Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Stay Away from Migaloo!

The Australian government is warning whale watchers and others to give a wide berth to a rare albino humpback whale named Migaloo. Or face fines of over $13,000 U.S. dollars. Apparently, Migaloo has picked up quite a following since he was first discovered in 1991, which likely prompted the warnings from the government. His fans, meanwhile, remain concerned that the Japanese will kill him during their annual hunt in the Southern Ocean, where Migaloo and other humpbacks will go to feed during the summer. It's unclear whether Japan actually would kill Migaloo. Probably depends on how much they want to infuriate Australia. Or, given the unprofitability of whaling, it depends on whether they think the market might be better for a rare animal's meat. At the end of the day, Migaloo's really no different from any other humpback. But his situation puts me in mind of the fact that all over the world, endangered and animals fetch high prices because there are people who think it is exciting to consume the flesh of a rare species. My instinctive reaction to this attitude is that it is sickeningly immature and shortsighted. Yet it also makes the world a more boring place. On a basic level, albino whales, sea turtles, and megamouth sharks showcase the crazier side of nature. Without considering any of the sophisticated arguments in favor of maintaing high biodiversity, if we don't have it, what are we left with? The craze over Migaloo demonstrates yet again that unusual animals capture people's imaginations in a powerful way. The success of the Planet Earth documentary series was no fluke.

So the next time you hear complaints about the extraordinary lengths recommended to save some relatively unknown species, remember that without that species, we're just heading further down the road to dullness, also known as loss of biodiversity. Squirrels and crows are amusing to a point, but I personally am glad there are bowerbirds and white whales out there as well.

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