Archive for the 'misc' Category

April 22nd 2012
Happy Earth Day!

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Can’t believe how much time has passed since my last blog post. Life has been busy! So, it is fitting that I slow down today for just long enough to tip my hat to Mother Earth. My favorite Earth Day to date was a few years ago when I decided to go on a whale watch through the New England Aquarium. It was a cool and cloudy day but we got to see some North Atlantic right whales! (From a safe distance, of course). My one disappointment that day is that the naturalist only mentioned it’s being Earth Day once, as we were arriving back at the dock (and that was after I said something to them). What a wasted educational opportunity! Still, it was a great, inspiring day on the water, though I am also cognizant of the contradiction of spending Earth Day on a boat burning fossil fuels.

Earth Day is like New Year’s for me – a time to take stock and to set goals. I am not a perfect resident of this planet, but my goals for this year are to continue to find ways to reduce my use of plastic from the start, urge others in my family to do more recycling, keep on top of news and share what I learn so that hopefully others can also be better residents of this planet. There remains so much to do in order to be better stewards of our host!

She’s in pretty rough shape right now. The Deepwater Horizon disaster is still contributing to deformation and loss of sea life and health problems for people on the Gulf Coast. Renewable energy initiatives continue to be fought against by fossil fuel champions. There are ongoing concerns of the nuclear impact from the reactor meltdowns in Japan. Overfishing is still a major problem around the globe. Bees continue to die because of a pesticide which the government is being frightfully slow to ban, and this WILL affect our food supply. This is just a very very short list of problems we face.

So, yeah, we’ve got some problems. Marking Earth Day is a great reminder that we have just this one planet to sustain us. And it is up to US to take care of her.

I won’t be going out on a whale watch today (though hopefully soon! The season has started up here in the Northeast US). I will be spending time listening to one of my favorite songwriters, Carrie Newcomer. With her unique sense of place, description, and spirit, Carrie is teaching a creative writing workshop this afternoon and doing a concert tonight. It will be a perfectly lovely and inspiring way to spend this Earth Day!

Wherever you may be, I hope you can find a way to mark the day in the way that makes the best sense to you. Here’s to our Earth – may she have many more years ahead of her!

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February 4th 2012
Cyamids = whale lice and we have a winner!

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Many thanks to those who visited and commented for an entry into the giveaway. I know the question was a pretty easy one, but I felt an easy question was better warranted :-)

And our winner is: Jill! Congratulations, and I will be in touch with you by email.

Hoping to get a chance to see the film soon, myself. None of my local theaters are showing it (the perils of living in a rural area) but I’ll find a theater somewhere!

Hope everyone has a great weekend, and thanks again for playing.

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February 1st 2012
Big Miracle, Starring Grey Whales – and a Giveaway!

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Big Miracle - a film about grey whalesOn February 3 here in the United States, the film Big Miracle is opening in screens across the nation. The TV ads will tell you that the stars of the film, which is based on a true story, are Drew Barrymore and Jon Krasinksi (as well as Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney, Tim Blake Nelson, and Ted Danson). And I am sure they will be quite enjoyable to watch, but I’ll be watching for the whales.

We all know how charismatic and popular some whales are – especially humpbacks, orcas and just about all dolphins – but grey whales are sort of the second cousin. People know they are there, especially along the west coast of the US where there is a seasonal whale watch industry that’s just as interested in greys as other cetaceans, but how much do people really know in general? A couple of quick facts… There used to be grey whales in the Atlantic but they were hunted to extinction. One of the most critically endangered populations of whales in the world, the Western Pacific greys, are a group numbering around 130. They summer off the the Russian island of Sakhalin, near the northern end of Japan, where oil and gas exploration is strongly impacting their main feeding ground. One whale from that population has proven to be quite a traveler, having been tracked across the Bering Sea and down towards the coast of Oregon. Then there’s the grey whale that mysteriously turned up in the Mediterranean a couple of years ago. Continue Reading »

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January 13th 2012
Let’s Talk About Sharks

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I admit it, I have not necessarily always been a big shark fan. That had largely been a result of lack of information and awareness. My personal experiences with sharks are mostly limited to things like seeing a basking shark on a whale watch some years ago, and the new touch tank at the New England Aquarium (they feel like very very fine and slightly slimy sand paper). Turns out, sharks are pretty awesome. They are the apex predators of our oceans, keeping ecosystems in check. Yeah, they scare people (thanks, Jaws!) but toasters kill more people than sharks. That’s right – toasters.

And sharks are facing incredible peril in the oceans right now. The link above talks about how a handful of people are killed by sharks in an average year. Conversely, humans and human activity take the lives of over 70 MILLION sharks each year.

The primary cause is the deplorable act of shark finning, where live sharks are pulled aboard a boat, their fins are cut off, and their still living bodies are dumped back in the ocean where they are sentenced to die either by predators or drowning. Without their fins they cannot swim, and because they cannot swim, their gills are unable to extract oxygen from the water. This is about as undignified a death as any animal could suffer. And for what are their fins used? Soup. Time Magazine had an article called Extinction in a Bowl of Shark Fin Soup which talks about the high price to the consumer (at least $100 per bowl) and ultimately to all of us as sharks are killed and ocean ecosystems worldwide are critically altered as a result. Continue Reading »

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December 11th 2011
Sea Turtles! Akumal, Mexico

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I am still way behind on whale related posts – last whale watch of my 2011 season was in early August – not to mention overdue photo galleries. But today, I want to talk about something completely different: sea turtles!

In mid-November, I had the good fortune of taking a short cruise with one of my favorite bands, Eddie From Ohio. We were, the lot of us, a little pocket of people on Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas and we had the best of both worlds. We got private concerts from a terrific folk rock band, and also got to utilize all that the ship had to offer. This included excursions for our one day at port, in Cozumel. I had spent some time looking at the excursion possibilities before going on the trip. While there were many intriguing choices, the one that kept simmering in the back of my mind was the Sea Turtle Snorkel. Still, I didn’t want to make any decisions until on board the cruise ship, to see what other Edheads might be doing. In the end, the opportunity to do something I would not be able to do here at home won out and I booked the excursion very early during the cruise.

The whole excursion was something of an adventure: we were off the cruise ship by 8 AM, onto a ferry from Cozumel to Playa del Carmen on the mainland. This led to about 30-40 minutes of a very rough ride (luckily, I don’t get sea sick). From there, our tour guide/naturalist, Jorge of Wild Tours, led us to a bus for another 30 minute ride to our destination, Akumal (Mayan for Place of the Turtles). Along the way, he pointed out a large eagle’s nest atop a roadside electrical tower. Alas, the birds did not appear to be in residence at that moment.

At the end of our drive, our van turned down a narrow, tree lined road. Its condition was so rough that, while paved, we moved at about 3 miles per hour and very carefully over potholes, hugging the tree line. After a brief stop at a guard post, we drove into the parking lot of a facility that appeared both well maintained and completely deserted. Where *were* we? The grounds were gorgeous, full of lush green trees and plants, and the building we entered was in very nice shape though not another soul could be seen. We stopped in a room full of tables and chairs, but no lockers. Jorge assured us that all of our stuff was safe and we could leave it there (he was right). He handed out our snorkels, masks, and flippers, told us how to adjust the straps to put everything on, and then showed us the hand signals he would use in the water to indicate when a turtle had been spotted. I was the only one in our small group of 5 (including a couple from Ft. Lauderdale and a couple from Wales) who had never really been snorkeling before.

Akumal, Mexico - The Place of the TurtlesTime to hit the water! We left our empty building, and wow! We emerged onto a long, beautiful white sand beach, complete with lounge chairs, a small snorkel shop/hut, and people all over the place. Given how deserted the building seemed to be, I was not expecting this at all. It was like we had stepped right into the pages of one of those vacation brochures that shows the impeccable beaches, impossibly blue skies and warm, turquoise waters.

Jorge had explained to us that this is one of the few places in the world where sea turtles can be found all year. Protected by a barrier reef, turtles come into Akumal just about every day to eat sea grasses and jelly fish in the shallow bay. After donning our gear, we backed up into the water and away we went. It took me a few minutes to get past over-focusing on breathing through my mouth, and then having to swap masks with Jorge since I could not see anything (thanks again, Jorge!) and hey! Turtles! I was amazed at how quickly we started to find them, and how relatively close to the beach we always were. We spent about 45 minutes in the water, and all told saw probably 8-10 turtles, mostly adult females and also one younger turtle (smaller than the rest). Several turtles had remora fish on or under their shells also. One turtle wasn’t so keen on all of us water tourists so swam away, but the rest were pretty comfortable just ignoring us and going about their business. My most exciting moment came when one of the turtles came up for air and literally came within inches of touching me as she passed by. It doesn’t really work to try to back pedal with swimming fins, but I tried my best to stay out of her way, not thinking just to be still and give her enough credit for knowing full well how to avoid me. I was definitely caught up in the moment. Several times, Jorge went deeper into the water and waggled his fingers in front of some turtles and one southern stingray that we saw because that will sometimes prompt them to move around a little. They pretty much ignored him completely (and he was very careful never to make contact with them or harass them. If they didn’t react, he let them be.)

Loggerhead turtle in Akumal, Mexico.Jorge then led us over to a small reef area, and tried to find a barracuda for us. No luck there, but I loved feeling like I was swimming through a National Geographic program, watching various fish in a wide array of colors swimming around. The water in the bay is relatively shallow, and the one anxious moment here was passing rather closely over a taller section of reef. I stopped kicking and just did a breaststroke to move past that point. The largest fish we saw was a puffer fish (un-puffed).

Too quickly, our time in the water was through. The couple from Ft. Lauderdale had their own gear so went back in the water for a while which made me a little envious. I should have checked the gear shack right on the beach, but I was feeling like I had been spendy enough for the day so wandered around instead. I was glad I had decided not only to splurge on the excursion but also to pay onboard ship premium prices for disposable waterproof cameras (it wasn’t enough that I was a gawky American tourist in Mexico, but I also had to be a gawky American tourist in the water, with two of those things dangling from my wrists). Wish I had listened to my friend, Susan, with whom I had dinner the night before the cruise in Ft. Lauderdale, when she offered to take me to Walgreen’s to get a couple of cameras. While the photos I got with them were far below Brian Skerry or Flip Nicklin caliber (get their new books, Ocean Soul and Among Giants, respectively. Seriously – AMAZING), I am glad I had something with me. Naturally, I am eager now to recreate the experience but with a better camera. Where’s that winning lottery ticket??

After a couple of hours relaxing on the beach, and lunch at a burger shack nearby, we climbed back into the van to head back to Playa del Carmen. Coming from New England where late fall was deeply in place and our world was increasingly brown and dreary, it was nice to see all of the lush vegetation, and also sobering to see the wide range of quality of living quarters we passed on the road. Poverty was easily evident, and I was reminded of just how very fortunate I was to have this experience at all. We also were able to catch a glimpse of activity in the eagle’s nest on the return trip. After getting drenched in rain in the short walk from the covered dock to the ferry, it was nice to sit and reflect on the day. Being a big music fan, having the right tunes with which to think helps a lot. I listened to Carrie Newcomer‘s “Everything is Everywhere” on that ferry ride, and it was the perfect soundtrack for my thoughts. We were dropped off “downtown” (as opposed to the ship’s pier from where we started). I made the valiant effort to walk back to the ship and got maybe 75% of the way back before my feet gave out and I finally hailed a cab (I had been walking for over an hour at that point). Along the way, I saw a crab on a waterside bench, probably washed there by waves crashing up against the sea wall. Tried to figure out a way to flick it back into the water, but it was having none of that, skittering away on the bench any time I got close. It was a little comical, really.

According to Jorge, we saw mostly loggerhead turtles, but possibly also one green turtle. I tried to see if I could glean the distinctions from my photos but I am just not accustomed to photo IDs of turtles at this point, especially from fair quality photos taken with disposable cameras. We also saw a southern sting ray and a skate I can’t quite identify. I am grateful to Jorge for being a funny, well informed and terrific guide/naturalist, my fellow snorkelers for good company, and the turtles themselves, for being so naturally awesome.

You can learn more about efforts to protect the bay and its marine visitors by visiting the website for Centro Ecológical Akumal (site is in English).

And feel free to check out the photos I did get, keeping in mind the ‘equipment’ I was using. Might not have been high end, but it was better than nothing!

Over the course of the whole cruise weekend, I saw pelicans, fish, crabs, a reef and turtles. This has lead to a strong desire to watch “Finding Nemo” again.

Duuuuuuuuuude. Turtles rock.

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May 9th 2010
Stopping the slaughter – what can we do?

Posted under misc & news

I’ve been hearing from several friends that they are also frustrated with the current state of whaling affairs, and want to know how to help. So this post is designed to suggest some actions we can all take. It will not be exhaustive, but hopefully will prove to be a useful starting place.

There are three things that are bringing attention to these matters to the fore: the death of the SeaWorld trainer, Dawn Brancheau, the recent Small Group meeting of the International Whaling Commission to discuss a fundamental shift in whaling (basically going from “banned” to permitted commercial whaling), and the Oscar win for Best Documentary to The Cove (congrats to all involved in that film!).

What can we do, those of us who are not working for marine organizations or right on the front lines?

At the moment, the most urgent thing we can do is to contact our government representatives. There is a serious effort being made to create a plan that allows for some commercial whaling towards the goal of ending all commercial whaling. The US is one of the countries working on this – it is critically important to increase public pressure to say that this is NOT acceptable. Killing whales on a commercial level needs to end, period.  This proposed compromise simply rewards Japan, Norway and Iceland – who have been flouting the ban on whaling for decades and even increased their kill numbers – by given them legitimacy without an enforceable way to ensure that the killing DOES end. Meanwhile, thousands more whales will suffer inhumane deaths. President Obama has promised not to allow whaling – contact the White House and make sure he does not become the president who DID move towards killing whales.

In the case of The Cove, which works to expose the slaughter of thousands of dolphins in Japan, you can send the text DOLPHIN to 44144. Be aware that this will place you on a text alerts list (from which you can easily opt out) and will be subject whatever text charges you have on your cell plan.

Stay up on the news. If you’re on Twitter, there are loads of marine, whale and conservation groups you can follow which post stories and developments. For ideas of some, check my follow lists for oceans, whales, and green/nature. You do not have to be on Twitter to see what people are saying, and you can often find websites for organizations by clicking on their @ nicknames to reach their individual pages.

Greenpeace is another organization that posts current news and offers e-petitions that can be signed and shared. These e-petitions do NOT replace direct individual contact from us to our representatives. Individual letters still hold more weight.

I keep a list here on the blog of whale research and conservation orgs. Again, it is not comprehensive but is a good start. Go to their sites, read up on their work, and support them however you can.

In the end, there are  countless matters of concern for ocean conservation: ending shark finning, establishing marine parks, ending destructive fishing methods like bottom trawling and long lining, cleaning up pollution. There are countless organizations involved in many of these causes. Use the web – find out who is working on the issues that matter to you most, and get involved. All it takes is one voice to get the ball started.

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February 25th 2010
The “Killer” Whale

Posted under misc & news

First, my deepest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Dawn Brancheau. She was clearly a dedicated and well loved person and she will be missed by many.

I’ve been following a lot of the stories and commentary about this latest incident of a captive orca’s killing a human trainer. Not surprisingly, that leads to having thoughts of my own.

I used to have a strong aversion to orcas, or killer whales. When I was 9 years old, I went to see a movie called Orca, a thriller. My one enduring image from the film is of a large orca surging up onto a beach, trying to grab some human(s) there. We left the movie before it was over because it was so terrifying to us. I have also once been to SeaWorld in Florida, around the same time, and seen a killer whale show, though I don’t honestly remember much about it. I knew just about nothing about the reality of orcas.

Then, as an adult with a growing interest in and passion for whales, I finally picked up a book (that I had passed over multiple time before) called “Listening to Whales: What the Orcas Have Taught Us” by Alexandra Morton. This is a highly engaging and accessible book which demystified orcas for me and made them much more intriguing animals. They were no longer in my head as mindless, vicious killers, but as intelligent, complicated animals. Part of the book talks about how she started by working in marine parks and then moved to study orcas in the wild as she became increasingly uncomfortable with the idea and practice of orcas in captivity. Continue Reading »

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October 23rd 2009
Missed whales and dead whales

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It is getting close to the end of October and that means the end of the whale watching season here in the Northeast US. I had hoped to get out one more time before the end, but weather and budget are getting in the way. Sighting reports have dropped as well, so it seems the migration is well under way and it falls to me to bide my time until spring. Makes the news of the return of humpbacks to Hawaii that much more of a siren’s song. One day I will see whales in those waters…

Meanwhile, I shift into more of a mode of watching for stories and reflecting upon them. Which brings me to the dead whales of the post’s title. There’s an interesting story from the UK about a biologist’s experience with trying to learn from the body of a dead whale. As he says, “everybody should watch a whale being dissected – it teaches us about life“. Does make me glad that I made the effort to watch some of the dissection of a fin whale back in May. Gruesome business though it is, seeing these animals so closely adds a whole new dimension to their reality, and reaches people who might suddenly see the beauty of these animals and want to do more to try to save them.

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June 8th 2009
World Oceans Day

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Today is the first annual UN World Oceans Day. What does this mean? It’s an effort to shine a spotlight on the state of our oceans. It’s easy to stand on most shores, look out at the horizon, and feel a lot of peace about how beautiful the oceans are. But unfortunately, our oceans are in trouble. Very serious trouble, actually. Trash getting into the water is a major one, leading to things like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. There are other places around the world where trash is collecting, but this is the largest. A comprehensive report on marine litter was just released today.

What can we do? Well, a lot, but here’s a start:

If you smoke, dispose of your butts in a container. Stamping them on the ground just means they will get washed into some waterway and it has been shown that the filters contain plastics that make water toxic to fish. And the butts are eaten by fish, turtles and other marine life, which also kills them. Butts are trash. They shouldn’t just be tossed around and beaches are not giant ashtrays.

If you like seafood, make sure you are choosing something that is sustainable. Aquariums like the Monterey Bay Aquarium keep a close eye on this issue. Here’s a list of “good” fish to eat in a relative list. Overfishing is a massively important issue, and really greatly ignored. Some people are starting to make a stand, including against high end restaurants serving highly endangered bluefin tuna. Don’t eat at restaurants that serve shark fin soup. Sharks are disappearing at alarming rates because of being finned for a soup, where the fins add no taste and it’s simply “fashionable” to eat. Now, sharks are disappearing so fast that manta rays are being caught in increasing numbers for the soup. Human greed and consumption is vastly outpacing the oceans.

Go on a whale watch. See the ocean at work with your own eyes. What people know about, they tend to better protect. Not near the ocean? There are a bunch of great IMAX films available on DVD which is like being right there. I rather like Deep Sea 3D, myself, and am looking forward to one day getting “Dolphins and Whales 3D” on DVD.

I am still learning about the oceans and the myriad wonders, mysteries and problems. A lot of people out there have posted hints as well, so Google it and see what you can do. We must all make the effort, or there will be no more fish, no more whales, no more coral reefs, etc etc. As the oceans go, so will go our entire planet. Just because we can’t see the bottom of the ocean from the surface, doesn’t mean there is no bottom. And as Lucy Lawless said in a PSA, “there is no Planet B”. (Yes the PSA is primarily about climate change, but the oceans’ ability to absorb carbon dioxide is key to our climate.) Taking care of the oceans means taking care of us and all of this planet’s residents.

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May 23rd 2009
The Perils of Being A Whale

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While we had a fantastic whale watch from Provincetown, over on Herring Cove Beach was a different whale activity: a necropsy. On the 22nd, a juvenile fin whale washed ashore. En route to Stellwagen Bank, we could see the whale, and a growing gathering of people, on the beach, very close to the parking lot at Herring Cove.

It’s a gruesome thing, but I’d never seen a necropsy, so once we came back to shore, I hopped in the car to go over. Much of the whale had already been removed by this time. It seemed still “whole” at around 10 when our whale watch boat passed by, but when I arrived at 2, it was apparent that no time was being wasted. This was, after all, a holiday weekend, and having a dead whale on a popular beach was not a good scenario.

Continue Reading »

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