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Earth Science

Study: Whales Are Ecosystem "Engineers" 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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Study: Whales Are Ecosystem "Engineers"

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  • As an Engineer,,, (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 06, 2014 @01:02PM (#47393855)

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

    • by Kaenneth ( 82978 )

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

    • by Bite The Pillow ( 3087109 ) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @03:46PM (#47394693)

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

      • 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 [], which is locked in a state of perpetual childhood.

        So Mr. and Ms. Whale, I hope

    • 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.

      • 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.
        • by Anonymous Coward

          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

  • Yep. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ColdWetDog ( 752185 ) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @01:06PM (#47393873) Homepage

    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. (Score:5, Funny)

      by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @02:23PM (#47394265) Journal

      now we're starting to anthropomorphize

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

    • by mysidia ( 191772 )

      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'.

    • 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".
    • "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 specie

  • No they're not (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kruach aum ( 1934852 ) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @01:22PM (#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.

    • by TheLink ( 130905 )

      I don't see anything new or interesting in the articles to consider it a "discovery of a way" (e.g. [] )

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

  • Sooo.... (Score:3, Funny)

    by king neckbeard ( 1801738 ) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @01:30PM (#47393977)
    Sooo... Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was kind of right?
  • 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?

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

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

  • by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @01:53PM (#47394103) Homepage

    ...what does that make beavers?

  • by Charliemopps ( 1157495 ) on Sunday July 06, 2014 @02:54PM (#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!

  • All mammals have hair...

    Shave the whales.

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

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

  • 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."

We all like praise, but a hike in our pay is the best kind of ways.