I was watching a program the other night on marine animals. There was amazing footage of whales, dolphins and porpoises, full-time marine mammals (known scientifically as cetaceans), but they also covered polar bears and sea otters, penguins and other diving birds. I knew that polar bears have received special recognition of their unique life style – their official taxonomic name is Ursus maritimus, or Sea Bear – but I didn’t know the great distances they routinely swim at sea in search of food. And now that the Arctic is melting, they are being forced into swimming even greater distances, exhausting themselves to the point of drowning. It got me thinking about the whole process of evolution.
Sea bears, like everything else on the planet, are not staying the same. Evolution isn’t something that happened once a very long time ago, and it isn’t over yet. As a birdwatcher for almost 40 years, I’ve seen several editions of field guides come and go. As more is learned about distribution, hybridization, and DNA, certain species and subspecies are constantly being reshuffled. The Yellow-shafted and Red-shafted Flicker used to have separate listings, but are now grouped together as the Northern Flicker, because where their ranges overlap, they hybridize. And in the southwest, the Red-shafteds will hybridize with the local populations of Gilded Flickers, who still do have their own listing. For now. Things can change, so it’s best not too get to comfortable with anything. When I was a kid in Michigan, we had Baltimore Orioles. A couple of decades or so later, Baltimores and the western Bullock’s Oriole became the Northern Oriole. And most recently, we’re back to two separate subspecies again. As far as planet earth is concerned, nothing is carved in stone. Except the mountains.
So, all this information leaves a question or two about the future. Polar bears as we know them today evolved about 250,000 years ago, and they did it rather more rapidly than might otherwise have been expected. But now that the Arctic is melting so fast, will they be able to do it again? Assuming we can get our collective global act together and not totally ruin the planet, where will Ursus maritimus be in another quarter-million years? Will they have become like the cetaceans – land mammals that returned completely to the sea? Will they be swimming along with strange sleek creatures slightly reminiscent of otters and penguins, which also must surface to breathe air through a blowhole? Only time will tell.
Well, after writing this, I feel like taking a break and watching a movie. How about Kevin Costner in Waterworld.
The Cloud Messenger (Meghadūta) is a lyric poem by the respected Indian poet, Kālidāsa. The poem centers around a yaksa in exile. Longing for his beloved, waiting for him on a Himalayan mountain, he asks a cloud to take a message to her. The sights he tells the cloud it will see on its way make up most of the poem.
The idea of recording observations appeals to me. I thought The Cloud Messenger was the perfect title for a blog about the journey that we all make as we move through our days.
I'm a baby boomer who grew up dancing in the streets of Detroit during the classic Motown years, lived beside the Rocky Mountains for many years, now retired and living (and writing full time) in S. Ontario. I have one blog for rock 'n' roll oldies, and one for nature, poetry and life along the Lake.