Reflections on an unusual friendship with a beluga mama
My Dear Kavna,
I feel like I’ve lost a very dear old friend. Yet it’s much more than that. Since hearing the news of your death, I have felt the loss of an extended family member — one who had a profound impact on me. Kavna, meeting you moved me so deeply it changed my life.
You were the most adorable creature I’ve every seen. Your playfulness struck such a sweet cord within me I scarcely had words for it, for how graceful you were and how cheerful. To me you’re not just any beluga. You’re Kavna, the one who played with me and gently kissed my cheek during our first meeting in 1979 at the Vancouver Aquarium. In the years since I came back to see you several times in sheer delight: of seeing your face; admiring your body’s sleek moves; your effortless way in the water; your antics before the crowds who’d throng to see you.
Oh Kavna, where do I begin to describe what wells up inside me when I cast my mind back over the 32 years since you inspired me to write “Baby Beluga.” Did you like the album cover drawing? Did you like how we embossed the beluga and the bubbles? Trust you liked the song; millions can’t be wrong, right? I’m glad I made it about an imaginary baby beluga, and that dolphins get a mention in verse two — after all, you belugas are related to them. How I’ve enjoyed hearing audiences sing the chorus with me over the years. And such fun seeing children move their arms and hands to “waves roll in and the waves roll out.”
You were the star of that CBC TV special we did in 1981, remember? I sang “Baby Beluga” to you over and over, with great love. I couldn’t get enough of seeing your air bubbles & rings in the water, and how you loved chasing those rings all round the pool!
Only five years earlier, in 1976, you were brought to Vancouver from Churchill, Manitoba. However did you survive that shock? And especially when your calf Tuaq died after birth. How did you regain your spirit?
How did you go give so much in captivity after having lost so much? Or was it that in the care of aquarium staff and trainers you rebounded? Was it that in the love of countless children — who squealed with delight to see you up close — you felt refreshed? Did you feel their love? Were you singing to them all the while? I like to think so. To me, your spirit felt as pure as the spirit in little children.
They say you’ve brought joy to more than 30 million people lucky enough to see your aquarium shows. The first time I saw the show with your leaps and playful moves, I felt like a kid again. You squirted water and nearly soaked us, but we were too happy to care.
The aquarium pool enclosures were enlarged some years ago and you had much more space to swim in. Even so, we can still imagine your sacrifice. I’m just glad you had other belugas near you, and some dolphins too. When I heard that you lived to be 46, at least 15 years longer than most belugas in the wild, that gave me pause to reflect.
In 1988 at the Toronto Science Centre I attended a lecture on the St. Lawrence River belugas. Autopsies of the river beluga revealed they carry a huge load of toxic chemicals. This news was very hurtful. My beloved belugas, swimming in an environment so polluted that it poisoned them. I went out to Tadoussac (Quebec) and got a glimpse of belugas in the river. The following year I took a year’s sabbatical from my children’s entertainment career and went on to record an ecology album, Evergreen Everblue. The 2nd verse of the title song goes: “Ocean’s wave is rumbling with voices from the seaway…” and ends “beluga whales are singing ‘Help this planet Earth to stay: evergreen, everblue…”
Clearly the threats to beluga well being are also threats to humans: pollution, development, consumption and garbage. And now the culmination of many crises is in climate change, a global threat to our collective future.
That’s why I’ve worked to spread a message of ecology awareness: so this world might be fit for both human babies and baby belugas! So people might feel the spirit to care for & protect what’s precious to every child: friends like you, sweet Kavna. For your world is our world, and your friends are our friends. And yes, the more we link together — Earth and Child — the happier we’ll be.
The point of being alive is to know our loving nature, to reduce suffering and increase joy. It’s certainly not about selling more things at any cost. During my career I’ve never advertised to kids, because that’s wrong. I’ve shunned commercial endorsements. Did you know I even turned down an offer for a Baby Beluga Film? — because it was to be marketed to kids and marketed with junk toys sold through junk food joints. I’d never go for that. I’m waiting for a socially responsible company to agree to do the beluga film in a whole new way: to create & market a family film responsibly.
Reflecting on all this, I’m so grateful for the magic that brought us together. And it’s no wonder: belugas are called “sea canaries” because they sing so much, heard even above the water! How lucky for me that “Baby Beluga” is about a creature who loves to sing, just like humans do. We love to sing — it’s our nature.
Now we seem to be mimicking your species. We have pod-pals, and social media lets us podruple our power! (Ha ha.) Millions on every continent want fair trade and social justice for children of all cultures, for generations to come. We can pretend social media is our “wePod” and together we make waves. (Pun intended.)
Over 10 million adults who sang “Baby Beluga” in childhood now sing it with their young. I affectionately call them “beluga grads” and they tell me they love that. How fortunate I am to be in this dance at a pivotal time in history. It’s why I wrote A Covenant For Honouring Children.
All around the world people are inventing benign technologies, supporting clean renewable energy, and renewing democracy. I’m calling for embracing a children-first sustainability that can transform our world! With oceans at risk and Mother Earth in crisis, we have all the more reason to sing out: for beauty, for love and, most of all, in honour of our young.
Your memory will refresh “Baby Beluga” for all who know it. My new verse for beluga grads ends with, “Sing a song of peace, sing with all your friends, we need to hear you!” Many will be moved to join the Child Honouring movement for respecting Earth and Child. We will advance a positive vision born of conscience and collective joy. We’ll have emissaries called Joy Envoys.
Can you hear me, Kavna? Thank you so much for the joy you gave to me and to countless others. We will never forget you. Your beauty lives on in our hearts, and you shine every time we sing a little love song on the go.
Raffi Cavoukian, C.M., O.B.C., is best known as Raffi, renowned singer, author, children’s champion and ecology advocate. Raffi’s numerous awards include the Order of Canada, the Global 500 Roll, and three honorary degrees. “Baby Beluga” is his signature song, a children’s classic. He has published an autobiography, The Life Of A Children’s Troubadour. Fifteen million sales of his children’s albums, books, and DVDs have sprouted a generation of fans, “beluga grads” now enjoying Raffi songs with their own kids. Raffi is a member of the Club of Budapest. He is founder and chair of Centre For Child Honouring. www.childhonouring.org