Heroes

Something alive is moving about half of the water in the oceans.

It's becoming clear that whales are doing a whole lot more than just swimming around, blowing the minds of life-jacketed landlubbers in boats.

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Unilever and the United Nations


When humans kill whales, we're doing more than making a cruel choice — we're messing with an entire ecosystem. Some people justify their slaughter with the argument that the fewer whales there are, the more food there is for everyone else.


Well, it turns out the opposite is true.

Whales help keep the oceans full of life.

It's a little surprising, but when whale populations fall, so do the populations of the animals they eat. When there are a lot of whales, there are also more of the little beasties they eat. You wouldn't think so, but it's true.

It all has to do with something called a trophic cascade, an "ecological process that starts at the top of the food chain and tumbles all the way down to the bottom." At the top of one big food chain swim the whales.

It's all their deep-diving and coming back up that makes them so important.

Whales stir up as much of the ocean as wind, waves, and tides combined!

Just by doing what they do, they drag things from the surface down to the dark bottom, and then they bring stuff on the bottom back up, dragging it into the light where things can grow.

Here's an example. They eat down in the deep, and after when they swim up to the surface, they, um, redistribute the organic matter as...

"Poo-namis."

No, not some new kind of tidal wave — just a massive amount of whale poop. It's an important fertilizer for the ocean's upper layers. Since there's light there, photosynthesis can happen and plants can grow when they get enough nutrients. So, well, thank you, whale poo.

Whales eat lots of little beasties, right?

Yes, but it's also true that whales rescue them from sinking into the killer darkness, acting like ginormous up-and-down taxicabs. They pull animals behind their massive bodies as they swim back up into the light where the little things can survive, reproduce, and grow. And there's a big plus here for humans: Plankton, which whales ferry to the surface, absorb tons of CO2 from the atmosphere — they help with global warming.

So, these gigantic beings can be part of our solution.

Scientists are realizing that instead of allowing the killing of whales to continue, we should be working to let their populations grow — for the good of the oceans, and for our own good. It's something pretty easy that we can do, and it's yet another reason to keep these wonderful creatures around. More people need to know about this.

Photo by CDC on Unsplash

When schools closed early in the spring, the entire country was thrown for a loop. Parents had to figure out what to do with their kids. Teachers had to figure out how to teach students at home. Kids had to figure out how to navigate a totally new routine that was being created and altered in real time.

For many families, it was a big honking mess—one that many really don't want to repeat in the fall.

But at the same time, the U.S. hasn't gotten a handle on the coronavirus pandemic. As states have begun reopening—several of them too early, according to public health officials—COVID-19 cases have risen to the point where we now have more cases per day than we did during the height of the outbreak in the spring. And yet President Trump is making a huge push to get schools to reopen fully in the fall, even threatening to possibly remove funding if they don't.

It's worth pointing out that Denmark and Norway had 10 and 11 new cases yesterday. Sweden and Germany had around 300 each. The U.S. had 55,000. (And no, that's not because we're testing thousands of times more people than those countries are.)

The president of the country's largest teacher's union had something to say about Trump's push to reopen schools. Lily Eskelsen Garcia says that schools do need to reopen, but they need to be able to reopen safely—with measures that will help keep both students and teachers from spreading the virus and making the pandemic worse. (Trump has also criticized the CDCs "very tough & expensive guidelines" for reopening schools.)

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