Monday, February 23, 2009

Save the whales!

I love panda bears.
I love polar bears.
I hate walruses.

I adore my job, but I can't tell you much about it. Confidentiality and all that. But what I can tell you is that it affords me plenty of opportunity to work my way through an enormity of DVDs...

I've always had the typical appreciation for elephants and zebras and giraffes and those big majestic beasts that are not normally found in my backyard or the petting zoo or the deli section. But watching the brilliant BBC series Planet Earth has taught me to love some of the less infamous creatures too, like otters, for example, which have now moved to #1 on the list of "Animals which I wouldn't mind being reincarnated as, if reincarnation exists, which I don't think it does, but just in case."

It has also taught me a healthy respect for Mr David Attenborough, who narrates this documentary. It took me about 16 seconds before declaring him "definitely a glass half empty kind of guy." He's a fan and enthusiastic user of devastating, unforgiving adjectives. A predator is never just a predator - it must also be fearsome, gargantuan, unrelenting. And a landscape must be harsh, deadly, gruelling. His stories usually go something like: the baby cub clings desperately to its starving mother, drinking her retched breast milk for the first three months of its life because it is blind and unable to fend for itself. And then it dies.

Attenborough himself almost becomes another specimen to observe, especially when he's making value judgements on unsuspecting animals. A bird, rejected by the female it was trying to impress, is further depressed when David intones "It's sad when even your best isn't good enough." Ouch.

It's funny how watching these animals and their strange habits and habitats makes you think so much about yourself. There's this one sequence when seals are forced, every single day of their lives, to swim across shark-infested waters just to get to their feeding ground. Meanwhile, the sharks chase after slippery, elusive creatures, just trying to get a bite. I picture myself in a field, faint with hunger, trying to convince a cow to sit still long enough for me to get a kebab out of him. Or worse yet, I picture myself darting across a parking lot being monitored by a sniper to get to my supermarket. This series has given me immense grocery-store guilt. My life up here on the top of the food chain is too easy. My prey doesn't try to bite back, or claw me in defense. It's pretty placid, in convenient portions, wrapped in plastic, ready to go.

That whole heart-pounding scene had me shouting Go seal, go! but later, when the seals had developed a taste for "blubber-rich penguins" I was like Fuck you, you dirty rotten seals! It seems that in these contests of nature, that one almost instinctively champions the underdog. You root for the prey, because prey are invariably cuter. I wonder, though, if we matched up dolphin vs baby deer, which I would cheer for.

But that's the difference between them and me: they worry about survival, and I worry about strictly hypothetical situations occurring to me from the office of my cushy job where I sit and watch nature-as-entertainment. A few bad weeks for these poor fellas mean that their whole food chain collapses, whereas the worst that happens to me is a lettuce shortage, resulting in romaine costing $4 a head instead of $1.29. And this overproduction of crops to feed all the privileged western mouths is what's destroying their precious habitat to begin with. Imagine what it would feel like if an iguana rang your doorbell and said: Pack your bags! I'm growing crops here now, you'll have to move. And that would be kind of the iguana to give you notice, because I don't think we do a very good job of that ourselves. I'm fairly certain that the discomfiting sound of chainsaws is their first indication that it's time to leave the neighbourhood.

This series pulls hard on your heart strings. At one point, with the picture facing away from me, I could only hear the tragic tune that was accompanying it. "What terrible thing is happening?" I enquired, only to be told that "A flower is growing." Well, it sounded like Schindler's List. Everything in nature is dramatic, never dull. You might think that a bump on a log is boring, but it's only because you're not looking close enough. The tragedy is there, lurking, believe me. But there was a small slice of upliftingness: Sadly, not all the mommy penguins come back, and some of them who do discover empty nests. The lady penguins turn their unrealized motherly instincts toward the poor orphaned penguins. In fact, so many would-be-mommies compete to adopt the orphan that they end up trampling him. To death.

But seriously, I've seen some amazing things too. I saw humpback whales do this crazy spiral move that would have earned them at least a bronze medal in synchronized swimming at the Obese Olympics. I saw General Sherman, a tree so big it has a name, and a title; a sequoia so huge it is the equivalent in weight to 10 blue whales. How can they know such a thing? Well, maybe they made it up. But still. I saw dolphins hydroplaning, because why not make hunting fun? I saw the terrifying vampire squid - from hell. Actually, it was more like the depths of the ocean, which is good because I can probably expect to go to hell, but I'm pretty sure I can manage to keep off the floor of the ocean, and let me tell you, I don't want to be wherever this guy is.

So, I've run out of room before I've run out of steam. I'll save the rest for later, and you're not going to want to miss it: I will explain what happens when you mix up a nature documentary with a bad Keanu Reeves movie (yes, I am aware that the 'bad' was redundant.) Roar!!

1 comment:

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