A small fleet of electric boats arrived at the meeting spot and dropped anchor. Gentle waves lapped at the boats while the land delegation waited on board. Soon enough, a fin was visible, then two. Before long, the boats were encircled by the ocean delegation.
Similar to a meeting at the United Nations, designated communicators served as interpreters between the land and ocean delegations. Once the meeting was underway, the parties began to hammer out details of the proposed International Oceanic Regulations.
The agenda for the day included locational and volumetric limits on vessel emissions. The whale delegation emphasized that the topic was of utmost importance to its members. Whales do not have the ability to smell, nor do they have sinuses with which to filter air. Accordingly, they are unable to detect, and therefore unable to avoid, engine exhaust. Instead, they regularly get blasted with thick, unhealthy sludge from ship emissions. That sludge is not only unpleasant, but it also has significant adverse impacts on whales’ health.
The land delegation considered the whales’ perspective and in turn submitted proposals that included a phased transition to zero emission high speed cargo ships. The new generation ships were expected to ameliorate time concerns and thereby open up previously disfavored routes. The new routes would avoid whale migration lanes to reduce accidental collisions, while the new technology would reduce, and eventually eliminate, harmful emissions.
Although this meeting has yet to happen, it is not as far-fetched as it may seem. Several studies have shown that whales are intelligent animals with sophisticated social learning skills. Those social learning skills allow them to pass down cultural knowledge from generation to generation. In addition, they have strong communication skills. Like other intelligent animals, they can communicate not only with one another, but can engage in inter-species communication as well.
As part of my own animal communication practice, I recently reached out to an orca in order to obtain a deeper understanding of the human impact on ocean life. During that conversation, the orca gave me a visceral experience of receiving a snootful of thick, choking ship exhaust. The exhaust was startling as it seemed to come out of nowhere and felt entirely overwhelming. After that experience, I consulted Google and learned what I stated above, namely that orcas do not have a sense of smell, nor do they have sinuses that serve as air filters. As a result, they often get choked with harmful emissions seemingly out of the blue.
In that same conversation, the orca also showed me that our clutter of ocean-going vessels disrupts sound waves and interferes with whale communication. That interference can, and does, result in whales being separated from their pods and injured or killed.
Receiving that understanding directly from the whales is far more impactful than simply reading it online. The visceral experience of direct communication is impossible to ignore.
Before the conversation concluded, the orca invited me to envision a world in which the oceans are governed not solely by humans, but instead by a coalition of intelligent life. A world where whales and other ocean life are granted some degree of autonomy over their home, and consulted on decisions that impact their home environment, their health, and their survival.
It may be difficult to imagine a world in which humans would formally recognize inter-species communication, much less a world where humans agree to a power sharing paradigm. However, we only have to look at the news, or scroll through a social media feed, to see the detrimental effects of imposing human power unilaterally on the earth.
Should we collectively open ourselves up to the idea of interspecies communication, the whales and other intelligent animals would have much to offer us in return. The very act of engaging in inter-species communication is an evolutionary act. It evolves our understanding of ourselves and our planet. And the richness that comes from a heart-to-heart connection with another sentient being cannot be measured. The whales are waiting.