People behaving badly, animals playing nice

Sharks and killer whales and manatees behave kindly to the clueless creatures seeking close encounters of the wild kind. Yes, swimming with sharks for tourists, when even knuckleheads somehow survive. But how close is too close? The people shown here all got too close, one tried to get his dog too close to wildlife. They were lucky no one got hurt. We are glad that the old myths of predatory animals as monsters is fading away; but animals aren’t plush toys.  Whether it’s wildlife, or the cutest pony ever who can rip a finger off thinking it’s a carrot, respect their personal space — and  your own.

Riding the mola in Mexico

Mola gets his back scratched, rider gets barnacle burn

The friendly mola live in Southern California/Baja California waters, feeding on jellyfish. They get lots of parasites on top and look for opportunities to scratch them off.  This rider might make a good scrubber, which is not meant to encourage such stunts, but in this particular case, this mola came back to the boat for more scratching. The mola are harmed by plastic bags, so pack your trash, writes Matt G on youtube.

Watch the mola rider video on youtube.

Dog and killer whales

Thumbs up to: Scott de Jongh, the crayfish diver who climbs on the rocks when spotting orcas and the dog who gets out of the water, then turns around to watch from safety of the beach.

Scott DeJongh in New Zealand gets out. Orca checks out dog.

Diver seeks the safety of the rocks when curious orcas approach

Behaving badly: The dog owner who throws a stick to see how dog deals with killer whales. Orca expert Dr Ingrid Visser said it was common for New Zealand orca to approach the shore to hunt for sting-ray.

Dog swims to the shore before turning to see what's in the water

Dog swims to the shore before turning to see what’s in the water

Watch the video here,  filmed by Deonette De Jongh, Matheson Bay, Leigh, New Zealand

Source: New Zealand Herald

Woman rides manatee in Florida

Woman catches a ride on a manatee. Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Photo: Steve Leach

Woman catches a ride on a manatee. Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Photo: Steve Leach

Photographer Steve Leach was getting a lemonade at Gulf Pier, near Ford DeSoto Park near Tampa Bay, FL when he noticed three manatees in the water. Then:

To my total shock this lady decided to go over and set on their back, followed quickly by flopping down on its back to ride it!
With people screaming at her to stop, I was taking photos and screaming at her to stop.
These photos were provided to the sheriffs office upon request to help catch her.

Manatees are endangered and get stressed easily. Whit his photos going viral, Steve Leach hopes they’ll help educate people to admire animals from a respectful distance.

Sources: Steve Leach photos, SFGate, Oct.3,2012

Too much love?

Florida: too much love, too little space

Florida: too much love, too little space

Manatees come to Crystal River Springs, FL, to find refuge in winter.  Manatees are endangered by too many boats, climate change, loss of habitat and all the other usual suspects. But what about too much love?  When over-ethusiastic tourists get too close, stressed manatees stampede.  But there’s nowhere else to go. They come back seeking rest, only to be exposed to more harassment. “Conservation photographer Cristina Mittermeier points out that the “love” we have for manatees is also a source of trouble for the species,” writes TreeHugger.  Mittermeier and fellow photographer Neil Ever Osborne made a time-lapse video showing how too many people get too close during a day.

Sources: Manatees Timelapse from Sea Legacy, TreeHugger

Man taunts bison, lucky to walk away

Man taunts bison, Antelope Island. UT Photo: Wayne Ebenroth, Final Kick Events

Man taunts bison, gets pinned against fence, Antelope Island. UT Photo: Wayne Ebenroth, Final Kick Events

“That’s 1,500 pounds of meat on the hoof,” said Antelope Island Buffalo Run organizer Jim Skaggs.

Yet the animal’s power was not enough to demand respect from one visitor who got too close, then threw rocks to get the bison’s attention.  He did get his attention.

Photographer Wayne Ebenroth happened to be there, “to cheer on and take pictures of his wife in the Antelope Island Buffalo Run. He started taking photos when he saw a few people in close proximity to the bison. He kept photographing the interaction until the man was pinned against the fence.”

Runners held races on the island for eight years, and usually the buffalo just get out of the way. KSL.com cites advice on what to do if you encounter bison:

While bison are not usually aggressive, they are unpredictable and can become dangerous. Please use caution and observe the following safety tips should you encounter a bison in the wild:

  • If you encounter bison along the roadway, drive slowly and they will eventually move. Do not honk, become impatient or proceed too quickly.
  • Bison may spook if you get out of your vehicle. Therefore, remain inside or stay very close.
  • Never try to chase or scare bison away. It is best to just cautiously walk away.
  • Always try to stay a minimum of 100 meters (approximately the size of a football field) from the bison.

Sources: KSL.com, Mar 27, 2013, via gawker

Please do no hug the sharks

Just as I am finishing this post, I notice today’s headline in Slate’s new Wild Things blog, Dawn Williams’ story about “The latest terrible trend: People riding sharks.” Grant Murdock, who is from California, filmed his friend catching a ride in Bora-Bora. The video is no longer on youtube, but you can see it here.

In Bora-Bora, hugging sharks.  Would you hug human strangers just like that out of the blue?

In Bora-Bora, hugging sharks. Would you hug human strangers as a tourist, just like that out of the blue?

Lemon sharks can be a threat to humans, but humans are a bigger threat to lemon sharks, killed for shark fin soup, or for their leather, or as bycatch. They are listed as Near-Threatened on IUCN.

The International Shark Attack File has only reported 10 unprovoked bites by lemon sharks, all of which occurred in Florida and the Caribbean. None of the bites were fatal. Lemon sharks do well in captivity and experiments on lemon sharks have shown they learn as quickly as some mammals and remember things for at least 6 months without reinforcement.

Question is, what would cause a normally-peaceful lemon shark to attack? I don’t need an expert to tell me that the best way to swim with the sharks safely is to be an expert. I first man to swim with sharks I remember seeing on TV was a British diver named Nigel, who could control his own body language underwater so as not to appear as prey to the sharks. In recent years, striving to save the endangered and much-maligned sharks, experts have shown us that the predators are not the indiscriminate attackers portrayed in horror movies. From Slate:

Ocean RamseyKimi Werner, and Lesley Rochat are three of the better-known conservationists who have been depicted riding large tiger and great white sharks. Whether you agree with their tactics or not, the sight of these petite women holding onto the dorsal fins of large apex predators, often two to three times their own size, are absolutely extraordinary and thought-provoking.

These interactions are calculated. These conservationists have many years of experience dealing with sharks, and they have a level of comfort around sharks that most people do not. They did not engage in this activity without preparation, and they acknowledge that there are risks involved.”

We’ve also seen wolf experts in proximity of wolves and lion experts approach wild lions. On the other hand, people who are unfamiliar with animals can get hurt by walking among domestic horses or cows. Inexperienced people need to learn a few basics before wandering among domestic herds, same as approaching any unfamiliar species. For instance, a basic rule is do not hand-feed treats. I’ve seen too many close calls with people unable to predict the dangers of being among boisterous horses.  I’ve also observed dangerous situations happen when horses learn to be pushy (not mindful of a human’s personal space.)  Teaching animals that it’s ok to get very close to humans makes us too vulnerable — even if an animal means no harm and wants to play.  If animals hurt us, usually it ends badly for them.

And now we have inexperienced knuckleheads swimming with sharks?!  I mean, great … but when an accident will happen (and it will) it will be sad for all … but the consequences for the animals, already endangered, are dire. And what happens to people who harass wildlife?  Hopefully, they remain unharmed.  Many places have laws regulating interactions. Two guys who jumped on a manatee from a bridge in May 2013 are facing fines up to $50,000. The woman who rode the manatee argued she did not know it was causing any harm and may just get a warning.

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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?