Love and Whales on a Pale Blue Dot

On a pristine day during an outing on the crystal blue waters Sea of Cortez between Mexico and Baja, California, whale conservationist Michael Fishbach and several others came across a juvenile humpback whale, floating motionless in the water not ten feet from their boat.

After several minutes of cautious observation, Fishbach and his companions concluded the whale was dead.
Unexpectedly, however, the creature spewed forth a beleaguered gasp from its blowhole. Fishbach quickly donned his snorkeling gear and gently eased his way toward the immobile creature.

He immediately saw the problem. The young whale had entangled itself in a twisted web of nylon fishing nets and simply could not move. Fishbach used a knife to cut a portion of the netting away from the tail of the frightened and fatigued animal. But the rest of the netting held the whale’s pectoral fins tightly to its body. There didn’t seem to be any more they could do.

Fishbach’s crew didn’t give up, though. They slowly cut away what netting they could and began pulling it into the boat, little by little. Hours passed before the whale had a bit more mobility. In response to her partial freedom, yearning to hit the open waters once again, desperate to be loosed, the massive juvenile started pulling their boat, a “Nantucket sleigh ride” as it’s called among whale folks.

Miraculously, after hours of strenuous and tedious net-and-whale detangling, they were able to completely free the young humpback.

What happened next, however, left Fishbach and his crew virtually speechless.

For the next hour, the humpback leapt out of the water, flipped, breached, splashed and swam all around them. In the video, off camera, one of the children on board, a four or five-year-old girl, says very clearly, “Mommy, I know what she’s doing. She’s showing us that she’s all free!”

There could be no other explanation. The young humpback seemed indeed to be relishing in her newfound freedom; born again – rescued from her entanglement and given new life.

Fishbach’s love for his profession of whale conservation made this event even more meaningful for him and his crew.
It also happened on Valentine’s Day in 2011, a day associated with “love.”

But what is this “love?” To whom or to what do we turn to really know what love is? Is it just an emotion, a feeling, an experience? Is it hearts and candy and champagne? Is it saving whales? Feeding people? Helping others?

The term itself is almost as “big” as a whale. It’s so “big” that the Greeks had four different words for it. In our culture, however, we say we “love” just about anything. In this melee of meaning, it’s not at all easy to sort out what exactly love is and what it looks like. How does one even go about addressing the question?

Earth as seen from Voyager I on Valentine's Day, 1990. When the Bible says that "God so loved the world" this is it! That's us. We may be small, but we are not insignificant!

Earth as seen from Voyager I on Valentine’s Day, 1990. When the Bible says that “God so loved the world” this is it! That’s us. We may be small, but we are not insignificant!

On another Valentine’s Day in 1990, the Voyager I satellite, as it was leaving our solar system, was turned around by its technicians to take one last panorama of our little galactic neighborhood. In that stunning image eerily and silently hung the earth, caught in a beam of sunlight. It looked no bigger than a speck of dust. Truly a portrait of ourselves and our planet we’d never before encountered. Words did not seem adequate to describe exactly what that photo contained or what it meant.

But whether it’s a picture of our “tiny” planet from Voyager I or getting up-close and personal with a trapped and frightened humpback whale, love has something to do with both. True love, that is.

Fishbach and his crew came to a world not their own to free a creature trapped in the fetters and snares of a fisherman’s net.

The Lord Jesus Christ came to our “pale blue dot” to rescue us, to save us from the fetters and snares of sin. Like the whale, man is exhausted in his struggle with his sinful nature. He’s hopeless without the Lord Jesus. He needs the strength, wisdom and grace of another to truly free him. And when the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.

As I watched the young humpback leap and breach in the crystal blue waters of the Sea of Cortez, I wept. I knew I so desperately wanted to be that free, to radiate that much joy and delight from being saved from sin and death.
In our stories this week, we ask the very question, “What is love?” Like the many facets of a blazingly bright diamond, so too does love reflect the innumerable facets of God’s love toward us in Christ. Taking the text of 1 Corinthians 13, Talon journalists write and reflect on the question “What is love?”

We hope you will, too.