Wednesday, May 7, 2014

I Hate To Keep Bringing This Shit Up

The International Court Of Justice has looked at Japan's whale harvest and ruled it illegal. Japan had been taking whales for research only, hundreds of them, and studying them hard. With chopsticks. Anyway, they're done with it now. This is a big victory for Greenpeace, and just goes to show that a few people willing to sacrifice themselves can indeed make a difference; can, in fact, with great effort and courage, and thirty years, cause a great wrong to be righted that should have been righted thirty years earlier.

It always seemed like having more whales around was a laudable thing in itself, them being fabulous and all, but as usual, it's even more complicated than that. And we're still finding out new stuff. Stuff we might like to take into account before we start messing around. The thing about our species is we like to tinker with things as though we're polishing the good china with a backhoe. It's possible we could have kept things in balance by just killing and eating as many whales as we could manage to bag from a canoe using our biceps and a stout spear. But instead we just sort of methodically removed them in huge quantities. Entire species of whales have gone extinct, and almost half have been critically endangered.

But that should be good news for the penguins, who are in trouble now. We'd thought it was because of human-caused climate change and the melting of the sea ice, but also because the mean old whales were eating up all their krill. Never mind that much larger populations of whales had been coexisting with penguins for an awfully long time.

So here's an oddity. There are a lot of krill in the ocean--they're herds of miniature lobsters, basically. They're an essential part of the whole ocean food chain. You know, the food chain that's in the process of collapsing. And you'd think that if the whale numbers were to pick up, now that Japan isn't studying them on their plates, they'd hoover up most of the krill, because that's what they like to eat. But instead, it turns out the krill population tanked when the whales were nearly polished off in the 1960s. Their fortunes wax and wane with the whales'. And nobody knew why, until recently.

Krill need iron to grow and reproduce. But most of the iron is at the bottom of the ocean. And the krill
are at the top. There's no getting the iron to the top unless a whale dives way down and gets it for them, by eating something iron-rich like squid. There's too much pressure at the bottom of the ocean to allow whales to poop, so they have to hold it until they come up for air, and then they let fly, and do so abundantly. Now there's a crapload of iron at the surface. And the krill go nuts. It's krill enough for everybody. Without whale poop, they're screwed. Everybody's screwed. So we're back to just the climate change problem with the penguins.

Here's another oddity. There used to be plenty of free iron in the ocean. But when the first photosynthetic plants devised themselves, way back when, they pooped out oxygen. The oxygen attached itself to all the iron in the ocean and the resulting rust sank to the bottom until the iron was all used up. Pretty much all the iron we ever mine today comes from that original band of iron oxide on the ocean floor, from that first photosynthesis event. And when the rust settled, the free oxygen had no place to go but the atmosphere. That was called the Great Oxygenation Catastrophe because almost all the nascent life that had burgeoned in the absence of oxygen failed in its presence. It was a major extinction event--wiped out almost everything. That's what happens when something causes conditions to change drastically.

Here's another oddity. We're right in the middle of another major extinction event right now. Damn the luck, huh?

Thanks to Joan Campbell for pointing me in this direction.

44 comments:

  1. And that major extinction may very well be us.
    You are a skilled distiller of information.

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    1. I think in scientific circles there's already a fat consensus on this being a major extinction event. I only WISH I was making this up.

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  2. I knew those whales were good for something other than just being magnificent. I know it's not politically correct to say so, but having a few billion less people on the planet might not be a bad thing. I figured I could say it here.

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    1. A few, like, say, seven or eight billion? You know, something like that happened a couple thousand years ago, I think--I'm just remembering a snippet, and am not going to bother to look it up right now--when something like 90% of us got wiped out by the Black Plague. Anyone else recall that factoid?

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    2. 1) 6th and 7th centuries in Europe. 2) 14th century in Europe. That's the famous one. Toll was "30-60 percent" per Wikipedia. 3) 1890's, China and India. You'd think we'd have heard about that one, but it wasn't Us.

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    3. Bless yore bones, Sylvan B. I knew someone would know. So 90% was an overstatement--but 30-60% is quite a toll. Innit?

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  3. Ah,yes, the tapestry of life as it begins to unravel and we rush around trying to tie all the knots. Great post...much stuff I did not know, and I do read!

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    1. And isn't that the point, really? How much we just go ahead an do, without knowing anything about what we're doing and what effects we're having.

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  4. "A crapload of iron", heh.

    A crapload of irony.

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  5. I am in favor of not killing whales.

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    1. Count me in. Leave the whales alone.

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  6. Pretty damn fascinating! Nature does do go better when we humans don't muck around with it.

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    1. I know, right? She's really got it perfect. And that is because anything you see at any given time and location is What Works. If it didn't work, it wouldn't be there. Wow--just think what we've done trying to manage the flow of water, trying to keep rivers in their channels and building up to their edges. I remember my father railing on about how all the little damp spots by the side of the road (where we looked for spotted salamanders in the spring) kept getting paved over for no reason other than people thought it tidier, basically.

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  7. Sadly, the ban on killing whales is just for this season. I just read that they will be killing again in 2015. The fight continues.

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    1. Yup. Japan re-thought the whole thing about three days after I wrote this post and decided they hadn't quite studied enough whales.

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  8. "That was called the Great Oxygenation Catastrophe because almost all the nascent life that had burgeoned in the absence of oxygen failed in its presence." Okay, either I need to spend four hours researching this or you need to write a post about it that I can read in five minutes. Your choice.

    Er ... I mean, please?

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    1. Maybe! I do explain it a bit more in the book I'm writing now--can you wait for the ten years or so it will take to give up on getting an agent and self-publishing?

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    2. I can wait, I'm a patient (and forgetful) person; however, I may be dead in ten years. Why don't I just go ahead and google it? :)

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  9. I was so pleased that our previous Government listened to some of us and took the Japanese scientific whaling travesty to court. And am cringing because Japan has said that they WILL be designing another scientific program to allow them back. Hiss and spit. I hope the program is more closely examined this time. But won't be holding my breath. Blue is a wonderful colour - but not for me.

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  10. This is a goodun. I learned a lot I never knew. Thank you Murre.

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    1. I'm honored to think there's ANYthing I can put out there that you didn't already know, Julie. My favorite people like to continue to learn. My least favorite people think they've got it all sewed up.

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    2. I feel a little giddy when I learn something new. If I don't learn something new each day, I am doing something wrong. I am a lifelong learner. A post such as this will lead me on a reading spree on the internet and in the library. Plus, I will be telling people about it, pointing them to your blog, a book, or internet articles. Thanks.

      My blog won't let me in. I really do post every day.

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  11. It is shit and, like whale poop, I love that you keep bringing these important issues up. Thank you.

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    1. Seriously. Whale poop. The foundation of the food chain. Who knew?

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  12. I wonder if we-the-people could persuade the Japanese to use only hand-built long boats, with manually hurled harpoons? Seems the fairest way.

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    1. Yes. They can use their strongest and bravest three men.

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  13. One way or another I'm sure things will eventually balance out. We may not see it in our lifetime though.

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    1. Things will eventually balance out, without us. Any of us. All lifetimes gone. The climate deniers like to say that the atmosphere has gone through such fluctuations before, and that is true--but we weren't present for them, nor would we have been. There's no requirement that the earth will continue to sustain us under these conditions.

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  14. In case it hasn't been mentioned much, and before history rolls over it... it was actually Australia who is most responsible for getting the ICOJ to declare Japan's whaling program illegal.

    There is considerable corporate propaganda in Japan regarding whaling, conflating it with 'tradition' and thereby associating opposition with being somehow anti-Japanese. Similar to the gun lobby's tactics in the USA - jingoism used to window dress a base agenda.

    And it's mostly lies. Modern whaling does not resemble older Japanese methods at all, which were mindful of stocks and were marginal operations. Whales were even considered sacred in some localized Japanese fishing cultures and not eaten. Modern whaling brought violent change to the Japanese fishing industry and people actually fought over it.

    Whale meat as a resource only really took hold during the post war scarcity, which needless to say is long gone.

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    1. I think Elephant's Child hinted at that. Good to know, and go, go, Australia!

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    2. I heard on the news today that Japan is planning to hunt Minke whales in the Atlantic! Holy Mackresh! Do they never give up? Obviously not. Well, Sea Shepherd will be there to chase them...

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    3. I know. If we explained patiently about the krill and the poop and the food chain, do you think they'll think better of it?

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  15. It's all rather screwed up, isn't it? As someone once said, "the sooner we're off the planet, the better."

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    1. Although, personally, I'd like another forty years first.

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  16. In Alaska they kill the wolves to protect he moose so they can kill the moose. George Carlin said we pick the animals we like and we get to kill the rest.
    the Ol'Buzzard

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    1. I like salamanders! Not much of a killer, though. Although I am an eater.

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  17. I am surprised Pat Lichen has not made a comment--she was with Greenpeace long ago!!

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    1. She's probably going through one of those stages of ignoring me [sob].

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    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    3. Ignore you, Murr? Is such a thing even possible?! I think not.

      As you suggest, the single most astonishing thing about this fight for the whales is that wasn't over decades ago. (Magpie's comments are right on.) Stopping the systematic extinction/endangerment of every species of whale? Hey! Shoulda been a no-brainer, right?!

      Yeah, this does not bode well in terms of the far-more complicated and difficult task of immediate response to climate change. Still, let's keep up the good fight. And you keep us laughing while we do, Murr. - See more at: http://murrbrewster.blogspot.com/2014/05/i-hate-to-keep-bringing-this-shit-up.html#comment-form

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    4. Yay! I am not ignored! Pat Lichen, everybody, an actual veteran of the holy-shit on-a-tiny-boat-getting-between-the-whalers-and-the-whales gang. Proud to know ye.

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