31 May 2007

animal personalities


[drawing by doug millison]

Evolution of animal personalities: Scientists provide an explanation

Animals differ strikingly in character and temperament. Yet only recently has it become evident that personalities are a widespread phenomenon in the animal kingdom. Animals as diverse as spiders, mice and squids appear to have personalities. Personality differences have been described in more than 60 species, including primates, rodents, birds, fish, insects and mollusks. New work by Max Wolf (University of Groningen; currently at the Santa Fe Institute), Santa Fe Institute Postdoctoral Fellow Sander van Doorn, Franz Weissing (University of Groningen), and Olof Leimar (Stockholm University) offers an explanation for the evolution of animal personalities. Their findings are detailed in “Life-history trade-offs favour the evolution of animal personalities” in the May 31 issue of Nature.

The evolutionary origins of “animal personality”—defined as consistent behavior over time and in different situations—is poorly understood. Why do different personality types exist within a single population given that, at first sight, one would expect one type to be more successful than another" Why are individuals not more flexible considering that personality rigidity sometimes leads to seemingly inefficient behavior" Why do we find the same types of traits correlated with each other in very different kinds of animals"

The authors argue that in many cases personalities are shaped by a simple underlying principle: the more an individual stands to lose (in terms of future reproduction) the more cautiously it is likely to behave, in all kinds of situations and consistently over time.

They begin with two basic observations. First, variation in personalities is often structured according to differences in the overall willingness to take risks. Second, individuals are often confronted with a trade-off between current and future reproduction: the more an individual currently invests in reproduction, the less resources are left to invest in future opportunities, and vice versa. Using a mathematical model the authors demonstrate that this fundamental trade-off can give rise to populations where some individuals put more emphasis on future reproduction than others. Individuals who invest in future reproductive success evolve to be consistently risk-averse in different behavioral contexts (e.g. encounters with predators and aggressive interactions), whereas individuals who put emphasis on current reproductive success evolve a more risk-prone personality.

The researchers intend to continue their collaborative work on the evolution of animal personalities. Currently, at the Santa Fe Institute, Max Wolf and Sander van Doorn are developing alternative ideas on structuring properties of personalities.

from:
Santa Fe Institute

30 May 2007

causal connection between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans?



Is there a causal connection between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans? Does human justice require discarding the traditional hierarchy that values humans before nonhumans? …. Coetzee's fiction reveals how sympathetic identification with animals can be symptomatic of selfishness and political impotence. A sense of equality with animals does not necessarily translate into care for animals or for humans. What is more, the protagonists' equation of animal suffering with human suffering risks perpetuating a racist discourse that equates humans with animals--racist discourse that has resulted in profound human suffering. Coetzee's writing resists the equation of human and animal oppression.

…from:
"Ethics and the Nonhuman: J.M. Coetzee's Lives of Animals and Disgrace"
by Katherine Hallemeier, in "Humans and Animals," Proteus: A Journal of Ideas, Spring 2007


28 May 2007

humpback serenade

Singing whales like a big audience
NewScientist.com 27 May 2007

Sing and attract females, or keep quiet and eat? It's a tricky dilemma for a male, to be sure, but one that humpback whales must wrestle with as they migrate to their summer feeding grounds. Males that sing swim more slowly than those that don't, possibly ending up with less time in the feeding grounds to fatten up for the next winter. On the other hand, singers may attract more mates. Michael Noad and colleagues at the University of Sydney in Australia tracked a population of humpback whales during the annual migration from low-latitude breeding areas to Antarctic feeding grounds. Using hydrophones to capture their song along with land-based observations, they calculated the swimming speed and singing status of each whale. While non-singing whales averaged 4 kilometres per hour, singers - which are always male - moseyed along at only 2.5 km/h (Marine Mammal Science, DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-7692.2007.02414.x). A few singers were clocked at around 15 km/h, showing that it's not impossible to sing and swim fast. So why slow down? It could be a strategy to squeeze a bit more breeding into the season. Slowing down lets the singer be heard by a procession of passing females. "It effectively gives them a larger audience," says Noad.

27 May 2007

ants show humans the value of self-sacrifice

Ants show humans how to make superhighways
University of Bristol, 26 May 2007

Certain army ants in the rainforests of Central and South America conduct spectacular predatory raids containing up to 200,000 foraging ants. Remarkably, some ants use their bodies to plug potholes in the trail leading back to the nest, making a flatter surface so that prey can be delivered to the developing young at maximum speed.

The raid always remains connected to the nest by a trail of forager traffic, along which prey-laden foragers run back to run back to the nest. This trail can be extremely uneven and full of ‘pot holes’ as it passes over leaves and branches on the forest floor.

The study, by Dr Scott Powell and Professor Nigel Franks at the University of Bristol, and reported in the June issue of Animal Behaviour, shows that these living ‘plugs’ improve the quality of the surface. This increases the overall speed of the traffic and results in an increase in the amount of prey delivered to the nest each day.

Professor Franks said: "I think every road user who has ever inwardly cursed as their vehicle bounced across a pothole – jarring every bone in their body – will identify with this story. When it comes to rapid road repairs, the ants have their own do-it-yourself highways agency."

"When the traffic has passed, the down-trodden ants climb out of the potholes and follow their nest mates home," added Powell. "Broadly, our research demonstrates that a simple but highly specialised behaviour performed by a minority of ant workers can improve the performance of the majority, resulting in a clear benefit for the society as a whole."

Their experiments showed that individuals size-match to the hole they plug and cooperate to plug larger holes. "We did this by getting the ants to literally ‘walk the plank’, said Powell. "We inserted planks drilled with different sizes of hole into the army ants’ trails to see how well different sizes of ant matched different sizes of pot hole. Indeed, they fit beautifully", explained Franks.

Overall, this behaviour results in an increase in the average speed of prey-laden traffic. Moreover, calculations suggest that under a range of realistic scenarios, plugging behaviour results in a clear increase in daily prey intake. In other words, the behaviour of the pothole pluggers more than compensates for them not carrying prey themselves.

This study provides rare quantitative evidence from animal societies that extreme specialisation by a minority can significantly improve the performance of a majority to benefit the group as a whole. It also suggests that these benefits are a consequence of the unusual and derived foraging strategy of the army ant (Eciton burchellii). This highlights the importance of considering ecology and evolutionary history in the study of social organisation in animal societies.

26 May 2007

r.i.p. Puddles


Zoo's male hippo euthanized
after being moved, falling ill

Puddles, 44, fathered 16 calves with mate, who is doing well
by Suzanne Herel, San Francisco Chronicle, 26 2007

Puddles, a hippopotamus who charmed visitors by spinning his tail to scatter his excrement, died Friday after spending 43 of his 44 years in the San Francisco Zoo.

"It's a sad day at the zoo," said Bob Jenkins, the zoo's director of animal care.

The 3,200-pound male Nile hippo began displaying signs of respiratory distress and had trouble standing early Friday, the day after he and his longtime mate were moved by crane to temporary quarters in the old Pachyderm Building while their habitat is revamped.

"There's no real evidence that any real part of the move caused this situation," Jenkins said, noting that Puddles' partner, 45-year-old Cuddles, was relocated in the same manner. On Friday, she was doing well and enjoyed a dinner of hay, fruit, carrots and her favorite -- romaine lettuce.

At 44, Puddles had entered his sunset years; hippos live 40 to 50 years in zoos, which is about double their lifespan in the wild.

Before Thursday, Puddles' health had been "generally good," Jenkins said. The animal had experienced some lameness in his left back leg, Jenkins said, though that seemed to have abated.

But it's hard to tell, because hippos, one of the largest land mammals, don't lend themselves to easy physicals, he said.

A necropsy will be performed on Puddles to determine what led to his death, and zoo officials won't consider acquiring any new hippos until they can figure that out, Jenkins said.

The longtime couple were being moved because their habitat is being renovated to double their pool space and create 2,000 square feet of grazing pasture. In preparation, zookeepers acclimated the hippos to their prospective carrying containers several months ago, Jenkins said.

On Thursday, they were placed inside the crates and lifted by crane to their new quarters. During the trip, Puddles lay down in his container and, on arrival, had difficulty standing. Zoo officials thought it best to let Puddles leave his crate at his own pace, but even after he did, he continued to have trouble getting to his feet.

Puddles was placed on pain medication and monitored overnight. When the hippo's condition worsened on Friday, the decision was made to euthanize him.

Puddles and Cuddles had been together for about 43 years, during which time they parented 16 calves -- eight male, eight female.

"People would line up to see Puddles take a dump," former penguin keeper Jane Tollini told The Chronicle three years ago when the zoo was celebrating its 75th anniversary.

Despite her newly widowed status, Cuddles appeared to be in good spirits, Jenkins said.

If she lives for the next few years, she won't remain alone. While the zoo won't immediately move to acquire new hippos, Jenkins said, the habitat is being revamped with future acquisitions in mind.

Cuddles, who last gave birth to a calf in 1993, won't be looking for a virile mate, though, because she's past her reproductive years. After 16 offspring, she'll get a chance to, well, just cuddle.

Chronicle staff writer Patricia Yollin contributed to this report. E-mail Suzanne Herel at sherel@sfchronicle.com.

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/05/26/BAGLRQ2AU91.DTL

This article appeared on page B - 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle
© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.

trying to communicate?

[...] Some folks think the two humpback whales stranded in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta might be lured downstream with a ton or two of dead fish, while others say they should be led to the open sea by a squadron of trained dolphins.

Some feel the electromagnetic fields generated by tugboats could prove irresistible. One man wants to play the whales a drum solo. Another wants to communicate with them through the ectoplasm.

But whether grounded in the hard sciences, metaphysics or simple hunches, all the ideas share a common thread: deep concern for the fate of the disoriented female cetacean and her calf, now approaching their second week in the delta's murky waters. Their plight has drawn worldwide attention; phone calls and e-mails to government agencies and media outlets have numbered in the thousands.

Frances Gulland, the director of veterinary sciences for the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito and a leader in the rescue attempt, said she has been swamped with e-mails from people worried about the two humpbacks. [...]

Some readers opine that nothing is needed to move the whales save old-fashioned brain power. Benicia resident Charles Peden, a psychic and animal communicator, said he briefly connected with the whales telepathically when they first entered the delta.

"They didn't feel good," said Peden, who says he receives impressions from animals in images, words and emotions. "They were injured. I received this before the information got out that they had been struck by a ship."

Peden said he thinks the whales are confused about their location.

"There may be something wrong with their guidance systems," he said. "They may also be asking for attention, for help with their injuries."

Peden said he would like to try communicating with the whales, but added current circumstances are less than ideal.

"There are a lot of distractions for them right now," he said. "I work on a very subtle energy level, and I'd have to get close. It'd be difficult." [...]

…read it all:
Hundreds offer ideas for helping lost whales
by Glen Martin, Tom Chorneau
San Francisco Chronicle, 26 May 2007

* * *

Editor -- Leave the whales alone! When the whales first wandered into the Sacramento River, it made sense to assume they had lost their way. How could we not try to help them? But now, as I watch the mother lash her tail against the water in distress, it seems the efforts to save them are bordering on torture and arrogance. It's typical for us to think that we know what is best for the whales. But how can we possibly know why that mother brought her baby into the delta?

Furthermore, the attention and concern lobbed onto these two creatures by well-meaning citizens is misplaced. All that empathy would be better served if it were directed toward the health of their rightful habitat. Our oceans are in trouble; most people know that by now, don't they? We read about dead zones, severe overfishing, warming waters, dying coral and toxic algae blooms.

Right now, the whales are in the news. A month ago, it was the falcons trying to nest on the Bay Bridge. When wild animals enter into our day-to-day lives, we name them. We perch by our TV sets to learn about their plight. It's a bit disturbing, but there is an upside to our behavior. The crisis gains the attention of the popular media and teaches us about that species and their habitat. An upside to this whale-of-a-tale would be to highlight the health of the home that we are trying to push them back into.

We want a Hollywood ending, but we might not get it. If the whales die, it would be a shame for us to mourn only the passing of these two individual whales when we have an obligation to mourn, and to do something about, the health of their habitat. Not an easy task, I know. But, if a home were healthy, a mother wouldn't flee. She isn't the first sea mammal to beach herself in protest. Now look who's being anthropomorphic.

ALETA GEORGE
Suisun City

25 May 2007

what you see is what you get


A colorful male ukari. [photo: Ohio U]

Color Vision Drove Primates to Develop Red Skin and Hair, Study Finds


… reports Ohio University:
…while foraging may have initially sparked red color vision, the new ability was likely “recruited” for social purposes.

“It looks like red skin and hair became a sexual preference,” said Morris, a fish biologist who studies how physical traits such as coloring evolve through sexual selection. “So while the benefits in terms of eating may not apply anymore, the (red-color) vision in some groups is now relevant in social terms.

23 May 2007

annoying perhaps but rarely fatal


The Men Who Stare at Goats
by Jon Ronson, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2005.

In 1979 a secret unit was established by the most
gifted minds within the U.S. Army. Defying all known
accepted military practice -- and indeed, the laws of
physics -- they believed that a soldier could adopt a
cloak of invisibility, pass cleanly through walls,
and, perhaps most chillingly, kill goats just by
staring at them.

Entrusted with defending America from all known
adversaries, they were the First Earth Battalion. And
they really weren't joking. What's more, they're back
and fighting the War on Terror. [...]

22 May 2007

what happens next?

what message are the whales sending?

Editor -- One can only wonder what the message may be in this unprecedented whale visit. The timing exquisitely coincides with the gathering of scientists and international policy-makers at the International Whaling Commission meeting in Anchorage next week. As we witness the beauty, grace and mystery of "Delta" and "Dawn,'' we must realize that this international organization is within a vote or two of allowing the resumption of commercial whaling -- led by Japan, Norway and Iceland.

We ask: What can we do? Will the damage and injury done by some manmade machinery and other human obstacles lead to the whales' demise? This is not just a question for the whales in the Sacramento River, but a global question that we, as citizens, must address. The fate of the world's whales lies in the hands of the United States (and other) governments. The issues of global warming and depletion of food sources will linger. But officials at the IWC meeting can vote to ban all whaling. For more information, contact Sea Sanctuary at (650) 322-6311.

ROBIN MANKEY
Executive Director
Sea Sanctuary, Inc.
Palo Alto

* * *

Editor -- I don't know why the press hasn't come up with the correct names for the whales -- they are George and Condi: up a creek without a paddle, completely lost and over their heads, going in circles, blowing off steam and they clearly have no exit strategy.

RUTH BAILEY
Lafayette


…from today's San Francisco Chronicle Letters to the Editor.


21 May 2007

blame it on ari...

…Aristotle, that is, who noted an "essential difference" between humans and animals, writes Brett Buchanan in "Do Animals Exist? On the Essence and Existence of Humans and Animals" in Proteus Spring 2007 issue:

What it comes down to is that animals are quite literally irrational, bereft of reason–more specifically, lacking a mind (nous). For what humans have, and animals lack, is a cognitive faculty, which Aristotle describes in a manner that approximates our modern notion of "self-consciousness." This becomes further evident when he states that "the mind is then capable of thinking itself"…which offers a self-reflective capacity of which animals are deprived.

19 May 2007

today's headlines

Elephants can hear through their feet

[...] "On a most fundamental level, the research is showing elephants have a whole modality for communicating that we haven't thought about," O'Connell said. [...]


[drawing by doug millison]



UCSF's 15-pound therapist
Izzy the poodle brings joy to patients who need comfort, inspiration or just a cuddle


[...] Izzy will serve as a distraction when kids are having scary procedures -- and as a dummy on which kids can "act out" their operations. She'll help motivate rehabilitation patients -- who doesn't want to take a dog for a walk? -- and be a "therapist" for lonely ones. Mostly, though, she will just be there, a calm presence in a place that can be full of both hope and despair. [...]




"Linda Haycox and her 3-year-old daughter, Gianna, get a visit from Izzy, a miniature poodle training to be a full-time staff member at UCSF Children's Hospital in San Francisco. Izzy was rescued from the streets of Fresno by the SFCA, and now her job is to be therapist, cuddler and friend to the hospital's young patients and their families." [Chronicle caption; photo by Mike Kepka]


Escaped gorilla in Netherlands bites woman, causes panic

[...] “He got over the moat, which in itself is remarkable, because gorillas can’t swim,” Dorrestijn said. “He got onto a path for visitors and started running and went at full speed through tables and diners at the Oranje restaurant.” [...]


18 May 2007

maybe they don't like the tunes



Whale charmers try to coax humpbacks
by Glen Martin, San Francisco Chronicle Environment Writer
Friday, May 18, 2007

(05-18) 04:00 PDT West Sacramento, Yolo County -- Researchers are sticking to their plan to use humpback whale recordings to entice two wayward and wounded whales from the Port of Sacramento, despite a day of failed attempts on Thursday.

And although worries are increasing that the whales may not have enough to eat, experts say they likely have at least a few more days before trying more stressful ways of moving the mother and her nursing calf.

Biologists and veterinarians are using an underwater broadcasting device called a hydrophone suspended from a U.S. Coast Guard cutter to transmit a variety of humpback sounds that had been collected over the years by recording engineer Bernie Krause.

Peter Folkens, a research associate with the Alaska Whale Foundation, said different types of humpback vocalizations were used in various combinations.

"We have sounds from social, feeding and prey aggregation," or communal efforts by humpbacks to herd fish, Folkens said. "We're trying different things, trying to find something that works. This is new territory for us -- we've never dealt with a pair of whales this far up a freshwater system."

The whales have gained international renown since they were first spotted in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta on Sunday. They have since set an inland travel record for humpbacks, traveling more than 70 miles up the delta and the Sacramento River Deep Water Channel to the outskirts of the capital city.

Both whales were wounded by a ship propeller, either in the open ocean or shortly after entering the bay, Folkens said. The wounds are fresh and relatively superficial, he said, and do not appear to be life-threatening.

Folkens said the injuries are consistent with a single propeller strike from a fairly large ship.

"From the position of the wounds, it appears the mother was nursing the calf, which was suckling while on its side," he said. "It looks like the propeller hit the mother on the back and the calf on the flank."

Researchers hope the whales eventually will respond to one of the recording combinations and follow the cutter back down the shipping channel, through the delta and out the Golden Gate.

Folkens said research indicates humpbacks ignore recordings "about 90 percent of the time, but respond rapidly and dramatically 10 percent of the time. We're looking for the combination that produces that rapid response."

There is a successful precedent for such a strategy. In 1985, recordings were used to lure Humphrey, the last humpback to enter the delta, back to the ocean.

Joe Cordaro, a wildlife biologist with the fisheries branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said the recordings used during Humphrey's rescue were among the vocalizations played Wednesday.

But the two whales in the shipping channel showed little interest in the underwater concert. As they've been doing for the past three days, they simply milled about the port's turning basin, surfacing regularly to breathe.

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Amy Marrs said a large freighter and pilings at the port may have interfered with underwater acoustics, confusing the whales.

"The freighter was offloading cement, and we asked them to stop, which they did," Marrs said. "We're doing everything we can to minimize noise, which can interfere with the operation."

Folkens said the strategy for moving the whales will stay the same for the foreseeable future. Researchers also have the option of forming a flotilla of boats behind the whales and banging pipes to drive them toward the sea -- but that would be stressful to the animals, and is not under immediate consideration, Folkens said.

Experience with Humphrey -- who stayed in the delta for 26 days -- indicate scientists have some time to work with the two whales, Folkens said.

"This may take days or weeks," he said. "We have time to work out a plan; there's no need to get desperate. We want to find a combination that works -- we don't want to shock them."

But researchers acknowledge that an extended stay in the shipping channel will also stress the whales. For one thing, the mother will have little or nothing to eat. Humpbacks typically consume huge quantities of small, oil-rich fish such as anchovies, herring and sardines.

In the spring, large numbers of humpbacks typically congregate along the California coast to gorge on vast aggregations of sardines and anchovies. Their intensive feeding replenishes their stores of blubber after wintertime calving and breeding in the warm waters off Mexico, where they typically do not eat.

In contrast to the teeming waters off the Farallones and Monterey Bay, the shipping channel is slim pickings, offering nothing more than a few catfish, carp, and the occasional striped bass and sturgeon -- hardly enough to keep a 45-ton mother nursing a 20-ton calf.

Cordaro said there are signs that the female whale is losing some blubber.

"We're seeing some depressions along the dorsal area, which indicates she has lost some reserves," he said. "The worry is that if she stays up here too long, she may not have enough strength to make it back to the ocean where she can feed."

Cordaro said researchers feel their mission has a fair chance for success, but cautioned against excessive optimism.

"We don't want everyone to get tremendously enthusiastic that it's going to work, and then become devastated if it doesn't," he said. "We're facing some long odds."

It remains unclear why the whales entered San Francisco Bay in the first place, but their apparent compulsion to push northward up the delta and into the shipping channel may be explained by their migratory instincts, Folkens said.

At this time of the year, Folkens said, local humpbacks are moving from Mexico north to their feeding grounds off the California coast.

"One thing we noticed with these two is that they always seemed to be tracking on the north banks (of the bay and delta)," he said. "They probably felt they were heading in the right direction for this time of the year, the direction that would take them to the ocean. They didn't count on the Siskiyous and Mount Shasta getting in their way."

http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/05/18/BAGEIPTFEJ1.DTL

This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle
© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.

17 May 2007

"every ant tells a story"


AntWeb


[drawing by Doug Millison]

entering lionspace


[drawing by Doug Millison]

"i was a freak, i knew i was a freak"

Woman Says She Can Talk To Animals
O'Hara Says She's An Animal Communicator
Lisa Hidalgo, 7NEWS Meteorologist, May 16, 2007

DENVER, Co. -- Animal communication is still not widely accepted but one local woman says it's catching on.

Terri O'Hara said she's been talking to animals ever since she was a kid and always knew she was a little special.

"When I first started doing this, I didn't explain it to anybody. I was a freak, I knew I was a freak," said O'Hara.

O'Hara said she embraced her talent and now people pay her to talk to their animals.

"Animals don't communicate in a lot of words like we do. They communicate in feelings like happiness, sadness, joy and grief. They also communicate in physical sensation so if they're having intestinal problems, my stomach might cramp for a moment," said O'Hara.

O'Hara said she helps people understand why their animals act in certain ways and do certain things.

"I don't call myself psychic. I call myself an animal communicator because to me it's a conversation with the animal," said O'Hara.

Some people say it's a little hard to believe.

"I wouldn't believe it until I see it," said pet owner Nisa Michener.

Veterinarian LaDawn Hillis said it would be too hard to prove either way and said it all comes down to your animal's quality of life.

"If it helps the animal and it doesn't hurt them, then I don't see any harm in it," said Hillis.

22 years later, humphrey the hunchback still speaks

Humphrey caught the imagination of thousands
by Steve Rubenstein,
San Francisco Chronicle
17 May 2007

It's been 22 years, but the Bay Area still remembers its most celebrated mixed-up marine visitor.

Like many of his fellow mammals on land, he was stubborn, blubbery and off-course.

His name was Humphrey the humpback whale, and for 26 days in the fall of 1985, his confusion and courage were front-page news. Humphrey was the stuff of which instant legends and quickie $10 T-shirts are born.

Ten thousand gawkers a day lined the shores of the Sacramento River and its sloughs to catch a glimpse. Sailboaters, jet skiers and houseboaters cruised by. Vendors hawked souvenirs. Restaurants named dishes after him.

There were Humphrey maps, Humphrey posters and Humphrey pundits. Everyone had an explanation why the 40-ton leviathan left its normal Alaska-to-Mexico migration route and turned left under the big orange bridge. But most experts said Humphrey just got lost and, like countless males before him, was unable to ask for directions.

As with the two whales that swam up the river this week all the way to West Sacramento, Humphrey's health was a constant concern. For Humphrey and for the thousands who became attached to him, the outcome was a happy one.

Humphrey was first spotted off Oakland on Oct. 10, 1985. From there he swam up the Carquinez Strait, the Sacramento River and under the Rio Vista Bridge to a dead-end slough 69 miles from the ocean.

He survived low bridges, wooden pilings, sludgy water, hovering helicopters, outboard motors and the banging of loud pipes by a small armada of well-wishers attempting to steer him back toward the Golden Gate and out to sea.

The delta town of Rio Vista installed a stone monument to the whale. (It's still there.) The pizzeria named its combo the Humphrey Special. (It's now $20 for an extra large.) A TV anchorwoman wrote a kids book about the whale. (It was selling Wednesday on Amazon.com for 40 cents.)

There were generic, plastic toy whales that weren't selling too well until they were re-branded as Humphrey whales.

Humphrey, like the two whales this week, swam past the delta town of Rio Vista. At Betty's Striper Cafe, it's whale deja vu. The whales may have moved farther north, but if they return to the ocean they will have to pass Rio Vista again.

At any event, the restaurant has been jammed with tourists, and the whale watcher's breakfast special is once-again chicken fried steak.

"This is definitely good for us,'' said manager Tasha Marlowe. "This is a sleepy town in the middle of the sleepy delta. Nothing much happens here.''

For a time, Humphrey didn't have a name -- until the Chronicle reporter assigned to the story christened him.

Birney Jarvis, who covered the whale for its entire 26-day visit, recalled that everyone he talked to wanted to know the whale's name, and that it was taking up interviewing time.

"So I decided to name him,'' Jarvis said. "I said to myself, 'Humpback ... Humphrey.' It just seemed to fit.'' Jarvis said he credited the name to a Rio Vista restaurateur he was interviewing, who didn't mind accepting the honor.

Jarvis, now 77 and retired from the Chronicle for 20 years, recalled that the whale's saga "seemed to strike a chord with the whole Bay Area.'' "Thousands of people were lining the shore to watch him,'' he recalled. "I don't mean hundreds. I mean thousands. The response was awesome. It was just something that happened at the moment. It was like Woodstock. And it was so different from all the blood and guts in the paper at the time.''
For a time, volunteers trailing behind in boats tried a pipe-banging strategy favored by Japanese fishermen to drive Humphrey back to his home in the open sea. But animal recording expert Bernie Krause, who records wildlife sounds for movie studios, won over authorities with his proposal to play a recording of hungry humpback whales that he acquired from students in Hawaii. The idea was that Humphrey would go where he thought the food was. Krause spent long hours in the recording studio doctoring the original whale recording from its one-minute length into a 20-minute-long whale symphony. He had worried that Humphrey would get bored with the same one-minute snippet over and over. Krause loaded his recording equipment into a small boat and began playing the tape through an underwater speaker. Humphrey began following the boat, from the Antioch Bridge toward the Golden Gate. "You never saw anything like it,'' Krause recalled. "Thousands of people, screaming and yelling. Every time the animal surfaced there was this huge roar from the crowds. It really brought people together. Everyone had some way of associating or projecting onto that animal.''
By the time he swam back under the Golden Gate on Nov. 4, 1985, Humphrey had racked up a rescue bill estimated at $80,000. He paid a second bay visit in 1990, when volunteers used a net to pull him off a mudflat near Candlestick Park. The next year, he was spotted off the Farallones. Now, Krause is set to play the next generation of humpback recordings for the new arrivals. They're no longer on cassette tape, he said. They're digital. Krause recorded a new set of high-fidelity humpback sounds in Glacier Bay, Alaska, and he can't wait to try them out. "I'd be glad to help,'' he said. "What you need to do is lure the animal with something pleasant. Loud noises don't work. It's so much better to be positive than negative.''


16 May 2007

mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most highly evolved of us all?



[drawing by Doug Millison]

Insects are marvels of creation with a body plan utterly different from ours. If if were not for them and their arthropod kin (crabs, spiders, scorpions) could we even imagine that it is possible to wear one's skeleton externally, cast it off occasionally, and exchange it for a new one? Could we ever have dreamed of organisms changing completely from a worm-like form eating leaves to a brilliantly colored flying marvel, or metamorphosing from a squat, creeping, aquatic troglodyte to the world's most versatile flyer able to snatch mosquitos out of the air? Could we conceive of being born ready to respond "perfectly" to amazing details of one's environment, without having to spend a lifetim slowly acquiring the appropriate responses by learning? Contemplating these incredibly diverse gems of the natural world, one is impressed with the realization that, seen objectively, insects are perhaps the most, or one of the most, highly evolved forms of life. Given the hundreds of millions of years that they have been in existence on this earth, and the very short time, often measured in weeks, not decades, they need to produce a new generation, it is plain to see that insects have had the opportunity to evolve considerably more than we have. They evolved flight, building architecture, and complex social systems probably hundreds of millions of years before any other organisms on earth had done so. Their amazing diversity and the perfection of design seem to be ample evidence for their high degree of evolutionary success.

…from: The Thermal Warriors by Bernd Heinrich.

15 May 2007

quizzical kestrel


[flicker.com]

anchovy drought may turn these giants around

2 humpbacks making their way up delta
Agencies try to keep wayward whales, boats clear of each other
by Glen Martin, Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Two wayward humpback whales forged their way up the Sacramento River on Monday, evoking the visit 22 years ago of the Bay Area's most famous marine mammal, Humphrey the humpback whale.


The animals are by far the largest creatures on the river, naturalist Stan Minasian of the Oceanic Society said after viewing videotape of them swimming in the opaque waters of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. He estimated their length at 50 to 55 feet, and their weight "at about a ton per foot."


Doreen Gurrola, the assistant director of the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, confirmed the two animals are humpbacks after a review of videotape but said it is not clear if both of them are adults.
"One seems a little smaller and could be a juvenile," she said. "We also think one may be injured. There seems to be something attached near its dorsal fin -- maybe an entangled net."

By late Monday afternoon, the whales were reported 4 nautical miles north of Rio Vista in Solano County, said Lt. Amy Marrs of the U.S. Coast Guard.
The National Marine Fisheries Service, which has authority over marine mammals, is expected to confer today with local agencies about whether to attempt to persuade the whales to swim back down the river.

Their presence in the delta is an extraordinary event, Minasian said. "It's very rare to see them in the bay, and almost unheard of to have them in the delta," Minasian said.

The only other record of a humpback in the delta is Humphrey, Minasian said, a whale that spent 26 days exploring the region in 1985 before it was finally driven back to the bay and the ocean with acoustic devices. Humphrey returned to San Francisco Bay in 1990, ran aground on a mudflat north of Sierra Point near Candlestick Park, was pulled off with a cargo net and again was sent seaward with noise-makers.

Minasian said humpbacks, which are migrating off the Pacific Coast this time of year, have "no business" being up the delta. "These are big, pelagic animals that normally are off the Farallones at this time of year, feeding heavily on fish such as anchovies," he said. "They have convoluted migration routes, and they exhibit very sophisticated behavior."

Humpbacks typically feed by working together in groups. Individuals will synchronize the exhalation of air bubbles to force schools of fish into tight, compact masses. When the fish are packed together, the whales charge into them with mouths agape.
"It's an amazing thing," Minasian said. "Each individual knows its role in the feeding strategy and executes it perfectly."

The two humpbacks could turn around on their own accord, whale experts said, because of the profound dearth of a main food source -- anchovies -- in the Sacramento River. "They're going to get hungry, and there's nothing for them to eat up there," Minasian said. "At a certain point, they should follow the tidal water back to the bay and out to the ocean."

But it might be wise to help the process along, he added, as boat traffic is the greatest threat to the whales. "Right now they're a hazard to navigation, and navigation is a hazard to them," said Minasian.

"Humphrey attracted a huge number of boats, and the same thing will probably happen to these animals. The water is murky, and it's hard to see where they are. Accidents can happen. We should probably try to convince them to leave the area sooner rather than later."


It's not particularly difficult to get humpbacks to move in a preferred direction, Minasian said. "They're acoustically sensitive animals," he said. "They don't like noise. By creating noises that are uncomfortable for them, it should be fairly easy to direct them downriver."

Authorities are taking precautions to protect both the humpbacks and boaters. Vessels are precluded from coming within 100 yards of the whales, said Marrs, and aircraft should remain at an altitude of at least 1,000 feet when in their general vicinity. The Coast Guard is providing Marine Safety Information bulletins on the humpbacks' locations at VHF-FM Channel 16.


When the humpbacks were first spotted Monday, many observers assumed they were gray whales, smaller cetaceans that visit the bay with some regularity.
A study conducted by the Oceanic Society from 1999 to 2001 determined that gray whales filter in and out of the bay year-round, except in August, Minasian said. Most visits occur from March through May, when the animals are migrating from their birthing lagoons in Mexico to their feeding grounds off Alaska. The number of gray whale visits seem to be particularly high this year, Gurrola said, based on the number or reported sightings. Jack Dumbacher, curator of birds and mammals at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, said he recently spotted a gray whale in the Raccoon Strait between Sausalito and Angel Island. The bay and delta are more congenial habitats for grays than humpbacks. Grays will take a variety of prey opportunistically, but they generally are bottom feeders, rooting around in the mud or silt for crustaceans and other small organisms.

( http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/05/15/BAGQKPR2AE1.DTL
This article appeared on page B - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

© 2007 Hearst Communications Inc.)

14 May 2007

what do falcons have to do with human family values?


Get a load of these cute chicks.


The wide world tunes in to watch S.J.'s falcon family values show
Mercury News Editorial, San Jose Mercury News
Article Launched:05/13/2007 02:08:33 AM PDT


San Jose's new favorite mom is rewriting the book on family values. For example, the epitome of maternal care these days is hauling a fresh carcass home, ripping it into tiny bits and stuffing them raw into the kids' mouths. (Memo: Do not invite to Mother's Day brunch. Especially if you're a pigeon.)

The fascination and - no exaggeration - pure love inspired by Clara and Jose, City Hall's peregrine falcon pair, are almost as wonderful as the wild creatures themselves. Tens of thousands of people from Silicon Valley to Baghdad are glued to the Webcast of this ultimate reality show: a camera focused 24/7 on the nest on a south-facing ledge near the top of the 18-story City Hall.

There, the first-time parents nurture three white fuzz-balls that in just a few weeks will be as big as them. And we think our kids grow up fast.

For the tireless staff of the Santa Cruz Predatory Bird Research Group, watching falcon families is old hat - inasmuch as the behavior of a beautiful and endangered species can ever be humdrum. (In 1970, there were just two nesting pairs of peregrines left in California, thanks to pesticides and other man-made horrors. Now the estimate is 250 pairs, an inspiring recovery.)

But for many of the nearly 700 falcon fans who are part of Jose's and Clara's official online discussion group, this is all wonderfully new. Most of the posts read like love notes. Friday, the first poem appeared. Can a song be far behind?

Falcons, it turns out, are nurturing parents, doting on the kids and taking turns babysitting and hunting. Sometimes Jose and Clara just stand watching their eyases - falcon-speak for chicks - and cock their heads back and forth, as if amazed at what they've produced. It's a sensation many a first-time parent has shared.

A terrific partnership between the bird researchers and the city have made this reality show possible. It's a new focus for civic pride and a tremendous educational resource: Some teachers keep the falcon cam up all day in their classrooms.

For linking the city with the Santa Cruz group, thank Evet Loewen, chief deputy city attorney and newly minted falcon whisperer: Not even a birder before these predators showed up, Loewen now has a magical knack for knowing when Jose and Clara will be soaring.

The falcons are great ambassadors for a city that values the environment. At an international bioscience trade show that drew 22,000 people to Boston last week, local journalists dubbed San Jose's booth the most interesting of all. Guess what was playing live on the computer screen.

But if city representatives at that booth were bragging about Silicon Valley productivity, they'd better not rely on this month's statistics. Just about everybody with a computer is flipping back and forth to the falcon cam throughout the day.

Not us, of course. We're hard at work.

Wait - is it feeding time? And where's Mom?



FILE UNDER: Human Navel-gazing. The point, apparently, is to celebrate the fact that human mothers haul bloody meat home for the kids in plastic-wrapped packages.

11 May 2007



…from Bats Have an Aerodynamic Edge Over Birds, Study Shows, National Geographic:
"A bat caught in mid-flight in a fog chamber reveals the unique flapping mechanisms that differentiates mammal and bird wings. The arrows represent air movement produced by air motion—and show that, unlike birds that generate lift only when flapping downward, bats flex their wings to create thrust both on their downstrokes and upstrokes."

A fun photo, posted here to remind readers to check the National Geographic headlines linked on the left side of this page. Enjoy!

"the bond between man and dog was deeper than ever"


[drawing by Doug Millison]



....In 1880, naturalist/explorer John Muir set out in a canoe with a crew of Indians from Fort Wrangell in southeastern Alaska to explore the coastline. (Read more about Mr. Muir above.) Muir loved the wilderness. He had a special fascination with the big bodies of "flowing" ice called glaciers, and would see many on this trip.

A friend of Muir's from the fort, the Rev. S.H. Young, joined him for the exploratory journey, bringing along his small black dog, Stickeen (named after the Indian tribe living near the fort).

Muir was not happy about that – he thought the dog would be cold and miserable. He dismissed it at first sight as a "poor silly thing," a mere "toy dog." He thought it would have to be cared for like a baby on the difficult journey.

Little did Muir know that he and little Stickeen would share one of his most memorable wilderness experiences.

To Muir's surprise the short-legged, silken-haired dog proved to have enormous endurance for the cold and wet – he even seemed to enjoy the icy waters. Each time the canoe approached a landing place, Stickeen leapt out to swim ashore and explore on his own.

According to Muir, Stickeen never obeyed an order, but the naturalist quickly came to respect the animal's intelligence, independence, and ability to fend for himself. No hardship seemed to faze Stickeen.

Muir realized that the dog loved the wilderness as much as he did, never failing to join "all sorts of adventures and excursions." Muir and Stickeen quickly developed a close bond.

So it did not surprise the explorer to find the little dog following him when he set out from one of the expedition's campsites for a day-long hike across a large glacier they had discovered.

Eager to explore it from one side to the other (a distance of several miles), he left early in the morning, not even waiting to make breakfast. A fierce wind- and rainstorm raged, but Muir loved storms as much as he loved glaciers – and so, apparently, did Stickeen.

Muir ordered him to return to the camp, but Stickeen wanted to go along. This worried Muir. A glacier – with its sloping, jagged ice and crevices – was no place for a dog, not even a daredevil like Stickeen.

Man and dog had a wonderful day exploring. With his pickax, Muir cut footholds in the ice for Stickeen. They leapt across six- and eight-foot crevasses without hesitating. Muir described his companion as "all one skipping muscle." They walked across the entire glacier and some distance up it. When they turned back toward the camp, daylight was fading and another storm was brewing. Muir and Stickeen were hungry and wet. The crevasses they had to cross now were wider than they had been earlier in the day. But Stickeen still followed Muir's leaps "seemingly without effort."

Then they came upon a crevice neither could leap. It yawned some 50 feet wide, and there was no end to it in sight, up or down the glacier. Muir described it as "merciless," the most dangerous crevice that had ever lain in his way. Only a thin bridge of ice starting some 10 feet below the brink and sloping to a depth of 30 feet in the middle connected the two sides. There was no way of knowing if it would support the weight of a man or dog.

They were faced with a dilemma: They could either spend the night without shelter on the glacier and try to find a new route in the morning – or attempt to cross that crevice.

Muir decided to cross. He used his pickax to notch some steps in the ice wall down to the "bridge." He straddled the ice and inched across the crevice, determined not to look down into the tremendous abyss.

Muir reached the other side, cut some notches in the ice wall, and climbed to safety. Stickeen barked loudly. Muir realized the dog was terrified of venturing out on the ice bridge. "No-o-o," he imagined the little dog saying, "I can never go-o-o down there!"

Muir tried walking out of sight, hoping Stickeen would follow. But the dog was still lying on the other side of the crevice when he walked back again.

Finally he ordered Stickeen to come to him. And for once the dog obeyed. Stickeen inched down the icy steps, barely lifting his feet. He crept across the sliver of ice, somehow holding himself steady in the gusting wind.

Muir reached down for the dog when Stickeen was just below him, but the dog didn't wait for a lift. He eyed the notches cut in the wall and came up them in a rush. Stickeen flew past Muir and obviously forgot how tired and hungry he was. For the next few minutes he could not be stopped as he leapt, ran, rolled, and somersaulted in joy.

There were more crevices to come, but none as difficult as that one.

For the rest of the way home, Stickeen sailed across everything in his way. They finally reached camp at 10 p.m., too tired to eat more than a small supper. That night Muir dreamed of the crevice – and so, apparently, did Stickeen, who kept "muttering" and springing up from his bed.

After that, the bond between man and dog was deeper than ever. On many nights by the campfire, Muir wrote, Stickeen would catch his eye. The naturalist thought that the dog seemed to be trying to say, "Wasn't that an awful time we had together on the glacier?" ….

… excerpt from:
"John Muir and his dog on an Alaskan adventure"
by Sue Wunder, Christian Science Monitor, 17 April 2007
http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0417/p18s02-hfks.html







10 May 2007

what does religion say about loving animals?

“There is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast, it is all a sham.”
–Anna Sewell, author of the classic novel, Black Beauty (1877)




[drawing by Doug Millison]




09 May 2007

you can't tell the players apart without a program

The Encyclopedia of Life

"Comprehensive, collaborative, ever-growing, and personalized, the Encyclopedia of Life is an ecosystem of websites that makes all key information about life on Earth accessible to anyone, anywhere in the world. Our goal is to create a constantly evolving encyclopedia that lives on the Internet, with contributions from scientists and amateurs alike. To transform the science of biology, and inspire a new generation of scientists, by aggregating all known data about every living species. And ultimately, to increase our collective understanding of life on Earth, and safeguard the richest possible spectrum of biodiversity."

Link to Yeti Crab demonstration page.

let him be a person, i want to be a chimpanzee


Hiasl the chimpanzee
photo by Lilli Strauss, the Associated Press

Better to be a Chimpanzee
by Barbara Ehrenreich

Hiasl, a 26-year old Austrian-based chimpanzee, is petitioning the courts for human status, and let me be the first to extend him a warm welcome to our species. My animal rights activism has never gone beyond the cage-free eggs' stage; it's the human possibilities raised by Hiasl's case that caught my attention. If a chimpanzee can be declared a person, then there's nothing in the way of a person becoming an ape - and I'm not just talking about a retroactive status applied to ex-husbands. In fact, I predict a surge in trans-specied people, who will eagerly go over to the side of the chimps.

The transition need not involve costly, time-consuming, surgical arm extensions and whole-body Rogaine treatments, since we are practically chimpanzees already. We share 99 percent of our genome with them, making it possible for chimps to accept human blood transfusions and kidney donations. Despite their vocal limitations, they communicate easily with each other and can learn human languages. They use tools and live in groups that display behavioral variations attributable to what anthropologists recognize as culture. And we may be a lot closer biologically than Darwin ever imagined. Last May, paleontologists reported evidence of inter-breeding between early humans and chimps as recently as 5 million years ago, and proposed that modern humans are the result of this ancient predilection for bestiality.

Hiazl's motivation is economic: The animal sanctuary where he resides has run out of funds, and, in Austria, only a person can receive personal donations. Many humans in this country may be similarly motivated to seek chimp status. There are individuals who commit crimes in order to gain access to the free food and medical care available in a prison. How much easier and more pleasant to have oneself declared a chimp and win entry to the soft life of a zoo animal! Not only are the guards friendly, but one's enclosure has been designed with far more psychological forethought than the average office or cubicle.

True, not all chimps have it as easy as Hiazl, who spends most of his time watching TV. There's the danger of being sold to a pharmaceutical company for research, for example, but this should decline as chimps achieve human status. We can't expect much progress on chimpanzee rights in Bush's America, according to Elizabeth Hess, author of the forthcoming book Nim Chimpsky: The Chimp Who Would Be Human. But in addition to the Austrian debate, the Spanish parliament is considering a bill to extend "fundamental moral and legal protections" to apes. Once apes achieve these protections, American humans are going to want them too. I'm thinking food, shelter, and medical/veterinary care.

Another reason to make the human-to-ape transition is the sex, at least if you're smart enough to declare yourself a bonobo or pygmy chimpanzee. Bonobos, who are genetically as close to humans as larger chimpanzees, use sex much as we use handshakes - as a form of greeting between individuals in any gender combination. See an old friend, and you start rubbing genitals together, with mutual orgasm serving as a hearty "How ya doin', pal?" Plus, bonobo bands are female-dominated, which should be a special enticement to women investigating their chimpanzee transition options.

There are is another, less selfish reason, to seek chimpanzee status. Like me, you may be a wee bit disappointed in our own species. Here we are - the tool-wielding, word-spouting brainiacs of the earth - and what have we done with our powers? We've poisoned the world, encrusted it with our unsightly infrastructure, and exterminated most of our fellow earth-dwellers, from elephants and tigers to fish.

Of course, what makes humans especially obnoxious is our tendency to believe in our absolute superiority over all creatures. We alone, of all species, have come up with religions and philosophies that declare us uniquely deserving of global hegemony. Yet one by one, our "unique" human traits have turned out to be shared: Chimpanzees have culture; dolphins make art (in the form of bubble patterns); female vampire bats share food with their friends; male baboons will die to defend their troop; rats have recently demonstrated a capability for reflection that resembles consciousness. We are animals, and they are us.

But just because you want, for whatever reason, to attain the status of a chimp, don't assume that you'll make the cut. Just as we don't know how the Austrian court will rule in Hiasl's case, we have no reason to believe that the chimps will have us.

…from The Huffington Post, 8 May 2007

08 May 2007

gee I wonder if all that horrible noise could be a problem?

YOUR VIEW: NOAA leads effort to reduce underwater sounds

Underwater sound is not something most people think about, but they would if they lived in the ocean. Since the dawn of industrialization, levels of background sound in the ocean, called ambient noise, have steadily increased.

By far the most significant increase is thought to be caused by man's growing use of the ocean for shipping. The number of commercial vessels plying the world's oceans doubled between 1965 and 2003. Shipping industry analysts forecast that the amount of cargo shipped will again double or triple by 2025.

There is still no definitive evidence of exactly how and when increases in background sound may harm marine species. However, there is general scientific consensus that at some point there are negative consequences for marine animals that use sound as their primary sense.

One of the possible affects is that some manmade noise interferes with and masks whale songs and other marine animal communication signals used in feeding, mating and navigating. The low frequencies associated with ship sounds are very similar to sounds made by whales, some seals and sea lions, and fish that use low-frequency sound to communicate. Exacerbating the potential problem is the fact that loud, low-frequency sounds from large ships can travel hundreds of miles and become integrated into the general din of ambient noise.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is leading an investigation into how best to reduce chronic sound sources. This past week, NOAA's Ocean Acoustics Program hosted a dialogue between scientists and vessel designers, builders, ship owners and operators on vessel-quieting techniques.

U.S. military and NOAA Fisheries research vessels have begun to use an array of quieting devices to try to cut down on noise. These include modifications to propellers to allow them to more efficiently cut through the water, mounting engines on cushions to reduce noise, and painting hulls with specially designed coatings for dampening sound. In some cases, quieting techniques may have the added bonus of allowing vessels to operate more efficiently, using less fuel and saving on energy costs.

Given the success of these efforts, there is an interest in applying some of these technologies on large commercial ships. The business community has shown interest in cooperating with NOAA scientists to investigate changes that may decrease noise levels from vessels, especially if this effort boosts the efficiency of ships. Leaders of industry also recognize the positive message that proactive measures could send to a general public more and more concerned with protecting the environment.

"We're interested in any problem in which future regulations may impact our normal operations," said Kathy Metcalf, the director for Maritime Affairs for the Chamber of Shipping of America, an organization that represents owners, operators and charters of vessels flagged under the U.S. and other nations. "We want to be part of the solution."

We believe that successful cooperation between the public and private sector can be a model of how to be better stewards of the ocean environment and the marine resources that are our common heritage.

…from: SouthCoastToday.com

patterns of communication

The way that a flock of birds flies or a school of fish swims may involve more than individuals simply judging the distance between themselves in the group. Recently, scientists from the University of Alberta have shown that a multitude of complex animal patterns can be modeled by accounting for the many ways that different species can communicate with each other. [...] “People have always been fascinated with the patterns displayed by different animal aggregations, such as milling schools of fish, and flocks of birds that suddenly change direction, and have tried to understand them,” UA researcher Raluca Eftimie explained to PhysOrg.com. “Our mathematical model suggests that if we want to better understand animal group patterns, we should focus on how animals communicate.” [...]

…from:
Animal communication plays important role in pattern formation

by Lisa Zyga, Physorg.com, 8 May 2007



oldie but goodie: peregrine falcons in the concrete jungle




Falcons Flock to Urban Perches
Peregrines Trading in Wild Life for D.C. Area Roosts
By D'Vera Cohn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 15, 2006; A01

Stephanie R. Spears leaned over the side of the Woodrow Wilson Bridge with a video camera as the drawspan opened to let a construction barge pass through. Spears, an environmental specialist with the bridge replacement project, was looking for the pair of peregrine falcons nesting there when suddenly one of them came after her.

The shrieking bird with a sharp beak and hooked talons shot into the air, wheeled around and dived. "Watch your head!" Spears shouted to a handful of onlookers just as the female falcon veered away. Peregrines are said to be the fastest birds on Earth, capable of diving at 200 mph. This one was protecting three eggs.

The eggs are on a jumble of powdery road grit inside one of the bridge's concrete supports, only a few feet down from the rumble and shake of thousands of vehicles a day crossing between Maryland and Virginia. "It's an interesting place to make a nest," Spears said. "It's probably why she gets nervous when we stop traffic -- it's so quiet."

The Wilson Bridge is a dangerous place for a bird, but more of the region's peregrines are nesting on bridges, skyscrapers or other manmade structures than on the mountain cliffs that are their natural homes. Falcons are living on more than a dozen bridges in Maryland and Virginia and have made nests on tall buildings in Baltimore and Richmond.

The falcons' willingness to live near people and noise has let them thrive in an urban region. But it has frustrated state wildlife biologists who have tried in vain to get them to nest in the back country.

It is harder for a falcon to make a living on a mountain than in an urban area, said researcher Shawn Padgett. "They can't just take a plunge off a bridge and get a starling going by," he said. "They have to go out and hunt."

The Wilson Bridge peregrines, like the bald eagles that have a nest near the bridge, have an avid fan club. Paula Sullivan of Fairfax County visits Jones Point Park on the Alexandria shoreline several times a week to watch the peregrines through a spotting scope and to trade stories about them with people fishing there.

"The first time I saw the bird come in with prey, it really screamed -- I assume to announce its arrival," she said. "Feathers were flying in all directions. My assumption was that it was a pigeon. . . . It's really thrilling. I've gotten such an enormous kick out of it."

This is the second year that peregrine falcons have nested on the 55-foot-tall bridge. This year's eggs are due to hatch early next month. The birds laid eggs last year that vanished -- taken, Spears thinks, by raccoons.

Spears has seen raccoons walking the girders under the existing bridge and says they could use the span to traverse the Potomac -- just like humans. In many ways, the bridge is a miniature ecosystem of predators and prey. Pigeons and rats live there. Waterfowl linger under it, and gulls fly over it to scout for trash.

Construction workers on the bridge being built near the existing one have not found where the raccoons live, but they have learned to lock up their food after the creatures broke into their lunchboxes to eat their sandwiches. The raccoons have left their distinctive paw prints -- the front one resembling a human hand and the rear one a footprint -- in fresh concrete on the new bridge.

Life on the bridge meets the falcons' three basic needs: a rough surface with good drainage to lay their eggs, a high perch from which to hunt and a good food supply of other birds. The Wilson Bridge peregrines often sit atop 200-foot-tall construction cranes, even riding them as the cranes move along the Potomac River by barge. The falcons have made a noticeable dent in the bridge's pigeon population, but they also grab gulls and songbirds.

Once so rare that there were no breeding pairs east of the Mississippi, the peregrine falcon population has rebounded in the past three decades after the deadly pesticide DDT was banned. They were taken off the federal endangered species list in 1999.

Padgett said there are at least eight pairs making their home on bridges in Virginia and about the same number in Maryland, including on the Bay Bridge and a bridge off Baltimore Harbor. Padgett, a research associate at the Center for Conservation Biology at the College of William and Mary, plans to check a report of a pair of peregrine falcons on a highway bridge leading into the District from Virginia.

"Just looking at D.C., I can tell you there have to be more," he said. "We are looking for other pairs in the city."

But Padgett, whose center is deputized by the state to implement peregrine recovery efforts in Virginia, is concerned that more falcons are not nesting in the wild. So is Glenn D. Therres, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources associate director for wildlife.

In recent years, both states have removed baby falcons from nests on bridges and placed them in group nestboxes on mountain cliffs, where they are fed dead birds and have little interaction with people. The birds leave when they are able to fly on their own, and state officials hoped they would return when they were old enough to breed. The technique, called "hacking," has a proven track record.

Maryland has tried it for three years near Harpers Ferry, and although the first year's birds would be expected to return by now, none has. Virginia placed more than 60 birds in Shenandoah National Park in the past six years, and Padgett said only one pair returned to nest there, but others have been seen in urban areas.

"There's some art to this technique," said Therres, who has not given up on getting birds to live in the wild. "The theory is, you get birds acclimated to the cliff faces so they know to come back to them. But we really don't know when and at what age they actually imprint on the kind of habitat they should come back to."

Padgett said bridge life is perilous for baby falcons, which can easily drown or be killed in traffic when they try to fly. Most peregrine chicks die before they reach 6 months, he said. "It's definitely a bad setup," he said of the Wilson Bridge nest.

And although the odds for baby chicks also are bad in the mountains, Padgett said that is where falcons belong. He hopes that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the falcon population, will choose to remove the Wilson Bridge chicks from their current location and put them in a nestbox in Shenandoah National Park.

Sullivan, who has posted photos of the birds on her Web site, http://www.pbase.com/paulasullivan/peregrine_falcons , said she has mixed feelings about any attempt to remove the birds. "I'd love to see them have success where they are," she said. "I know there are experts who I trust to make the right decision. They seem so determined to do the best for the bird."
© 2006 The Washington Post Company

i'm game?




…from flickr.com.

"a fascinating speculation"



In this paper, we explore the possibility of primary consciousness in two disparate vertebrate and non-vertebrate non-mammalian species: birds and octopuses.1 We explicitly avoid issues related to first person report and higher-order consciousness, except in a few instances where the evidence can be stringently assessed. While many attempts to assay animal consciousness and cognition rest almost entirely upon ethological evidence (Griffin, 1976 and Griffin and Speck, 2004), we look beyond behavior to neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. We argue that the necessary conditions for primary consciousness in non-mammalian species must include the following: (1) identification of neural structures that are the functional equivalents of cortex and thalamus; (2) neural dynamics analogous to those observed in mammals during conscious states;2 and (3) rich discriminatory behavior that suggests a recursive linkage between perceptual states and memory (Edelman, 1987 and Edelman, 1989).

Sufficient conditions for consciousness are difficult to establish. By focusing on necessary conditions, our review strongly suggests that birds are excellent candidates for deeper experimental investigations into the possibility that their brains might give rise to conscious states. We use the octopus as a kind of counter example, given the fact that the cephalopod nervous system and phenotype have no resemblance at the systems level to those of humans or birds. However, it remains a fascinating speculation that consciousness of one form or another could have emerged in creatures such as octopuses, which exhibit rich behavior and discriminatory capacity, and possess complex nervous systems.

…from:
Consciousness and Cognition
Volume 14, Issue 1 , March 2005, Pages 169-187
Neurobiology of Animal Consciousness
“Identifying hallmarks of consciousness in non-mammalian species”
by David B. Edelman, Bernard J. Baars and Anil K. Seth; The Neurosciences Institute, 10640 John Jay Hopkins Drive, San Diego, CA 92121, United States
Received 22 June 2004. Available online 23 November 2004.
….Sounds like progress, although there's somethng troubling about that "deeper experimental investigations", knowing how researchers sometimes go about going deep with nonhumans.

[sketch by Doug Millison]

lives "vibrantly full of simple affects"

...Just as with Pascal’s famous wager concerning the existence of a God, we are surely less likely to partake in ethical travesties if we provisionally accept the mind-affirming position that animals do have emotional feelings rather than that they do not. And to understand the nature of animal feelings, as well as our own, we have to pursue neuroscientific work with a sense of cross-species sensitivity that was not a striking feature of 20th century behavioral research.

...At the very least, I think we must be gracious enough to grant other mammals primary-process consciousness—first-order phenomenological experiences that bring them back into the “circle of affect”—as most thinking people do both graciously and spontaneously as they interact with many other creatures. As Robert Burns related in his eight verse poem To a Mouse after he overturned a nest while plowing in November 1785:

Verse 2
I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken Nature’s social union
An’ justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion
An’ fellow mortal!

Verse 8
Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee
But och! I backward cast my e’e
On prospects drear
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see
I guess an’ fear

Although animals may not have the neocortical brain power to look forward and backward in time the way we do, they apparently live the moments of their lives as vibrantly full of simple affects, as we live with feelings having more cognitive depth.…

…from:
Consciousness and Cognition
Volume 14, Issue 1 , March 2005, Pages 30-80
Neurobiology of Animal Consciousness
“Affective consciousness: Core emotional feelings in animals and humans”
by Jaak Panksepp



07 May 2007

06 May 2007

"as if they were chatting over the dinner table"


[drawing by Doug Millison]


The Wonder, The Wisdom, The Power of Women:
The Premiere Women's Spirituality Tele-Festival

The Beltane Papers: A Journal of Women's Mysteries will host its first ever TeleFestival from May 14 to May 18, 2007 with five exciting speakers on the subject of Women's Spirituality.

New York, NY (PRWEB) May 2, 2007 -- Women all over the world may now experience "The Wonder, The Wisdom, The Power of Women" featuring leaders of the women's spirituality movement right in their own homes. The Beltane Papers: A Journal of Women's Mysteries, a leading magazine of women's spirituality for over 20 years, is presenting the first ever Women's Spirituality Tele-Festival May 14 through the 18th, 2007. Women may register to participate in five programs to be presented by telephone at a cost of $47 for the series or $12 per individual session.

"The women presenting at this Tele-Festival transform lives with the insights, the wisdom, and the vision of their work. Now anyone with a telephone can learn from their expertise and experience and ask questions as if they were chatting over the dinner table," says Diane Saarinen, the Tele-Festival's organizer.

Participants may join these exciting, entertaining, and enlightening sessions:

Monday, May 14, 7 PST/10 EST: Herbs to Deepen Spiritual Awareness and Intuitive Wisdom in Meditation, Ritual and Ceremony with Robin Rose Bennett. Discover the healing and magical powers of herbs with green witch, herbalist, wisewoman, and author of Healing Magic: A Green Witch Guidebook.

Tuesday, May 15, 7 pm PST/10 pm EST: Goddess Advocates and Sacred Sites with Karen Tate. Join the author of Sacred Places of Goddess: 108 Destinations as she discusses reclaiming and redefining sacred sites of the Goddess.

Wednesday, May 16, 7 pm PST/10 pm EST: Oracles of the Goddess with Kris Waldherr. The creatrix of the bestselling Goddess Tarot and The Lover's Path Tarot, and author/illustrator of numerous books, including The Book of Goddesses, shares her insights on Tarot divination, mythic art and mystic oracles of the Goddess.

Thursday, May 17, 7 pm PST/10 pm EST: Animal Communication with Flash Silvermoon. Learn about reincarnation and pets, how animals are our first line of defense, facilitating the return of the spirit of a favorite pet, and much more from the animal communicator, author, musician, astrologer, Tarot reader and creatrix of the Wise Woman's Tarot.

Friday, May 18, 7 pm PST/10 pm EST: The Queen in Midlife with Mama Donna.
Mama Donna Henes, Urban Shaman and award-winning author of The Queen of My Self: Stepping into Sovereignty in Midlife, introduces us to the Queen, her original concept for an inspirational new archetype for women in charge.