Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Nonsense - but for a good Cause!

This reminds me of that trip to Wolf and Darwin.

We had chartered the venerable Sulidae (more than a century old - and cabin 6 in the stern castle with its multicolored windows is just plain amazing - very retro! The only thing missing is a lava lamp!) for a special charter to the northern Galapagos and had been put under the tutelage of the compulsory naturalist guide provided by the Darwin Station, a real delightful and funny guy called Carlos.

Carlos was a great stickler for discipline and strict protocols, and he started off by having us undergo a thorough check-out dive which consisted in freezing off our collective bums somewhere near Baltra whilst proving that we were able to face the most rigorous challenges diving would throw at us. Which incidentally resulted in some truly epic footage of Valerie Taylor being tested in the arcane art of clearing one's mask - all gleefully recorded for posterity by her loving husband.

So weighed, tested and not found wanting, we all had a wonderful time despite the ubiquitous Garua, saw tons of humongous Whale Sharks, made friends with that pack of Galapagos Sharks on that corner of Wolf, drifted into enormous schools of Hammerheads and Silkies and generally drove Carlos crazy by never, ever, ever keeping to anything that could even remotely be described as a responsible buddy diving system. Poor Carlos gave up the valiant fight halfway through the trip - and ended up telling us that he had experienced some of the best dives of his life as a consequence!

Anyway, on the way back, we stopped at Isla Bartolomé and went ashore to take some pics of the Penguins and Sea Lions, only to have Carlos chastise us when we started unpacking our strobes. That was apparently strictly forbidden and when questioned about the reasons, he proceeded to lecture us about the fact that strobe light would cause permanent damage to the vision, but above all, to the developing embryos of the pregnant Sea Lions!
At which Valerie quietly took him to one side and whilst lauding his zeal, gently explained that he should stop making up such nonsense as it was completely destroying his credibility and defeating the aims of what he was trying to achieve.

I was reminded of Carlos when I found this article.

In it, an equally valiant Filipino fisheries official is trying to promote Whale Sharks as the "heroic" ultimate saviors of a bay infested by pollution and a Red Tide of Harmful Algal Bloom.
I can see that what he is really trying to achieve, is to convince the local fishermen that Whale Sharks are useful and thus worthy of protection. In a way, that's smart pro-Conservation marketing using a local calamity as a pretext.

That is, until one starts to examine the details.
Of course, Whale Sharks are not giant mammals - but let's be generous and attribute that to an editorial mistake.
But "Plankton" is not simply "Plankton" and Whale Sharks eat Zooplankton, not algae. Here, we're talking about a persistent and apparently, toxic algal bloom which is said to be triggered by pollution - hardly the kind of meal that would motivate an army of Whale Sharks to hone in for a feast!
Whale Sharks are not just dumb biological water purifiers that roam the Oceans, mouth wide agape, in the hopes that something useful may end up getting swept inside - they are selective and rather "smart" active predators of Zooplankton and small Fish that have developed efficient hunting techniques and periodically aggregate in areas featuring high concentrations of other suitable nourishment like Coral and Fish spawn.

I would also dare to venture the presumption that the assertion that they are immune to toxins which are lethal to humans is a "Carlos", a daring and spectacular assertion that has been made up on the fly.

In fact, it's not even very plausible.
I did google "Red Tide dead Fish" and have come up with 1,240,000 entries talking about the toxicity of Red Tides to Vertebrates. There's no reason to assume that Evolution would have selected for a largely oceanic Carnivore to have developed an immunity to a largely coastal phenomenon involving plant-like matter - the more as most coastal Fishes for whom the selective pressure would have to be higher haven't managed to do so, this probably owing to the rarity of those tides.

Much rather, I would think that a Whale Shark venturing upon a cloud of toxic algae would sense its taste, keep its mouth closed and simply swim somewhere else.

But I shall be happy to be proven wrong!
Anybody out there who knows?

No comments: