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The Mystery of the Missing Herring - Humpback Whales to Blame?

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Dave Griffith
Dave Griffith

The herring are missing in Prince William Sound, Alaska. On the list of suspects of those responsible we have the humpback whales.

The Exxon Valdez the infamous oil tanker that released its cargo 21 years ago and knocked off most of the herring (and just about everything else. Scientists suggest that the herring population should have rebounded by now. The humpbacks were themselves almost wiped out by harpoons but with them being in a harpoon free zone surprisingly they have increased in numbers.

There is an intriguing line-up of suspects for our identity parade of 'herring killers' that include disease, pollution, ocean temperature and current changes as well as other fish hogging all the food. But looming large in the line-up room is the unavoidable humpback whale. Scientists have been studying them and suspect they may be slurping up the herring and not leaving enough for the commercial fishermen to revive their once thriving pre-Exxon industry.

Nations belonging to the International Herring Commission (IHC), by a close majority have decided that the whales need to get put under the microscope once and for all. Rather than persevere with scientists who observe and learn the hard core nations have won the day. It is time to apply some serious scientific research to find out once and for all if those pesky humpbacks are scoffing all the herring.

They have brought in the world renowned scientific research ship the Shonan Maru 2 and to quicken up the process they have also got The Yushin brothers and their boats Yushin Maru 1, 2 and the imaginatively named '3'.

Fresh from another research trip to the Southern Ocean where they not only sliced and diced a whole bunch of whales but they also did ground breaking research on how long it takes for a carbon fibre boat to sink after it has been bisected, they are ready and willing to apply their own special brand of 'science' to the mystery of the missing herring.  

The cunning plan is to shoot most of the whales with grenade tipped harpoons, chop them open and count the herring. If the number counted adds up to the missing number then bingo the whales are to blame, and the IHC don't have to waste time and money scrutinising the other suspects. In an extra twist of genius, to ensure that the humpbacks weren't tipped off and stopped eating herring just before the harpoons arrived, the chopped open whales are to be shipped back to Japan where there will be a mass focus group of discerning whale munchers on hand to detect if there is a hint of herring in the rich humpback taste 

It is a win win situation. If the whales are guilty of chomping the precious herring then they had it coming to them. If they turn out to be not guilty then at least the starving millions in Japan will have been saved.

If the surviving whales in Prince William Sound start blubbering about their friends getting harpooned then the ungrateful mammals are going to get put on a random herring testing regime. If any of them are caught in excess of the herring limit then they are sushi too.

This is real science. Riding the high seas in cool ships, cranking up the stereo as loud as you like, playing chicken with other ships, shooting up whales with harpoon grenades and chopping them up just to look in their stomachs. If anyone objects just give them the big two fingered salute and ram them, and then blame it all on them. With this kind of action on offer I am at a loss to understand why our college science classes aren't bulging at the seams with the next generation of marine research scientists ready to solve mysteries like the missing herring of Prince William Sound.   

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