Kiss a Whale -- And Lick Cancer?

(When Corinne Copnick, now an ordained rabbi, contemplated moving from Toronto to California, she sent a number of stories about her experiences back to The Jewish Tribune, a national Canadian newspaper, for which she had written a weekly column and other stories for several years. This true story was first published in 1998. She has made a few small changes here.)


The Whale Enjoyed it Too!

By Rabbi Corinne Copnick

The biblical Jonah didn’t know about it when he inhabited the belly of a whale, but kissing a whale can lead to an easy recovery from cancer surgery. It may not be in the medical text books, but that’s what Jane (not her real name)   believes. She is a retired Canadian businesswoman now living in coastal California.

The encounter between Jane and a young Pacific grey whale took place in the warm, salty waters of San Ignacio Lagoon on the western coast of Baja California. This area is the mating and birthing grounds of thousands of Pacific grey whales who divide their time between Baha and their feeding grounds near Alaska.

After their encounter – a friendly kiss — Jane, who teaches yoga, felt as if she had journeyed through a mystical experience. Apparently, the whale enjoyed her kiss too, and it may even have been partly the whale’s idea. Richman weighs a little over a hundred pounds. The whale weighs in at fifty times more.

“The young whale came right up to the boat, and his head came straight out of the water,” Jane recounted excitedly. “I leaned over and kissed him.” At the time, she was one of several dozen members of a whale-watching expedition sponsored by the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Diego.

Her husband (now late husband), Mark (not his real name), had arranged to take her on the whale-watching trip three days before her operation for thyroid cancer. Jane was dreading the operation because previous thyroid surgery had involved a very painful recovery. But after kissing the whale, she claims, both the surgery and the recovery were a breeze in comparison to her previous experience. She credits the awes-inspiring whale encounter with giving her such a positive feeling about life that it affected the aftermath of her surgery.

It is not only Jane who believes the whale kiss helped her lick cancer. Her husband felt the same way. In fact, he filmed his wife’s interaction with the whale, as well as another two hours of the whale-watching trip. The behavior of these “friendly” whales, he pointed out at the time, is particularly astonishing “when measured against the savage, bloody history of mankind’s interaction with the Pacific gray whale.”

It is not known exactly why whales in these protected lagoons actually seek out physical contact with humans. According to a report in California’s Westside News, “the young whales in particular swim right up to small boats, pop their heads out of the water, look around with eyes the size of baseballs, and then, like dogs wanting to be petted, nuzzle up to the boats and the outstretched hands of the humans aboard. They seem to enjoy the contact. With the mother keeping a watchful eye nearby, some of the young whales will frolic around the boats for half an hour or more. Sometimes the mother will even nudge her off-spring toward the boats, as if eager for the young whale to get a look at the strange creatures inside.”

Just in case you’re already reaching for your weathered copy of Moby Dick for a whale refresher, the story of Jonah, which traditionally we’ll be reading on Yom Kippur afternoon, is even more enthralling. When he got a long look at the inside of that strange creature, the whale, he underwent a complete spiritual overhaul. Just like Jane says she did when she shared a friendly kiss with a young whale on the west coast of Baja California. In that mystical moment, she understood the interconnectedness of all living creatures. She tickled the insides of the whale’s cheeks too, and he loved it.