Wednesday, May 13, 2020

What Happens When Humans Are Gone?

What Happens When Humans Are Gone?

“Can the fish in that tank see us people?” is a common question at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  Answer – no.  Birds and mammals – yes.  But even they seem to ignore the visitors.  They do care about the staff, at lunchtime, otherwise, pretty self-sufficient.

It’s a good humbling reminder - animals in the wild get along fine without us, probably better.  Alan Weisman’s fascinating book, The World Without Us, tells how quickly so-called nature would take over if all humans disappeared. 

We call sea otters a “keystone species” – if they disappear, their whole habitat crashes.  The kelp forests would be gone, because otters eat the animals that eat the kelp.  100 years ago when we hunted otters to the brink of extinction there wasn’t much of a kelp forest.  The otters’ slow return also revived the kelp.

Are we humans a keystone species – if we were gone, would the habitat crash?  No, it might very well thrive. 

Related question: Now that the Aquarium is empty of the usual thousands of daily human visitors, do the animals notice, are they acting any differently?  The staff is still there, feeding and keeping them healthy.  Otherwise, I doubt the animals notice much else different.  Maybe that it’s quieter.

And in outdoor waters, lakes and river and ocean, do those wild wet critters notice that something has changed in the past two months?

We know the air is cleaner, the world is quieter.  Animals must notice this. 

Normally the birds in the Aviary very obediently stay on the dune side of their exhibit during the day, no glass.  But I sometimes imagine they hop or fly into the public space at night.  Maybe they even have a party to celebrate we are not in the way.    Fabulous marine scientist and artist Ray Troll painted this mural “Jelly’s Night Out” for a MBA jellyfish exhibit some years ago – now those are some party animals! (

And the Aquarium shared this unusual pic on their Tumblr acct of all five exhibit otters in the tank at once – usually only three or four.  “The girls say hello from the otter side.  All five of our resident rescues are on exhibit right now, which means the rascality levels are at maximum! Thanks to awesome aquarist Jessica for this pic of everyone’s favorite feisty five.” ( for fab pics, talks, behind the scenes stuff.)

Inside or out, then, this crazy time has even changed life

for animals.  Mostly for the better.  It sure looks like they’re having more fun.  I wish I were.
I post these Blue Theology ocean devotionals every Wednesday, here and on Facebook.

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