Thursday, September 20, 2007

A seal and a sledgehammer

February 2001, Denmark Strait

The seals lie in rows on the steel deck, dead. Their blood congeals, freezes into pools, dark red ice between the bodies. They're a mix, harps and hoods. Mostly small, juveniles – young hoods in two-tone, blue-gray backs, cream bellies; harps in greys and dark speckles. But some larger bodies are arriving, adults - almost all harps.

A warning - expletives and gore follow.

The crane's motor whirs, the cage appears, lifting, the crewman inside with another corpse, impaled on the spike of his hakapik. The cage swings toward us, descends, angles towards the stern, the end of the lines of bodies. There's a thump as the crewman kicks the corpse off the hakapik, the new addition drops those final feet. It lies on the deck, bleeding. The crane's already whirring again, the cage lifting, swinging, the crewman bound for the ice once more.

A seal lies on her back, skinned, slit open, dead. I cut through her abdominal muscles, reach inside with my rubber-gloved hands, move entrails. Hold her stomach, slice it out from the rest of her digestive tract, drop the lump to the clear plastic bag that Lotta's holding open. Scrabble a little more through entrails, sloppy, stinking, find the large intestine. Trace it back from her anus. Hold both ends again, two cuts, the end of her gut - about a foot long - drops into another bag Lotta has ready. She makes some notes in black marker. I move entrails aside once more, find the seal's ovaries tucked against muscle wall. Two more quick slices, another plastic bag, we're done.

Now her jaw. I pick up the boltcutters lying where I'd left them last, the gap where I'd dissected the last seal. At least I can stand, give my back a rest. I prise her mouth open, set the jaws of the cutter back as far as I can on her lower jaw, right back where mandible meets cranium. Stand, squeeze in on the handles of the boltcutter. Finally, a crack, bone breaks. I repeat, cut the other side, and her lower jaw comes off. Another plastic bag, and her jaw – with teeth, from which we'll be able to tell her age – is labelled to match the other chunks of her body that we're saving.

I drag what remains of her skinned, eviscerated body towards the stern, to join the growing pile of bloody leftovers there. There are small chunks of muscle, guts lying around, freezing solid, everywhere. She's adult, so no-one will come for her meat, as they do the pups. I walk the few steps back, past the growing lines of dead seals. A couple of dozen now.

We've found a patch of several dozens - possibly hundreds – of seals on the ice, and finally, we're working hard. I hear another crack, as either Kjell or Bjørn pots another seal. I walk past one with a neck wound. With so many seals around, Kjell's now using his semi-automatic .308. Seems it's not as accurate as his bolt-action rifle – or Bjørn's – as the seals haven't all been shot in the head. Some are turning up with neck or chest shots, the occasional one with two bullet holes where Kjell's put a second round into them, to make sure.

Next one.

I bend over, tap the knuckle of my index finger on its eye – the blink test. Adult male, by his broader, chocolate brown head. No blink, he's dead. The crewman is supposed to do this when he first gets to them, on the ice, but my gut tells me he's not. Lotta has the tape, we measure length. Girth measure next, so I have to roll the seal over. Today's been almost all harps, some over 300 pounds, and I'm tiring. With a steel ruler, I measure the thickness of his blubber.

I bend down, pick up my knife. In my peripheral vision, I see Jim walking the rows of seals, shaking his head. He stops, shouts, “Hey, this one's not dead”.

I get up, walk over. It's happened before – seals appearing to breathe after they're already dead - something to do with their diving behaviour. It's why I always blink-test every corpse.

Jim isn't a marine mammal biologist – he's along to study the proteins that stop ice-dwelling fishes' blood from freezing. No-one had warned him about the seal killing.

He's right. A adult female harp seal is lying in the middle of a row, chest shuddering. She's older – the tan-brown, curved V patterned on her back shows clearly - the harp that gives these seals their name. Neck wound. It certainly looks like she's breathing. I bend over, blink-test her, and she blinks. I look up at Jim who's standing above me, arms folded.

“Yeah, she's alive.”. Jim shakes his head, glares.

I look around. There's a sledgehammer leaning against a wall, by the edge of the trawl deck. I walk over to get it.

Fuck. How long has she been lying there? Half an hour? An hour? More? Fuck. Isn't that dickhead supposed to do this BEFORE they come on board?

I grab the sledgehammer, walk back. Jim steps away. I meet his eyes, shake my head. I position myself, think about my aim, swing. My first blow's slightly off, hits the seal where her braincase meets her muzzle. A few chunks of skin and bone mulch into the steel deck. Frontal lobe peeks through.

Fuck. Quickly, poor thing.

I swing hard, hit true. The bone of her skull splinters under the hammer, revealing brain, light grey jelly. Again, to make sure. The next hit slams through what's left of the top of her skull. All of her brain now lies, open, mush on the deck.

Still holding the sledgehammer, I bend down, looking to blink test again. Some of her eye isn't splattered, I tap it. No response. I tap again, watching her chest. She's dead.

I stand. Look around. Everyone's watching, curious. I breathe out, put the sledgehammer back where I found it. No-one speaks.

I return to skinning.

Post continues here

1 comment:

Miriam Godet said...

DIANTE DE TANTO SOFRIMENTO E INDIFERENÇA COM A NATUREZA E OS SERES QUE A COMPÕEM, SEMPRE ME PERGUNTO: COMO TENHO FORÇAS PARA SORRIR? DE ONDE VEM TANTA ENERGIA PARA CONTINUAR VIVENDO NESSA GUERRA DE SENTIMENTOS?

SE NÃO ESTOU CHORANDO, FICO EM SILENCIO, E DA MINHA DOR, NINGUEM SE IMPORTA? O QUE FAREI? SOU INCAPAZ, SOU IMPOTENTE, SOU INSIGNIFICANTE.

DA MINHA ANGUSTIA O QUE PODE PRODUZIR? SÃO TANTOS OS PERVERSOS E TÃO POUCOS OS QUE SE IMPORTAM COM A DESTRUIÇÃO!

AI MEU DEUS!
DE ONDE VEM TANTAS LÁGRIMAS, POR QUE ELAS NÃO SECAM, DE ONDE VEM ESSA FONTE, QUE JORRA SEM PARAR?

O INSENSATO SÓ SABE DESTRUIR, QUANDO O SÁBIO POUCO CONSTROI.

AI MEU DEUS, EU NÃO SABIA QUE O MUNDO ERA ASSIM!