Australia, and in particular Sydney, has witnessed a fascinating human spectacle this week. While the rest of the world has been obsessed by the performance of the Jamaicans in Beijing, we’ve been preoccupied with the health and eventual death of a humpback whale calf named ‘Colin’.
Now Colin (AKA Collette; a closer examination revealed he was actually ‘she’) had somehow become orphaned and was snuggling up to large boats in a stretch of water we call ‘Pittwater’. Supposedly a highly intelligent animal, this small humpback thought one of these boats maybe his mother. As he became increasingly hungry, he became increasingly snugly in trying to suckle whatever piece of racing yachtware he could find.
While this piece of animal delusion was interesting in itself, what was even more interesting was the vast array of whackos that came out of the woodwork as ‘experts’ or ‘friends’ of Colin. Odd-bods from all over Australia were putting in their bit, getting their faces on commercial news condemning authorities for “not doing enough to fix this dreadful tragedy”.
There were whale whisperers, whale chefs (who thought they had the ideal recipe for whale milk), Aboriginal whale callers and whale psychologists all thinking they had the answer. They all believed they knew better than the scientists who concluded that euthanasia was the best and only course of action. Sad but necessary.
What was even sadder was that commercial broadcasters gave these over emotional do-gooders airtime. People whose sole connection with animal health was possibly the ownership of some Skippy videos or a statue of a dolphin, were given the same airtime as our Parks and Wildlife professionals.
Yet the whole shebang doesn’t end with the fast and assisted death of Colin. There are now some in Sydney who are lobbying for a memorial to Colin…a statue or fountain that would help us remember his (her) trials. Oh dear.
In a week where we’ve witnessed the pinnacle of sports achievement at the Beijing Olympic games, the tragic death of hundreds in a Span-Air plane crash, and TV images of tanks rolling through the towns and villages of Georgia, the death of Colin is a very unimportant bleep on our evolutionary and historical radar. In the big picture, the death of any living thing – human, whale or chicken – is minor. Life isn’t always fair, cute or important.
As the ill-considered blatherings of a few become newsworthy, our myopic view of what really is ‘news’ funnels even more into something parochial and inane. Our increasingly irritating tabloid news becomes fixated on individual teardrops rather than national or world ones.
Yet there’s an even greater concern. By raising the insignificant to something worthy of prolonged media attention, we somehow dilute and devalue the truly significant. While a focus on the small issues maybe benign, a lack of focus on the substantial issues of our world creates a malignant state indeed. It’s a state that higher mammals like humans – and whales – can do without.