Dolphin escapes, rejoins pod after 4 years of captivity

In a heartwarming tale, illegally caught dolphins are now free to join their pods. Sampal made a bread for it, escaping before her planned release.

She was caught in a fishing net by mistake, but Sampal the dolphin was not freed back in the waters. After spending the first 10 years of her life free with her pod, Sampal was taken to a South Korean dolphinarium, the Pacific Land on Jeju Island. She was confined in a small underground pool and kept hungry so she’d perform for food.

Sampal the dolphin

Sampal the dolphin

Sampal’s luck turned thanks to the efforts of individuals and organizations who took the dolphinarium to court. In a landmark decision, the South Korean supreme court ordered Pacific Land to free four of its dolphins.

    “These dolphins are being kept in abysmal conditions, with barely enough room to dive in their cramped tank. They are good candidates for release and so they should be returned to the ocean.” says Ric O’Barry, director of Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project. O’Barry had been invited by the Korean Animal Welfare Association to assess the condition of the dolphins and make recommendations for their rehabilitation and release back into the ocean.

The dolphins slated for release were moved to larger pens in the sea.

Dolphin transported out of the South Korean "Pacific Land" dolphinarium

Dolphin transported out of the South Korean “Pacific Land” dolphinarium

It’s there that Sampal found a weak spot and made a run for freedom, weeks before her planned release. But all was well, she was spotted by members of the Institute for Cetacean Research swimming with her former pod.

Two other dolphins, Jedol and Chunsam, were released on July 18, 2013, and Sampal’s story gives everyone hope that these two will readjust to freedom. “Prof. Kim Byeong-yeup at Jeju National University, in charge of the reintroduction project, said that Jedol’s rapid regaining of survival instincts helped its release proceed smoothly,” reports the Korea Times. Dr. Naomi Rose, a member of International Whaling Commission’s Scientific Committee, points out the “unprecedented case derived from a social consensus” leading to the release and setting Korea on a path to set an example in marine conservation efforts.

Laura Bridgeman, an environmentalist for Earth Island, reminds us about how much we’ve learned about dolphins:

    Scientific discoveries over the last five decades clearly demonstrate that dolphins and whales share many traits that were once believed as belonging exclusively to humans. Their brains are among the largest in the animal kingdom, allowing for higher-order thinking such as abstract thought and logical reasoning as well as for highly developed emotional centers. In addition, there are numerous accounts of dolphins demonstrating altruistic and compassionate behaviors, such as rescuing imperiled humans and animals and aiding injured members of their own. There’s also documented evidence of dolphins exhibiting what appears to be grieving behaviors.

South Korea Theme Park Forced to Return Dolphins Back to the Sea
Laura Bridgeman, April 12,2013,


Rockfish Tales

When Henry Liebman caught a giant rockfish in Sitka, Alaska, its record-setting size hinted the fish might have been 200 years old.

Rockfish, Alaska, Sitka, record catch, fisheries

Alaska fisherman catches 39.08-pound (17.73 Kilogram) shortraker rockfish (Sebastes borealis,) June 21, 2013

Was this fish around before the U.S. purchased Alaska in 1867?

    The previous record-holding fish weighed 38.69 pounds and was 175 years old, according to Troy Tydingco of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Since Liebman’s catch is even bigger, Tydingco believes it’s older, too.

    “That fish was 32-and-a-half inches long, where Henry’s was almost 41 inches, so his could be substantially older,” Tydingo told the Sentinel.

Liebman’s rockfish turns out be 64 years old. To find out the age of a fish, the Department of Fish and Game in Juneau looks at ear bones called otoliths. Like tree rings, the annuli found in otoliths indicate the age of the fish. Lab supervisor Kara Hilwig said that although Liebman’s catch was not as old, it had grown really fast compared to other rockfish. And the same week, the lab had determined a rockfish caught near Ketchikan was 120 years old.

A rougheye rockfish set a record at 205 years old and measured 32 inches.

Who knew rockfish lived that long?! Animal longevity remains a puzzle to biologists. We still have a lot to learn about life on Earth and it’s sad that that animals have to die before we can learn basic information. In that spirit, my first impression was that Henry Liebman was entirely too pleased with his catch. Sure, done correctly, fishing and hunting are a much better way to get protein than, say, factory-farming. But shouldn’t the death of a record-setting animal be … not quite so joyful?

What about catch and release?
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game rockfish guidelines state:

    Rockfish caught in deep water often sustain injuries — referred to as barotrauma — caused by rapid decompression and expansion of gases in the swim bladder. Fish that are released with inflated swim bladders cannot resubmerge and will die. Because of high release mortality, intentional catch-and-release fishing is greatly discouraged, particularly in depths of 60 feet or greater.

Liebman caught his in 850-feet deep waters so releasing was not an option.

But researchers are testing deep-water release techniques and survival rates. There are home-made and commercial devices aiding successful deep-water release of fish as well as a conservation video made by the Alaska Fish and Game Department.

Catch and release: an example of a weighted device allowing rockfish to survive being released in certain conditions.

Catch and release: an example of a weighted device allowing rockfish to survive being released in certain conditions.

There are new regulations as well:

    Beginning in 2013 all charter vessels operating in Southeast Alaska must have a release device on board and all non-pelagic rockfish released by guided anglers must be released at depth. There must be something to this –how often do anglers ask for additional regulations upon themselves?
Rockfish live in deep waters (NOAA photo)

Rockfish live in deep waters (NOAA photo)

Let’s hope that although regulations can be cumbersome, they will help keep both fishermen and rockfish happy in the years to come.

Huffington Post,
What’s the longest-living animal?
Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Infographic: how long do animals live

Urban Wildlife at the White House

A mother duck and her eight babies approached the fence surrounding The White House lawn. Then the mother duck hopped over the low concrete barrier. The babies could not follow, until security guards helped them along.

Ducks approach The White House, where security guards helped them onto the lawn

Ducks approach The White House, where security guards helped them onto the lawn

Christopher Gorham, who plays Auggie Anderson on USA’s Covert Affairs, happened to be visiting and captured a video of the ducks hopping onto The White House lawn.

 Christopher Gorham @ChrisGorham, Auggie on Covert Affairs, captures ducks going to the White House.

Christopher Gorham, Covert Affairs star, captures video of ducks sneaking on the White House gardens

Mama Duck made it over the fence, the ducklings are helped by security guards.  Video by Christopher Gorham, "Auggie" on Covert Affairs

Mama Duck made it over the fence, the ducklings are helped by security guards. Video by Christopher Gorham, “Auggie” on Covert Affairs

Link to videos, #DucklingGate, from March 21, 2012
Part 1: Wrong Turn
Part 2: A Step Up?
“White House security reunites mother duck with her babies. Aw factor of 10!”


Mesmerized by Mermaids. And Bigfoot.

Fantasy and fact, is it so easy to blur the line? When advertorials became popular, I remember the hoopla around labeling ads as ads, and making sure an infomercial wasn’t easily mistaken for a documentary. And I snickered at all that, since I grew up with a good “feel” for what was real or not. Surfing on the old creaky shortwave radios, I could tell a communist station from a western one in about 5 words or fewer, when all these stations broadcast in English. I could “smell” propaganda.

But today, photos do not always equal proof of anything. Video clips, easily manipulated, don’t always inspire confidence. So we have to trust in our sources of entertainment and education, to rely on the reputation of a publisher to evaluate news.

Mermaid sculpture "The Jewel of Norfolk," in Virginia

Mermaid sculpture “The Jewel of Norfolk,” in Virginia

So what happens when Animal Planet produces a fake-documentary? According to James Hibberd for EW:

    Sunday’s “documentary” Mermaids: The New Evidence delivered 3.6 million viewers, shattering the network’s ratings record. Yup, even bigger than the Puppy Bowl. The program is not only a hoax, but a sequel to a hoax — to last year’s rather effortlessly debunked Mermaids: The Body Found, which fooled more viewers than you’d think.

    So let’s take a moment to appreciate this: Animal Planet is 17 years old. The channel is dedicated to series and specials about the natural world. And the most-watched program in its history is about a non-existent creature — not even a remotely believable non-existent creature! There’s about 2 million cataloged species on the planet, and what sets the record? Mermaids. Then again, maybe it’s not so surprising — the network’s previous all-time record holder was Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real.

A documentary on how dragons are represented in fiction, that’s a good project. Check for animals who might (remotely) remind us of dragons, mermaids and so on? Bring it on — we know animals can be really weird. But while the line between fantasy and science-fiction may be be easily blurred, the line between what really happens in our oceans or forests and fantasy needs to be as clear as we can possibly draw it. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) clarifies that line in an official statement:

    No evidence of aquatic humanoids has ever been found. Why, then, do they occupy the collective unconscious of nearly all seafaring peoples? That’s a question best left to historians, philosophers, and anthropologists.

It’s pretty easy to imagine seafaring people spinning tales when bored and we know imagination takes over and the human brain creates patterns when presented with facts we cannot understand. I have no problem understanding how, in different times, strange sounds at sea could become fairytales then re-emerge as fact.

But we all have a big problem when people believe mermaids exist, but deny the science showing oceans threatened by human activities.

Animal Planet, however, seems concerned with ratings, not science:

    Animal Planet’s president, Marjorie Kaplan, is good humored about the situation. “Animal Planet has many shows about animals that may be more familiar to you,” she says. “Finding Bigfoot is an exploration of the secret corners of the planet … There are places on this planet that we know about and places we don’t … New species are being found all the time.”
    She also points out the network’s Mermaids: The Body Found special got “extraordinarily” high ratings.

A few new species are still being documented, but no mermaid body and no bigfoot. Yet many feel like Jane Goodall, who says, “I’m a romantic so I always wanted that.” Finding bigfoot, a foothold for romantic hope, but shouldn’t we focus on the many species going extinct?

Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island Tortoise

Last of his kind: Lonesome George, a 100-year old giant Pinta Island tortoise, passed away on June 24, 2012. George was the last known individual of his subspecies, Geochelone abingdoni, also called the Pinta Island tortoise or Abingdon Island tortoise.

The giant tortoise Lonesome George, Galápagos

Lonesome George, Galápagos
Photo by Pete Oxford, Minden Pictures/Corbis

The subspecies represented by George was thought to be extinct already. Then in 1971, George was found. George was taken in captivity and placed with females of a closely-related subspecies, but George did not show any interest. He earned his lonesome nickname while living at the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island, part of Galápagos National Park.
Lonesome Geroge in 1997, Image by Tui De Roy/Minden Pictures/Corbis

Lonesome George in 1997
Image by Tui De Roy, Minden Pictures/Corbis

Lonesome George, Last of His Kind, Dies in Galápagos
Christine Dell’Amore, National Geographic News, June 25, 2012

The most endangered turtles and tortoises, TIME, May 23, 2013

The Fake Faux-Fur

Is using real fur cheaper than artificial fur? Faux Fur Pas: Saks, Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale’s, and Century 21 Found Guilty of Mislabeling Real Fur Coats as Faux, reports Gawker, quoting the DailyMail Online:

    The fur trim on three Marc by Marc Jacobs jackets contained the fur of raccoon dogs, which are often skinned alive in China. Other garments purchased at Century 21 were found to contain rabbit fur

For a cute photo of a racoon dog and a gut wrenching account of how they are skinned alive, here’s a report from the Animal Blawg. I could not watch the video.
The corporations who import and market and sell garments to us shrug any responsibility. From New York’s

    Century 21 has since issued a statement on its Facebook page, defending itself against the allegations.
    It read: ‘Century 21 does not create garment labels, the manufacturers do. It is the manufacturer’s responsibility to provide an accurate account of materials used in the garment and to be transparent with the consumer before his or her purchase.
    ‘We respect the diligence of the The Humane Society of the United States to uphold state and federal laws in regards to garment labeling.’

The Humane Society published its findings here.