Sunday, September 25, 2011

Save the whales

I was both intrigued and delighted to read an article recently (New Scientist, July 9) that gave new and compelling reasons for protecting whales and other large marine predators.

Now, I'll come clean and admit that my stance has always been that these animals are worth saving in their own right.
(Picture credit: Green Living Earth)

There's no good reason to hunt these creatures, and I won't even get into the specious arguments some nations use about "scientific" whaling, which is a thin disguise for commercial hunting. More than enough good science can be done with live animals in their natural environment than has ever been achieved by killing them.

But I acknowledge that such thinking cuts little ice with the decision-makers in this world.

What most delighted me about this article was that this research should appeal to some influential folks. Big business cares nothing of the lives and well-being of ordinary citizens, but it does care about the bottom line. And that's where it gets interesting...

The established view in the fishing industry goes as follows: There is a food chain. Those at the bottom get eaten by those at the top. Therefore, fewer predators at the top means more survive lower down.

So, creatures like whales and squid are seen as a bad thing, because they (literally) eat into the profits of fishermen.

But this is only part of the picture.

The marine ecosystem is not a one-way street; it is a cycle.

The top predators don't just take from the system. They are, in fact crucial to the health of the whole ecosystem.

The middle links in the food chain depend on the microscopic organisms at the bottom, particularly photosynthetic plankton. The entire system is limited by the productivity of these foundational species. And they, in turn, are limited by the nutrients available in the sunlit layers of the ocean.

Here's the catch. Nutrients tend to sink rapidly into the depths, where they cannot be used for photosynthesis.

It turns out that large animals are vital in re-circulating "lost" nutrients back into the upper layers.

Before efficient whaling removed the majority of the population of whales, the world's oceans were teeming with life. Today's oceans are barren wastelands compared to what they were only a few hundred years ago.

If the "top predators" dogma were true, fish should be even more abundant now, but they aren't. By removing large animals, we have made the oceans a much poorer place.

These predators give way more back than they take out.

If the fishing industry, the same industry that has so successfully resisted any attempts to limit catches to sustainable levels, realizes that more whales = more fish, then that gives me hope.

Sadly, the world is ruled by self-interest.

For once, self-interest may be a good thing.


  1. Messing with nature always causes problems, and that picture is so sad.

  2. That is one sad picture. :( *puts on save the whales t-shirt*

  3. Fascinating facts. Whales are certainly worth saving. It's my heartfelt desire to come back in my next life as a marine biologist. Sea creatures are astonishing, and is wrong that we as humans believe ourselves superior to everything. :)

  4. Our oceans are in pretty sad shape. Hopefully it's not too late for "self-interest" to make a difference in the way we approach the ocean and it's "harvest".

  5. Aguilar, Cindy, and Jean, yes, that is such a sad picture. And Cindy, messing with nature always has unintended consequences.

    Laila, too true! A bit of humility in our dealings with the world wouldn't come amiss.

    Danette, that is my heartfelt hope too.

    Lindsey, thanks. I hope it wasn't too shocking a departure from the normal posts on this site.

  6. Wow, that picture is so disturbing.

    "These predators give back way more than they take out." You really nailed it.

  7. Ain't that so, Jennifer? Hope it wasn't too disturbing for you. I'm not often that serious on this blog, but just occasionally I need to vent.

  8. Venting is healthy. It needs to happen occasionally.

    This is just another example of people thinking they know what's best when they have absolutely no idea what's going on. (The reason I had to leave NYC.) Oye! Have you ranked on global warming yet?

  9. Hi Ian,
    All the above have stated what I was thinking. Indeed, your venting is most justifiable in this thought provoking post with that very sad photo.
    In peace and hope, your way, Gary

  10. Thank you for your support, Crystal and Gary. And, no, I haven't posted anything about global warming...yet! Not sure that this blog is ready for my opinions there just yet :)

  11. Greetings Ian,
    I am forwarding on the comment below on behalf of our dear blogging friend, Hilary.
    Cheers, Gary.

    Hi Ian .. I'm not sure if I can comment as the comment box is embedded - if not I'll email you with the comment ... and I can't do that because you don't have an email .. so ever resourceful I'll ask Gary to post for me.

    I really enjoyed this post - not the picture of the whales (at all) - but the knowledge you gave us on the cycle of life ..

    Thanks I'll be around for more .. cheers Hilary

  12. Hi Gary, and greetings Hilary. I don't see why you'd have problems commenting, I've never heard of that before...but then maybe other folks aren't as resourceful and so obviously I'd never hear from them :o)

    Yeah, the picture is more graphic than my usual posts, but I felt that shocking was appropriate in this case.

    Gary, thank you for forwarding the comment. You'll make Postmaster General yet!


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