Squeeeak … Thwop … Thwop… whoop … whoop … whoop … Dwooooooerp! … Dwooooooerp!
Just some of the sounds that you might hear if you were deep underwater, far out in the ocean or even close to the South West coast of Ireland.
Humpback whales make loud and spectacular sound patterns that are repeated just as we would a favourite song. Finn’s First Song is about the adventures of a baby humpback who, after becoming lost, learns to sing and reunites with his mum.
What life is actually like beneath the surface of the water is a mystery to most of us and captivates us from a very young age. In school we learn that a whale is the largest creature on the planet, that blue whales are even bigger than dinosaurs, with a beating heart as big as a small car!
A few years ago I heard that several whale species visit the Irish coast every year, and I was eager to know more. I had painted several scenes with humpback whales in my first picture book Where Are You, Puffling? and soon found a tiny little fish of an idea starting to surface for a new story.
I wondered when a whale might start to assemble all these gurgles and grunts into complex patterns. Songs can last over twenty minutes, which the whales memorise, then repeat to each other over vast distances. The reasons for these performances are still unknown, but the songs may be used during courtship, to establish position, or simply say ‘Hey, there’s loads of food over this way… let’s party!’ I started to imagine a young whale singing his first song.
The distances that whale song will travel reminded me of when we make a phone call to a loved one who is far away, and how for that short while, they can feel a little closer. Something we’re all so used to, but for whales, hearing the sounds of others may be just as reassuring.
In the story, there are several sea creatures that help Finn learn about different ways to communicate. It was great fun to imagine how he would react to each one. I hope the story intrigues young readers and encourages lots of joining in with the sounds of the whale song. Perhaps one day they might be lucky enough to see the awe-inspiring sight of a real live whale splashing the biggest splash.
Finn’s First Song by Gerry Daly is published on 22nd February 2021 by The O’Brien Press.
GERRY DALY is a children’s author and illustrator living by the beautiful sea in Dublin. He hasn’t seen any whales from his window, but saw many off the coast of West Cork. His previous books include the best-selling Where Are You, Puffling? and Wee Donkey’s Treasure Hunt, both written by Erika McGann and also published by The O’Brien Press. He loves to paint birds and animals, from the tiniest to the biggest of them all.