National Geographic : 2003 Feb
they barely had enough water to float. "These are whales that make much of their living on the beach," Darling commented. "It's just that they use it at high tide." The whales withdrew with the water, and their feeding grounds soon stood revealed as a vast mudflat with waves of migrat ing shorebirds skittering across it. Thousands of shallow pits the length of rowboat hulls pat terned the surface. Each represented a mouth ful sucked in by a whale that then used its tongue to force the sediments out through baleen plates, trapping a tasty tangle of ghost shrimp and Mya clams. With every shrimp came creatures that had shared the space inside its muddy burrow scale worms, more clams, pea crabs, and tiny gobies-plus copepods living under the shrimp's exoskeleton and others clinging to its gills. Strange how ecosystems and economies work. Grown from a mix of nutrients flowing out of forest rivers and in from the sea, these tiny, gunk-eating, mud-tunnelers and their even more obscure roommates are really the wildlife that help nurture the business folk, from local watermen who have jumped into the whale watching business to motel owners, bankers, and grocery clerks ashore. Each organism in an ecosystem is bound to every other in more ways than we can fully understand. Our wildlife heritage lies as much in organic processes and communities as in the individual creatures that tend to catch our attention. The further science probes the nature of things, the closer it comes to time-honored native concepts about living beings trans forming into others, a worldview summed I up by the Nuu-chah nulth as hishuk-ish ts'awalk-everything is one. - Find more images, field notes, and a listing of websites and resources at national geographic.com/ngm/0302.