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A Poet's Tribute To His Adopted Whale

The Whale In My Wallet

Two decades ago, a celebrated rodeo poet adopted a whale named Stub from Dolphin & Whale Conservation, and has packed Stub's photo in his wallet ever since. After following the old whale's impressive antics and migrations up and down the Atlantic, this proud papa was inspired to perform a rollicking tribute to his humpback progeny.

Whale tail above surface of water in ocean with golden sunset

Rodeo Poet Paul Zarzyski

We're talking humpbacks, not greenbacks, but I'm still sitting fat packing only his flukes – biggest fingerprints you ever saw high-fiving me, or should I say "two-Hi-ing" me, out of the gray Atlantic – Sable Island to Stellwagen Bank to New York Bight – or maybe out of the blue Caribbean, off Puerto Rico, off Haiti, off the Grenadines.

He moves around a bit, this ubiquitous humpback, this quasi- Quasimodo, I suppose, of his pod, after some three-story-tall titanic propeller or snaggle-toothed denizen out of Davy Jones's Locker chewed his dorsal fin off his back, and left him with his anatomical namesake – you guessed it – Stub!

Not Neptune, Rigadoon, Tom Cruise, Sing-A-Tune, not even peg-legged Blackbeard or Captain Hook, but just plain old monosyllabic-ugly Stub, like the nickname of a Polish-Italian hit man, Stub Podgurski, Stub Lagunowski, Stub Mitolio – monikers from my hometown phone book! Stub, like Bub or rub-a-dub-dub, like grub, or tub-o-lard butt, but beauty, we know, is only blubber-deep, and even if Charlie-the-talking-tuna were picked by Starkist, he'd still be just a fish!

Stub, on the other fin, is tops, to paraphrase his adoption papers, "… at playing tag and torpedo with the whale-watching boats." It's Stub! The humpback ham-atola! The leviathan lampooner! The coxswain lob-tailing, stand-up comic of the deep – the salt-water Sinbad, Don Rickles, Rodney Dangerfield and breaching John Belushi reincarnated! All roly-polied into one!

No – wait! It's the B.B. King of the Barnacle-Blues! You bet, me buckos, this galley-hound Elvis-the-Pelvis, this Sinatra-of-the-sea, can sing! We're talking ocean virtuoso, not babbling Brooks, and certainly not Whalon! We're talking SEA-W gods, The Hank-meister, The Hag, and, yes, Johnny The-Man-In-Black Cash, all of whom drank like nuns next to Stub.

We're talking M.C. (Marine-Cool) Hammer- The-Humpback-Jammer, who, rumor has it, raps in rhymed iambs. My main man, Stub, the sea-leb of all sea-levs, and let's see Michael Jackson moonwalk water!

Which is why I carry this deep-sounder, page-to-glassined-page, baleen-face-to-bearded-face with old J.C. – talk about your Heavies! Talk about your family-at-large! Talk about your Big Bang and the big splash I make with strangers when I point to Stub and say "DAT SA MA BOY!"


Click here to see important NOAA guidelines for boaters near whales.

Published in Paul's collection Steering With My Knees (Bangtail Press, 2014), "The Whale In My Wallet" was one of the most popular performances at the 2019 Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada. See the full performance here.


Paul Zarzyski

Contributor, BoatUS Magazine

With an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Montana, Paul is the 2005 recipient of the Montana Governor’s Arts Award for Literature. He grew up near Lake Superior in northern Wisconsin, where he spent his youth fishing from various boats with his WWII Navy veteran dad. He then competed as a bareback bronc rider who "lived for the eight-second ride" while publishing numerous books and recording six spoken-word CDs. See his work at