Consider how wide the gap is in that moment, between their considerable physical abilities on the one hand, and inability to save themselves after they are marooned on the other. Mankind, for its part, is in the precarious position of being both potential savior and possible malefactor. It is sometimes within our power to help these creatures, even though it is often our actions that have put them in that situation in the first place.
It’s unclear how many sperm whales exist in the wild today. The number is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands. While commercial whaling – or organized hunting of the animals – has ceased, and the species is protected almost everywhere, some of our actions indirectly put them in mortal danger all the same.
Would you help, were you to find yourself in a position to do so? You might think so, but helping – truly helping – has a different form than you realize.
British economist William Forster Lloyd planted the seeds for this discussion in the early 19th century with the concept of “Tragedy of the commons,” which suggests that despite the shared interests of members of a certain group, each individual may act according to their own self interest in a manner that goes against the shared common good.
The tragedy of the commons – taken to mean the common grazing areas for cattle in the British isles – has now become the tragedy of the seas and oceans. All of us have a vested interest in the survival of species such as the sperm whale, not to mention the planet’s oceans not being compromised by our actions.
Nevertheless, we all sometimes act in a manner that contributes to the continued degradation of both – even if we live nowhere near the ocean and have never even seen a whale in real life. This is about leaving our comfort zones. It’s about facing what is right, and what is easy – and making the right choice.
It’s a hard decision. But it can make all the difference in the world in the long run for humanity, as well as for sperm whales, sea turtles and countless species of birds and other animals. By 2050, experts say, fish will be outweighed in our oceans. There’s still time to prevent that from happening.