The Wonderment of Whales


Humans and whales have shared the same planet for approximately two hundred thousand years. Yet fewer than one millionth of 1% of the human population will ever experience physical contact with these majestic creatures. Even less have done so while in the waters and on the whale’s terms. 

However, my most recent artistic journey took me to do just that. I traveled half way across the world to meet the beautiful people of Tonga, to explore a culture filled with mysterious artistic tradition, and to swim alongside the great humpback whales during their migration. 


I continue to be filled with the deepest feelings of awe and gratitude to have had transcendent encounters with these magnificent guardians of the deep. Having an opportunity to interact with whales who chose to engage me out of their own curiosity and free will was both profound and transformative.

Through the sharing of this post and by creating art inspired by these encounters, I look to begin my contribution to the visibility, awareness and restorative efforts for not only whales but the ocean they live in - in any way possible. 

After all, one of the most meaningful aspects of being an artist, is the ability to bring attention to parts of our world that could greatly benefit from our conscious care. 

Art helps to visually combat “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that can lead to neglect. Art instead opens our eyes to the kind of energy, emotion, connection, and intensity that allows for personal shifts in perception. Potentially moving us from complacency or ambivalence to compassion and understanding. 


Several years ago, I woke up completely mystified by an vivid dream I had. In the dream I was swimming in the ocean. The water held the most phenomenal shades and hues, some as brilliant or iridescent as precious stones. Imagine liquid diamonds soaking in layers of sapphire waters holding up endless clusters of opalescent bubbles allowing some light to gently fall through.  While looking at the colors, I calmly but pensively began to sense the presence of giant whales all around and under me. As my head began to submerge past the rippled surface, I opened my eyes and I could see my arms stretched out before me with hands moving back and forth in circles. What I remember most however, is that everywhere I looked I could see the scenery with such incredible detail. Every single bubble was unmistakably present with me and mattered. I could see each speckle of sea debris floating past my eyes perfectly. I was concentrating on each breath, and it all looked as real as the room I am sitting in right now.

So, months ago when a deeply respected and dear friend of mine brought to my attention the people of Tonga and an opportunity to experience swimming with the great humpback whales - I was ALL IN. Immediately. 


As I was racing to get to the side of the boat with various commotion all around me in preparation for the dive, I looked back for the first time on the events that led me to this exact moment. The short version of how I ended up jumping off a boat into unfamiliar waters with no prior experience would be the following:

  1. The knowing that all time is limited. My time is limited.
  2. The desire to genuinely explore, connect and protect the mysterious world we live in.
  3. To become deeply inspired and in turn create art that can inspire others.
  4. To use art as a meaningful resource to bring visibility and awareness - where advocacy is needed.

For me this moment seemed to embody all the makings for the perfect storm for awe-chasing and artistic growth. After plunging into the water all I could see were the bubbles and splashing. Drifting lower beneath the surface everything began to look eerily just like my dream… I could see the incredibly large shapes in the water and all of the hues. My eyes began to focus finally - and I could now see that I was floating only feet above three incredibly enormous and majestic whales. Here I was floating above their perfect giant sculpture… all looking up at me so sweetly. I had no idea how much I would be moved based on the mutual trust that took place during these encounters.


When I was in elementary school I wanted to be a marine biologist, dolphins seemed as magical as unicorns to me. By 4th grade I had already written the president informing him of my tremendous concern regarding whale poaching. Now given my dorky circumstances a.k.a. metal tube in my eardrum, I accepted that becoming a marine biologist would never be a feasible career choice for me. But here I was years later all metal tubes aside… in their water home, and they were right in front of my eyes!


In the days of diving there was one in particular where the water seemed a bit murkier, it felt as if you were swimming through an ocean with a secret herd of “ghost whales”. You could barely make out their tails and outlines as they made their way past you or under you. Seemingly out of all directions, all of a sudden the water was filled with their beautiful songs! Later on I saw a baby with its mom rolling and playing. Truly a sight to behold. I wondered why my mouthpiece felt funny. It was from smiling! It's almost impossible to describe the pure, raw joy and other-worldliness. The mother seemed to look at me and I can only hope that I was able to communicate how grateful I was to be in her “water home”, to somehow express this great privilege of being in their presence. In my whole life I never thought I would ever get the chance to be there with her… It is a grace I will recall for the rest of my life.

In one moment I would fixate on a single eye… how could any artist ever capture all of the fine detail and subtle changes, to effectively portray the whale’s iris’ and pupils filled with such a wise old soul. The next moment one whale gracefully gliding within five feet or so, would arch his body effortlessly veering away from me at the last moment. How enchanting is every mark on their skin I thought to myself over and over again. The musculature move and flex over the frame of his body so robust as he prepared to power down his fluke one more time. 


These are moments that I hope to capture in my memory and in my art… such a beautiful creature allowing me a moment of quiet tranquil grace. I wish for this encounter to transfuse my art and reach audiences who may have had no reason to be moved by whales or their plight. Experience transforms how we perceive the world around us. I saw clearly what has often gone missing in so much of what most people see in whale imagery - it is intimate moments like these when whales are present and engaged on their own terms that reveal the calm, mindful and peaceful spirit of a whale.


For years I’ve explored ways to use art as a resource that can facilitate emotional connection and positive change on the planet. This has been quiet but important work. I KNOW already I will spend a good amount of waking hours working to return to this elusive place for further study. 

For now with paintbrush in hand, these photographs and memories become a potential nexus point from which change is possible. Perhaps it is painfully naive to even try to compose work that re-creates a fraction of the sensations I felt while spending time with the whales. By bringing these visions forth from my head and heart onto canvas, I will begin to forge an artistic path making direct contribution. Every moment in the water was a visual and visceral treasure. Had I not realized…or should I say had they not let me, float above them at times - the inspiration would have been different and certain paintings in this series could not exist. It was their gift to me and I intend to give it back and then some.

Sarah Raskey