Tuesday, 12 August 2008

All hail the Whale!

Whales no longer endangered, although some are.

Yet another demonstration of the fact that, if you want any good news at all these days, you've got to go to the Science stories. Apparently it's not just global temperatures and incidences of knife crime that are on the increase these days, Humpback Whales are on the up as well.

This is particularly significant for me, as when I was in primary school, our headmaster told us Humpback Whales and Blue Whales were extinct. And I believed him. I was 7, why wouldn't I? But, as it turns out, he was wrong. I'm not sure if he was a pessimistic environmentalist (rare in the 80's) who was just preparing us for what he thought was inevitable, or that he just enjoyed upsetting children. After discussions with my oldest friends, it does seem that some of his school assemblies involved stories and parables that were hideously racist, so it's probably the latter.

This is why when my wife (then my new girlfriend) told me she'd seen Humpbacks during her travels around Australia, I got incredibly excited and demanded to know if she'd told the papers. She hadn't because seeing Humpbacks wasn't that unusual. I was 19 at the time, this was a revelation for me. Similar thing happened when I saw a Blue Whale on Attenborough's 'Blue Planet' documentary.

So Humpbacks are no longer endangered. This is nice. Bad news for krill, obviously, but who cares about them? They aren't mammals, it's only bad when mammals start dying out, everyone knows that. Racism is becoming less common in human society, but speciism is rife. Although, it's our own particular genus of species that we favour, so, genusism?

But considering the sheer breathtaking magnitude, the mad evolutionary history and awe inspiring characteristics of whales, how come they generally have such dull names. It's the biggest creature on Earth that has EVER existed, can communicate in ways we can't fathom, dozens of metres long, warm blooded in the freezing ocean, and we name it the Blue Whale. Except it isn't that blue, not really. And even if it was, wouldn't that be the last thing you notice? Were they first spotted by a rather nonplussed fisherman?

"Captain, there's a slightly blue whale off the port bough"

"Let's take a look at- JESUS CHRIST!"

Or something like that. But it's persistent. The Killer Whale, sounds 'cool' but marine biologists aren't really known for preferring 'cool' labels. The Humpback whale, again essentially accurate, but kind of misses the point. The Melonhead whale, self explanatory. The Southern Right whale, named after a map reference? The Sperm whale, I really don't want to know.

Whales are sometimes villains, don't forget. Moby Dick, the White Whale. I've seen white whales, Belugas I think they're called, not much bigger than dolphins. Captain Ahab was a wimp, clearly.

But the scarcity of data concerning the population of most whale species shows us some very important things. Mainly, that we are not as all knowing as we like to think, there's plenty left to be discovered. That creatures so large can still elude us today, it seems unthinkable but it happens. There's plenty left to be found out.

And what does this do to the hunting rights? Can they be hunted again, or should the ban stay in place indefinitely? I'm all for the latter, but if humpbacks keep reproducing, how long before they're filling up the place? They're already a shipping hazard in some Australian ports, which is an excellent image despite the chaos it causes. Australians do really good swearing.

And finally, if Whales do keep increasing in number, what does this do to the global obesity pandemic? Given the amount of their body weight that is just blubber, they've got to make a significant contribution to the statistics, right? Maybe that's what killed them off in the first place, wasn't hunting or global warming, but too much cholesterol?

That's another thing, if swimming is meant to be the best form of exercise, why are whales so fat?

(Further to this, here's a 'similar' argument from Derek and Clive. This isn't safe for kids, but it's very funny)


No comments:

Social Network sharing gubbins