Angela Cockayne

The Whale as Muse

Propensity for self-destruction

After I finally finished reading Melville’s profoundly prophetic, postmodern and brilliant Moby-Dick (which took three attempts) I was left with the after taste of our fallible propensity for self -destruction.   beware mix sm

I wake up daily to the news, and only this morning hear that Trump has been flying his military might again over the Pacific and fear that nothing has changed despite all our centennial memorials to horrific wars and heartbreaking testaments thinking how did we ever let this happen. Surely we must have learnt something??

Only yesterday I visited a beautiful stately home in Cornwall now part of our collective guilt as it is owned by the National Trust. Inside the mournful house and bucolic grounds I counted along with all the wide-eyed children worryingly doing their quiz activity- a tragic collection of endangered species;


Leopard skin rug x 1


Tiger skin x 2 (or was it 3  ask the children)

Polar Bear x1  (infant)


Moose x 1


Chough x4


Trophy heads and taxidermy a plenty. Even stuffed mice left in traps in the kitchen and servants quarters a curiosity for debate and spectacle.



On reading the supplied blurb of the ten children born to inherit the house, the son and heir also succumbed to the bullet and was also shot.. in WW1 and the younger brother never getting over this committed suicide at a later date leaving the stunning pile without an heir (as daughters non-eligible).

The house is sorrowful everywhere you look, beautiful and privileged sad-eyed children stare from their portraits- full potentials never realised. Glass-eyed Endangered Animals scattered in nurseries and lounges for them to play on a testament to our dominion.

Somethings have changed thankfully even the NH Museum no longer shoots and stuffs animals. World leaders might do well to think more like Moby-Dick rather than Ahab. Sperm Whales have the power to nuke each other with the sonic booms by which they hunt giant squid, but with no castles to defend for sixty million years they choose to live a more sociable existence despite our best efforts to annihilate them.

Warmongers likewise would do better to put down their toys and stop showing each other their nuclear might. The chosen few may sleep better at night knowing they have access to nuclear resistant jets, bunkers with shops, hairdressers, swimming pools and sufficient supplies. But they need to seriously consider the incomprehensibly significant consequences of potential nuclear or biological military action.

There will be no winners in the use of Weapons of mass destruction.
A nuclear or biological war would not just eradicate both ‘enemies’ and civilisation as we know it, but also the plants, pollinators, animals, and microorganisms that facilitate our existence – food, clean air and water.

Who would want to live on this earthly paradise without all creatures great and small that enable our very existence?.

Or perhaps the Sabre rattling and the chosen, have an unlimited supply of insects, bacteria, earthworms, plankton and pollinators in rich supply in their underground bunkers.. a grave prospect either way



Is it later than we think?

Scaring people about climate change does not work. My own brain shuts down at the  prospect of the earth slowly dying. Mother Nature is unwell due to our impact on the environment a fact we have known  for over 100 years but have failed to act upon. Pollution, climate change, habitat destruction, over-consumption caused by human population is having a radical impact on our environment and long-term future. Environmentalists are being assassinated – 97 campaigners so far in 2017  Global Witness. America pulls out of the Paris Accord !!? We fight perpetual wars over power  finance, and resources.

flukes and gynkos sm

Is it hopeless? – even worrying about the prospects of an uninhabitable earth, famines, economic collapse is paralysing. Our understanding dictates whether we reach for the cookie jar, bury our heads in the sand at the enormity, or choose to act responsibly.

“In pushing other species to extinction humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches” – Paul Ehrlich


tantalus sminv

Can humanity and nature be reconciled and work in unison and harmony – not against each other?. The sixth mass extinction may have begun but hopefully we are still within reach of turning the Imperialist vessel that has driven climate change around.

Accepting the damage we are doing is step one to transforming our environment for all our tomorrows. We must embrace the incredible opportunities – think and act long-term to become carbon neutral and employ best sustainable practice so that nature can begin to heal herself.






We have more in common with whales than zebras



Flippers, Pewter, Crayfish and Wool.

10,000 years of “civilisation” cannot offset several million years of evolution and hunter-gathering, perhaps we now live a life that is, in many ways, at odds with our genetic inheritance.

The call of the ocean has dominated much of my life, new scientific evidence suggests our hunter gathering, fishing, seafood craving and water gazing love of the ocean,  may be explained beyond a mere ‘yearning’ for the ocean. Evidence found suggests our early ancestors may have lived a semi-aquatic life in our evolutionary past and we have evolved from an aquatic ape. Archeologists have recently discovered fossil evidence to prove this theory known as the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis(AAH).

When people spend long periods of time in the water e.g. surfers a condition develops where a flap of skin forms to protect the inner ear from water known as ‘Surfers ear,’ evidence of this has recently been found in Neanderthal skulls. This and evidence of marine diets found in the archaeological sites of Homo Erectus may explain how our big brain developed through a shoreline diet and the adaptations required for a life aquatic . Scientists are now acknowledging that our bipedalism may also be associated with a semi-aquatic life rather than the Savanna Theory previously upheld.


Other conflicting factors that may suggest we may not have been designed to suit the Savanna Theory of a fomer existence  as once thought;

  • The development of a large brain like cetacean, undeniably is the main attribute to our success, evidence suggests development of a large brain requires iodine, magnesium, elements found in a shoreline diet of fish and shellfish.
  • (Dolphin 1.8kg                           Zebra 370 g                         Einstein 1.8kg)
  • Vernix a fatty substance on babies at birth also found on seal pups.
  • Babies have an innate ability to control their breathing and can swim underwater from birth and be born in water.
  • Fat babies enable buoyancy, a fat layer would restrict mobility and be a disadvantage in mobility re predation on land.
  • Permanent conspicuous breasts in females help buoyancy re carrying feeding off spring.
  • Difficult births and vaginal prolapses.
  • Sea births in coastal communities (prior to missionaries) children can dive and swim before they can walk.
  • Dive, Swim, float, wide shoulders for swimming.
  • Prone to dehydration, need regular water source.
  • Conscious control of breath found in diving animals and birds.
  • K species predictable environment, slow breeding immature dependent babies like whales and elephants.
  • Big nose but poor smell? Nostrils point down unlike other primates.
  • Bipedalism evolved before a large brain, advantage standing in water to consume a diet, which encourages brain growth.
  • Streamline hydrodynamic bodies, even fine hairs (more per square cm than a chimpanzee) are aligned to be streamline, apes are not.
  • No Fur like other Savanna mammals  ‘hairless’ more vulnerable to heat and temperature regulation.
  • Higher percentage of hemoglobin per cell than primates enables more oxygen for underwater breathing.
  • Bi-pedal,  primates only stand to walk through water.
  • Language, descended larynx like the walrus.
  • Man has comparatively poor location for a land mammal, slow and awkward an ostrich can run faster, easily caught by predatory species.
  • Sweat more than any Savanna mammal.
  • Primates have no body fat, limited language, they cannot voluntarily breathe, they have no vernix layer at birth.
  • Vestigial gills found in humans may be considered a birth defect but indicates a potential for development.
  • Darwin point on ear lobe suggest that a flap of skin could have been hinged to protect ears under water.
  • Coccyx suggests we may have at sometime in our past had a tail
  • Appendix related to the diet of a herbivore.

Elaine’s Morgan’s Butterfly


 Elainus Morganus 

September 2016  Elaine Morgan’s theory on the Aquatic Ape is finally recognised!

An unassuming paradigm shifting woman who swam upstream becomes posthumously mainstream. YAY!

‘Her’ butterfly made from a Gurnards fin, a Lambs tail and Crayfish antenna







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The US and China – together responsible for 40% of the world’s carbon emissions have both formally joined the Paris global climate agreement.

Incredibly Whale oil fuelled the first industrial revolution replaced by fossil fuels in the twentieth century. Hopefully now more clean renewable sustainable energy will reduce our Co2 emissions and may save the lowlands from flooding.

The Heart of the Sea

Ever since its publication in 1851, Moby Dick has sparked the imagination with its prophetic, digressive and dangerous themes. So much so, it eclipsed the true story the novel is based on. This story – that of a vengeful whale taking out a whaling ship – has now been adapted in true swash buckling style by Ron Howard, based on Nathaniel Philbrick’s maritime history book of the same name.

In 1819 the whale-ship Essex set sail from Nantucket. A year into the voyage, 2,000 nautical miles (3,700 km) west of South America, a pod of whales was sighted by the lookout. The harpoonists set out in their small cedar whale boats to reap their bounty. One boat – that of first mate Owen Chase – was smashed to pieces by a whale’s tail and returned to the Essex, whereupon according to Chase they saw “a large spermaceti whale about 85ft in length heading directly for them as if fired with revenge”. The whale struck the boat. Ramming the ship a second time, it was obvious that it would sink. The remaining crew of twenty men, thousands of miles from land, salvaged what supplies they could and set off in three small cedar boats.12 fishy men 72


Then ensued an incredible tale of maritime survival. The men spent over three months at sea and had to resort to cannibalism in order to survive. Captain Pollard and Charles Ramsdell survived in one boat and were discovered gnawing on the bones of their shipmates. In all, seven sailors were consumed. Owen Chase, Lawrence and Nickerson also survived to tell the tale.

Dead Men Dont Bite



While the Yankee whale men of Nantucket were at sea brutally harvesting whales, the first global commodity- illuminating and lubricating the Industrial Revolution, and generating vast fortunes, the Quaker women in their hours of domestic leisure, spent their time lace making. One of the many ‘by-products’ of a thriving whaling industry was its impact on community and family life. Away at sea for up to four years at time the wives of whale men on shore waiting for their loved ones to return also thrived, removed from the constraints of a subservient role in the family. Similar to women during wartime they became very independent and adept in managing both domestic, intellectual and community life.

Like Melville’s Moby-Dick, which followed on from hearing of the survivors account, The Heart of the Sea is a modern parable for our time. When confronted with nature on the scale of a “vengeful” whale we must ask of ourselves: why did a passively shy and intelligent creature attack the boat?

The relationship between humans and cetaceans has long been something of a paradox. We are drawn to their mystery and intelligence, in awe of their size and grace, yet we hunted many whales to near extinction. The most likely reason was not revenge but self-defense, or protection of their calves that where provocatively slaughtered to attract their oil rich mothers to their untimely demise.

Sperm whales are matriarchal; they form strong social groups, babysit and suckle each other’s calves and act collectively to protect their young.         If threatened several females will form what is know as a marguerite pattern (daisy) around a young whale in need of protection to fend off attack. Bull whales are solitary and leave the pod upon maturation returning only to mate.

There is a fifty percent that the whale that stove the boat was indeed a large female.Moby-Doll

For several years now the whale has been a recurring vessel to anchor my own work. In particular a white whale, the ambiguous, mythical  Moby- Dick, an association that has help me to unite my fascination with natural sciences, the rigours of visual culture and contemporary fine art practice. Moby-Dick is a shape shifter, as a work it hovers somewhere between natural history, philosophy, autobiography and fiction. A compendium of cetology, anthropology, obsession, prophesy, self-destruction and morality, it is saturated with both science and metaphor.

Rich pickings-the whale in both The Heart of the Sea and Moby-Dick is a charismatic beast; and seems to signify many contemporary themes – capitalism, religion, colonialism, and gender in her banishment, morality, ecology and racism. Digressive and allusive it prophesises our fallibility. The whale like the canary in the mine is an ecological barometer; in our pursuit and dominion over nature we expose our own flaws and vulnerability.

 The Heart of the Sea regenerates a mythical story. The whale not only embodies philosophical debate and critical commentary, but also is also an emblem, that serves as a barometer of our place in the world and dangers we encompass in our search of resources and our abuse of our environment.

no suicides +2 72


These unfortunate mariners in pursuit of whale oil – the first global commodity to fuel the industrial revolution – crossed the unutterable taboo of cannibalism (ironically, once stranded they voted against trying to head west to the nearest islands, the Marquesas, due to rumours of cannibalistic inhabitants). And while the good Quaker folk of Nantucket fought for the abolition of slavery, they also continued to pursue the noble domestication of the savages encountered on whaling voyages. Placing missionaries among cannibals they asked them to “eat” the flesh and drink the “blood” of a new god.



Our pursuit of the highly intelligent whale that has roamed the ocean for 60 million years, which we have persecuted, almost to extinction, says much about our own species. Sperm-whales are armed with powerful sonic radar capable of zapping giant squid at sixty paces, yet they appear to live in harmony with no walls or castles to defend, they rely on social cohesion. We have much to learn from their peaceful existence with our ongoing wars over ‘liquid gold’.

The whaling industry has been compared to genocide- over harvesting ‘natural resources’. The modern oil industry likewise exposes our climate to potential catastrophic global warming, and war. Like Ahab we seem to have a propensity to self-destruction.

Whale oil has lubricated our own voyage through an imagined and uncharted space that traverses land and sea, ocean floor to outer space. We engineer what we have yet to evolve, seeing into the unknown, as satellites, telescopes and submarines voyage into a void of freezing black enabled by the oil made from spermaceti, in pursuit of our quest for dominion of nature and resource.


Limited Editions For Sale

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Embrace the future

land sea air low res

Land Sea & Air

white house 100 new

White house

blue whale


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