Subject: Whales and the food chain

Phillip J. Clapham (pclapham@whsun1.wh.whoi.edu)
Tue, 12 Oct 1999 07:14:13 -0400 (EDT)

Hi:
Well, first of all I'm trying to figure out whether the two halves of your
question are connected; i.e. is the "saving" of whales contingent upon
their being an important part of the food chain?  But let's see here...
Whales are no more or less an important part of the food chain than most
other animals.	This century the whaling industry removed at least two
million large whales from the Antarctic food chain, and the result has been
a substantial disturbance in the ecosystem.  Most of those animals were
eating krill, and this left a superabundance of krill, which has actually
benefitted (probably) some other species that also prey on this food
source.  But any time you have masive disruptions of ecosystems you're
playing God, and the consequences for other life can be substantial (and
not always positive).  It's rather like removing a lot of bricks from a
house and hoping the whole thing won't fall down.  Humans are playing the
same game with many other aspects of the eocsystem globally, from rain
forests to the atmosphere.
In terms of why we should save whales, well, why should we "save" anything?
Species by species, it's a subjective call.  Would the world collapse if
whales ceased to exist?  No it wouldn't.  Would it be a very poor place for
your kids and grandchildren, to no longer have swimming in the oceans the
largest and arguably most impressive animals ever to live in this planet's
4 billion-year history?  For me, it definitely would.  If we can't save
whales, we may as well give up and go home.
More significantly perhaps is that this planet is heading to hell in a
handbasket, all thanks to us.  If we are to avert major environmental
crises down the road, if we want our grandchildren to inherit a planet that
is a reasonable place to live, then we'd better start civilizing ourselves
in the way we deal with the natural world and stop looking at it as a
limitless, indestructible playground to plunder.  If we wish to save these
things for future generations, I think whales - which for many people
symbolize the Earth's environment and what we've done to it - are a pretty
good place to start.
And were I a whale (or any other critter out there), I'd probably be asking
why we should "save" humans.  If anything on the planet qualifies as an
out-of-control parasitic biomass, we're it!

Phil Clapham