Huge win for orca advocates as #SeaWorld announces an end to circus-style shows, orca breeding and pledges more conservation

 

orca SeaWorld Orca-Shutterstock

Earlier today SeaWorld announced to the media that it was making major changes in its practices when it comes to marine wildlife. The announcement comes after years of bad publicity and failing stock prices as the result of the documentary Blackfish, criticism from marine mammal and marine conservation scientists and an unrelenting social media campaign by online activists. The changes announced are a major paradigm shift for the company and include:

Read More

Blackfish: the Science Behind the Movie

Blackfishn649728329_1260668_3283

The Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” told the story of the dolphin hunt in the Japanese town of Taiji. Dolphins there are driven into a shallow cove and killed for meat and other products, with a select few set aside alive for sale to dolphinariums. Many are now saying that this year’s documentary on killer whales (Orcinus orca) in captivity, “Blackfish,” will be nominated for next year’s Oscar. Documentaries rarely get many viewers in movie theaters, but Blackfish, which cost only $76,000 to make and was initially released at only five movie theaters, has already grossed about $2 million nationwide and has been ranked among the 10 best performing nature documentaries, which include “March of the Penguins” and the much vaunted IMAX-friendly “Earth” and “Oceans” documentaries.

Blackfish focuses on the four people who have been killed by captive killer whales, bad corporate behavior by marine theme parks (especially SeaWorld) and the ethics of keeping killer whales in captivity. The film focuses particularly on the story of Tilikum, a 12,000lb male killer whale who was captured from Iceland in the early 1980s, has been living at SeaWorld of Florida since 1992, and to date has been involved in the deaths of three people. His last victim, his trainer of six years Dawn Brancheau, was brutally dismembered after he pulled her into the tank with him on February 24, 2010.

Read More

The Sex Lives of Spoonworms: 10 marine animals with parasitic, dwarf, and otherwise reduced males

Earlier this week, Fox News commentator and all-around terrific guy* Erick Erickson, while discussing a recent Pew Study that revealed that women were the sole breadwinners in 40% of US households that contain children, had this to say:

“I’m so used to liberals telling conservatives that they’re anti-science. But liberals who defend this and say it is not a bad thing are very anti-science. When you look at biology—when you look at the natural world—the roles of a male and a female in society and in other animals, the male typically is the dominant role. The female, it’s not antithesis, or it’s not competing, it’s a complementary role.”

source

headshot-thalerSMALL

I’m not sure where Erickson got his science education from, but it’s pretty clear he should have spent a little more time shopping around on the free market, because he sure is wrong. How wrong? I managed to assemble this list of 10 marine species with dwarf, parasitic, or otherwise reduced males (including an entire female-only class) while waiting for my toast**. So have a seat and let me show you how much weirder and more wonderful the world is than Erickson’s Disney-esque misinterpretation of biology.

1. Anglerfish

The deep-sea Anglerfish is among the most common examples of parasitic males in the marine world. Anglerfish comprise a variety of taxa in the order Lophiiformes. Almost all (females) possess a specialized appendage that acts as a lure to attract unwary prey. Life in the deep sea is rough–even though it is the largest and most diverse ecosystem on Earth, biomass is fairly low–so finding a mate is a struggle for these slow swimming fishes. The solution: carry your partner with you.

Male anglerfish are tiny, often less than 5% the size of the female, but they possess powerful olfactory receptors, allowing them to seek out females. Once a mate is located, the male anglerfish latches on to her abdomen, fuses his circulatory system with hers, and is then slowly digested until there’s nothing left but a sac of gonads surrounded by basic life-supporting tissues. Female anglerfish are not monogamous, either. At any given time she could be covered by a half-dozen parasitic males. Kinky.

Read More

Finding Melville’s Whale – Cetology (Chapter 32)

Chapter 32 of Herman Melville’s classic – Moby Dick. Read along with us and discuss this chapter or the book as a whole in the comments. Visit this page for the complete collection to date: Finding Melville’s Whale.

Cetology

Let this be the book of the whale,
chronicle of tortured naturalists.
For who could fathom those great depths
and plum the drum of waves on hull
without a loyal oath, Leviathan!
Lord tyrant of the sea, Sperm Whale!
and this is his kingdom, his loyal court.

Let it first be said, before numbering
the pages of his family
that as certain as they swim in the sea,
the whale is no more than a fish.
A fish remarkable in its warm blood
and lungs, that drive it to the surface,
but, Linnaeus be damned, it is a fish!

These are the three books of the whales’ novel.
Each divided again into
a bookbinder’s twisted taxonomy.
The largest of all, Folios,
those of middling magnitude, Octavoes,
the smallest, duodecimo.
Beyond them, the whales of myth and fable.

FOLIO, Chapter 1, Sperm Whale
          Most formidable of all whales
          and most valuable.
          Within his head, spermaceti,
          the richest oil.

FOLIO, Chapter 2, Right Whale
          The bearer of whalebone, baleen.
          First to be hunted.
          Its tortured taxonomy lies
          entangled with doubt.

FOLIO, Chapter 3, Fin Back
          This solitary, curse-ed Cain,
          swims always alone.
          The whales, in all their forms, deny
          classification.

FOLIO, Chapter 4, Hump Back
          Joyful, but worthless.

FOLIO, Chapter 5, Razor Back
          Unknown to Melville
          and an enigma to modern
          cetologists, none
          have seen anything but his back.

FOLIO, Chapter 6, Sulfur Bottom
          The Blue Whale, never
          chased by whale men of Nantucket.

OCTAVO, Chapter 1, Grampus
          Small in stature, rich in oil.
          His arrival heralds the sperm,
          His larger twin.

OCTAVO, Chapter 2, Black Fish
          Fine oil for a smaller whale.
          He approaches as a pilot
          over the shoals.

OCTAVO, Chapter 3, Narwhal
          The polar beast bears a lone horn
          to split the icy northern sea.
          Curious beast.

OCTAVO, Chapter 4, Killer
          “The killer is never hunted.”
          It is a poor choice for a name,
          for at sea, we are all killers.

OCTAVO, Chapter 5, Thresher
          A flogger of beasts,
          the leviathans’ task-master.

DOUDECIMOES – Porpoises
          The great whale in miniature.
          Some come rich in oil and meat,
          but of their families, nothing
          is certain.

This is but a poor system for naming
and many whales are yet to be counted,
nor will they ever be.

We shall number them as we boil them
and know them only by lamplight
and the stains left in our try-pots.