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Monday, May 16, 2011

The things we can learn from Cuttlefish and Whaling

Ever wished you could blend in with your surroundings? It's incredibly useful for avoiding predators, sneaking up on unsuspecting prey and forestalling that guy who always wants to start awkward conversations (you know the one). There are many fine examples of this ability in vertebrates and invertebrates alike, but none are quite as sophisticated as the cuttlefish. Here's what I mean by that:

So sophisticated, in fact, that researchers at the Marine Biology Laboratory at Woods Hole recently received a $6 million grant from the US Navy to study these cephalopods in greater detail. The ultimate goal of this research is to emulate the system which allows the cuttlefish to mimic the colour and texture of their environment, and develop some nifty new materials for stealth suits and such.

Such forms of camouflage would also have come in handy for shareholders entering the Enbridge Pipeline offices in Calgary last week, as members of the Yinka Dene Alliance held a protest and drum ceremony in front of the building. First Nations along the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline route have consistently voiced their opposition to the project because of the substantial environmental risks it poses to their territories. How much risk? Try 5000 spills in Alberta alone between 1990 and 2005, 52 of which were greater than 100,000 liters. Not to mention the massive spills this in Northern Alberta this month, and in the Kalamazoo River last year.

And what has this to do with the ocean (being that this is a blog about marine conservation and all)? Well for one, increased tanker traffic on the coast (as a result of the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline) would create the potential for an environmental disaster orders of magnitude larger than those caused by pipeline ruptures and much more difficult to clean up.

But in a more fundamental sense, many parallels can be drawn between the development (and potential fate) of the modern oil industry and that (those) of the whaling industry of the last century, according to an insightful piece by Andrew Nikiforuk in the Tyee last week. Not only are there parallels, but the oil industry basically sprung out of the demand for energy created by the whaling industry. To illustrate this transition, I'll leave you with a classic Stan Rogers tune.

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