Time to catch up on some Notebook correspondence and stories:
The Stranded Dolphins
Our friends at Allied Whale sent us an update on the mass strandings of dolphins on Cape Cod, which we wrote about several weeks ago. The good news is that it seems to have abated. The strange news is that an unprecedented number of dolphins have been beaching themselves over the last couple of months from New England to South America. Scientists are puzzled. Is the warm winter to blame? Disease? A shift in the location of the smaller fish on which dolphins feed?
Allied Whale passed along an email from Katie Moore of the International Fund for Animal Welfare's Marine Mammal Rescue group, which in conjunction with volunteers tried to help the dolphins stranded on Cape Cod. Here are a few portions:
"We have not had live animals strand since 14 Feb. and have not had any new dead animal reports since 16 Feb. Based on our revised definition of a mass stranding, unless we receive calls about new animals today, the event will be considered closed. "So, here is where the tally stands:
Total number of common dolphins: 179
- Of the 71 dolphins found alive by staff and volunteers:
- 53 successfully released
- 3 released and re-stranded
- 11 died
- 4 humanely euthanized
"Necropsies have been completed on 9 of the animals for which time of death was known. Several animals remain in the freezer pending necropsy.
"AEP [Auditory Evoked Potential] testing [a means of for determining the hearing abilities of cetaceans such as dolphins] was attempted on 8 animals, but due to a broken component in the bioamp, we regrettably have no good data from these.
"Satellite tags were deployed on 11 animals, one of which re-stranded. Four are still transmitting.
"Ultrasounds were conducted on many of the live animals as well.
"We are currently trying to wade through piles of data files, digital photos, etc. to complete animals files and eventually being data entry into both our internal and the National Database. We may seek additional support from other networks who are willing to help in working up the remaining frozen carcasses and also in data entry.
"We cannot adequately express our gratitude for all of your support during this event. Your kind words and willingness to help made a big difference for us. Many thanks to those who we did call upon to work along side us in the field: New England Aquarium, Riverhead Foundation, Whale Center of New England, Virginia Aquarium Stranding Program, and Marine Mammals of Maine. Your hard work was invaluable."
From Pamelia's brother Scott On the Subject Of Corvids (Crows and Ravens)
He was responding to our recent post on Bernd Heinrich's raven talk at Bowdoin College:
"I recall watching a show about crows, not ravens. The program was a review of research done revealing the amazing intelligence of the birds. I was particularly impressed when one wild crow went through a three-step process to get to a food treat. The show also detailed a long-term experiment in which it seemed a family of crows was somehow able to pass on information to the next generation regarding which human beings were to be feared and which ones could be trusted. At first, the older generation was approached by 'good' and 'bad' humans, and accepted both. After some element of trust was established, the 'bad' humans gave the birds reason to fear them, the 'good' ones did not. The next generation, which had not been exposed to either set of humans and had not received cues from the first generation, somehow knew which humans could be trusted!
"The takeaway I have from this and other scientific information regarding 'animal intelligence' is that we humans are probably not as far ahead, if we are ahead at all, of the many other beings who share our planet. We tend to only view intelligence from our own perspective (does that tell you something about humans?) and we are not always able to understand this intelligence as it might apply outside our own view of the world and our own values. The result is that we often do not recognize intelligence in other beings, and sometimes not even in other humans who don’t share our values.
"So, the next take away on the issue of intelligence is a series of questions. For, example, is one ant smart? Probably not in our sense of the word. Is an ant colony smart? Again, probably not in our sense of the word. But maybe they have an institutional or collective intelligence that we don’t recognize? Ants are one of the most successful colonizers of the world! Again, maybe this is a form of intelligence we humans need to be more cognitive of? Of course, ants may not be as intelligent as we think—they do go to war, and they kill each other. Oh, I think I just let my values cloud my view of intelligence! Hmmm?"
Neil deGrasse Tyson on the Future of Space ExplorationForeign Affairs magazine sent me a link to a piece by a well-known astrophysicist we've written about (http://naturalistsnote.wordpress.com/2010/01/30/pluto-revisited/), Neil deGrasse Tyson, the director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York.
In the article, Tyson warns that political partisanship is clouding space exploration and argues that even in tough economic times the U.S. needs to fund that exploration. He speculates that China's advancing space ambitions could produce another "Sputnik moment," spurring the the United States into action. Here's his article: http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/137277/neil-degrasse-tyson/the-case-for-space
New Star in the Galaxy Emily Wickersham is the smart, talented, wonderful daughter of our friends John and Amy. This week John sent a link to a video of Emily signing autographs for fans as she arrived at the premiere of her new movie, Gone. To see a short interview with her about the film, click on the video below.
What does that have to do with science, nature, art and The Naturalist's Notebook? Well, first, actors are artists and film is a powerful and creative expression of ideas. Second, John's email (and this blog) led me to hypothesize that humans must be the only animals that brag about their friends' offspring. Third, Gone sounds like a dramatic thriller, raising these questions about homo sapiens and scary flicks: Are we the only species that likes to scare itself as a form of entertainment? And if so, why? What makes us (or some of us, anyway) pay money to get frightened out of our wits?
I'll leave that question to you psychologists. In the meantime, Pamelia and I plan to go see Gone and enjoy the more pleasant thrill of seeing someone we know on the big screen.
Answers to the Last Puzzlers
1) The unscrambled words:
a) owliwl = willow
b) dusqi = squid
c) nooze = ozone
d) luntpolio = pollution
2) Casimir Funk, the Polish biochemist born 128 years ago this week, was famous for his 1912 discovery of the existence of vitamins, which humans knew nothing about before then. For most of human history, people had no concept of nutrition as we know it today.
1) You guys seem to like unscrambing words, so here's another batch:
2) On this date in 1934, Elizabeth Gertrude Britton died at age 76. She was an American botanist who made huge contributions to the field of bryology. What is bryology?
) the study of worms
b) the study of mosses
c) the study of elms
d) the study of grasses
Elizabeth Gertrude Britton