of Saving the World in Sensible Shoes