The Queen of Cups: What I learned from the Humpbacks

A humpback whale gliding just under the surface of the water. Photo by Monica Stark.

I stood breathless on the bow of the boat. Sunlight glimmered off the surface of the Bay; the only sound the slap of small waves on the hull. Behind me on deck, twenty-odd people also waited with bated breath, expectant. I strained to see beyond the flashes of reflected sunlight – molten silver and gold on dark verdigris. Then there she was – a massive shadow the length of the boat rising through the water. She turned slightly as she rose so the first part of her to silently break the surface was the side of her face. I was looking down into a dinner-plate sized eye – so close I could have reached out to touch her. For a long moment we gazed at each other, a moment that seemed to stretch to eternity. Looking into that huge eye, I was overwhelmed with a sense of incredible intelligence, peace, and gentleness. A wisdom deeper than any ocean. We gazed in each other’s eyes, then she turned back upright, flexed her tail once, and swam on.

It really is hard to describe the magic of living at the mouth of the Bay of Fundy. We experience the highest tides in the world, full four-season splendour, and share the land, sea, and air with a multitude of creatures from the largest animals to some of the smallest. I grew up here and after some time away for education I returned to my Island as an adult with a fresh new appreciation for the wonders here.

For three summers after I returned to the Island, I worked as a naturalist guide on a whale watching excursion boat. It really was the most amazing job – the kind of job I couldn’t really believe I got paid to do. We sailed three times a day for a 3 – 4 hour trip each, out into the Bay to observe the many species of whales, dolphins, and pelagic birds. By far my favorite encounter was always with the humpback whales, Megaptera novangliae

Watchers – of the human and cetacean variety.


Humpbacks are really the stars of the show when whale watching. I swear they observe us as much as we observe them. They also are the biggest show offs – flipper slapping, tail-lobbing, spy-hopping (bringing their head vertically out of the water to see with both eyes above the surface) – even breaching (which is when they launch themselves fully out of the water). The humpbacks in the Bay of Fundy are here for the summer only – their winters are spent off the Dominican Republic where they mate and calve. There is little food in the Southern waters for them, so they fast while there. Then every spring they make the long journey (about 2,500 km) to the nutrient-rich waters of the Bay of Fundy, where they spend the summer gorging themselves on krill, plankton, and small schooling fish like herring. Humpback whales are each identifiable by the white marking on the undersides of their tail flukes, and years of observation means that we are able to recognize individual whales that return year after year, so they become like old friends. Sometimes females return with a calf, born in Southern waters, and we are able to observe the calf nursing exclusively at the beginning of the summer, then watch as Mom weans the baby, teaching hir how to hunt for hirself. We’ve watched generations of whales return here to their summer home.

Perhaps it’s my moon in Pisces, but I have always felt a special connection with the humpback whale. Being close to them in nature was always like a religious experience for me. I have also had numerous important dreams of them, and I consider them a strong ally in my life.

A rare shot of two whales breaching at the same time. Photo by my 12 year old cousin Arlin Down.

The main lesson I have learned in working with humpback whales is grace while moving through emotions. The element of water is representative of the Unconcious, of our emotions. Despite their massive size (up to 40 feet and 40 tons for a humpback), a whale’s movements are fluid and graceful. They are not afraid to plumb the depths of the oceans with it’s crushing pressure (so like the depths of depression with it’s own crushing pressure). They immerse themselves in it and move with ease through it, and always return to the surface for their next breath. There are many theories as to why whales breach, but if you observe it, it’s hard not to believe that it’s being done for the sheer joy of it. Seeing a 40 ton creature airborne, even for a few seconds is a a magical experience. Whales are a reminder to me to explore my emotions – to bravely swim thorough them, immerse myself in them – and also a reminder that while exploring the depths, to come up for air every once in a while.

Humpback whales carry a lesson in conservation of energy. As I mentioned, they fast for half the year, so to survive they build up blubber reserves. They also conserve their breath while diving, and are able to re-route oxegenated blood away from non-essential areas of their body. As a maker, I have incorporated this lesson by learning ways to conserve my creative energy.

Of course, humpbacks are also famous for their song. It is only the males who sing during mating, and the song varies by population and by year. Their songs are continually evolving, changing, shifting, and so they are teachers of creativity.

"The Spiral Dance" is a  mixed media painting I did representing the bubble net feeding process.
“The Spiral Dance” is a mixed media painting I did representing the bubble net feeding process.

One of their methods of hunting small schooling fish is to spiral up around a school while blowing a steady stream of small bubbles. the bubbles circle the school and the fish perceive them as a net around them, so they bunch up closer together. Then the whale swims through the “net” and school with mouth open, scooping the fish up in hir great mouth. Creating something from nothing, a net from mere air, as a method of survival is an act of creativity and ingenuity.

Humpbacks are the epitome of the Queen of Cups in tarot – she represents emotional awareness, nurturance, creativity, and intuition. Drawing the Queen of Cups in a reading can be an invitation to turn inward and examine your feelings, to plunge into your own emotional depths and explore, with gentleness and grace.


Posted by

artist, tarotist, creatrix, woods-walker, swamp-tramper, island dweller, part-time mermaid, moongazer, rubber boot mystic

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s