If you go down to the seashore you will definitely see something dead. The little deaths commemorated by empty shells: crabs, snails, clams and oysters. The deaths of the finned and the feathered leaving tell-tale signs, fragments of skin, bone and flesh. The shore marks the space between sea and land, between this world and the next. The urge to stoop down and scoop up these fragments is overwhelming; beachcombing is a much-loved form of momento mori.
Occasionally, a spectacular death occurs. In 1987 we went to Nail Pond on the far eastern shore of Prince Edward Island to view the corpse of a beached 80-foot blue whale. This enormous rupture of the two worlds overwhelmed all our senses, including our sense of smell. It was decided to bury the whale. (The video of the attempt to bury her, can be seen here: http://youtu.be/830ccuIf9XI)
Two decades later, she was exhumed and her restored skeleton can now be seen on the campus of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, a post-mortem sea-to-shining-sea transport − beachcombing and grave robbing on a monumental scale.
This year on my annual pilgrimage to Prince Edward Island, my friends and I discovered a smaller, but no less intriguing death. On the shore near Little Pond on the western end of the Island, we discovered a 6-foot long skeleton.
Photo by Ken Monteith @ken_monteith
Debate instantly raged as to what type of creature it had been in life. Was it a seal? It didn’t appear to have a rounded rib cage, or the distinctively human-looking skeletal structure of flippers. Was it a halibut? Its eyes appeared to be pointed up. Was it a giant eel? A dragon? A survivor from an alien ship that crashed offshore who had crawled ashore to die on a strange, inhospitable world?
Not all deaths are easily identifiable and most go completely unremarked, so at least this creature, whatever it may have been, has had its passing noted.