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Essays & Natural History

Posted by rdsayler | November 22, 2022

[Illustration of a vaquita. Courtesy of Greenpeace Mexico.]

The Endling

Today in SoE Science we’d like to share a special essay with you from Orion Magazine, entitled “The Endling” by Christina Rivera Cogswell. Her touching essay addresses the emotions felt by those who value all the plants and animals and other life on Earth and feel deeply at the tragic losses occurring in the natural world.

Despite our genetic wizardry and best technological intentions, extinction is indeed forever for most species. We shall never ever be able to recover all of the lost genetic, species, population, community, and ecosystem diversity after extinction and habitat obliterations occur. And we mourn the loss.

The term, endling, refers to the last individual of a species or subspecies. And just as for human death, it is a sobering moment when the last of a species, a unique individual harboring all that remains of a living species, blinks out of existence through extinction.

The vaquita is the smallest porpoise in the world, measuring less than 5 ft in length. It has the smallest distribution of any marine mammal being restricted to the Sea of Cortez in the upper Gulf of California and it is listed as critically endangered, although in reality it may already be extinct by the time you read this essay.

Much of the blame for the demise of the vaquita rests on overfishing, gillnets, bycatch (killing of unintended or unwanted species in nets), and black-market forces encouraging illegal fishing for “the cocaine of the sea” – a nickname given to the bladders of totoaba, valued in Chinese cuisine.

In our SoE course, Conservation Biology, we introduce students to the concept of an endling and consider examples of such species and individuals. We will have much more to say about endlings and species extinctions elsewhere in SoE Science News, but for now, we encourage you to consider the essay below.

R. Sayler

from Orion Magazine: The Endling 


As editor for the Fall 2022 issue of SoE Science News I’m going to take the liberty of introducing you to one of my favorite authors, Margaret Renkl, although you may very well know about her already.

I certainly hope you do, because her writing gently mixes the realities of human life, culture, and emotions with careful and thoughtful observations about the natural world around her in Nashville, Tennessee, and the American South.

We cannot bemoan the terrors of climate change and effectively act to do something about it, each as we may, without simultaneously being part of and appreciating the natural world around us for which we care so deeply. Hopefully, nature heals us as we attempt to heal nature.

Margaret Renkl is an opinion writer for The New York Times and a master of the art of the essay. There are so many of her essays that I’d like to share with you, but I’ve chosen to direct you to a relatively recent essay of hers in The New York Times partly because it ties in so nicely with our stories here about bugs, bees, and butterflies in this fall issue of SoE Science News.

From Margaret Renkl and The New York Times – At Summer’s End, a Moment of Wild Surprise


R. Sayler


Note: Some articles in The New York Times require registration with an email to obtain access.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed by authors are their own and do not reflect policy or positions of Washington State University or the School of the Environment.

Photo of author Margaret Renkl
[Margaret Renkl, author and opinion writer for The New York Times. Photo credit: Heidi Ross.]

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