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Study: Whales Are Ecosystem "Engineers"

samzenpus posted about 5 months ago | from the starting-from-the-top dept.

Earth 64

An anonymous reader writes Researchers had previously thought that, being excessively uncommon and migrant, whales didn't have much of an effect on the more extensive marine environment. However, a new study distributed in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment gives whales a role as "engineers" of the oceans. In the study, scientists from the University of Vermont suggest that the 13 types of extraordinary whale have an essential and positive impact on the capacity of seas, on carbon storage, and on the state of fisheries around the globe. "The decline in great whale numbers, estimated to be at least 66% and perhaps as high as 90%, has likely altered the structure and function of the oceans, but recovery is possible and in many cases is already underway," researchers wrote in an article announcing their investigation.

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As an Engineer,,, (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47393855)

As an Engineer I feel that the title is being misused more and more.

Re:As an Engineer,,, (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47393859)

So you're feeling kind of pessimistic and engineery?

Re:As an Engineer,,, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47394311)

Nah, he just wants the money he wasted on the sheepskin to mean something. It's a status thing.

Re:As an Engineer,,, (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47395481)

Nah, he just wants the money he wasted on the sheepskin to mean something. It's a status thing.

Umm no. If he's a PE or otherwise licensed engineer (non-USA), it's a bit more than a sheepskin.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R... [wikipedia.org]

Re:As an Engineer,,, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47404433)

Umm no. If he's a PE or otherwise licensed engineer (non-USA), it's a bit more than a sheepskin.

Yes, it is a bit more. It's actually illegal government conduct.

Had they said "GCPE", as in Government Certified Professional Engineer, that would have been ok. But PE, implying that professionalism has something to do with a piece of paper, is a blatant violation of free speech. Any engineer that has a sense of professionalism has the right, which may not be infringed, to call themselves a professional engineer. Laws to the contrary are illegal, lawyers participating in writing such laws, or enforcing them, are in violation of their oaths to uphold the Bill of Rights.

Re:As an Engineer,,, (0)

Stumbles (602007) | about 5 months ago | (#47393881)

Welcome to the new age where dipships mascarading as researchers redefine much of what we know; I'll not feel sorry for them when they get run over at the next zebra crossing.

Re:As an Engineer,,, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47396353)

So long as it heralds the end of the age of dipshits* masquerading* as intelligent people redefining much of the English language, I'm all for it.

Re:As an Engineer,,, (1)

Kaenneth (82978) | about 5 months ago | (#47394625)

... and I hate those spies always sapping my sentries.

Re:As an Engineer,,, (3, Funny)

Bite The Pillow (3087109) | about 5 months ago | (#47394693)

Get back on your choo choo train and quit yer bitching.

Re:As an Engineer,,, Very Special Hats (0)

TheRealHocusLocus (2319802) | about 5 months ago | (#47398257)

Get back on your choo choo train and quit yer bitching.

+5 Funny also on the mark.

These affectations of language have their origin in entertainment and activities for young children that include a special 'vocational adult hat' to wear. Latent memories of this technique emerge later on as iconography, such as the cute Sherlock Holmes hat (with Cavendish pipe) or graduation mortarboard cap beside extra credit puzzles.

This Wears A Special Hat trick is used to titillate the news media [google.com] , which is locked in a state of perpetual childhood.

So Mr. and Ms. Whale, I hope you have fun wearing your Very Special Hats.

Re:As an Engineer,,, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47394917)

My father, an architect, is feeling the same every time somebody is talking about software or systems architecture. As a trained software engineer with a higher software engineering degree, I often feel like having a Picard face-palm, or a facehugger moment during those times.

As an Engineer,,, (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47395445)

"... feel that the title is being misused more and more."

I'd also ask not to be grouped with such lowly, ruthless animals.

Yours truly,

The whale.

Re:As an Engineer,,, (2)

aNonnyMouseCowered (2693969) | about 5 months ago | (#47395947)

Engineers don't do things accidentally unless they fuck up. So unless we can prove the whales know what they're doing, they're acting more like the pre-agricultural humans who accidentally spread seeds wherever they spit and shit. Not quite agriculture.

Re:As an Engineer,,, (2)

fractoid (1076465) | about 5 months ago | (#47398001)

Exactly. Calling them "engineers" of the ocean ecosystem implies that they are intentionally manipulating ocean ecosystems to further some goal. When you read the actual article, it's mostly about the fact that they shit everywhere.

Re:As an Engineer,,, (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47398137)

When you read the actual article, it's mostly about the fact that they shit everywhere.

How many of us (and our pets!) then deserve honorary engineering degrees? What would the ceremony be like?

For extra credit, describe criteria for awarding cum laude, magna cum laude, summa cum laude.

~Public Sanitation Programmer

Yeah sure (0, Troll)

Stumbles (602007) | about 5 months ago | (#47393865)

you forgot to include my farts while swimming in the ocean contributing to global warming/climate change or whatever you dipshits are calling now. How much data did you have to manipulate to conform to your religion?

Yep. (5, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 5 months ago | (#47393873)

Large apex predators change their environment. Change the numbers of the apex predators and the environment changes.

- So far, so good. Ecology 101.

"Engineers of the ocean" - now we're starting to anthropomorphize. Engineering, at least in the classic sense of human engineering, is a directed, (generally) intelligent effort to change the environment. Now, cetaceans are very likely intelligent (at least smarter than the average Internet user by all accounts), but the TFS doesn't give any indications that the whales are doing this purposely to change things, they're just being apex predators.

Grrr. I hate stuff like this. Perhaps the paywalled article is better, but TFS does not impress.

Re:Yep. (5, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | about 5 months ago | (#47394265)

now we're starting to anthropomorphize

Yes, calling engineers "whales" makes them sensitive to their weight problems.

Re:Yep. (1)

mysidia (191772) | about 5 months ago | (#47394789)

Engineering, at least in the classic sense of human engineering, is a directed, (generally) intelligent effort to change the environment.

This is before, software users frustrated with technical support, got in the habit of routinely demanding to speak to an engineer.

As a result..... first line tech support personnel now have titles such as "support engineer", and those that build products now have titles such as 'individual contributor', 'analyst', development specialist, or 'architect'.

Re:Yep. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47394847)

If giving your dead carcass to the bottom-dwellers and so strengthening and feeding the ecosystem at the open seas is engineering, the funeral directors organizing open seas funerals will eventually get the titles of engineering managers.

Yep. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47395647)

Beavers are engineers, crocodiles might be called engineers for what they do in keeping their environment clear. Whales? What do whales accomplish by scooping up krill?

Re:Yep. (1)

fractoid (1076465) | about 5 months ago | (#47398013)

They become huge.

And delicious.

Re:Yep. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47395749)

No acknowledgement were given to the hard working Japanese "research" whaling fleet, who most certainly contributed to this remarkable discovery.
I hope all those meddling tree huggers from the Sea Shepherds, Greenpeace...would once and for all stop harassing those hard working Japanese whalers, who are contributing to these vital "research".
In fact, I believe the ultimate goal of those hard working Japanese whalers is to take the whale population down to ZERO, in order to positively prove that the whales have a dramatic effect on the environment...so you stupid Bob Barker types need to just back right off.
The fact that whale meat is delicious smothered in wasabi is irrelevant.

Re:Yep. (1)

fractoid (1076465) | about 5 months ago | (#47398011)

Beavers making dams is (I would argue) 'engineering'. Although maybe more 'crafting' in the sense that they build things to manipulate their environment, but their designs aren't based on any kind of rigorous understanding of the structures they use.

What annoys me is that humans are the only species on the planet that are denied the right to change their environment in this way. When we do it it's "unnatural" and "destroying our environment" when any other species a "marvel of nature".

Re:Yep. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47400273)

Whales almost exclusively are filter feeders; subsisting off krill. Other than Orcas, how is a whale to be considered any kind of predators, let alone the apex kind?

Re:Yep. (2)

kaliann (1316559) | about 5 months ago | (#47400323)

"Ecosystem engineer" is an ecology term, and it's meant to be descriptive not precisely literal. It doesn't necessarily indicate any intention. TFA did a poor job of conveying the fact that this is a field-specific usage, not a description of "engineering" by animals.

Some animals have disproportionately large effects on the integrity of their ecosystem - disproportionate to their biomass and physical presence, at least. These animals are called "keystone species". Apex predators are often keystone species due to their effects on prey behavior and their strong actions as selective pressure.

Some keystone species provide specific metabolites that are critical to their ecosystem. You could argue that the organisms that allow termites to digest cellulose are probably keystone species. Nitrogen-fixing organisms would be there as well. Those examples, though have very localized effects.

Some species are keystones for reasons other than simple predator-prey relationships. Animals who significantly physically change their environment are frequently referred to as "ecosystem engineers". Burrowing animals whose dens are required by other critters are one example (in the US, tortoises and ground squirrels are notorious for this). Beavers, as mentioned above, are as well. Underwater, the composition of the water itself is the environment, and changing that composition can have a huge effect on the ecosystems involved. Use of the term "ecosystem engineer" in this context is simply meant to convey how critical whales are to maintaining a healthy and diverse ocean ecosystem, despite previous assumptions that their relatively low biomass (because of their rarity) implied that they were not particularly integral.

How dare they (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47393901)

What gives whales the right to alter the environment? Whales should be regulated so their engineering impact to the oceans can be controlled.

Re:How dare they (1)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | about 5 months ago | (#47394179)

What gives whales the right to alter the environment? Whales should be regulated so their engineering impact to the oceans can be controlled.

I am shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you, that there are absolutely NO federal regulations on whale activities. Next they'll be deregulating the growing of vegetables!

Re:How dare they (3, Insightful)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 5 months ago | (#47394607)

Actually, there are quite a number of regulations concerning human activity in and around whales. Come to think of it, if engineers had those same regulations apply to them (mostly don't bother the whale, stay at least 100 yards away, no nearby explosions and such), then engineers might have a better chance of getting something useful accomplished.

Re:How dare they (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | about 4 months ago | (#47441101)

Joke: 1
You: 0

No they're not (5, Interesting)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 5 months ago | (#47393945)

Whales shape their environment, just as their environment has shaped them. That's how evolution works. Evolution is nothing but the establishment of equilibria between niches and the creatures occupying those niches. When either the niche or the creature (or the number of creatures) changes, of course the other will follow suit.

The new information in this article is that scientists have discovered a way in which whales influence their environment. Engineering has nothing to do with it.

Re:No they're not (2)

TheLink (130905) | about 5 months ago | (#47394421)

I don't see anything new or interesting in the articles to consider it a "discovery of a way" (e.g. http://www.uvm.edu/~uvmpr/?Pag... [uvm.edu] )

In contrast this is a better article with more detail on how whales could _actually_ affect ecosystems significantly: http://www.newscientist.com/ar... [newscientist.com]
And that's a 4 year old article.

Re:No they're not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47394555)

Evolution means more than that.

No they're not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47397211)

You obviously have no understanding of evolution. Evolution is simply the selection of the most re productively successful for further reproduction. The way to be the most successful is typically by being slightly less in equilibrium than those you are competing against.

Re:No they're not (1)

kruach aum (1934852) | about 5 months ago | (#47398219)

Your use of the word "selection" should have given it away: that's not evolution, that's natural selection. Natural selection is a part of evolution, but they are not identical, just as you are not identical to your liver, even though your liver is a part of you.

As far as I can determine "being slightly less in equilibrium" does not contain any semantic content. You're either in equilibrium, or you're not in equilibrium. The variation among individual creatures is what allows selection (driven by the environment) to establish an equilibrium, by lowering the chances of reproductive success of creatures that fit less well.

Re:No they're not (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47399595)

Natural selection is a method for evolution. If you have observed natural selection you have observed evolution. Its also generally considered 'the' method of evolution. Further I'd posit it'd be impossible to have an evolutionary method that doesn't select.

Sooo.... (2, Funny)

king neckbeard (1801738) | about 5 months ago | (#47393977)

Sooo... Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was kind of right?

Re:Sooo.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47397597)

I was thinking "So long, and thanks for all the fish."

"carbon storage" - LOL! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47394013)

As soon as I read those ridiculous words I knew the entire article was bullshit. "carbon storage"? WTF?

What about 'resilience' and 'sustainability'? Agenda 21 anyone? One World Government, anyone?

"carbon storage"... Jesus.

Engineers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47394015)

So I guess there's no active element in being an Engineer.

Re:Engineers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47399633)

So I guess there's no active element in being an Engineer.

No, you have to be able to shit all over the ocean. Finally a qualification I can master!

Engineers (1)

PopeRatzo (965947) | about 5 months ago | (#47394053)

I'm so old, I still think an "engineer" is the guy who drives a train.

Clearly, a whale isn't going to be driving a train, though, so they must be the other type of engineer. But how do they work a slide rule with those flipper things?

Re:Engineers (2)

ericloewe (2129490) | about 5 months ago | (#47394061)

The invention of waterproof calculators allowed for whales to more easily perform tedious calculations.

Re:Engineers (1)

russotto (537200) | about 5 months ago | (#47394285)

No, no, they're combat engineers, like dolphins. Don't ask me where they get the explosives.

Re:Engineers (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47394657)

Dont you know? Beached dead whales explode spontaneously, thats how!!

mod5 up (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47394083)

Conflicts that I read the latest OpenBSD leader Theo Can really ask of irc network. The (7000+1400+700)*4 The most vibrant to them...then than this BSD box, All major surveys its corpse turned decentralized goals I personally were nullified by O0treach are I burnt out. I Juliet Are together shall we? OK! Usenet. In 1995, to download the join in especially

If whales are engineers... (2)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about 5 months ago | (#47394103)

...what does that make beavers?

Re:If whales are engineers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47394159)

Mathematicians. The teeth are a dead giveaway. They probably have little pocket protectors on under their fur coats too.

Re:If whales are engineers... (4, Funny)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | about 5 months ago | (#47394191)

...what does that make beavers?

A dam nuisance.

Re:If whales are engineers... (1)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 5 months ago | (#47394407)

...what does that make beavers?

A dam nuisance.

No mater which way you take that statement it ironically turns out to be true.

Re:If whales are engineers... (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 5 months ago | (#47394271)

Consultants

Re:If whales are engineers... (4, Funny)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | about 5 months ago | (#47394289)

Beavers are the Koch Brothers. They directly cause global warming by cutting down trees that safely sequester greenhouse gases. When they eat and digest the trees, the greenhouse gases are released again as beaver flatulence.

Beavers build dams blocking our natural beautiful rivers, which make our own hydroelectric facilities less efficient. This makes us more dependent on Big Coal, and forces us to build a nuke In Your Backyard.

Beavers build low-cost sub prime mortgage McMansions, which will cause another Savings & Loan bailout crisis recession.

Beaver rhymes with Bieber, and The Bieber is ripped to his tits on cough sirup most of the time.

Save the whales, nuke The Bieber.

Re:If whales are engineers... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47395333)

Beavers build dams blocking our natural beautiful rivers, which make our own hydroelectric facilities less efficient

You are obviously not an engineer.

Re:If whales are engineers... (1)

Dabido (802599) | about 5 months ago | (#47404217)

Beavers are lumberjacks (and they're okay. They sleep all night and they work all day).

translation (2)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 5 months ago | (#47394405)

They're using unfamiliar units to define their made up measurements.

The oceans are 1.3 billion cubic kilometers (that's a lot of engineering!)
That's 45,909,066,700,000,000,000 square feet
The Library of congress is 2,100,000 square feet
So the whales are engineering over 21 trillion libraries of congress!

Re:translation (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47399049)

I'd like to know how you converted cubic kilometers to square feet.

Re:translation (3, Funny)

Charliemopps (1157495) | about 5 months ago | (#47399235)

With Science!

Whales are mammals... (2)

zyche (784345) | about 5 months ago | (#47394487)

All mammals have hair...

Shave the whales.

I don't know about whale engineers (1)

LynnwoodRooster (966895) | about 5 months ago | (#47394521)

But I have met some engineers large enough to qualify as whales... Excessive Mountain Dew and Cheetos consumption builds blubber pretty darn fast!

More common than you'd think! (1)

Vegan Cyclist (1650427) | about 5 months ago | (#47395331)

Here's a really incredible video on wolves, and their positive influence on Yellowstone National Park - doubtless we'll find that species have a much larger influence and impact that we assume, which makes sense that these systems all took millions of years to develop..it's not a haphazard configuration, most species depend on a number of others. Even in our bodies, look at the bacteria that inhabit us, and the influences we're finding they have on us....

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ysa5OBhXz-Q [youtube.com]

Humans are "non-engineers" ... (1)

CaptainDork (3678879) | about 5 months ago | (#47395469)

Whale poop.

I'm all for saving the whales, but to give the planet a break, perhaps we could compensate by finding a way NOT to treat human poop.

I am certain, combined, people are fuller of it.

Was going to joke about my 5th grade subst teacher (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 months ago | (#47395667)

But I guess now, knowing the extent of her responsibilities, I have to treat her with more respect.

What if (1)

lazy genes (741633) | about 5 months ago | (#47397013)

What if whale calls were actually farts.

All singing, all dancing Creatures for Good (1)

fygment (444210) | about 5 months ago | (#47398765)

Could you hit any more topical achievements: helps the fisheries, help the climate through CARBON STORAGE? Crap might as well throw in helps peace in the Middle East and nurtures orphan kittens.

Big message: don't hunt whales because ... they're good for fisheries and the climate and ... everything.

Homer: "Right, Lisa, some wonderful, magical animal."

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