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One year during the sixth extinction
January 3, 2014 11:17 AM   Subscribe

Ten animals that went extinct in 2013, including the western black rhinoceros.
posted by MartinWisse (40 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I pick up earthworms off the sidewalks and put them back in the soil when I walk my dog, 'cause I'm pretty sure they'll die if I leave them there. I say that so that when I tell you that reading things like that leaves a hole in my heart, you understand.

Thanks for posting it, nonetheless.
posted by Mooski at 11:26 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


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posted by mistersquid at 11:28 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Each of these animals was the end result of billions of years of work by natural selection. The amount of death and pain necessary to sculpt their current form is completely unimaginable by humans. I suppose that's why we value them less than toilet paper.

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posted by benzenedream at 11:35 AM on January 3 [6 favorites]


As much as I love cats just like many of us here, they sure do wreak havoc on ecosystems.

Not as much as other mammals I could mention, though.
posted by glaucon at 11:37 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


If only humans and housecats were on that list. I truly mean that.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 11:41 AM on January 3


If only humans and housecats were on that list. I truly mean that.

Rest assured, in the end it will be dog eat dog.
posted by de at 11:43 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


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posted by HypotheticalWoman at 11:47 AM on January 3


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posted by Elly Vortex at 11:47 AM on January 3


Properly, the black rhino was declared extinct in 2011; it's included in this list because there was a fair amount of coverage of the extinction this past year.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:49 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


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posted by Monkeymoo at 11:51 AM on January 3


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Meanwhile. Not that they weren't already there, just that we didn't know it
posted by devon at 11:52 AM on January 3


If only humans and housecats were on that list. I truly mean that.

Whelp, that's the end of the internet then.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 11:53 AM on January 3


Christ. Thats depressing. I've actually seen one of these species - the Zestos Skipper - in person in the wild in my life time. The idea that this animal is extinct...

...sigh....
posted by strixus at 12:00 PM on January 3


If only humans and housecats were on that list. I truly mean that.


Wow, that's a truly awful wish.
posted by Fists O'Fury at 12:15 PM on January 3 [11 favorites]


a truly awful wish.

How do you know that's not a western black rhinoceros sitting at that keyboard? Oh, right....
posted by RolandOfEld at 12:17 PM on January 3 [4 favorites]


If humans were extinct there would be no housecats.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:21 PM on January 3


Coyotes would be fat and happy for a few years, though.
posted by benzenedream at 12:28 PM on January 3 [1 favorite]


I won't hate on humans for existing, but I do wish the laws that governed moving animals and plants from one continent to another were a lot more strict. I can understand if a species stows away on a ship, or an important food crop escapes cultivation, but when an invasive species gains access because some idiot had to have an exotic pet, it makes me pretty pissed off.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:29 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Each of these animals was the end result of billions of years of work by natural selection. The amount of death and pain necessary to sculpt their current form is completely unimaginable by humans. I suppose that's why we value them less than toilet paper.

On the assumption we consider humans part of nature, aren't the extinctions also part of natural selection?

I bring this up not to minimize these extinctions but to solicit discussion.

What justification can we give for standing in the way of natural selection? Is the justification our own self interest? If so, are extinctions that have no or minimal effects on humans acceptable? Similarly, if human self interest is the only argument, should we seek to exterminate animals whose existence is a net negative for the human race?

Are there any arguments for preventing extinction that do not, at some level, rest on human self interest?

I am not intending to be a troll and am honestly interested in answers.
posted by vorpal bunny at 12:37 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I pick up earthworms off the sidewalks and put them back in the soil when I walk my dog, 'cause I'm pretty sure they'll die if I leave them there. I say that so that when I tell you that reading things like that leaves a hole in my heart, you understand.

Earthworms are, generally speaking, an invasive species. About a third of earthworms in N America are an invasive species. I think large parts of North America were "earthworm free" prior to European contact, and the worms are wreaking havoc with the nutrient cycle in northern forests, where earthworms have displaced fungi.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:50 PM on January 3 [6 favorites]


I could get behind a mosquito extinction campaign.
posted by ghharr at 12:50 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Are there any arguments for preventing extinction that do not, at some level, rest on human self interest?

The interests of a human can be whatever they please. An argument can persuade a human if it addresses that human's interests.

The set of possible interests (which could be used by a potential argument against allowing humans to cause extinctions) may or may not coincide with what you call "human self interest". But I suspect it does not.
posted by Jpfed at 12:51 PM on January 3


vorpal bunny: What justification can we give for standing in the way of natural selection? Is the justification our own self interest? If so, are extinctions that have no or minimal effects on humans acceptable?

One critical thing about this argument, is the value-over-time of a species can be extremely high and it's nearly impossible to predict. If we don't wipe ourselves out in the short term, we could go on for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. The value any species might have over long periods of time can be tremendous, and the use might be something we can't even imagine right now. Meanwhile, the value of anything else in our time is almost nil over the very long term.

In a hundred thousand years, nobody is going to care or probably even know anything about who was alive in our time, or what we did, or anything like that. Even the survival of whole cities will be nothing but ancient history at best and likely forgotten entirely. But they'll care if tigers are extinct.
posted by Mitrovarr at 12:52 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Vorpal bunny, I agree with you that any coherent argument for humans trying to prevent extinctions will ultimately be related or based on human self interest. The basic argument is that we are completely fucking up various ecologies on which we depend. You can probably make aesthetic arguments too. And even if we think some animal is a net negative, we generally have shown we don't understand the larger picture enough to really know what will happen with that animal gone. Mosquitoes generally seems like a net negative, but they do provide a food source to other animals and getting rid of them could have further consequences that aren't good.

There are living things that we unabashedly do seek to exterminate like smallpox, but they are probably all microorganisms that prey exclusively on humans and the effects of extermination are easier to predict.
posted by recursion at 12:53 PM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Yes, it is in our self interest to promote biodiversity, or at least restrict our own impact on the loss of biodiversity. For many immediate, practical reasons (I want a good tasting banana from history) but also for less tangible reasons:
He called the search for the clouded leopard “spiritual,” saying “A forest with clouded leopards and a forest without clouded leopards mean something different. A forest without clouded leopards is…dead.”
posted by danny the boy at 12:56 PM on January 3


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posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:00 PM on January 3


What justification can we give for standing in the way of natural selection?

Humans lived for the longest time if, not in total harmony with the environment, then at least not totally destroying the environment. The "anthropocene" mass extinction correlates with the development of more powerful technologies; the extinctions are not caused by gradual geologic changes like the drying up of the Mediterranean, or a sudden cataclysmic event like a meteor strike.

Where I live, people lived here sustainably for 16,000 years, since the last ice age (and it's argued that early human residents of North America were not responsible for the die-off of megafauna - climate change killed the megafauna as their habitat changed).

The astounding thing is, at least locally, things have gotten better, perhaps temporarily, where I live. Humpback whales have returned here, north of Seattle, as have Finbacks, Sei whales, and of course, Gray whales. However, the salmon runs have essentially collapsed, thanks to human activity.

There was big news here a few months ago when a Basking shark was spotted off the northern tip of Vancouver Island. The sharks were once common here, until the 1940's and 1950's, when newly-mechanized fishing boats were outfitted with special rams intended to kill the sharks, which fouled fishing nets.

The Basking sharks, for all intents and purposes, went extinct locally. I don't think you could call that natural selection.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:23 PM on January 3


The astounding thing is, at least locally, things have gotten better, perhaps temporarily, where I live.

I'd be curious to know what is threatened with extinction this actual year ... this article discusses animals that were declared extinct in 2013, or theorized to be extinct, but which hadn't been seen since 1984, 1912, 1963, 1980, and 1957.

It's hard to judge whether we are making progress, or slowing the rate down, or still hell-bent on destruction.
posted by kanewai at 1:45 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


I think the deliberate, or at least directed, extinction rate has slowed down. The problem is that the side-effect extinction rate is steadily rising. We mostly don't exterminate species by hunting or poisoning anymore (rhinos, elephants, and bluefin tuna notwithstanding), but we wipe them out by exploiting their environment, by introducing invasive species and diseases, and now by climate change.
posted by tavella at 1:51 PM on January 3


kanewai: try these links

IUCN Red List Summary Statistics
IUCN Red List Number of Threatened Species Table
posted by Hairy Lobster at 1:52 PM on January 3


kanewai: It's hard to judge whether we are making progress, or slowing the rate down, or still hell-bent on destruction.

Things are still going pretty badly. Many first-world countries have slowed down the local damage somewhat, but a lot of the most severe damage is occurring in developing nations. Probably the biggest short-term problem is the destruction of the amazon rainforest, which is quietly killing off species that have never been discovered at all (we know from surveys that there are a lot of species with very small ranges, etc. and can extrapolate from there).

The biggest problem, however, is the looming issue of global warming and ocean acidification. Global warming has the potential to kill tons of endemic species in the short term, due to climactic shift. One of the most common scenarios is the destruction of alpine species, as the tops of mountain ranges shift to warmer climates and species have nowhere to go. Ocean acidification, however, is probably the largest long-term threat, as it can wipe out entire coral reefs and kill off entire clades of species that depend on producing calcium carbonate structures.
posted by Mitrovarr at 1:57 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


This is pretty on-point since I just read this article on how the Endangered Species Act has been defanged in the 40 years of its existence. The march of progress slowly but steadily eats away our last remaining wild places.
posted by jnnla at 2:34 PM on January 3


What justification can we give for standing in the way of natural selection?

No justification is necessary: there is nothing moral, sacred, or even natural (in the vaguely spiritual sense that "natural" is normally used) in the activities of natural selection. You might as well ask what justification someone has in interfering with the workings of gravity by flying a plane: neither natural selection nor gravity cares what we do, and neither is some fate-like "natural" force that is not to be trifled with.

It's almost impossible to take any action without affecting the evolution of some species in some way. Given that we must do this all the time, deciding to save an endangered species is just one more thing we may or may not decide to add to the list.

For all the economic and ecological-services-type arguments, I think saving a species has to come down to moral and aesthetic issues. Economically, we are Just. Not. Good. at long-term thinking, and I don't see the environment being able to wait until we fix that about ourselves. But not killing irreplaceable populations of living things that are literally our family: that can be explained, I think, one way or another. Even to people who don't care much for nature. Lots of people don't know much about art, but we still manage to have galleries--at least partly, I think, because people are capable of seeing that something is valuable for non-economic reasons, even if it isn't something they personally connect with.

I don't get the sculptures of Rodin at all: I can stare at an exhibit of them all day and see nothing but a bunch of naked metal people writhing for no apparent reason. It's weirdly depressing. But that doesn't mean I can't appreciate that his work is important and ought to be preserved. Even if it couldn't be justified purely economically. And that some people would feel a visceral, tearing emotional loss if all those sculptures dissapeared, and their lives would always be a bit emptier.
posted by crake at 2:40 PM on January 3 [2 favorites]


Humans lived for the longest time if, not in total harmony with the environment, then at least not totally destroying the environment. The "anthropocene" mass extinction correlates with the development of more powerful technologies;

Those being the development of stone age hunting tools, rather than say the industrial revolution, as mass extinctions have been going on roughly since the last ice age.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:50 PM on January 3


I was under the impression that the Eskimo Curlew has been extinct for quite some time. I recall my Dad referring to their extinction when I was a young child - it stuck in my mind because I loved studying birds, and because "curlew" was such an unusual and pleasing word to me, and I thought it was very sad.
posted by louche mustachio at 5:28 PM on January 3


as mass extinctions have been going on roughly since the last ice age.

Kind of, but from what I understand it's more to do with changes to the environment than competition with humans. The megafauna in North America died out because, as the glaciers receded, the landscape changed.

There's plenty of room for "stone age" cultures to coexist with megafauna. Here on the Northwest Coast, there were probably 300,000-500,000 people living along the coast from Seattle to the Alaskan Panhandle. The same landscape supports more than 5 million people today (most that population concentrated in the Georgia Basin in the south).

So megafauna, notably Roosevelt elk and Grizzly bears (and not to mention Killer Whales), had not died out by the time of European contact just 200 years or so ago.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:00 PM on January 3


Declared extinct, not "went extinct." One of these disappeared in 1888. Not one went extinct in 2013.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 8:23 PM on January 3


. X 10
posted by ainsley at 9:52 PM on January 3


> I kidnap them and put them in my compost bin. They're guaranteed to live out their lives in an abundance of kitchen scraps and no threat from birds or drowning.
posted by workerant at 9:13 AM on January 4


In a hundred thousand years, nobody is going to care or probably even know anything about who was alive in our time, or what we did, or anything like that.

True. There likely will be no humans to record anything that happened, or is happening, to the environment anyway.
posted by agregoli at 8:48 AM on January 5


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