Friday, August 4, 2006

The day after

Human beings can, we all know, be cruelly stupid. At least, you have to believe that is our problem if you do not want to have to believe that we are hopelessly venal.

A couple of days ago, I was out in Platypus Bay watching a subadult humpback backflipping on a fresh winter's day. A better expression of the splendour of life you couldn't wish for. And it's the climax of a wonderful story. The group of whales that travel up and down Australia's east coast had fallen in number to 200 or so. This is the very verge of unsustainability. I'm not clear on exactly why (another gap that I must fill at some point) but for all species there is a point surprisingly far from zero, past which a population cannot recover. The moratorium on whaling came just in time though and now there are 7000 whales in this group. They have survived their predators -- orcas and big sharks mostly -- by using precisely the skill the subadult was demonstrating: making a frightening splash and using their agility to become a target that is too energy sapping to bother with.

But backflipping will not save the subadult from a harpoon. He will one day approach a boat, curious because these intelligent animals like to know what is in the world around them, and some guy will press the button that will end his life.

I feel mournful as their song when I think about a nation of killers who have to give whalemeat away free to schools to try to encourage kids who prefer beef to eat it. I feel it is a small but terrible tragedy that my grandchildren, should they take the boat from Urangan harbour into Hervey Bay, which is a safe haven for the whales, too shallow for their predators and sheltered from ocean swells by Frasier Island, will watch nothing more than dolphins. I know that life changes and evolves, that species come and go, but we are watching one more beautiful part of our legacy be destroyed by people who cannot, will not look past tomorrow to the day after.

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