Thursday, 11 February 2016

Oops upside your head

A gorgeous morning today so I decided to ignore the large influx of rubbish - chocolate wrappers, torn bags and bottle tops in the main - and just walk the beach, watching the geese and lapwings overhead. It took me five minutes to find this. We think it's a guillemot, which isn't a regular visitor to the bay. They like cliffs, so roost further north on the Cumbrian coast or in North Wales. 

There's no obvious evidence for its cause of death, and it doesn't look as though it's been in the water for long, barely decomposed. 

Of course it's nothing so dramatic or horrific as the recent surge of whale strandings on the east coast but holds a similar mystery. All these deaths seem to be a perfect image for the huge unknowableness that is the ocean. 

It covers two thirds of our planet; a constantly changing environment, affected by and affecting the weather; containing more species than on land, many of which remain unidentified; the sea bed is uncharted territory: only 15% of it has been mapped to a 100m resolution. 

The PCBs we poured into the ocean until they were banned in the 1970s are still evident in the top feeders, and are given as the reason why orcas are not expanding in population in the North Eastern Atlantic*. They have such slow metabolism toxins sit in their fat layer, although lactating mothers get rid of it through their milk - to their young. When pods are stressed (through toxins or lack of food) females have been known to give birth aged 8 and finish at 43 - usually their breeding age is 12 - 40 yo.

In fact all the pollution in the ocean affects the top feeders the most - in these I include humans. The plankton is extremely efficient at recycling water, its food and gas, and they recycle the chemicals with it, over and over, so they build up in those that predate on them and those that predate on those and so on until we reach the 'top' of the chain.

I put top in inverted commas. In fact we're so dependent on the plankton and filter feeders for our existence it seems almost comical that we consider ourselves at the top. Sure our body plans may be more complex, but without them the future would be extremely bleak. A friend asked me the other day how would we behave if we were to invert the traditional triangle of the food chain and place ourselves at the bottom?

* MCS 
** and for the story - once I'd found the guillemot I felt obliged to go back pick up all the crap on the strandline

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