Friday, January 11, 2013

Free the Orcas...

Okay... so here's the thing. I'm sure most people have heard about the recent event in Northern Quebec, where a pod of errant Orcas were trapped by the ice. They were extremely fortunate this time around and Mother Nature decided to intervene by shifting the prevailing winds which in turn shifted and broke up the ice pack, freeing them temporarily from a certain doom.

This incident hit the social media sites and went viral, prompting hordes of ignorant (albeit well-meaning) people, to go out of their minds and assail Fisheries and Oceans Canada and other federal entities with calls and emails. Apparently the morons who set up these various web pages were exhorting readers to deluge the federal government with calls, in the pompous and misguided belief that: "If we bring enough pressure to bear on the Canadian government, they will surely have to act and save these poor creatures from a horrible fate".

Seriously...??? There are so many things wrong with that statement, it's hard to know where to begin to tear it apart. It is based not only on a profound ignorance and a fundamental lack of understanding of Canada's physical geography, notably in the Far North, but it also showcases their lack of understanding of the mandate and purpose of Fisheries and Oceans Canada/Canadian Coast Guard.

There is also of course, this vapid mindset of those who believe that every animal on this planet should be saved from the clutches of Nature's law of natural selection. Those who believe that we humans, since we are doing such a bang-up job of nurturing and protecting the planet and one another, should be entrusted now to dictate how animals deal with their natural surroundings. Are you kidding me...?

I'm sure I'm not the only one who is dismayed with our current societal ethos of: "If it makes it out of the womb, it should be kept alive...". But that is another story altogether. It has become crystal clear that our only involvement with the wild animals which inhabit our planet, should be as spectators. Animals are far better equipped to survive and thrive in this world than we are. We cannot and should not treat animals like 'people'. That only reinforces our own ignorance and cannot bode well for their survival.

Instances like these where animals are entrapped by ice in the Far North, for as distressing as they are, are literally yearly events. They should serve as a primer in the law of Natural Selection at work. I have no doubt that many humans believe themselves above such laws. We consider ourselves able to outsmart Nature and that we are doing everyone a favor by extending our 'intelligent choices' to animals. Nothing of course, could be further from the truth. DFO and the Coast Guard have fielded suggestions ranging from dropping wrecking balls on the ice, to using dynamite in proximity of these trapped animals, to heli-carrying them out in slings. Again, desperation and thinking with one's emotions rather than one's intellect, can lead people to say some pretty dumb things.

DFO was very much aware of the situation from the onset. The problem lay with whether anything could logically and reasonably be done about it. And to be fair, DFO was and is not responsible for 'fixing' these types of situations. Regardless of how much "pressure was brought to bear on them" by people largely from outside this country, the federal government of Canada is not an animal rescue organization. Ranting, insulting, and demeaning federal departments and those who work in their service by the way, does not constitute or create 'pressure'. Disdain, yes. Annoyance, yes. Inconvenience, yes. Tying up phone lines that are there to serve the public across Canada, yes. Frustration at the consistent level of stupidity and arrogance which exists out there amongst self-appointed messiahs and the great unwashed, yes. But definitely not pressure. A misinterpretation of reality on your part, does not constitute the need to change the operational mandate of a federal government department. You might as well be clamoring for us to paint all Tanzanian elephants blue, because your dog is dyslexic. It makes exactly the same amount of sense...

The Quebec Region does have a Marine Mammal Response Program in place, whose responsibility it is to respond to incidents which involve marine mammals. You should read up on it via Fisheries and Oceans Canada's website. Like ALL marine mammal rescue organizations, they are private organizations, which also benefit from the input of DFO marine biologists. So no, they are NOT "the government". Their jurisdiction or area of responsibility however, is limited to the waters of the St. Lawrence Seaway and it's estuary. That's it... This does not and logically cannot extend to the frozen waters of the Hudson Bay.

One of the more popular pipe-dreams that surfaces in cases like this, is the suggestion of "driving up there with an icebreaker". This seems to be the favored solution for a panoply of situations. It is after all, the very reason why we have such vessels, is it not? No, it isn't... Let me explain something here...

Icebreakers exist to ensure the safety of navigation in Canada's waterways. Canada is a Maritime nation of the first order. Our shoreline extends 243,000 kilometers. It is literally, the longest in the World. At the time this incident was taking place, it is actually winter in ALL parts of Canada. Including one of our most vital marine shipping routes, the St. Lawrence River and Seaway. This area regularly becomes icebound in the winter and requires an almost never-ending amount of icebreaking and ice clearing services. That is where the CCG icebreaker(s) assigned to DFO's Quebec Region were busily carrying out their duties. For them to suspend their duties and jeopardize the safety of Canadian shipping, in order to undertake a 14 day sea voyage (there and back...) to Hudson Bay (not to mention the cost of keeping a vessel like this at sea on a per diem basis), in order to intervene in a natural event... well that would require a political decision and not one which could be made solely by either Fisheries and Oceans Canada or the Canadian Coast Guard.

True, there is certainly at least one icebreaker servicing the Newfoundland and Labrador Region, but again, it's responsibility lies with the protection of navigational safety in that specific region of Canada. And believe me, they are kept busy in those northern waters. In total (Canada wide) the Canadian Coast Guard has a fleet of 18 icebreaking vessels. I cannot speak with any authority on their deployment, availability or state of operational readiness, to say nothing about crew availability. The Hudson Bay, where this particular entrapment took place, covers some 1,230,000 square kilometers, or 740,000 square miles. The Arctic and Hudson Bay are accessible for only six months of the year, leaving a very short navigation season for the resupply of Northern settlements and military sites. Still, if dispatching an icebreaker had been a realistic and reasonable response to this event, I have no doubt that DFO and the Coast Guard would have weigned this option as well.

The widespread and simplistic views shared by scores of people loitering on these social media sites, is that it's a simple matter of grabbing the keys and driving a ship up to Hudson Bay to free these orcas... Again, demonstrating an apalling lack of knowledge regarding the immensity of this country and the environmental conditions of it's northern climes. When they refer to this area of Canada as 'The Far North', it's not simply some quaint little nickname that someone decided to coin.

Some of the other suggestions offered up by those who "wanted to show that they knew a thing or two", made reference of commandeering a Hercules aircraft from CFB Trenton to fly heaters or other such gear up there. CFB Trenton is home to among other RCAF entities, the main JRCC (Joint Rescue Coordination Center) for Central and Arctic Canada. They belong to the Canadian Armed Forces. The Royal Canadian Air Force, to be specific... Again, neither within the domain nor the purview of  DFO or the Canadian Coast Guard. They can address their questions to the RCAF's 436 Squadron, who will be able to inform them in short order who they actualy receive their marching (or in this case, flying) orders from.

As for Trenton's 424 Rescue and Transport Squadron, I don't think they would consider freeing up SAR (Search and Rescue) assets for a situation like this, owing to the fact that they are responsible for a staggering  10,000,000 square kilometer area. Yes... that's Ten Million Square Kilometers...

So yes... to our American, European and even our Canadian callers who vociferously bent our collective ears over this incident, Canada is a really, really, really big country. No, it is not realistic to think or believe that every animal can be saved from death by misadventure on their part. This is actually how the world turns, whether you decide to accept and embrace this truth or not. So the next time you get the urge to jump on a bandwagon initiated by some self-appointed saviour of the Earth, do yourself a favor and research the topic and the location of the purported event a little. This will hopefully prevent you from feeling foolish when the facts are made plain for you to see.

As a side note, for you polar bear lovers out there, all the commotion around the ice hole where the orcas were trapped attracted a large polar bear to the scene. Polar bears are also a species of concern in the Far North. Their survival is also being put in jeopardy by the changes in the Earth's climate, very much as the orcas were. This bear was unceremoniously shot on the spot. Had we humans not been there, he would still be alive, going about his business. So... spare me this type of 'selective empathy' for the animals with which we share this planet.

I am not the most intelligent person I know. I can list quite a few people to whom I would defer on a number of topics. I consider myself only somewhat educated, as education for any individual, ought to be a life-long process. But I do like to pride myself on being intelligent. The two, in passing, are not always mutually inclusive. There are no end to the people out there who are 'over-educated and under-smart'. Yet for all of my so-called lack of sophistication or degrees after my family name on a letterhead, I feel so-ooooo much more clued-in than people I have been speaking to of late.

I can understand, even empathize with people who give voice to their concerns regarding the preservation of animal life on this planet. I myself am a great proponent of this. It is hard, if not impossible not to be moved by the videos which have been circulating online over the last few days. I get it. But you have to termper this concern with a healthy dose of reality as to how things actually are. If the videos upset you to that degree, then here's an idea... don't watch them. I know we all possess a certain amount of morbid voyeurism, which draws our eye to some terrible spectacle when we are confronted by it. It's like the feeling of happening on a bad car accident. You know you shouldn't look, but somehow you can't help yourself. But you have to know how to cut it off. The world rarely operates following our whims and wishes, specifically when we are talking about the elements of Nature itself.


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