Monday, January 19, 2009


Quick combination of factoids, something that's on my mind:

I'm reading "A Whale for the Killing" by Farley Mowat (a wonderful Canadian naturalist/author, who has written some excellent books, among my favorite is "Never Cry Wolf"). It's a mixture of an autobiographical account of time he spent living on the coast of Newfoundland, and information on whales and the hunting of whales.

I consider myself to be an environmentalist, right? And decently well informed. So we all know that a lot of whales are in trouble, threatened by extinction, and probably most of us know that human hunting of whales for oil and commerce since the 1800s (and continuing today to a degree) has played a huge part in creating this problem.

But I had no idea the sheer number of whales we're talking about here. In one chapter of this book, published in 1972, Mowat goes through species after species, with original population estimates of half a million, or a million, or more, reduced systematically to a few thousand, in some cases even fewer. Blows my mind. Quickly referencing Wikipedia to generate a comparison, that's like taking a few cities like Philedelphia, Dallas, San Jose, Phoenix, Detroit, or San Francisco and systematically killing off their inhabitants until only a few thousand remained, shrinking them to a fifth the size of Wasilla, AK. Damn people.

Another thought that crossed my mind - all these marine biologists that study whales and whale behavior, and maybe spend time pondering what the purpose of whale brain capacity is, How Can They Ever Know? Think about how much would change about a human population if you reduced it from a million to 1500!?!?! Knowledge, customs, social constructs of all sorts would vanish. So much would change. And as usual, as biologists we're left to pick up the pieces and try to understand what we can of something that is forever changed in our increasingly depauperate world. Daunting.


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