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How Whales Pop Up

31 January 2012

Whale Workshops in the Early 1970’s

Why have I lugged this Whale stuff around with me for nearly 40 years? It’s bogging me down, collecting dust. What can I possibly do with it? If I were ruthless and serious about “clearing clutter”, I’d toss it into the fire without a pang of remorse. But it’s my history! I taught children about whales in the forefront of the “Save the Whale” movement in the early 70’s. I designed exuberant Whale Workshops for children and collected their art and poetry that was published into a book in 1975, and made into a Smithsonian Travelling Exhibition that toured the US and Canada for 2 years. Is there any historical value to this?

I am delving into one of my successes, and also lugging around unpublished work that is perhaps hopelessly out of date. What can I do? I am determined to go through this. Making myself a cup of hot ginger tea, I sit down by the fire, take a deep breath, and open a file. I am curious. What is here? It is like Christmas and the ghosts of winter’s past.

What I find are copious notes from my Father in his distinctive handwriting, editing my manuscript for the revised Whale Curriculum I was writing in 1984. Dad, editing my manuscript? I had totally forgotten. Thank you Dad. Wherever you are, I love you and thank you.

I curl up on my Shepadoodle dog’s bed and rub her floppy black ears affectionately. I wrap myself in thoughts of my complex, handsome Father while crooning love to my dog. My Dad’s ghost spirit is tangible, too, in my memory.


Tamar and Martin

Tamar and Martin in 1976

There are more files holding Whale Workshop information from 1971 – 1975. I take another deep breath and open one. My Gosh! Up pops Martin Gerrish! We taught Whale Workshops in Elementary schools for 2 years in Vancouver, BC. funded by the National Museums of Ottawa and the Burnaby Art Gallery. He was 22 and I was 35. Those were the best teaching days of my life – working together with Martin and Carmelita Camillo. We combined science with the language arts to provide a rich learning environment for the children. Poetry, creative movement, art, myth combined with biology of the hugest creatures ever to have inhabited the earth. We spent three weeks in each classroom, teaching Kindergarten Children through Grade 7. The children were eager to learn about whales and were proud of their work.



Bamboo Bowhead Whale Grade 7

Bamboo Bowhead Whale Grade 7

And here are letters he wrote me from Anna Halprin’s dance workshops at Mt. Tamalpia, CA. I knew Martin had moved back to England, and was eager to talk to him. Google and the Internet are fantastic in tracing people.

Martin answered the phone! We haven’t spoken in nearly 35 years. What a surprise. What a treasure, catching up on each other’s lives. Memory stirs in the rich soil of my past and awakens the branch where Martin lives. I put together copies of photos from our teaching days, and all the letters he wrote me, and mailed them to him – complete with a gorgeous $10 Blue Whale Canadian stamp.


Orca by Grade 6 Children

Whale Spout Dance Grade 4

Whale Spout Dance Grade 4






Blue Whale Stamp to Martin








So, have fun. Pause, and celebrate who you were and who you’ve become along the twisting road of your life. Clear the cobwebs, clear the space, revisit your past and nourish the positive influences. Embrace yourself even in your hesitations and mistakes. You survived and are fine.






8 Responses to “How Whales Pop Up”

  1. Douglas Carrier says:

    Hello Tamara, I write you from Naperville, Il, a suburb of Chicago. I was in the process of going thru my youngest sons (21) closet the other day and came across your “Save the Whales” book. I drew the picture of the deceased whale in a coffin with the clergy whale and the tearful friend. It brought back many memories and wanted to reach out and say hello. I commend you on your journey and also commend you on your efforts to purge the piles. It can be cleansing. You have touched a lot of lives with your passion for wild life and I wish you the best of health and happiness.

    • Tamar says:

      Hi Douglas,

      Many thanks for contacting me! I hope your son enjoys the whale book with your artwork in it. I love your drawing of the whales mourning, and always point it out to people when I show them the book. It is one of my favourites. Would you let me post it onto this website so people can relate to your painting? It is superb! How did you ever come up with the idea of the coffin and the whales in deepest mourning?

      Best Wishes,

  2. Douglas Carrier says:

    Hi Tamar,
    It was a nice suprise opening your e-mail today. I just wanted to say that I would be delighted if you posted my picture on your website. To answer your question regarding my inspiration for the setting, all I can conclude is that my grandfather had passed that year and maybe I was reflecting the emotional loss into the drawing. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    • Tamar Griggs says:

      Hi Douglas,

      Great. Thank you! Once I scan your painting I will post it on this site. It truly is stunning. I can imagine the emotion you put in it after your Grandfather’s death when you were a child. Even with your real life experience of death, you did a superb job telling the plight of whales.

      Best Wishes,


  3. Kayla says:

    Hi Tamar,
    I’m a fourth year Elementary Education student at the University of Victoria, I came across your book in the library and wanted to commend you on your beautiful and inspiring work. I would love to incorporate some of your ideas into a unit plan I’m developing for an environmental education course. Do you have any available resources for teachers?


  4. Tanis Wilkie says:

    Hello Tamar!
    I have been looking up orca stuff this evening after seeing a group of three lovelies swimming and playing out in Booth Bay in front of our place this afternoon. This is the FIRST time I have seen them around here in the 56 years I have been living here (as a child part-time, and now full-time). It was SO exciting!!! I know you have been seeing them and swimming with them around the corner in Sansom Narrows forever … In fact, I was in your wonderful weekly whale workshop when I was in Grade 4 at U Hill Elementary in Vancouver in about 1975. I so remember you and all you did with us. It was probably the best thing I did in elementary school. Do you in fact swim with them? What is that like???
    All the best, Tanis

    • Tamar says:

      Hi Tanis,

      It is SO GREAT to hear from you. I will reply by e-mail soon… Much to do to prepare for the Saturday Market, where I sell my wildlife photos! You must have been in Bettie Smith’s class. WHAT FUN!!!!

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