Balaena Vis Vires

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In my Comp II class, one of our assignments was to write a fake research paper. I’ll let you figure out the rest…

Scientists have finally found the ultimate solution to the world’s energy crisis: domesticated whales. Researchers in Honolulu have discovered a way to harness the kinetic energy from the motion of a whale swimming and transfer it to a local power grid. The University of Hawaii has issued a report on the subject, stating that:

The main source of [U.S.] power has been from non-renewable energy sources for so long, people have started to forget that there are better ways. The new W.E.E.P. (Whale Energy Extraction Program) systems are extremely reliable and cost much less than a traditional coal plant to operate. With new genetically engineered lab-grown whales the questionable job of capturing the giant mammals from the wild will be eliminated. Overall, the W.E.E.P. systems are proving to be very promising future sources of energy. (Hawaii Talkz)

The university has been working on the project since early 1997. W.E.E.P. was first started as an experimental program which involved many different types of marine animals. (UH News) Humpback whales were eventually chosen as the best option for use in energy extraction tanks, as they are quite common and provide excellent feedback through their complex vocal systems. Right, Minke, and Fin whales were also primary candidates for consideration, but were eventually discarded for various reasons.

There have been very large amounts of kinetic energy outputs measured from the movement of large animals in water. The systems use what are called P.E.P. (Power Extraction Pod) monitors to collect the energy produced. The energy is then stored in large superconducting magnetic coils until it is pumped into the grid. The university is currently completely powered by the W.E.E.P. system. The power generation is around 300 Megawatts, about half of the output of a standard coal powered power plant. Dr. Jefferson Ottenforjd, Professor of Economics at University of Hawaii is quoted as saying: “[we] really do like having our own power source on campus, it’s quite convenient and the cost benefit is amazing.” The average cost of a W.E.E.P. system is around $20,000 per year, with an initial start up cost of around $700,000. The school is able to sell the excess electricity to the government of Hawaii and break even with the operation costs.

One of the most controversial aspects of the W.E.E.P. system is, of course, the ethicality of taking the whales from their natural habitat and forcing them to live the rest of their days in a tank. Carmen W., an avid animal rights advocate, has commented on the situation:

I feel that the scientists at UH have taken the inherent rights that these innocent animals have to live freely in the wild and bashed them against the rocks of research, all in the name of the betterment of humanity. The unethical treatment that these creatures have undergone is one of the best examples of the indifferent abuse of the academic power that these men and women wield. I feel that this is a terrible atrocity against the laws of nature and speaks volumes about the repulsive state of this university’s moral and ethical standings.

The graduate geneticists at UH are currently working on a synthesized or “lab-grown” version of the whales to cease the harvesting of whales from the wild for usage in the W.E.E.P. systems.

The university has partnered with local whaling businesses to capture the whales and bring them to the research lab unharmed. Long time whaling vessel captain Carly R. notes:

The main issue encountered when capturing such a large creature and bringing them in unharmed is that our ships are built to harpoon and clean the whales at sea. When the University of Hawaii asked us to capture the Humpbacks alive and bring them in for research, I was initially taken aback.  First of all, they said that it was for energy generation, and my degree is in education, I really didn’t know how they were going to generate energy with a live whale. They helped us in our outfitting of the ship and managed to build a netting system to bring in the whales without any harm coming to them, I was quite impressed with the system. We’ve used it numerous times now for various zoos and animal rights agencies to help sick and endangered species.

Dr. David W., of the engineering department at UH, posted online that “the webbing system was quite a logistical challenge; we had a 2 ton object moving at about 10 kilometers per hour, that interprets to a force of about 5040 Newton/seconds… that’s a very strong net that we had to build.”

There has been much debate on the topic of clean energy in the political realm over the past decade (Vanleer 39). Ian J. stated that “among the plethora of controversial topics that are flooding our nations, the foremost is that of renewable energy.” (Urban Affairs Review) The university has received a substantial amount of government funding, enough to the point that they have been able to build two full scale 300Mw power stations and staff them for two years. The governor of Hawaii, Andrew C., attended the opening ceremony of the second plant directly outside of Honolulu. “This is a momentous time in the history of Hawaii and of the United States as a whole, never before has man become so closely entwined with nature in the performance of a task so invariably different from the very function of natural law, yet left behind no footprint which will mar the precious scenery of our beloved earth.”

The W.E.E.P. is continuing to run smoothly and the university is progressing steadily toward integration of the systems into larger scale applications in the near future. Despite the opposition and the initial challenges, the determined researchers are creating what they think will become one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of mankind. In the words of the man who started it all: “just think, one day we will be able to use whales to power our houses and street lights and factories, the creatures that once provided oil for the first indoor lanterns will now provide power for an advanced computer system. Boys, let’s catch us some whales, yes yes!” (Deboer)

~ Chris


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