Whale Falls is an examination of how our beliefs shape our lives and a memoir of a difficult relationship, lessons learned and, finally, forgiveness.
A whale fall is the carcass of a dead whale sunk to the deepest depths of the ocean. They were only discovered in 1987 by a crew aboard the submersible Alvin.
Due to the very low oxygen content of deep ocean water, whale carcasses that sink to the deeps decay over decades, perhaps as long as a century, and wholly different organisms have evolved in the resulting mini-ecosystem. Related to the creatures which feed at volcanic vents in the ocean floor, the basis of the food chain is methane gas, the result of anaerobic decomposition.
Whales were the first major source of liquid fuel and at one point the world’s great cities were lit by whale oil street lamps. It’s arguable that the discovery of easily accessed petroleum in Pennsylvania saved the great whales from extinction, since drilling and pumping were far cheaper than the hazard and unpredictability of the hunt – particularly as cetacean numbers plummeted under the industrial onslaught.
Petroleum, added to the already enormous coal industry, has offered us great wealth at staggering cost. Climate change is driven by the accumulation of combustion by-products in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent. Methane is the most potent.
Now some scientist have speculated that if runaway heating of the planet seems unstoppable, it might be possible to inject the methane eating microbes found on whale falls into the upper atmosphere to consume methane. Hence my thematic metaphor for this book: looking at unexpected consequences of our beliefs and choices, and how solutions to our problems may be found in their origins.