Saturday, July 19, 2014

Fun with Whale Poop

I sometimes struggle with writing this blog.  Especially recently, when my life seems dominated by the same old things, the usual struggles, those typical problems that always seem to come up.  
When I post an entry, I want it to be something interesting for people to read.  Actually...  I want it to be Interesting!  I want the people who read my blog to say in their comments how, until the moment they read the words I posted on line, they had never considered what I had presented to them before.  It was as if a light had suddenly been turned out.  
It was as if they had discovered...  Whale poop.
This is what happened to me last night, driving home from work.  I was listening to Science Friday on the radio.  Ira Flatow, the host, was interviewing a conservation biologist named Joe Roman who was talking about the impact whales have on the ocean’s ecosystem.  It is a bigger affect than what scientists had thought in the past.  So much so that he referred to whales as the “engineers” of the ocean ecosystems.  
And one of the reasons whales have such a large affect is because of their poop.  Baleen whales, which strain the water for their food, krill and plankton, dive deep to feed, but return to the surface to breathe and...  Well...  Poop.  Just like the dung from cattle, whale poop, or “fecal plumes” as Dr. Roman termed them, act like fertilizer to the upper levels of the ocean, providing nutrients that would normally be locked into the deeper levels.  
I found this to be one of the more fascinating stories I’ve heard on the show.  Mainly because, throughout my entire life I had never, not even once, considered whether or not whales pooped.  
And unless you’re a conservation biologist like Dr. Roman, who described following whales dragging something like a giant fishing net with a collection bottle, a whale-sized pooper-scooper, to get samples of their fecal plumes for study, I’m willing to bet that you’ve never thought about whale poop either.  
I like thinking new thoughts, or considering things I hadn’t thought of before.  Did you know, for instance, that whales poop where they eat, but they don’t poop where they breed or birth their offspring?  It’s not for sanitation reasons.  It’s because the whales fatten themselves up in their feeding grounds, then swim thousands of miles to less fertile waters to find a mate and breed, during which time they live off the blubber they built up while feeding.  This is a neat little tidbit that my mind has been stroking and turning over in my head, like a smooth rock or pebble you end up keeping in your pocket instead of tossing back to the ground.  All because of my first consideration of whale poo.  
I think this is why young children appear to be happier than adults for the most part.  Not because, while still in diapers, they can just go ahead and poop whenever they want.  Or not just because of that.  I think it’s because every other thought for them is probably a new one, something considered or encountered for the first time.  
There is a video I saw on Facebook that illustrated this.  In the video, there is a baby sitting up on a couch.  A few months old at best.  From the left side of the shot a pair of male hands come into view, presumably the father’s hands.  They are holding a piece of paper.  The baby looks at the paper.  He or she reaches out as if to touch the paper, clearly fascinated.  
With great deliberation, the hands grab the top of the page...  And then tear off a strip of paper from the rest of the sheet.  
The baby, seeing this, starts to laugh.  And not just a cooing, ticklish sort of laugh.  It is a big, boisterous, barking, “Oh, MY GOD!  THAT is SOOOO FUNNY!” sort of laugh.  
The father tears off another strip.  The baby laughs some more.  Another strip and the baby laughs even harder.  With each tear of the paper, the baby gives in more and more to the joy of discovering that paper can be torn.  Soon you’re laughing along with the baby because you can’t help yourself.  Or maybe because you remember what that joy of discovery was like.  
If a grown-up laughed like this over something like that, someone would say, with great sarcasm, “What?  You never saw a piece of paper being torn before?”  
The baby could honestly reply, “No.  I haven’t!”  
Recently I’ve been feeling a dearth of new ideas.  As I’ve gotten older, and my life has settled into the series of routines associated with modern life, I seem to be thinking the same things over and over and over again.  It’s almost felt as if I’ve come to know everything there is to know, and that this is all there is.  
That’s why I’m glad I’ve learned about whale poop.  I don’t know that it’ll ever be of much use to me in a practical sense.  Nor do I envision myself writing a story about whale poop.  But with this tiny discovery, it has opened, to some tiny degree perhaps, areas of speculation that I’ve might have missed.
Such as...  Do spider’s poop?  They do actually.  Thinking about whale doodoo made me wonder about insects and spiders, so I looked it  up.  I found out that the skin condition rosacea, where the skin turns red and blotchy, is caused by an allergic reaction to the excrement of a skin mite, a distant cousin of the spider, that feeds on the  oils in a person’s pores.  These mites don’t have anuses, so their excrement builds up inside their bodies until they explode, which is when the skin reacts.  
Now isn’t THAT and nice new thought to have fun with!  


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