“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, androgenes and humanes … gather in, gather in … distinguished guests, presslords, Your Majesty. Welcome one and all to London, and to OceanWorld. It is my great honour to be standing before you all this evening for the grand launch of our latest exhibition. I cannot express to you how excited I … how excited we all are about this momentous occasion. Thank you, thank you.
“Tonight, behind this curtain, you will witness the astonishing accomplishment of a vast team of talented and dedicated individuals far too numerous to list by name… but we love each and every one of you, of course! They include the finest minds in the fields of marine science, oceanography, conservation, bioengineering, museum curation… Jane and Teisha down at the front there…, neurology, tank construction, metallurgy, animal welfare, cetology and, of course, curtain design… look at the size of that thing!
“But the real star of the show is not the people. It’s not the scientists and engineers…or your handsome presenter. It’s not the people who have worked around the clock to make this happen. The real star of this show is Moby. Not, of course, the bald light-listening musician, rest his soul. A different Moby. Someone altogether larger and very much still with us.
“Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. People of the glorious human race. It is my overwhelming honour to say these words. Step right up and… Come and See the Whale!
“No flash photography please, no flashes. Thank you. Feel free to tweet, our hashtag is #MobyWhale.
“Say hello to Moby. Moby is an adult male Physester macrocephalus. A sperm whale in the very prime of his life. We think he’s around 45 years old, born in the early 2000s. He is considerably larger than the average male sperm whale at 63ft but, as you can see, fits comfortably in our very special tank…more on the tank in a moment. I’ll let you take all this in first.
“Rest assured ladies and gentlemen, this is absolutely a real life whale. This is not an optical trick; this is not animatronics or CGI. This is a genuine, living, blubber-and-bone sperm whale caught in the Atlantic, about 800 miles due east from Nantucket. You can see there the flukes of the tail pushing through the waters, and at the other end; he’s opening his lower jaw… saying hello, look! We’re hoping that soon he will show signs of needing to surface and we might be lucky enough to see the blowhole in action. He’s real, my friends, he’s a real whale.
“And OK I can hear some murmurs at the back there, some questions. Yes, I’m sure you all have questions, but please allow me to explain. All is not quite what it seems.
“Moby is here with us now, suspended in the carefully-treated waters of our reinforced tank. The glass is a palladium-graphene compound latticed throughout with a filigree titanium mesh… too fine to see with the naked eye, but ultra-strong. We think perhaps it is the strongest glass ever produced; a nuclear warhead wouldn’t shatter it. And the water inside the tank is mineralised and heavy-laden to mimic the depths, pressure, temperature and temperament of the Atlantic Ocean. Moby is suspended within these waters, which are replenished daily and continually monitored, but he is very much held in place.
“Please madam yes, yes; let me explain. You see Moby is here, physically, with us in this tank, in this room, in OceanWorld, in London. But mentally, he is not here. Mentally, he is in his own home, 800 miles off the coast of Nantucket. Simeon, if you please.
“We will grant access to the walkways in due course but for now, ladies and gentlemen, please refer to the screens above your heads, or log in to the app on your tablets for the live feed. Here we go. So, this image shows Moby’s head from above through the open top of the tank. The great grey mass here is Moby; this circle here is his blowhole. But as you can see…if we zoom in a little…here we go. You can see here…and here…these lines that lead from his head and out of shot, out of the tank. Here we are; five of them…a sixth there.
“And if we lift up…thank you Simeon…and away from the tank, following the cables, up and up, what do we find on the end…? Our puppeteers! Give us a wave guys! Now, this here is the real genius of the operation. This is what allows us to take one of the largest creatures on Earth from the depths of his home and place him in a tank for your viewing pleasure. These fine specimens on the computers are our core team of VR developers and programmers. They have, through some sort of magical computer wizardry that I certainly don’t claim to understand, encoded a whole and very real world for Moby. These wires, grafted harmlessly into key sensory areas of his brain, feed Moby with his very own Atlantic Ocean.
“Simeon, please show us what Moby can see… there we are. Home. A vast, endless aquatic world, every bit as real to Moby as his life before he came here. To Moby there is no here, there is only there. Our developers have designed a world of such incredible detail that it is virtually indistinguishable from real life itself, especially for a whale who knows no different. Our core clusters of nodes are attached to various trigger points across the thalamus of Moby’s brain where they feed sensory data to the optic nerve, the olfactory system and the pyramidal tract. This enables us to process Moby’s version of reality to his eyes, his nasal passage, and his spinal cord and so on. To mimic the sperm whale’s particular talent for echolocation we’ve rigged a highly advanced sonar system into the eastern end of the tank in the direction Moby faces. This is SELIT, or the Spatial EchoLocate Interwave Terminus. Moby sends his calls to SELIT and SELIT sends the echo back, based on what is ahead of him in the virtual Atlantic. And, if that is another whale, well then SELIT sends a call right on back. We’ll do you a demonstration at the end of the tour and you’ll be able to hear…and feel…it for yourselves, all being well.
“To all intents and purposes Moby entirely believes he is swimming through the Atlantic Ocean. At regular intervals throughout the day Moby is ‘successful’ in hunting plankton from the seabed and we wash real plankton through our filters to keep him fed… and that is an awful lot of plankton, but we’ve got it under control. Of course, the sperm whale is the largest predator in the world so Moby can’t survive on plankton alone. We serve up regular dishes of squid and ray, but only when he’s been successful hunting them in his world. Again, we have a demonstration lined up later.
“It is our belief, and we hope you’ll share this, that Moby is actually better off here with us than he would be out in the wilds. Here there is never any danger of him being hunted by man for his bones or his oils. Nor will he feel the effects of a poisoned sea as we continue to choke our oceans with plastic waste and chemicals. And not only is this great for Moby, it’s an incredible opportunity for our scientists. Here at OceanWorld, with your kindly donations and sponsorships, the leading cetologists can get up close and personal with a sperm whale like never before. There are still so many mysteries surrounding the sperm whale and his brethren, simply because they are so damn hard to get close to for any length of time. Here with us; scientists, thinkers, artists… they have all the time in the world to be with Moby. As do you. Here at OceanWorld we are dedicated to our free entry… we only ask for donations and monthly direct debits if you can afford them. Anything you can spare will go directly to Moby; directly to this magnificent, world-leading and living exhibition of scientific research.
“And, we can say with the fullness of confidence that Moby, himself, is happy. Never before in the history of captivity could we ever truly say that the animal in the cage, or the tank, or the enclosure was completely happy. Not completely. Now we can say that. Moby has his life and we have Moby. This moment, my companions, could be one of the most significant advances in the history of animal welfare and animal science… in the history of science full stop.
“And!… well, I’m not supposed to tell you this but… ok, Jane is nodding. Moby is but the first. In our New York branch work has started already on a tank twice this size and our next prize is a fully-grown adult blue whale, the largest creature on Earth. We’ve already got a few candidates identified. And from there; who knows? A great white shark? A giant squid? The possibilities are endless. We have the technology but, more importantly, we have the passion. We have the vision.
“Moby swims into his future and leads us with him. No more is this magnificent beast enslaved to the whims and ways of we frivolous human beings. He is the essence of freedom, an emblem of a brighter tomorrow for both his kind, and mankind. The possibilities of this technology are endless. We see visions of great ocean mammals rescued from the brink of extinction. We see a worldwide revival of appreciation and respect for the beautiful creatures who share our planet. We see animals no longer in captivity but liberated into better worlds. We see a better world for all. And we hope you see it too. Ladies, gentlemen, thank-”
And then. There was a power cut.
David Hartley writes strange stories about strange things for strange people. His work has appeared in Ambit, Black Static, Structo and The Shadow Booth, among many others. He tweets occasional odd thoughts at @DHartleyWriter and can be found loitering at davidhartleywriter.com.