andrew burke





The Whales Have Been Saved, Captain!

Posted on: 2023-10-24

Scene from Star Trek IV at Peggys Cove

The other night we watched Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I think the last time I watched that movie all the way through was back when it was first out in theatres in the 1980s. It's pretty fun and moves along breezily, not stopping long enough for you to think too much about the huge story holes and extremely arbitrary plot elements. It's a deeply silly movie, but it knows that it is and is fine with that.

The main story involves the crew going back in time to the "present" day of 1987 to get some humpback whales who will help them save the future from a whale-friendly alien invader that is very upset over the whales going extinct. There are several scenes that really dig in on how terrible humans are to whales, and it reminded me of all the "save the whales" activism that had been going on back then - with bumper stickers and books and movies and even best-selling record albums of their songs.

So I just had to pull out my futuristic digital network device and quickly check the repository of all global knowledge and see how the Humpback Whales are doing now.

It turns out they're actually doing fine.

Overhunting had reduced their numbers down to only a few thousand back in the 1960s, and in the 1980s it certainly wouldn't have been a stretch to imagine they could go extinct soon. But now the population has rebounded and there are over 135,000 Humpback Whales in our oceans. Their conservation status is currently "Least Concern". There are some issues of habitat loss and in getting caught up in cables or colliding with ships, but generally there's no need to worry about them anymore.

It's interesting how long our cultural assumptions can continue even after the facts have changed. If you'd asked me before whether humpback whales were still endangered, I would certainly have assumed so - it's an easy default to expect that anything environment-related must always be getting worse over time. But that's not the case, at least with humpback whales. That said, there are plenty of other species of whale that are still in trouble, so there's still things to be concerned about - but at least we shouldn't be in despair about everything all the time.

We can go back to worrying about things like how Scotty was able to do an advanced molecular schematic with just a few keypresses on a single-floppy drive Macintosh Plus he was so unfamiliar with he originally tried talking into the mouse.

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