At the beginning of February 2017, more than 400 pilot whales ended up on the beaches of New Zealand’s South Island, near the small city of Golden Bay. Local residents, as well as volunteers from many other places, fought the heroic battle for their rescue. Unfortunately, these good people were able to save only a few of the majestic animals. Most of them have died. The phenomena of whales or dolphins heading directly to the beach is well known, however, the reason why they are doing so is still hidden in mystery. According to one theory, they are disoriented because of marine traffic which generates the noise in frequencies which whales are using for communication and navigation. According to another one, they are doing it with purpose, they simply want to commit a mass suicide. If this is the case, one must ask one scary question: do they know something we don’t?
More than 7,600 miles from the New Zealand, across the vast emptiness of the Pacific Ocean, we can find another indication that the natural order of things is broken. In Brazil, several species of monkeys and people are jointly suffering from the worst outbreak of yellow fever, the deadly viral disease, in the last 70 years. Hundreds of Atlantic Titis, Brown Howlers and other monkeys started to fall down dead from the trees in December and first cases among humans quickly followed. This is happening despite the extensive vaccination and mosquito eradicating campaigns.
These are just two examples of events that are taking place all around the world. On one hand, diseases, as well as everyday fight for life, are natural characteristics of the wildlife. But on the other hand, the numbers of events similar to those mentioned above or the present rate of extinctions of plants and animals is quite high. Can it be the sign of a forthcoming global catastrophe? And can this wipe us off the planet’s surface as well? Should we be worried?
Since the first single-celled life appeared on Earth more than four billion of years ago, around five billion of species existed for some period. 99 percent of them is now extinct. Concurrent, isolated examples of the extinction of species are completely natural as the evolution of new ones. However, from time to time, the Earth is a witness of something different – the mass extinction of species.
From the geological research and fossil findings, we know about several of mass extinction events. The group includes so-called „Big Five“ – the real cataclysmic events during which more than 70% of all then-living species became extinct. The special case is the Permian–Triassic extinction event 252 million years ago. At that time, as much as 96% of all species disappeared. The reasons for these vary. We assume that it was an asteroid responsible for the mass extinction of species which, as its by-product, gave the chance to mammals to rise. For other mass extinction events, major environmental changes of a different source were responsible. And for some, we do not know why it happened.
We should take at least one fundamental lesson from history – survival of no species is guaranteed and there is absolutely no reason to think that human race can make an exception. Isn’t it possible that our affection of the environment reached levels which can lead to the fundamental changes of it? We are talking about the climate change but we are far from the real understanding of all consequences it can cause. What if the strange behavior of cetaceans in New Zealand and epidemy of yellow fever in Brazil are in some way connected to ongoing changes in our environment? What if our activity triggered environmental changes which are irreversible and we are only beginning to understand it?
An individual can’t reverse the tide, but everyone of us should be obliged to do his or her part. It’s not that hard: just be responsible, try to protect the nature and support the critical thinking and common sense when it comes to the question of human affection of the environment. Be free of ideology of any kind and support any activity leading to better understanding our planet and the life on it.