Did you know that the study of ecology and biology are a big part of First Nations cultures? Before these topics existed in western science their core ideas, understandings, and methods were woven into First Nations lores-laws and practices.

Looking at the world as a connected web is at the heart of First Nations cultures.

We think about how we are connected to the place where we are. We think about how our place and all those who live there connect with each other and then connect to neighbouring places. We talk with our neighbours and families to think about how our communities and Country are connected to even further away communities and Country.

We understand that everything is connected and care for Country assuming that everything we do and everything each animal and plant does will eventually affect something or someone somewhere else. We have lores-laws to make sure that everyone acts in ways that look after these important connections.

Whales and climate change are a really interesting example of connections that reach far and wide across Country.

In Dhurga - one of many languages spoken by the First Nations Yuin people of the NSW South Coast - Muriyira is the name for Whale. Sound it out: MOO-REE-YEAR-RA.

As a Yuin woman, Muriyira are important animals to me and my community, and to First Nations saltwater peoples all along the coasts.

Humpback whales

Whales and climate change are a really interesting example of connections that reach far and wide across Country.

Image: Steve Parish
© Steve Parish

We have strong and complex relationships with Muriyira as teachers, Ancestors, and also as food.

Respecting these relationships and the lores-laws of connection that guide us in how we use Country is called ‘right-way’, because it helps us take what we need without pushing Country out of balance.

When the colonial whaling industry ignored First Nations lores-laws about right-way hunting, Muriyira were almost lost forever. The connections and relationships broke down, causing harm to Country as things went out of balance with each other. This is called ‘wrong-way’ because the relationships and connections have been ignored.

Now, as Muriyira recover from those times, scientists are learning just how important the connections to and from Muriyira really are.

Muriyira poo is helping to manage climate change! After eating a belly-full of nutritious tiny animals called Plankton, Muriyira poo is the perfect mix of ingredients to help grow phytoplankton – microscopic ocean plants. As Muriyira poo floats on ocean currents from place to place, it grows gardens of phytoplankton that not only provide food for many ocean animals, but also busily absorbs huge amounts of carbon from the atmosphere!

Over their lives, Muriyira also trap enormous amounts of carbon in their big bodies. When they die, they take that carbon deep down into the bottom of the ocean where it is released slowly and safely so that the carbon doesn’t end up in the atmosphere. During the whaling times when hundreds of whales were being hunted each year, all this carbon was released straight into the atmosphere – and still is in places where wrong-way whaling continues.

Some people may wonder why it is important to protect all of the different animal species and if it would really matter if this one animal or plant became extinct. The answer is that everyone is connected together – even the tiniest phytoplankton and the biggest muriyira. You never know what small job each animal and plant is doing that helps us all – even just by doing a poo!

Editorial note: Some animal names have been capitalised to give agency to Country by First Nations writers. Find out more about why we capitalise English language in reading Who is Country.

About the author

Sara Kianga Judge is a neurodiverse Walbunja-Yuin woman who grew up on Burramattagal Country. She is an environmental scientist, geographer and artist passionate about accessible science communication and helping people to grow meaningful relationships with Country.