This past summer, the world watched and wept as Orca J-35 (also known as Tahlequah) carried the corpse of her newborn calf on her nose for 17 days in the Pacific waters off Canada’s west coast. For some reason, we – as humans – are stunned and shamefully lukewarm to the fact that there has not been a single successful birth in J-35’s pod since 2015. Meanwhile, her pod mate, little J-50, is suffering from an apparent parasite and scientists are finally in a race to find a way to restore her health. Like Tahlequah, this orca youth is a priceless link in the chain for the survival of her pod. The plight of her pod is a gruelling reminder of what the planet is trying to tell us: our modern human lifestyle is exterminating all elements of the biotic world.
While one male can spawn entire populations, it takes a considerable number of females to ensure the survival of a species. An abundance of females provides ample chromosomal diversity to limit a sizeable number of possible genetic defects. However, the gestation and subsequent recovery periods are a requirement of the female body; this imposes limits on the number of offspring as well as the health of babies.
A closed community of orcas, such as Tahlequah’s Pacific coast pod, raises not only specific challenges for the protection of its habitat and natural food source, but needs to be looked upon in the light of at least two parables: the farmer on the green, and the mustard seed. Without these insights – not to mention the mental flexibility to decode and apply them – we are inviting the Earth to evacuate all life as we know it.
The farmer on the green is about stewardship: each farmer is given an equal number of sheep in the pasture. The balance is shaken only when any given farmer decides to add sheep with the view of profit. Interestingly, organized crime originated in Sicily when someone decided to find ways to force people to pay for what was previously free and “grows on trees”: lemons and olive (oil). Ironically, the legalization of cannabis is another fine example of regulations being imposed in order to establish monopoly over something useful that also “grows on trees”.
The parable of the Mustard Seed warns against the hazards of unbridled growth on both the institution and its occupants.
These rhetorical hyperboles are a bustling reminder that human consumerism has its roots in greed and suggests that this greed is potentially a phenomenon of imitation. The western society which founded industrialization is effectively based in the idea of god as a creator. As we seek to reap the profits of our “creations”, we fall short on the other aspects of creation, namely maintenance and destruction. We glorify science and its illegitimate, adulterated offspring: technology. In our lust for the latest smartphone device, we are even putting other primates at risk, as they are being hunted by miners seeking to extract an element available where apes are the locally available “food source”, and risk being hunted to extinction.
Even if a smartphone is used to debate whether the orca pod is dying out because of maternal malnutrition (mothers are filled with waste plastics versus whole foods) or if this is because of diminishing gene pools, our modern human culture says that our right to narcissism trumps other species’ right to cohabit on this planet. It ignores that a huge percentage of waste plastics are due to run-off from washing our synthetic clothing. Can humans revert from posting pointless phone-snapped selfies in a useless array fast fashion for the benefit of our own children and flat-mates in this apartment complex known as Earth? We are all tenants here, where one whale is an entire ecosystem unto itself.
By Carol Ann