Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dolphins evolve opposable thumbs

One of my favourite George Bush lines is included here: "I believe that human beings and fish can coexist peacefully". I assume he was asked a question about overfishing, and that was his response, but out of context it sounds like most other ridiculous George Bush comments. To give Bush credit, I mentioned over here that I'm tremendously impressed by his decision to create massive marine protected zones (i.e. oceanic equivalents of National Parks).

This is tremendously important, and ties in to a post I've been meaning to write about Pescatarians. Now, to each his own and all that, but I really think that pescatarians need to read more. I assume that pescatarians are otherwise veggie only because of the animal cruelty issue, and think that fish lack the intelligence to know suffering, and therefore the pescies (this shall be my new shortform of pescatarians) feel alright about eating fish. Now the first flaw here, if we stick with animal cruelty, is that you have to believe that hyper-intelligent dolphins, and also porpoises and whales, have the intelligence to suffer, and since deep sea nets catch and slowly kill 1000 of these creatures a day - 1000 A DAY FOR GOD'S SAKE!!! (for no purpose by the way, simple bycatch of trawlers actually going after fish) - the cans of tuna you buy at the supermarket help support the torture of dolphins. Commercial fishing by the way is a phenomenally wasteful industry - how can you support a business practice where 1/3 of the fish caught get thrown back dead into the ocean because they weren't the species that the trawler was going for?

My other response to pescatarianism is that, unless you honestly and truly cannot survive without the protein from fish (which I suspect only applies to people in the third world) you are misguidedly supporting an industry which is completely f*&%king up the planet.
As far right and conservative a magazine as the Economist has published alarm-sounding special reports (see Troubled Water) about the links between overfishing, marine diversity, climate change, and our own survival as a species.
First - we've already reached a point where all commercial fish stocks could be gone by 2048. The collapse of fish populations makes it harder for the trawlers to get their quotas, so the holes in fish nets get smaller and smaller, catching younger and younger fish - meaning fish which never get the chance to reach breeding stage, thereby eliminating the ability of fish populations to recover from overfishing. Also - the desperation ship captains feel to get their quotas leads to fish nets being dragged over and over across the floors of bays and gulfs and other shallow water areas, destroying any vegetation on the seabottom (vegetation that either feeds or protects fish).

The loss of one species of fish leads to the rise of another type, and then the downfall of another (i.e. if all the sharks die, the fish that sharks ate prosper, and they eat much more of their prey, devastating that stock). The ripple effects of this lead include things like seabirds starving, and bears in B.C. unable to eat salmon.

Meanwhile, while we all know that oceans in general are massive carbon sinks (helping suck up all of our C02 emissions), to date we didn't fully understand how oceans helped us out this way. New research shows that fish excrete a type of calcium that buffers the acidification that C02 causes in the ocean. We're already pumping so much C02 into the atmosphere, and thereby into the ocean, that the skeletons of some sea creatures are dissolving.
Lose all the fish, you lose much of the ocean's carbon sink ability, you lose your elderly aunt to a respiratory problem caused by increasing levels of C02 in the atmosphere.

P.S. - you really should watch Sharkwater and learn about shark finning, and the title of this post comes from one of my favourite articles in the Onion.

P.P.S. - this and this are random but good introductions to this topic, the first for younger audiences, and the second for adults. This one is good on coral reefs and the importance of oceans as carbon sinks.


sp said...

I recently heard a program on CBC's Ideas called "Ocean Mind" that researched Whales and how they might perceive their own ocean world. Reading about Dolphins and sea life in general here reminded me of that program and what struck me about it was that we know so very little about how these animals understand the world or how evolved they may be. They have their own way to communicate and interact that we can only understand through our very human centered point of view.
How very ignorant of us to treat other living creatures so thoughtlessly without knowing the consequences.
How very

Andie said...

I couldn't agree more, Tuco. But I think your assumption about "pescies" may be off, at least for some. Over at veggie boards I have learned that many of them believe they should eat fish for the health benefits. I assume they are talking about the Omegas, which they apparently assume they cannot get elsewhere, but I don't really ask about it because, as you can imagine, it's a pretty contentious issue over there! "I am a vegetarian, I am I am I am!" "You're not you're not you're not!" and so on and so on...