Ocean Life Fundamentals: What We Included And What We Left Out
Today marks the release of the latest edition in our Fundamentals series, looking at the immense world of ocean life. In putting our Fundamentals series together, we always run into a similar problem with each resource: deciding what to include and what to leave out, and this has perhaps never been more true than it is now. The oceans are huge, vast, and very, very deep. They cover about 71% of the earth’s surface, and yet in some ways, we know less about the oceans than we do about outer space. So, there’s a lot about the oceans that humans in general don’t know — and even with what we do know, we could only cover so much in our new resource.
The editorial process for a resource like this one involves trying to balance a few different factors, including being informative for newcomers, offering actionable information for longtime advocates, and not overreaching when it comes to covering issues where it may be too difficult to find reliable information. Additionally, we do our best with the Fundamentals to offer a global perspective on the issue, and this is especially true here: after all, as the National Ocean Service points out, there is just one global ocean, and so it’s incumbent on us to zoom out as much as we can, to take in the full scope of what we’re looking at.
What We Included
If you’re looking for an overview of the major issues affecting ocean life, look no further! Our Ocean Life Fundamentals have you covered with everything from public opinion on ocean protection, animal ethology, fishing statistics (including information about bycatch and ghost gear), a look at fish captivity for companionship and biomedical research, key ocean conservation issues, and more. When you’re ready, you can click through to check out the full resource.
What We Left Out
Considering the vastness of the ocean, as described above, this could have been a much, much bigger resource. In our efforts to keep things streamlined and focused, we did our best to cover the key issues and information that we think will be most useful to working advocates, and most informative to the general public.
Firstly, though we touch on the captivity of aquatic animals in zoos and aquaria around the world, we do not dive as deeply as we could into the captivity of cetaceans. Of course, this is an issue that has been incredibly popular among advocates for decades — think back to the 2013 film Blackfish and the ripples that it sent through the captive marine animal industry around the world, and to the dozens of campaigns that have tried to raise awareness of these issues since the 80s and 90s. So why not include this issue more thoroughly? When we set out to create our Fundamentals, we always want to balance what is popular with what is lesser-known. In the case of cetaceans, it is an issue that has been extremely well-covered elsewhere — while other issues of marine animal captivity, like their use as research subjects or companion animals, are discussed much less frequently, both within advocacy circles and outside them.
Secondly, while we certainly mention it in a few places throughout the resource, we could have devoted much more space to the ways that climate change is affecting ocean life. As with land animals, the impact of climate change on sea life is broad and concerning. Likewise, as with land animals, it affects ocean life in a variety of ways, not all of which are easy to summarize in a simple infographic. Indeed, the impact of climate change on ocean life was and is simply too extensive to summarize simply. We believe the subject of climate change and its effects on the animals of the world could (and should) be a Fundamental in its own right, and it’s something we’re considering as a high priority for a future edition of our series.
Thirdly, we did not do much to address fish farming in our Ocean Life Fundamentals. Part of this is somewhat technical — we wanted to focus our resource on animals living out in the oceans — and part of it is that we already cover fish farming quite extensively in our Research Library. Fish farming is certainly an important issue to cover, but we’ll be doing so more extensively in a forthcoming update to our Farmed Animal Fundamentals, where it makes more sense to be featured.
Finally, the vast majority of our Ocean Life Fundamentals is concerned with issues taking place in the upper zones of the global ocean, such as the epipelagic and mesopelagic zones. However, those are just two of the ocean’s five zones, and strictly speaking, there is much more below them. It might be comforting to think that perhaps humans haven’t impacted the deep ocean as much as we have impacted the upper tiers. However, others have noted that “the last great wilderness” is indeed feeling the impact of human activity, and that the toll is mounting. Everything from deep-sea mining to oil drilling are having an effect on lower ocean zones, and the effect of depleting species from the upper zones is trickling its way down to the animals inhabiting lower depths. This is an important area of study, and one that we hope environmental and conservation advocates will turn to in the future, but it was unfortunately beyond the scope of our work here.
We hope you find our Ocean Life Fundamentals useful for your own education, and in your advocacy. As always, get in touch with us if you have suggestions for how we can improve this resource, or if you have ideas for future editions of our Fundamentals series.