Horizon at Sandy Point

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A dolphin lies dead on the sand ...

"Infant dolphins were found dead at six times average rates in January and February of 2013. More than 650 dolphins have been found beached in the oil spill area since the disaster began, which is more than four times the historical average. Sea turtles were also affected, with more than 1,700 found stranded between May 2010 and November 2012 – the last date for which information is available. On average, the number stranded annually in the region is 240."

Sea animals in the Gulf seem to be responding to high levels of toxicity in their environment. By dying. And vast as the ocean might be - we are constantly reminded that it's 70% of earth's surface - it cannot wash away quickly enough the 4.9 million barrels of crude oil, followed by 1.8 million gallons of dispersant dumped in the Gulf of Mexico since May 2010. The very vastness of the ocean fools us into believing that we who live on dry land have less. But we air-breathers enjoy all of the thick blanket of atmosphere which surrounds the earth, with even the worst smogs and pollutions cleansed by the 70% in the cycle of evaporation and rainfall. (On the other side of the great mother ocean, Fukushima spills 300 tons of radioactive water every day into the Pacific, where we may never see a dolphin dead on the sand.)

Now that the stats are being collected, how should we regard beaching dolphins and high infant dolphin mortality? These are animals with intelligence matching our own. Beaching is a deliberate act. Imagine this: creatures whose natural environment has become so intolerable that they swim or throw themselves out of it; seeking escape from the very medium supposed to give life and sustain them. 

Is it possible? That an animal will commit suicide if it is unable to survive and thrive in its habitat. That it might refuse to fight for life; or that its struggle to live leads it to attempt the unthinkable. A deliberate act, not different from the person who fills her pockets with rocks and walks into the deepest part of the river; the man who runs his car into a bridge; the mother who hangs herself in the bathroom.

Is it a weakness to die like this? To let yourself go, back into the great churn of rank and fetid soil, to return your atoms and molecules to be re-ordered, into a tree, perhaps plankton, morsels for crabs to chew on, for worms to feast. 

Is there not a weakness too, in holding on, longevity a virtue, past productivity, past feeling useful, past joy, proving only the trick of survivability. Truth is, we who have caused the deaths of species - of millions of millions of individuals of other kinds, floral and faunal - we are afraid to die. Indeed, we live in the belief of a god-given right to dominion over the biodiversity of the earth. As if our species - alone - is beyond ecological retribution. As if we are children of the stars, with another home to return to.

Yes, we may be children of the stars, but why should we think that dolphins and whales, the turtles and fish, hummingbirds and dung beetles, bachacs and great trees, corals and all, are any less star-born. But that's always been our problem, that - even acknowledging that all the forms of life have the same origins - we believe we are more equal than any.

A dolphin lies dead on the sand. How did he die? 

Did he fall from the sky? Was he washed up with a wave? Were there marks of a predator on him? Were there signs of disease? Did he become disoriented? Was he chased by a shark? Did he take poison?

How did he die?

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