Monday, May 10, 2010

"The Alaska Manatee"

As I said to my editor, two birds (well, mammals) with one stone: cynically bridging a couple issues from two completely separate biomes. Which brings up the obvious but largely unspoken point that we're all interconnected here: the only causal connection being in our species' penchant for screwing things up for everybody else. While I suppose there are better photogenic and popular poster-childs for Southern aquatic wildlife, manatees are much more mythic in my mind. They're one of the handful of critters I regretfully never got a chance to see while living in the South: these gentle giants are already under significant stress from the pressures brought to bear by habitat destruction, watercraft mutilations and pollution. Even before this mess, the Florida manatee was unfortunately already below the threshold for population viability and will probably become extinct regardless of efforts to spare them from the effects of the spill. And as has been covered in the newscasts, there's a whole host of animals - and lots of people - that'll be severely impacted. 
"In the landscape of extinction, precision is next to godliness." - Samuel Beckett

*Update: So this panel just ran in yesterday's Sunday edition - but with the addition of an expository caption that not only puts the situation into the specific geophysical context (duh) but also doubles as better defining the distinction between the two depicted species. This is a recurrent issue: whether or not my penchant for obscure allusions really requires translation, or does one run the risk of dumbing it down to allow for wider interpretation. It's in the same league as having to put a stupid-looking label on a political caricature because either you didn't draw them well enough to be easily recognized, or (as is more often the case) the person in question just simply isn't known by their physical features well enough to make a damn bit of difference anyways. So no, not everyone out there immediately knows the difference between these two animals which share some physical characteristics but are of two completely different orders. Then again, there'll surely be some folks who will think that manatees have tusks so that must mean there's two of them here. 
An interesting discussion was prompted by the mistaken identity of the manatee for the real "Alaskan Manatee" - the extinct Steller's Sea Cow, also wiped out by humans, which now may in turn provide some fodder for the future, grim as it's getting.
"Few problems are less recognized, but more important than, the accelerating disappearance of the earth's biological resources. In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it is perched." - Paul Ehrlich


  1. I was talking with Sam on this, and mentioned that I was confused by the caption box — I didn't get the message until I ignored it. I don't know what that says about me, but it's just what I thought when reading it.

  2. Dunno either, but I sure like "didn't get the message until I ignored it" - something I wish I could tell my mom.
    I think it's a truism that a good editorial cartoon relies on simplicity and immediacy as its strength: and the more words used the more it's a symptom of overreaching to make a point that ain't there, and so instead of making it easier to get the more confusing it gets instead.
    Something like that...