Oil and the whales.

by Justin

The situation in the Gulf remains incomprehensible to me – new and constantly rising estimates for the sheer volume of crude, the comparable flow of photographs depicting the assaulted ecosystem, the presidential addresses demanding 20 billion dollars from the villainous multinational corporation responsible . . . none of it contextualizes the travesty in a way that I can grasp. It’s too big. Almost too big to be tragic in a real way. Undeniably tragic, of course, but not in a gut-twisting, immediate way. At least not for a New York resident with no active link to the Gulf.

But this story drove it home. While the death of this sperm whale may not have been a direct consequence of the spill, the possibility that something so majestic and powerful fell to this negligence hurts. Sperm whales aren’t surface skimmers like their baleen-sporting cousins, they dive along the continental shelf hunting for food. Meaning they’re more likely to stumble into the black plumes of toxic crude oil. Word is that there are a number of accounts of shots of whales swimming just below the slick, less hyped in theory because the animals are large enough that the toxicity threshold is so much higher than smaller marine life. Ugh. I mean, whales are secretly smarter than we are. And they sing with the voice of the ocean.

Hal Whitehead, a biologist who studies at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, said sperm whales are highly social animals that live in matriarchal groups like elephants. They communicate through noises that sound like clicks, which researchers refer to as a dialect. They have also shown behaviors that resemble mourning. In one case, Dr. Whitehead said, when a young sperm whale died, its mother carried its carcass around in her mouth.

I don’t mean to diminish the tragedy of the pelicans and sea turtles damaged and killed by the Deepwater Horizon disaster. But take a look at this and tell me that you can attempt indifference. Or look at the more popular icon of the wildlife plight and consider that this isn’t a painting. Get sick, y’all.

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