Or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings
By Christopher Moore
Published by William Morrow
June 2003; 0-380-97841-5; 336 pages
"He's into his ribbits," Amy said, identifying a section of the whale's song that usually came right before the animal was about to surface. The scientific term for this noise was "ribbits" because that's what they sounded like. Science can be simple.
Nate peeked over the side and looked at the whale that was suspended head down in the water about fifty feet below them. His flukes and pectoral fins were white and described a crystal-blue chevron in the deep blue water. So still was the great beast that he might have been floating in space, the last beacon of some long-dead space-traveling race -- except that he was making croaky noises that would have sounded more appropriate coming out of a two-inch tree frog than the archaic remnant of a superrace. Nate smiled. He liked ribbits. The whale flicked his tail once and shot out of Nate's field of vision.
"He's coming up," Nate said.
Amy tore off her headphones and picked up the motorized Nikon with the three-hundred-millimeter lens. Nate quickly pulled up the hydrophone, allowing the wet cord to spool into a coil at his feet, then turned to the console and started the engine.
Then they waited.
There was a blast of air from behind them and they both spun around to see the column of water vapor hanging in the air, but it was far, perhaps three hundred meters behind them -- too far away to be their whale. That was the problem with the channel between Maui and Lanai where they worked: There were so many whales that you often had a hard time distinguishing the one you were studying from the hundreds of others. The abundance of animals was a both a blessing and a curse.
"That our guy?" Amy asked. All the singers were guys. As far as they knew anyway. The DNA tests had proven that.
There was another blow to their left, this one much closer. Nate could see the white flukes or blades of his tail under the water, even from a hundred meters away. Amy hit the stop button on her watch. Nate pushed the throttle forward and they were off. Amy braced a knee against the console to steady herself, keeping the camera pointed toward the whale as the boat bounced along. He would blow three, maybe four times, then fluke and dive. Amy had to be ready when the whale dove to get a clear shot of his flukes so he could be identified and cataloged. When they were within thirty yards of the whale, Nate backed the throttle down and held them in position. The whale blew again, and they were close enough to catch some of the mist. There was none of the dead fish and massive morning-mouth smell that they would have encountered in Alaska. Humpbacks didn't feed while they were in Hawaii.
The whale fluked and Amy fired off two quick frames with the Nikon.
"Good boy," Amy said to the whale. She hit the lap timer button on her watch.
Nate cut the engine and the speedboat settled into the gentle swell. He threw the hydrophone overboard, then hit the record button on the recorder that was bungee-corded to the console. Amy set the camera on the seat in front of the console, then snatched their notebook out of a waterproof pouch.
"He's right on sixteen minutes," Amy said, checking the time and recording it in the notebook. She wrote the time and the frame numbers of the film she had just shot. Nate read her the footage number off the recorder, then the longitude and latitude from the portable GPS (global positioning system) device. She put down the notebook, and they listened. They weren't right on top of the whale as they had been before, but they could hear him singing through the recorder's speaker. Nate put on the headphones and sat back to listen.
That's how field research was. Moments of frantic activity followed by long periods of waiting ...
After reverently lambasting the most cherished rites and credos of virtually every one of the world's major religions in his transcendently hilarious novel Lamb, the one and only Christopher Moore returns with a wild look at interspecies communication, adventure on the high seas, and an eons-old mystery.
Marine behavioral biologist Nate Quinn is in love -- with the salt air and sun-drenched waters off Maui ... and especially with the majestic ocean-dwelling behemoths that have been bleeping and hooting their haunting music for more than twenty million years. But just why do the humpback whales sing? That's the question that has Nate and his crew poking, charting, recording, and photographing any large marine mammal that crosses their path. Until the extraordinary day when a whale lifts its tail into the air to display a cryptic message spelled out in foot-high letters: Bite me.
No one on Nate's team has ever seen such a thing; not his longtime partner, photographer Clay Demodocus, not their saucy young research assistant, Amy. Not even spliff-puffing white-boy Rastaman, Kona (the former Preston Applebaum of New Jersey), could boast such a sighting in one of his dope-induced hallucinations. And when a roll of film returns from the lab missing the crucial tail shot -- and their research facility is summarily trashed -- Nate realizes that something very fishy indeed is going on.
This, apparently, is big, involving dangerously interested other parties -- competitive researchers, the cutthroat tourist industry, perhaps even the military. The weirdness only gets weirder when a call comes in from Nate's big-bucks benefactor saying that a whale has made contact -- by phone. And it's asking for a hot pastrami and Swiss on rye. Suddenly the answer to the question that has daunted and driven Nate throughout his adult life is within his reach. But it's waiting for him in the form of an amazing adventure beneath the waves, 623 feet down, somewhere off the coast of Chile. And it's not what anyone would think.
It must be said: Christopher Moore's Fluke is a whale of a novel.(back to top)
Christopher Moore grew up in Mansfield, Ohio and went to Ohio State for a bit and studied Anthropology. Then, he moved to California and studied photography at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, and took a bunch of extension courses in writing. He has held many jobs including journalist, radio deejay, waiter and insurance broker. When he turned 30 and realized that he wasn't famous, he decided to write a book. His first book was published when he was 32 and was very successful so he wrote more. He lives in Cambria, California.