Whale penises are big these days. (Pun!)
Perhaps the greatest metric of humankind’s power is that not only have we trashed fat tracts of the 30% of the Earth that we run around on but we’ve somehow managed to screw up the 70% we can’t even live in. Yes friend, the ocean’s got problems. Human impact has crashed populations of sea life, leaving us in a situation where once common fish on the menu may be extinct within our lifetimes. Meanwhile, sushi is more popular than ever, especially among the well-informed and well-meaning types most likely to cry while watching The Cove.
While river dolphins are undeniably fucked, ocean dolphins are plentiful enough to use as jet ski ramps, if that’s your cup of tea, without danger of wiping them out. The most compelling reason not to eat dolphin is that they are a high-end predator and thus accumulate dangerous levels of mercury in their system. That’s besides the whole honor among thieves idea that makes eating other predatory mammals mostly taboo.
But this is only sort of about that. What I really wanted to talk about was self-replicating swarms of medical nanobots.
Y’see, the debate over hunting whales involves opposing forces slinging around very different numbers about whale behavior and population size. Due to the fact that the ocean is reeeeeeally freakin’ huge, hard numbers are hard to come by and you can pretty much cook the books as much as you want to come up with your own personal story called The Truth about Whales. Add that to the dispute over the best methods of surveying whale populations (Greenpeace favors binoculars while the Japanese trust their harpoon guns) and it’s clear that there’s a need for better methods of close observation of marine life.
Mulling this over, it hit me. If we’re living in an age where Italians can put tiny robot spiders in our colons (“hey sailor!”), who’s to say we’re that far off from spreading the robot love with other species? Picture it: biologists dart a whale, infecting it with a few colonies of nano-bots that take up residence on the surface of it’s skin, like barnacles. They are programed to assemble more of their kind from whale meal gleanings and other bits of miscellaneous sea soup, massing a new colony down in the whales nether regions or by it’s head, transferring a starter colony to a new host whale when the whales rub together. A little cetacean bump and grind and we’ve got nanobots traveling throughout the pod, allowing scientists to monitor more and more individuals.
Each bot colony could have specialized members, some devoted to replication, some storing data, and some with sensors to monitor whale position, age, health, etc. Once a certain amount of data is collected, a small transmitter buoy could be assembled and launched once the host whale reaches the surface. Lazy scientists could just have observations beamed to them, routed into their RSS readers like we do now with cute cat pictures.
Of course a big factor standing in the way of this is that we don’t know a whole hell of a lot about wild whale health, what with them being creatures of the mysterious depths and all. Unleashing self-assembling cyborg STDs on another species is a pretty damn big deal, potentially a cross-species Tuskegee Experiment. But since when has near-complete ignorance been an impediment to a gnarly tech rollout? Nanobot STDs could be this era’s DDT, a character-building experience this generation has been lacking.
So wrap that rascal, cetaceans. Who knows if that fine Minke has got robo-herpes.