There is a book, The Once and Future World, by J.B. MacKinnon. It was published in Canada, written by a Canadian, and I bought a copy at a Canadian Bookstore in Victoria, BC. So I assume most Americans don’t know about it. It is probably available on Amazon or Google Play, but who knows? “It’s worth a read,” as my grandMum would say.
There are three main premises that the book shows to be valid, although it really doesn’t set out to “prove” them.
The first premise is that humans, “eat the big ones first.” That is, we will always eat the largest species of animal in our domain first, leaving the smaller ones. This is an on-going process. We started with land mammals, working our way down to smaller and smaller species. Then we went on to eat large marine mammals and fish, working our way down. And still do.
The second premise, also shown to be valid, is that humans will eat or kill a species until it reaches a 5-10% threshold. That is, when a species is reduced in number to 5-10% of its initial, or ambient and stable population, we stop eating it, or foraging for it, or even just killing it. It’s not available to us, or worth it to us. This is obviously not something we set out to do, or even plan on doing. It just happens that way. If it is a quick “re-bounder,” it may become extant and we will start killing it again as a food source or eliminate it as a competitor for some more precious food source.
The third premise is that human generations tend to forget. As children become adults, and new children arise, our view of nature and species changes and is forgotten. For example, lions used to be commonplace in England.
These are natural-occurring premises, clearly not conscious, of the human species. Yet perhaps we are turning a corner in understanding and control. For example, whale watching. Gray whales were near the edge of extinction when whaling ended, then they began to rebound after we stopped killing them and with the rise of ‘eco-tourism’ and just the plain desire for humans to enjoy wild animals and huge mammals in their native habitat. Perhaps this trend will continue.
In the book, Marine Mammals of the Northwestern Coast of North America by C.M. Scammon, former and present marine mammals existing on the Pacific Coast of America, Mexico, and Alaska were detailed. As the captain of a whaling ship, C.M. Scammon killed hundreds of whales, both harpooning them and directing crews to do so, and documenting their life-cycle. He was not proud of whaling, as his granddaughter quoted in the epilogue states, “He did not like whaling. He did not like taking a mother and her calf,” but rather reflected on what he and others had wrought, that is the destruction of marine mammal species. He became an environmentalist and an advocate for the closure of the whale fisheries.
Below, I list three marine mammals, now extinct and forgotten, documented by C.M. Scammon. In the late 19th and early 20th Century, there were 100’s of grampus species. Today, the grampus is limited to only one species of marine mammal, Risso’s Dolphin (the 5-10% premise, above).
The Puget Sound Grampus or Dolphin – “In Port Townsend Bay, Washington Territory, June 19th, 1868, a great number of small whales, evidently a species of dolphin, were seen gamboling, in pods of six to eight individuals, whose movement were similar to the Blackfish. They were likewise jet black; but the dorsal fin was narrower, very pointed, and placed 1/4 of the animal’s length from it flukes. They fed almost exclusively on squid. They were rarely seen in these inland waters of Washington Territory within a decade, and now are not seen at all.”
The San Diego Bay Grampus or Orca – “Of this individual Cetacean, our observations have been confined exclusively to the Bay of San Diego. where the animals are seen passing in and out of the estuaries connecting with the main lagoon. The distinguishing broad, triangular, and prominent dorsal fin which is placed midway, is found on the species. The orca of San Diego Bay has a length of 12-15 feet, otherwise its dimensions are the same as Orca (ater). The color is black on top, and more or less white beneath. It feeds on fish in the estuaries. They have precluded every effort to capture them. They are no longer found in San Diego Bay, nor anywhere else on the Pacific West Coast.”
The Brown-sided Santa Barbara Channel Dolphin or Grampus – “While lying at anchor off the town of Santa Barbara, May 16th, 1873, a school of what we mistakenly took to be the Striped or Common Porpoises, was seen playing around the vessel. Their irregular movements, and the unusual length of time they remained upon the surface of the water, afforded an opportunity to study them. Their forms were apparently similar to the Striped or Common Porpoises, except that the dorsal fin is of a triangular shape which is present with Baird’s Dolphin and – remarkably – the color on its sides is brown, while the color of its back is a dull black. With regard to habits of the animal, we observed one peculiar feature: that of darting through the thick beds of kelp which fronted the shore Really, they seem to delight in sporting through it. and occasionally one of the band would be seen leaping clear of the water, taking with it long sprays of the the brown algae. All efforts to capture one proved unavailing; but enough were recorded, observed and seen to convince us that they were an undescribed species. They no longer can be found, either in the Channel nor on the Santa Barbara coastline.”