The problem with penguins

Whaling 2

From a cigarette card series on ‘Whaling’.

It might be the little things in life that matter, but it’s the big things that get our attention.

Take whales, for example. Weighing in at a whopping 60,000-plus kilograms, (that’s about 132,000 pounds for the metrically challenged) the mighty Blue Whale is said to be the largest creature that the world has ever produced. And yet our knowledge of their habits (like that of all whales – including the smaller and more prolific Minke whale) is pitifully small and largely restricted to observations made by early whalers who hunted them almost to the point of extinction.

Outraged by Japan’s continued hunting of both the Minke and Humpback whales for ‘scientific’ purposes, public opinion has come out strongly in favour of the whales with most people expressing condemnation at such unnecessary slaughter.

That should read, most people apart from my mate, Krabbmann.

“Science and popular opinion seldom see eye to eye,” he said. “And when it comes to whales, the question that you should be asking yourself is: what are whales doing for the planet and the environment?

“People get incensed about the de-forestation of the Amazon jungles, claiming that they generate a significant proportion of the world’s oxygen and that their destruction spells doom for the earth. They forget that more than 50% of the oxygen in our atmosphere (some sources claim 98%) comes from the phytoplankton in our oceans; that same microscopic plant that provides the food source for zooplankton which, in its turn, is eaten by larger creatures such as krill; the tiny shrimp-like creatures that form the staple diet for baleen whales like the Blue, Humpback and Minke whales. And a big whale can munch their way through up to two tons of the stuff a day.

“Were you aware,” Krabbmann continued, “that hundreds of millions of years ago, when life on earth first began, the planet’s oxygen levels were as high as 35%. Now look at it; the oxygen content is down to just a little over 20%. If you want my opinion,” … I didn’t, but I got it anyway … “it’s all the fault of the larger whale populations and their practice of scoffing down tons of plankton.

“With so many of those little coccolithophores and other members of the phytoplankton winding up inside the bellies of whales, it won’t be long before we’re all asphyxiated. The fact is,” he said, “that nobody seems interested in championing the cause of the tiny stuff, regardless of its importance.”

Even for Krabbmann, (a person without equal when it comes to making two plus two equal five) it was a lousy defence of whaling; a stance that he attempted to justify by pointing out the impact that an oxygen-enriched atmosphere would have on diving.

“For a start, divers wouldn’t need to be convinced that smoking was a health hazard and incompatible with good diving practice – anyone attempting to light a cigarette could kiss goodbye to their eyebrows; nobody would have to fork out extra money on a nitrox course – that’d all be covered in diving 101; there’d be a greater acceptance of mixed gases for deep diving; and the role of narcosis in causing diving ‘accidents’ would be reduced considerably. And then there’s …”

“Before you get carried away”, I interrupted, “you’d better read this report from a scientist who claims that some species of phytoplankton, rather than simply doing what plants do best and using the sun’s rays to turn carbon-dioxide into oxygen through photosynthesis – and then reflecting the heat back into space – actually absorb the rays and are contributing to the greenhouse effect and the planet’s warming.”

“If that’s the case” Krabbmann said, in a typical about-face, “then we should be doing all that we can to protect whales and encouraging them to eat more, not condoning their slaughter.

“Penguins, of course, are another matter. All of those black feathers soak up the heat. If they’re allowed to breed indiscriminately then there’s a very real risk that the Antarctic ice cap will start to melt and cause a rise in sea levels …. “

Sadly, Krabbmann, like many others, gives too little thought to the complexity and magic of life – and the importance of conserving it all.


Categories: Counter-Strike

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