Many people think of plankton as a microscopic plant that lives in the water.
Not so. Plankton are any organisms inhabiting the water that are incapable of swimming against the current, including drifting animals, plants. bacteria and archaea, a group of single-cell micro-organisms.
I got a little bit of a refresher course on plankton after rediscovering a film that I first saw in elementary school, Our Mister Sun.
The 1956 flick was part of a Bell educational series, and it obviously made an impression on me as I sat in that darkened room in Selinsgrove, PA, four decades ago. (Well, maybe I was just thrilled that it would be one less hour that I had to listen to the drone of a disinterested teacher.)
Frank Capra directed and produced the movie, which starred Eddie Albert and Frank Baxter, who looked disturbingly like Colonel Klink from Hogan’s Heroes. I kept expecting him to slap Albert atop his head and yell, “You dumkopf?”
Albert, playing the role of a fiction writer, looked at the animated Mr. Sun and said, “We depend on you for our very existence.”
True enough. It would be a tad cold here on earth without Ra.
But Albert was referring to the food chain. All animals survive on food created by the sun, either directly by eating plants or indirectly by eating animals that eat plants.
Col. Klink — oops, I mean Baxter’s Dr. Research character — described chlorophyll as a molecule that is integral in photosynthesis (the process in which plants and other organisms convert light energy from the sun to chemical energy.
Atlantic menhaden are plankton eaters. I’ve seen numerous, globular schools of them moving along the coast lately. They spawn near shore; their eggs hatch and the larvae drift in the current to sheltered estuaries. And I’ve seen more dolphin in the last week or so than in the rest of the summer combined.
At the same time — and not by coincidence — there’s been a proliferation of shore birds sharing my beach with me.
So, I’d like to thank Mr. Sun personally. This communing with nature stuff is a freakin’ blast. Where would I be without plankton?