Y’all. I bet you’ve never even considered what a humpback whale’s placenta might look like. I know it had never crossed my mind until today. Some (lucky?) customers of Blue Bay Whale Watching in Australia got to see one up close and personal on a whale watching tour. Can you imagine? You’re scanning the horizon for dorsal fins and BAM– giant afterbirth.
The skipper and the guests took a bunch of pictures because HELLO. WHALE PLACENTA.
According to a Facebook post from John Natoli of Blue Bay Whale Watching about the bonkers event, “this sight is so rare, that our skipper Mark, known to most as Roundy, has never seen this in 20 years on the seas, and I have never seen this in 15 years of whale watching.”
Some people might be a little grossed out by it. That’s fair. Birth is a messy process, and the aftermath isn’t a sight that everyone wants to dwell on.
But I think it’s fucking amazing! I mean, these humpback whale mamas are just out here in the damn ocean giving birth with no assistance. There’s no birth-partner whale holding their fin and telling them they’re doing a good job. No dolphin doula to help them meditate through the pain. They’re just on their own, creating life like it’s NBD. And then, when that’s done, they pop out this THREE-FOOT-WIDE placenta, and it just goes floating up to the surface like a giant, bloody birth announcement. “Hey World, I just gave birth to a thousand pound newborn up in this bitch. What did YOU do today?”
Whale mamas deserve a serious spa day.
If I’m being honest here, I never took one single second of a look at any of my three placentas. I had c-sections, and before we even entered the operating rooms, I signed the papers to donate the placenta to science. I don’t know what “science” planned to do with them, but I knew I was not going to be using them.
I’m not the make-a-tree-print-and-encapsulate-your-placenta kind of gal. High five if you’re that kind of earthy mama, but it just isn’t for me. I was happy to let someone use them for…I don’t know what. Something science-y.
But this whale placenta sighting is kind of making me wish I’d taken a peek! It’s fascinating! I don’t know why I never considered that when a marine mammal gives birth, there’s a gigantic placenta involved. I mean, I obviously knew that it existed, but I guess I figured sharks would gobble it up post haste? It would sink? I don’t know. Maybe that is what happens to most of them. I’m no expert. But I certainly didn’t think about the fact that I could sign up for a whale watching cruise and possibly just sail right by a whale placenta chilling on the surface.
Now I can add “see a whale placenta in person” to my list of weird-ass animal-related shit I hope to do before I die, right next to “see a moose crossing the road like my cousin did in 2010,” and “spend a morning snuggling with tons of baby ducks.” (Although, judging by how excited marine biologists seem to get when one of these things floats to the surface, it’s safe to assume that I will probably have better luck with the moose than the placenta.)
Anyway, this whale placenta probably fascinates me because I have kind of a soft spot for whale mamas.
It started a few years ago. Remember in 2018 when Tahlequah, the orca also known as J35, carried her dead calf around the waters of British Columbia for more than two weeks while she grieved? I had just suffered a devastating missed miscarriage. I carried that baby for three weeks waiting for my body to miscarry, but it never happened. I had to have a procedure to let her go. When I saw that whale mama carrying her baby through the waters just to have a little more time with her, I felt a connection to her. I understood that desire to hang on even though all hope is lost. Maybe moms of all species have a few little things in common.
Tahlequah and I both had living babies in 2020.
I’m not going to lie. I cried some happy tears when I heard that her baby had survived. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you should read about her. J35’s got living babies, she’s miscarried, grieved a baby who died shortly after birth, and even cared for her sister’s calves after she died. Tahlequah’s been through it, and she just fascinates me.
Now, in addition to my orca soft spot, I can add a serious appreciation for badass humpback mothers. Seeing the size of a whale placenta really drives home the size of their babies, although to be honest, when you figure that a humpback baby can be 10-15 feet long and weigh over 1,000 pounds, maybe the really amazing thing is that the placenta doesn’t have be even huger. That’s one giant baby.
You go, whale mamas. If I could, I’d give you a giant high five right on your badass fin.
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