T: “I felt so sorry about sea lion pups being eaten by killer whales…”

Me: “Did you also feel sorry for the polar bear?”

T: Funny look. “No…” Laughs uncomfortably.

(Approximate conversation after seeing Deep Blue in a cinema, a few years back. Those who haven’t seen it – the polar bear didn’t catch any white whales that day, but please do watch the movie.)

When I watch documentaries about nature I am always angry that I have to explain about the balance of nature to my son myself (T above wasn’t my son but a 30+ respectable man very dear to me). Always in these movies they comment as to make people commiserate with the prey. “Aww, the cute little seal pup was brutally killed.” “Oh yeah, this lucky whale escaped and bad-bad polar bear has to find its meal elsewhere.”

Hello..? This is what life is all about in nature for carnivores – kill or be hungry and die of it yourself. You should feel just as sorry for the polar bear as for the seal pup as for any other animal. Or rather, you shouldn’t feel sorry but understand that this is part of life, this is how ecosystem works. There has to be balance, there has to be diversity. There can’t be evolution – nature’s way of progress – if the weakest ones aren’t killed, if the predators don’t limit their multiplicity, if the prey always escapes the predator.

Think about it next time when you see another movie about prey and predator, the diverse biosphere of our dear Earth – the delicate and exact balance, a whole system working together. Think about it next time you bring home a steak – think yourself a killer whale who has brought home a handful of sea lion pups for dinner. Think about it next time you see a homeless man asking for a penny or hear about hungry children in Africa. Think about it next time when you worry about our planet’s ecosystem and how humankind has dominated it to all biosphere’s danger. Think about it next time you hear of mankind’s biggest predators, the smallest as to be invisible to the naked eye. It is all one big complicated system where everyone has to do what he has to do to survive and continue his line. Species are dangerous to others, this is how they survive. Population growths have to be limited to the size of resources to make any living for the whole species possible. The prey can’t be killed off to the limit where they can’t sustain themselves or the predator dies as well. No link in the system can’t be removed or the whole system shifts and changes and these changes are not yet wholly predictable by any man. But it is a system, a balance, and telling just one part of the story is not enough.

7 Responses

  1. Well now, thats an interesting topic. About the first part of the post. I have been reading Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy and there is this theory that if people would stop talking their brains would start working and because of that they constantly say obvious things that could be left unsaid. In my opinion this feeling sorry about sea lion pups sentence falls into that category. Most of grownups know about the balance of nature, but being humans of course it is sad to see cute little cuddly sea lion puppys die, though you know that it has to be so. I know about the balance of things and I would still say that, because that is human nature, or my nature.
    About the second part of the post.. I’m not sure where the nature wanted to get when it created humans, but I guess that by now it has understood that it’s completely off course.

  2. What I was trying to say was that people usually know about the different sides of the story. If a person would not say out the first thing that comes into his/her mind, then he/she would probably think about it and say something else, if anything. If they think a bit then most people know that they should feel sorry for the polar bear too, but the first thing that comes to mind at that moment is “Awww poor little cuddly sea lion pups”.
    So what I’m really saying is that even if people say things that don’t seem right, doesn’t mean that they wholeheartedly believe what they say. I agree with your point that we should think about different sides of the story but I think that your example about the movie is not the most suitable one. If you could tell me about a person who in an argument has heatedly told you that you shouldn’t feel sorry for the polar bear, then I can really believe that in my circle of aquaintances is a person who really don’t get the big picture.
    And the reason for this comment? I am somebody who certainly would say that I feel sorry for the sea lion pups, but on the other hand I know that this is how things are and that the polar bear pups are even cuter and cuddlier. I really wouldn’t like you to draw a conclusion about my outlook on life based on that one sentence 🙂

  3. Sympathy for younglings is not a human thing – its cross-species. All young mammals have evolutionarily developed a kind of appearance that inspires sympathy from other mammals, even from those not of his kind. This means that a baby bear has a higher chance for sympathy than an old seal – from all creatures, or at least mammals. This, of course, is not an universal protection: if animal has to choose it will eat the young of others… but there are enough examples to show, that care for young is not bound by their own species only. I think its how biosphere maintains its diversity or something.

    Here are some examples with humans, but there are others.


    I do not think that this instinct is the only reason that makes humans have sympathy for the prey. I’m actually quite skeptical concerning the importance of biological motivations in human behaviour. (They are there, but not as important as we like to think these days). I mean, we are omnivorous ourselves, so we should have an excellent position for understanding both sides of the story 😀 I think that the sympathy for the prey has to do with nature of Mind itself as a source of creation as opposed to destruction… but its way to deep topic to explain here what I mean.

    P.S How the hell is a bear supposed to catch a killer whale?! I should really see this movie…

  4. I think it is a bias in the comments to the movies that make people feel compassion for prey rather than predator. And I think the commentaries are like that because they try to make *family* movies to attract bigger audiences.
    And other thing is: many parents try to lessen children’s violence and rather teach compassion for those that are in danger than those that kill to eat and have to go hungry sometimes.

    > P.S How the hell is a bear supposed to catch a killer whale?!

    The bear didn’t hunt killer whales (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Killer_whale), but white whales (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beluga_whale) that were trapped under ice, too far from open sea to swim there between two breaths, and had to take turns to breathe in a small air-hole – where the bear kept watch trying to catch them while they briefly surfaced for a breath.

  5. Kris: please put your email in as well when commenting then it will be automatically approved next time..

    About your last comment: In this example I asked specifically, if T felt sorry for the polar bear. The answer was No and it was quite clear that he was not sure whether I was trying to be funny or not. This is why I used it as the example.

    Let me ask you this – do you admire the dexterity of killer whales in this example? Do you understand their playful brutality, their contest for more food, the need to hone their skill to perfection, living in the danger zone? Killer whales are quite cute despite being 6-10m big… Or do you just feel for the sea lion pups?
    Oh, you probably haven’t seen the movie as well. Oh, the brutality of the killer whales there!

  6. When you write a comment you have to think about what you write. So if you would ask me the same question after a movie, or some other thing that effectively shuts down my brain, then I would probably say that I feel only for sea lion pups. But at this moment I wouldn’t say that. There are probably some nasty predators, that hunt killer-whale puppies too (is it even right to say puppies?). And killer whales in my opinion are not brutal or violent in the same sence that people are, they just don’t know any other way. And every nature’s creation is admirable in it’s own way I just haven’t looked enough nature movies to make any good examples.
    By the way I have seen nature documentaries about lions or poisonous snakes and then they are shown as ones to feel sorry about (Poor skinny lion cannot eat again, or poor cuddly lion pup cannot eat again. Oh, look motherlion is bringing a dead cute gazelle, how good for the puppies). So even if taking a side in a nature documentary is an arguable point, at least they take both sides.

  7. > I think it is a bias in the comments to the movies that make people feel compassion for prey rather than predator.
    > And I think the commentaries are like that because they try to make *family* movies to attract bigger audiences.
    > And other thing is: many parents try to lessen children’s violence and rather teach compassion for those that are in > danger than those that kill to eat and have to go hungry sometimes.

    This may be the case, but fact is that humans are the main killers of them all – seal pups, killer whales and ice bears. So, even if this compassion bias exists, it wont save the prey from us any more than the predator…

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