“Save the Whales!”
A statement that has become synonymous with the environmental movement itself. Movements to protect whales from the perils of the commercial whaling industry were at the forefront of the early environmental movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s, embraced by such big-name groups as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Foundation. The work of these groups led to legislation that began to reverse the tide for many commonly hunted whale populations. (Of course, they still face many threats, but that’s a conversation for another day).
“Save the Space Whales!”
In the second season of Star Wars: Rebels, we were introduced to the purrgil, a space-faring group of creatures, strongly resembling the whales of our Earth (thus earning them the nickname “space whales”). The purrgil live in and move throughout the galaxy in groups, headed by the largest purrgil, known completely unironically as the Purrgil King.
So it begs the question: do the space whales need saving? If environmental justice groups such as Greenpeace and the WWF existed in the galaxy far, far away, would they be expending their efforts to protect the purrgil populations?
On our lovely planet Earth, when a species becomes endangered, there are a number of factors that may be contributing to this. The most common causes of endangerment and extinction today include habitat loss, overhunting, introduced species, human expansion, disease, pollution, and climate change. Let’s define three of these causes and take a look at how they may or may not be negatively impacting the purrgil populations. While we will examine each of these causes individually, it is important to note off the top that these are not mutually exclusive and, quite often, it is the intersection of many of these factors that ultimately causes a species to lose numbers.
This is the most common cause of species extinction on Earth today. Every species on the planet has a specific habitat in which is is specially adapted to survive. Many species are adapted to survive in many varying habitats – these species are more likely to survive when one of their habitats is introduced to a stressor. However, many species are only able to survive in one single, specific type of habitat. If something happens to change that habitat, that species may be entirely out of luck.
The purrgil are a unique case in this sense, as their habitat is simply space. They live in space and travel through space and, so far as we know, only ever need to come to a planet’s surface to obtain Clouzon-36, the gas they inhale in order to travel at light-speed. So, looking at their habitat alone, can we make a case for purrgil being affected by habitat loss? On the surface, no. Space, by definition, is plentiful and endless and, according to some physicists, expanding infinitesimally (I think – I don’t actually understand what those physicists are saying, to be perfectly honest). So from the perspective of habitat quantity, the sheer amount of habitat available to the purrgil, there is no case to be made for endangerment.
Humans harvest many species for many reasons, and in the case of whales, whaling was (and in some parts of the world, sadly, still is) a huge industry. The hunting and harvesting of whales caused many populations to become only a fraction of what they once were.
While we have no direct evidence of the hunting of purrgil in the galaxy far, far away, there are a number of reasons why I’m inclined to believe that it, at some point, has taken place. In the season 2 Star Wars: Rebels episode “The Call,” Hera mentions that the purrgil’s ability to travel in hyperspace inspired the other beings of the galaxy to learn how to replicate that ability, thus hyperspace travel was invented. In order to learn about this ability, I can just imagine large ships full of beings trying to capture purrgil, in order to study them. Once humans and other sentient species became space-faring, traveling through space, trying to find a purrgil, and capture it before it propelled itself to light-speed, could have been a huge adventure, attractive to the same types of people that joined whaling expeditions in our human history. Think Moby Dick, but in space.
Furthermore, besides capturing the purrgil for study, I imagine they could be harvested for other resources as well. The blubber of Earth whales was what kept the whaling industry alive, used to power oil lamps before the invention of electricity. While the beings of Star Wars probably already had electricity if they were flying through space to capture a purrgil, it’s not hard to imagine humans and other sentient creatures harvesting the purrgil for other reasons: meat, bones, teeth, tentacles (we have seen plenty of evidence of a booming tentacle industry, after all). However, this is all inference based on human history and limited understanding of purrgil natural history, so we can say nothing conclusive on this front.
We are currently in the midst of the sixth great extinction event, the sixth time in all of geologic history (aka the past 4.6 billion years), when a huge percentage of species are going extinct at once, far greater than the normal rate of extinctions. This particular extinction is unique in that the unprecedented rate is caused, for the first time, by another living being: us. The expansion of humanity across the globe has caused habitat destruction and ecosystem havoc, not to mention climate change, that has wiped out huge percentages of the total number of living species on the planet.
As sentient beings in the galaxy far, far away, embraced the hypespace travel they supposedly learned from the purrgil themselves, they spread out to many different and varied planets. This traveling, however, is what ended up having the biggest impact on the purrgil. As Hera mentions in “The Call,” it was not uncommon for a ship traveling through hyperspace to collide with a purrgil, causing the ship and its inhabitants to explode. What Hera doesn’t mention, is whether this has a negative impact on a purrgil. While they seem resilient creatures, a starship colliding with you at lightspeed sure seems like it would take a toll.
There is also the issue of Clouzon-36, the gas the purrgil breathe in order to travel to light-speed. This gas is also used to fuel ships, so naturally, the sentient species have set up a system to harvest it. The fact that the resource, required for the survival of the space whales, is highly desirable to sentient species as well, is not a good sign for the purrgil. If our own human history is to be observed, when any species comes into conflict with humans for the consumption of a resource, the humans tend to come out on top. While the actual amount of Clouzon-36 available to humans and purrgil alike is unclear, it’s fair to assume that, like our energy sources here on Earth, there is only a finite amount available. Unless some checks and balances are put into play, some regulation of the use of Clouzon-36, it is completely possible that the sentient species will end up completely depriving the purrgil of this much-needed resource.
Do the Space Whales Need Saving?
So do the purrgil need to be saved? Do we have reason to believe that purrgil are endangered, approaching extinction? In the end, I’d say it’s unclear. While they do seem to have a major advantage in that their habitat is huge and unending, the presence of sentient species has caused some disruptions, whether by causing collisions with ships, overuse of a valuable resource, or in hunting the purrgil themselves. However, as we’ve seen on our own planet, awareness of these issues is the first step to making a tangible difference. Perhaps Ezra’s legacy will be to have brought the plight of the purrgil back to the forefront of the galaxy’s awareness. Perhaps it’s not too late to save the space whales after all.
(I have always been fascinated by whales, but truthfully, don’t know a ton about the species that live here on Earth. In the coming months, I’m planning to highlight some of the many species of whales that we share the planet with and what can be done to help them. Stay tuned and may the purrgils be with you!)