The Suffering Stranded (Disturbing Content Warning: Animal Deaths and Decomposition)
A Pilot Stranded On An Island In The Bermuda Triangle Finds He Isn't The Only One Stuck On The Island
Charlie looked up at the sun shining so brightly overhead, desperate for the sight of a plane.
Days before - less than a week, he figured - he'd lost bearing while flying his small plane over the notorious Bermuda Triangle. His plane had gone down in the shallows just off the small, tropical island; there had been no place to properly land on the shoreline then. He'd been stranded, alone, without radio or proper supplies, ever since.
Seeing and hearing no plane approaching, Charlie sighed, turning his gaze to the endless expanse of ocean shimmering before him. At least the weather had been warm and favorable so far. Too soon, though, tropical storms would begin passing through the area.
Realizing he was in for another long night on the beach, he bundled up in whatever bits and pieces he had salvaged from the plane. Few pieces had been in good condition when he'd first been stranded, and the salt winds had already dealt more damage to them. Still, it was all Charlie had to work with. Closing his fingers around the necklace his late wife had given him for their last Christmas together, he soothed himself with the familiar feel of the pewter compass pendant. He fell into a fitful slumber, unable to block out the loudness of the nearby crashing waves.
Sometime in the middle of the night, Charlie awoke with a jolt. He couldn't place just what had woken him: was it a sound or a feeling? He could have sworn he felt a slight, physical jolt, as though the island itself had heaved. It was a strange sensation, but quickly forgotten and overridden by Charlie's need for more sleep, and he returned to his slumber without another incident.
The next day, Charlie began his daily scouting of the island beaches for anything useful that may have washed ashore. He kept replaying the strange, distantly low sounds he'd thought he'd heard in the night accompanying and following the weird sensation of moving, trying to make sense of them or identify them. But he couldn't quite identify them, much to his frustration.
As he followed a natural curve of the island, he noticed something large and black against the sand. Several large somethings, he realized, though he still couldn't tell what they were from that angle. They were largely smooth and huge. Large marks in the sand indicated that they had come from the sea, dragging along the sand to disrupt it.
He was nearly upon them before he realized what he was looking at; several dozen orca, stranded on the beach. The strange sounds he'd heard in the night suddenly made sense - they must have been the distressed cries of the killer whales as they became stuck on the island sands. Charlie's heart sank as he took in the sight, searching for signs of life among the colossal creatures. If he was right that the sounds he'd heard were these animals, they had been stranded for a significant amount of time already. It wasn't uncommon for such large creatures - used to their bodies being supported by dense water - to suffer crushed organs or suffocate under their own weight when beached.
Looking over the animals, Charlie shook his head. Blood trickled from the heads of some of the animals, a tell-tale sign of trauma from military sonar. For over 20 years, it had been suspected - and often shown - that navy sonar negatively affected whales and dolphins. To the point that the animals would often beach themselves and perish on the coasts. Necropsies had shown damage done by the sonar blasts to the brains of the animals, while others were rendered deaf by the long bouts of tremendous sound generated by military actions.
Not that the military cared how much destruction they caused so long as human lives weren't at risk... So what if hundreds of endangered whales died each year in mass strandings in areas sonar testing was being done? It made Charlie feel sick; they may not be human lives, but the military was still trading lives.
Upon investigation, only one orca stranded on the beach was still alive. It was a younger animal, and as such was smaller; it wasn't being crushed under its own weight as quickly as the others. Charlie imgined this was both a blessing and a curse. On one side, the animal was still alive. On the other hand, its discomfort was already more drawn out than the rest of its deceased pod. The animal let out a soft blow of air from its blowhole and emitted a strange, alien noise Charlie has never heard. Perhaps it was because whale calls are usually only heard underwater, but the sounds above water were strange and a bit frightening.
The creature sounded absolutely in distress, and it tried weakly to move itself with pectoral fins and fluke. Judging by all the wet, displaced sand around it, it had been tirelessly attempting to free itself from the beach for some time. Others had as well, though the dryer sand near them added to Charlie's theory that they had passed some time ago.
Though smaller than the others, the live orca was still nearly 15 feet long and weighed thousands of pounds; there was no way Charlie, by himself, would be able to move the creature. It was already angled nearly parallel with the shore with the tide pulled out low. The killer whale was going nowhere.
All Charlie could do was watch.
The orca stared back. The pleading in the animal's eyes was heart-wrenching, and Charlie comforted himself by again running his fingers over the pendant around his neck. Charlie wished he could speak to the animal. Tell it he was sorry, but he couldn't help. Or maybe just offer it words of comfort. It hurt that he couldn't offer verbal comfort.
He offered quiet comfort instead.
As the orca continued to weaken, Charlie did step forth. Mindful of the sharp teeth and fearing the animal would grow frustrated at his lack of actual help, Charlie slowly leaned against one side of the creature, running his hands over its side. He couldn't move the animal. He couldn't save it. But he could offer it the comfort of his companionship - to help guide it into the gentle darkness of oblivion.
He stayed with the orca well into the night, petting it as his heart broke with every attempt it made to free itself. Its efforts redoubled when the high tide came, but even then the water did not reach it; it had come too far ashore trying to get away from the noise it and its family had been subjected to.
In the early hours, before dawn, the orca took its last, slow breath. Charlie left the body to sit on a fallen log nearby, and there he sat until dawn had come. Sad and tired, he made his way back to his structure of salvage, and there he slept the better part of the day away.
The following day, he returned to the beach, more out of morbid curiosity and boredom than anything. Sea birds were already picking at the carcasses, though many of them couldn't get far into the bodies. He made peace with the fact that the whale he had stayed by had passed too; it wouldn't have done well on its own, without the pod. Orca are very social creatures, Charlie knew. He was, however, a bit surprised to even find orca in the Bermuda Triangle. While he knew some pods did live around warmer waters, he was more used to the idea of the orca as cold water hunters, swimming beneath the aurora borealis in icy Alaskan waters. It made this mass stranding event all the more sad; that these animals had died in such fashion on an island most humans would think a lovely vacation spot amid white sand and palm trees. Their colossal corpses lay in sharp contrast in stark black and white against the shimmering rainbow backdrop of tranquil tropical waters.
Charlie left the beach that day in awe of the depth of sadness these deaths had on him. He wouldn't return for a week.
When he did venture to the stranding event again, it was with the hopes that maybe someone had taken notice of the carcasses left on the beach. While uninhabited, the island he was on was clearly close enough to military exercises for marine life to be affected by tests; perhaps someone would see the dead orca and come to investigate. He only hoped someone hadn't already come by and he'd missed his chance.
Returning to the mass stranding, Charlie was met with an unimaginable scene. As he surveyed it, the carnage made sense, but it was still a frightening sight to behold.
The whales had begun exploding.
Since no creatures on the shore were able to dig deep into the corpses, gas buildup had forced the bodies to bloat - and split. The resulting expulsion resulted in explosions of orca.
"What's black and white and red all over?" Charlie muttered to himself sourly. What a horrific sight...
But then, Charlie saw a most welcome sight; a low-flying plane coming at him from the horizon.
He was right in his assumption that someone nearby would see the carcasses out of place on the beach and come to investigate. He was happy it wasn't the military after seeing the suffering of the killer whales after their encounter with presumed sonar experiments, but rather another small-plane owner taking his plane out in the Bermuda Triangle. Curious, he had come to see what was strewn about on the shore, and there he found Charlie.
Before leaving the island, Charlie approached the carcass of the orca he had once comforted. In some cultures, orca were the spirits of ancestors, worthy of the upmost respect. Charlie, at the least, felt a connection with the animal. Gripping the compass pendant one more time, his laid a gentle kiss on it for his late Jean's memory, then hung the necklace from one of the orca's teeth.
About the Creator
A fun spin on her last name, Baker enjoys creating "Baker's Dozen" lists for various topics, several of which have earned Top Story honors on Vocal.media! However, she also writes candidly about her mental health and a LOT of fiction.
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