Why are Whales so Special?

By The Codger

In the Bible story of creation after God had created the firmament, and the waters, and the dry land, the Book of Genesis says:

"and God created great whales"

In the biblical story of creation, after finally creating human beings, male and female, God blesses them and tells them they shall "have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth." (Genesis 1:28) The evolution in awareness and attitudes which we are all part of today has to do with the meaning humans give to the concept of "dominion". Throughout history, the mainstream meaning of dominion has been exploitation for the material benefit of humankind. There is now occurring, however, a significant change in this concept, wherein human stewardship is becoming more and more to be understood as meaning peaceful coexistence and mutual enrichment. And whales, both in actuality and symbolically, are proving to be the breakthrough species in this growth of consciousness and values.

Why are whales, so uniquely instrumental in bringing about this change? Why are they the key to opening human sensitivity to a broader ethic of caring for other non-human species? Why is the newly promulgated goal of total and permanent protection of whales from consumptive, commercial exploitation so significant as a potential breakthrough for other animals as well?

Whales are Biologically Special

First, whales are biologically special. They are the largest animals on earth. They include the biggest creature ever to have lived on our planet, the 100-foot long female blue whale. Their sheer size commands extreme respect. And whales and dolphins have large and complex brains. The sperm whale's brain is the largest of any ever to exist, weighing four or five times as much as our human brain and being at least as fissured and convoluted. These are some of the characteristics that make cetaceans biologically special.

Whales are Ecologically Special

Second, whales are ecologically special. Whales have evolved as marine mammals over millions of years, with both baleen and toothed whales probably appearing more than 25 million years ago, long before the development of human beings and the latter's intrusion into the ocean ecosystem. Whales are at the top of the vast food chains of the sea. Because of their size, widespread distribution, and variety of feeding patterns, cetaceans affect the ocean in special ways with global impact. Almost everything is still unknown about their role, but in many ways it appears to be ecologically unique. They fulfill a special and necessary function in the marine environment.

whales, are Aesthetically Special

Third, whales, are aesthetically special. They have a beauty and grace all their own which is of surpassing quality. Throughout human history, cetaceans have been the subjects of exceptional artistic creations. They are supremely photogenic.

whales are Culturally Special

Fourth, whales are culturally special. Living cetaceans have an almost unbelievable capacity for enriching the lives of human beings with whom they come in peaceful contact. You all know this from your own experience. They have a uniquely universal appeal to the human spirit. They are unmatched invokers of awe. There is a mystique about them that inspires a sense of wonder and exhilaration among persons from all races and nations, in ways no other, non-human species has equaled so widely. Furthermore, whales appear to have a special affinity for human beings. Despite their overwhelming size and power, and despite the centuries of their being victimized by human predation, whales in the wild are proving to be uniquely tolerant of the peaceful proximity of human beings and indeed are increasingly demonstrating not merely passive coping, but deliberate initiation of positive interactions. This adds significantly to their cultural uniqueness.

Whales are Politically Special

Fifth, whales are politically special. The vast majority of cetacean species are non-national in range. Their living space, unlike that of land animals, does not fall within clearly defined national boundaries. Their dwelling place is largely the global commons, the seas of the world, which do not belong to any one nation. More than any other marine mammal, whales are pelagic in their habitat, and thus they constitute a unique global resource.

Whales are Symbolically Special

Sixth, whales are symbolically special. More than any other form of non-human life, whales have come to symbolize concern for the environment. At least in Western society, protection of whales has become a touchstone for caring about the interrelatedness of all life on this water planet. There is widespread support for not killing whales because they are such a special symbol of sharing the earth.

Because of whales, more people will care about all life on earth, And that this conquest of the spirit over the harpoon will help to usher in a new era of more benign relationships with other forms of life on earth as well.

The Codger <saysram@aol.com>

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