Un-bee-lievable

I’m generally not a friend to insects or bugs. Especially those with wings. And stingers. And even though I know now that honeybees are generally harmless and are very important to our world, you won’t find me spending my free time around a hive. Still, even if I had the guts to kill a bee on my own, I wouldn’t now, knowing how important they are. Wasps can go die though.

The Vanishing of the Bees enlightened me about the global problem of CCD and its connections to pesticide use. When Europe first brought the problem to light through protests, the governments responded with new laws and aids for bee workers. Pesticides were banned, and new pesticides were carefully observed and tested before being put into use. In America, however, pesticides are just put straight into use without testing for the effects first. Any problems that then result from these pesticides then have to be brought to attention through tedious protests and hearings. It’s another example of how America prioritizes business over health. Because who cares if the pesticides are killing the bees, if those pesticides help keep food production up and make money?

CCD is honestly a very scary phenomenon. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how big the world is, until entire planes go missing, and bees disappear into thin air. The world is connected through technology that makes our lives easier, so it’s frustrating that that same technology can’t help us solve these major problems. Or perhaps we do already have the technology to solve these problems, but the system in already in place won’t make room for technology that could have a benefit other than money?

Advertisements

Bah Bah Blackfish

The documentary “Blackfish” tells the story of a killer whale called Tilikum. Tilikum was captured in the wild as a baby and brought into captivity to be trained as an entertainment whale for a place called Sealand. When he killed one of his trainers, he was sold to Sea World and the death was kept quiet…until he killed two more people.

The story of his capture and the way his behavior deteriorated after being in captivity for so long reminded me of the dolphins in The Cove. Orca whales, like dolphins, are highly emotional and social creatures, who are much more intelligent than we might ever be able to realize. They are self aware and create emotional connections with the beings around them. The only difference between dolphins and killer whales is you don’t exactly hear about dolphins killing their trainers. When these intelligent yet wild creatures are locked up, their mental states are pushed to extremes. In The Cove, the captive dolphins would act depressed, and some would even commit suicide. In Blackfish, the whales also get depressed, but their aggressive nature is also forced to come out. The whales in Sea World are whales that have been separated from their families and forced to live with stranger whales who have different customs and behaviors, endure abusive treatment in order to be trained properly, and live in environments so small that it causes the males’ dorsal fins to collapse. So, of course, the killer whale is going to eventually snap and live up to his name. I found it interesting the natural versus unnatural sides of this documentary. How the amusement park tells countless lies to convince people that the way their whales are is perfectly normal and the same as in the wild. How killer whales have never actually killed a human being in the wild. How orca to orca aggression is rare in the wild, and how when the mother whale’s baby was taken from her she began to act completely different and made sounds that humans have never heard because they’re sounds meant to travel over a great distance.

This documentary gave me a lot to think about and informed me a lot about orcas. I used to think they were these vicious creatures for no reason (I’ve heard that they kill their own babies?) but really it’s human interference that has made them act out. I’m appalled that Tilikum is still in captivity and is still being forced to perform, despite the human lives he’s taken and the depressed behavior he exhibits.

Meatless Monday

When I was a sophomore in high school, I had a class called Environmental Stewardship that had a big project due at the end of the semester, where we would have to try and make some sort of environmentally friendly change in our community. I researched industries that had major negative impacts on our world and noticed that the meat industry was pretty bad, so I decided to focus my project on that. I found a movement which involves participants going vegetarian for one day of the week to try and lessen the impacts of the meat industry. The goal was to get my school to participate in this movement.

Our discussion on food diversity in class reminded me of this project. I’ve never really been much of a carnivore. When I was in elementary school I was even a vegetarian for a while. Now I only eat poultry and fish, because I don’t like red meat. I can go several days at a time without eating meat and not even realize it, so naturally I didn’t think it would be a big deal getting my school to go meatless for one day a week. Especially if they had the means to make a perfectly rounded and healthy vegetarian meal. But my proposal was met with outrage, which shocked me. People were actually angry that I suggested trying one day without meat. When I went to the school’s chef with my proposal and showed him all of my research, he laughed in my face and told me it wasn’t true, it wouldn’t work. Kids need meat.

So, yeah, my project didn’t work out. Luckily my teacher was pretty understanding and didn’t deduct points for failing to get the community to participate. I don’t understand what our society’s obsession with a meat based diet, but I’m not trying to judge or push people out of it. We like what we like. There are health benefits for going vegetarian (in the right way), and if you’re interested in the environmental friendliness of it, I recommend reading up about the challenge at http://www.meatlessmonday.com

 

Empathy

Last week, we watched The Cove, a documentary about the dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan. It was horrific and disheartening to see the way the animals there are treated and how it’s kept a secret from the public. Something that really struck me though was human’s ability to empathize with the dolphins. Dolphins are not only aesthetically pleasing, but they are said to be one of the smartest species in the world. They experience real emotions, have self awareness, and communicate through verbal language. This reminded me a bit of another species on land that is said to be incredibly smart: elephants.

Elephants also have well developed brains. Unfortunately, being the largest animals on land does not spare them from human hunting and slaughter. Elephants in Asia, though having no natural predator, are endangered due to a high demand of ivory (elephant tusks) on the black market. Over 100,000  elephants were killed from 2010-2012. To get to the tusks, poachers will cut off the head of the elephant and leave the body to rot.

Here are some facts as to why elephants are such amazing creatures:

– Elephants have mourning rituals when a member of their herd passes away.

– Elephants prefer one tusk over another, similar to how a human can be right handed or lefthanded, and uses their tusks for self defense, digging for water, and lifting things.

– Elephants have incredible memories (Horton Hears a Who, anyone?) and can laugh, cry, and play.

– Elephants have “welcome home” parties when an elephant who has been away returns to their herd

– Elephants will sometimes hug each other by entwining their trunks in a display of affection.

– Elephants purr like cats do as a means of communication.

– Elephants can live to be over 70 years old, but females only give birth to an average of 4 calves

Outreach Project Reflections

After listening to all of the presentations in class and the discussions, a lot of problems in our world have been brought to my attention. Problems that I might’ve vaguely known about, but had no idea that they were as bad as they are. The Great Pacific garbage patch and the shark finning projects were extremely shocking to me. I’ve always known that recycling is important and the way we dispose of our waste is bad, but I had no idea that the garbage build up was that horrendous. Another project I found very intriguing  was the one about the Red Tide app. I didn’t grow up next to the ocean, so before moving down here I had no idea what red tide even was. It would be great if there was an app to give me more information about it and to protect me from going to beaches where red tide is happening.

My own group’s project was about a lighter issue, but I still think it’s important. We wanted to inspire children to care more about the world around them. As the saying goes, the children are our future, and if we can get the younger generations to care about what is outside and what’s happening, then maybe the future will be one step closer to fixing/stopping the problems. We collectively noticed that younger kids these days spend less time outside and more time indoors using technology. Technology is not necessarily a bad thing, but it does seem to be causing a disconnect between human beings and nature. To try and change that, we created a 20 page coloring book full of some creatures and plants that grow in Sarasota along with facts about them. The idea was to try and sell the book in local shops, or to maybe get some funding and give to the local schools for free. I think it would be cool if our group partnered up with a couple of the other groups that had projects aimed at children and did some sort of rally or fair or fundraiser of some sort. All in all, it was a very informative project that taught me about both the world I’ve moved myself into, and the world I grew up in.

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 11.55.18 PM

South Lido vs. Lake Michigan

Last week was my first time visiting Lido. Although it was windy and chilly, it wasn’t hard to imagine what it would be like in good weather. The first thing I noticed was the differences between Lido and the beach I grew up on in Indiana, Washington Park beach on Lake Michigan. First of all, the sand in Washington Park is tan and deep. Your feet sink way past your ankles when you try and walk in it. And in the places I went, you had to literally climb over a huge sand dune to even be able to see the water.

sanddune1

Lido’s sand is white and soft and compact. Everything is flat and easier to see. Also, of course, there are beautiful shells to be found off the ocean, where as the only kind of shell you’d find at Washington Park looked like this:

lakemichiganshell

Lido beach has an amazing ecosystem, full of a wide range of animals and plants. Washington Park had dune grass, and maybe some single trees way off into the distance. You never really saw any animal life apart from seagulls (although I think someone found a small alligator in the dunes once, but it was a pet that someone had abandoned).

Lake Michigan will always have a special place in my heart because I spent so many summers there growing up, but Lido beach is clearly a more magical place full of different lives living in unity. I saw a variety of interesting birds (not a single seagull, though):

2015-02-19 17.13.35 2015-02-19 16.36.11 2015-02-19 16.39.04 2015-02-19 16.44.34

(now that I look at all these pictures side by side, they look like the same bird in the same pose with a different background)

Stuff you didn’t want to step on

2015-02-19 16.55.13

and stuff you really REALLY didn’t want to step on

2015-02-19 16.38.41

(the craziest thing that anyone fished for as far as I knew of in Lake Michigan was Catfish)

All in all, it was a very enlightening experience and I hope to go back soon and explore the ecosystem more.

The Parrotfish

I didn’t know I could have a favorite fish, but after doing some research on them, I’ve found the parrotfish to be pretty interesting. Here are some facts:

1. Parrotfish can change their gender multiple times throughout their life. They travel in schools of 40, typically led by a male fish followed by females. If this male fish dies, another female will change into a male and lead the school.

2. They have teeth that are fused together and resemble a bird beak, allowing them to scrape the algae off of the coral reefs.

3. Much of the white sand on beaches is parrotfish poop. Their bodies digest the coral they eat into sand.

4. Some wear “pajamas” when they sleep. They secrete a transparent cocoon of mucus from an organ in their head, which masks their scent while they’re sleeping to protect them from nocturnal predators.

5. Their meat is not widely consumed in the US, but is actually considered a delicacy in other parts of the world. In Polynesia it is served only to royalty and is eaten raw.

6. They can be up to four feet in length

Although the rainbow parrotfish (pictured above) isn’t threatened, it is on the verge of becoming so. Other species of parrot fish, like the Greenback or the Humphead, are very low in numbers. The parrotfish are crucial to the survival of coral reefs because they eat algae that would otherwise smother the reefs. The pieces of reef that fall off from them eating spreads to other parts of the ocean to help grow new reefs. If they were to go extinct, they would take the health of the coral reefs and all of the creatures who depend on them with them.

The Evolution of Cats

We talked about how dogs evolved into what we know them as today, but we didn’t really discuss how wild cats became pets. Once upon a time (around 10,000 years ago), a small village of farmers in West Asia had a rodent problem. Cats began to hang around the human villages because of the increase of their food source in these areas. Farmers eventually realized that it was beneficial to their crop production to have the cats around, so they actually began to support the cat population. Just like with the dogs and hunters, the farmers and cats grew into a mutually beneficial relationship. Farmers stopped killing the cats, and actually began to help them by allowing them into their warm homes and giving them food.

Cat domestication is likely to have happened in the same way all over the world. Cats as pets are more recent than dogs, however, as they came after agriculture whereas dogs began in the hunter gatherer era. In ancient Egypt, cats were revered as gods–Egyptians would keep them on leashes and even mummify them after death. Modern house cats are most closely related middle eastern wildcats. Wildcats and house cats look very similar, but they are very different in traits. House cats genes make them less aggressive and form memories. House cats, similar to dogs, can be motivated by fear or reward stimuli. Although people breed cats like they do dogs, there is still an independent trait that no amount of breeding or domestication can seem to get rid of.

Science of Dogs Response

I’ve always been more of a cat person, and I’m pretty sure that the biggest reason is because cats aren’t as domesticated as dogs. Cats choose to love people, whereas dogs have been modified throughout the decades to become totally reliant on human beings. We’ve literally designed a species that will love us no matter what, that has the  exact qualities we need to make our lives easier. The narrator in the video referred to several of the dogs as machines, and that really resonated with me. Dogs are basically fluffy robots, tuned in to the emotions and desires of their masters.

It was fascinating, however, to think about how many varieties can come out of dog breeding. Cows and birds and other species can all be bred to have different characteristics, but their main qualities will remain the same. You won’t get a cow with tiny legs or fluffy ears. But dogs have a large range in their designs. Genetic manipulation of dogs sometimes leads to bad health and defects, making some of the creatures’ lives almost burdensome. However, if further research into dog genes and diseases can  lead to cures and treatments of human ailments, is it worth it?