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Why Do We Know So Little About One of the Most Abundant Animals on the Planet?

Krill are ecologically and economically important, yet they have long been misunderstood and misrepresented

What are krill? Ask the average person on the street to describe a krill, and the most frequent response is a blank look. On rare occasions the response is “krill are the tiny shrimp-like crustaceans that whales feed on.” Many imagine that krill are microscopic, like water fleas or phytoplankton. Few appreciate their real size, which is far from microscopic. If all the animal inhabitants of the ocean from the largest whale to the most minuscule invertebrate are lined up based on size or weight, krill fall in the middle of the pack. Next to their seafaring brethren, they are average in size — not large but not microscopic. Not even tiny.

Antarctic krillphoto by Stephen NicolAntarctic krill, Euphausia superba. Many imagine that krill are microscopic, like water fleas or phytoplankton. Next to their seafaring brethren, they are average in size — not large but not microscopic.

Antarctic krill, one of 85 krill species, were first noticed by whalers in the Southern Ocean. The bellies of the giant whales they hunted were filled almost exclusively with what whalers variously described as shrimps, squillae, animalcules, and insects. Krill had identity issues from the start. Whalers had known of the existence of krill from their observations in the North Atlantic, where several species are abundant and were frequently sighted on the feeding grounds of the great whales.

The word krill is understood to mean “young fish” in Norwegian, but I was informed by a Norwegian colleague that the term is actually an onomatopoeia, a word formed to replicate the sound of millions of krill pattering on the water as they jumped clear of the surface — behavior I had witnessed firsthand in the Bay of Fundy. This surface swarming behavior, exhibited by many species of krill, was another indication of their existence. Since krill are generally only found deep in offshore waters, they are usually seen only by fishermen and whalers and others who venture far from land.

Krill go by many names in the languages of maritime nations. Gaelic fishermen knew them as suil dhu, which means “black eyes.” In Japan they are known as esada or okiami, and fishermen in the English-speaking world often refer to them as red bait. But most people have no need of a word for animals they never see and rarely hear of.

In the language of science, however, krill belong to the taxonomic order of Euphausiids, and several of their 85 species are abundant in oceanic …more

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The Animal Activists Signing Up to ‘Shoot’ Grizzlies in Wyoming

Activist group Shoot’em with a Camera seeks to infiltrate a bear hunt by acquiring licenses they don’t intend to use

Jane Goodall, the renowned conservationist, and a group of wildlife activists are some of the unexpected entrants in a lottery to hunt up to 22 grizzly bears near Yellowstone national park.

 photo of grizzly bearPhoto by Scott Taylor In June, the US government delisted grizzlies as an endangered species, opening up the possibility of hunts in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

Their goal is to infiltrate Wyoming state’s first grizzly bear hunt in 44 years by acquiring licenses they have no intention of using.

“We just thought it was a really proactive and specific way to get our voices heard,” Judy Hofflund, one of the organizers of the lottery protest, told The Guardian. “We wanted to protect the grizzlies and we would agree to pay for a tag, do everything legally, and shoot them with a camera and not with a gun.”

In June 2017, the US government delisted grizzly bears as an endangered species despite the pleas of conservationists. This allowed Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho to plan limited bear hunts.

And in May, Wyoming’s Game and Fish commission voted 7-0 in favor of a grizzly bear hunt.

“The bears are still so vulnerable,” Hofflund said. “It’s crazy that seven people get to decide that these bears get to be hunted so soon. That feels pretty nutty to me.”

Hofflund said she and four other women gathered in her living room 10 days ago and brainstormed how they could save the grizzlies. They devised the plan to infiltrate the lottery and within hours had created a website and social media accounts for their movement, which they call “Shoot’em with a Camera, Not a Gun.” And they arranged to place five days of advertisements in the local newspaper, the Jackson Hole News and Guide, encouraging people to register for the lottery.

The group also raised more than $28,000 online to help fellow activists who might not be able to afford the cost of the license. Those who get a licenses must pay $602 if they are from Wyoming and $6,002 if they are from outside Wyoming.

Renny Mackay, the Wyoming game and fish department’s communications director, said roughly 7,000 applications were submitted before the lottery closed on Monday at midnight. “We view this as something the public of Wyoming asked for,” Mackay told The Guardian.

The hunt …more

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A California City That’s Taking Beauty Seriously

Vallejo is working on conserving open space and beautifying the city as part of a national campaign to unite Americans

Bob Sampayan believes in the transformational power of beauty.  Now in his sixties, Sampayan is the mayor of Vallejo, California, a primarily working-class city at the north end of San Francisco Bay that once built ships for the American Navy and for two brief periods in 1852 and 53, was the capital of the state.  Vallejo has been called “America’s most diverse city.” A Brown University study found its population to be one-quarter white, one-quarter African-American, one-quarter Hispanic, and a final quarter Asian or Pacific Islander. 

Bay view inVallejophoto by Patrick NouhaillerVallejo has been hit hard by poverty, unemployment, and drug problems and was nearly devastated by the housing market crash of 2008, but its mayor believes the transformational power of beauty will help the city turn around.

Sampayan himself is Filipino-American. He grew up in a military family in Salinas. They weren’t so poor that he needed to work as a child, but his dad believed in the value of labor, and by the time he was 12, Sampayan was wielding a short-handled hoe in the lettuce fields near his home.  He studied police science in college and served on Vallejo’s police force for many years. He was elected mayor after he retired. 

“Ever since I was a little kid I have admired nature’s beauty,” he told me, “everything from the coastal waters to the highest peaks.  I carry that philosophy with me wherever I go… When I was young I’d go to Fremont Peak State Park near Salinas. I’d climb to the top for the beautiful view and the sense of peace I felt.  It was my place.  I’d spend nights there, just sitting looking at the stars.”

photo of Vallejo mayor Photo providedMayor Bob Sampayan takes his job seriously, but himself less so.
He is sometimes seen in parades wearing a Victorian top hat and
aviator goggles, accessories of a style called “Steampunk."

With his crisp mustache and short-cropped, salt-and-pepper hair parted down the middle, Sampayan is a small man, but muscular, vigorous, and loquacious.  An infectious smile frequently lights his tanned face. Mayor Bob, as he is often called, takes his job seriously, but himself less so. He is sometimes seen in parades wearing a Victorian top hat and aviator goggles, accessories of a style called “Steampunk.” In fact, Sampayan bills himself as “America’s first steampunk mayor.”

But his job is no laughing matter. Sampayan took over …more

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Trump ‘Colludes’ with Putin Over Oil

The two presidents have much in common when it comes to fossil fuels and climate politics

A “Traitor.” “Putin’s Poodle.” “Open Treason.” These are just some of the harsh headlines to greet Trump after yesterday’s summit in Helsinki with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

 photo of martinez beaverPhoto by Shealah Craighead / The White House Trump and Putin shake hands during their July summit in Helsinki.

The papers back home were indignant with rage. The New York Times called Trump Putin’s “lackey.” The paper said that this was the summit that Putin had dreamed off for 18 years, and Trump had willingly obliged.

The Washington Post’s bruising editorial headline was “Trump just colluded with Russia. Openly.”

The paper thundered “Trump appeared to align himself with the Kremlin against American law enforcement before the Russian ruler and a global audience … Trump in fact was openly colluding with the criminal leader of a hostile power.”

It was not just the press who criticized the President, but he also received cross party political condemnation too.

Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement: “For the president of the United States to side with President Putin against American law enforcement, American defense officials, and American intelligence agencies is thoughtless, dangerous, and weak. The president is putting himself over our country.”

John Brennan, the CIA director under Barack Obama, said, “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to & exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes & misdemeanors.’ It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin,” he tweeted.

Repubican Arizona senator John McCain added it was “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory … It is clear that the summit in Helsinki was a tragic mistake … no prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant.”

The condemnation is everywhere, filling column inches after column inches in the press. Another headline in the Post stated “Trump is a Putin Fanboy: Someday we will know why.”

There are many reasons why Trump is a “fanboy” of Putin. And we can guess why. As well as finding common cause to dismiss the evidence of Russian meddling in the flawed election he won, the egotistical narcissistic hard men have much in common, too. And one of those issues is oil.

As one news outlet, CNBC, put it: “Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested that Moscow and Washington could cooperate to soothe volatility in the …more

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Reinforcing the Need to Move Away from Meat

In Review: Eating Animals

Gearing up to watch a film about industrial animal agriculture isn’t easy. You know you’re going to see things you don’t really want to see, and be confronted with information you might rather avoid. But the new documentary Eating Animals — based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s 2009 book by the same name — is worth gearing up for. Yes, it contains gruesome video of sickly chickens and abused cows that remind us of the almost unbearable cost of industrial agriculture. But it also uplifts the small family farmer, and perhaps as a result, manages to avoid getting too preachy about, well, eating animals.

photo of turkeysphoto courtesy of IFC FilmsEating Animals uplifts small-scale operations like Frank Reese's heritage turkey farm as much as it criticizes industrial animal agriculture.

If you’re well-informed about the many ills of animal agriculture, this documentary isn’t going to blow your mind. But it might provide a good refresher. The film covers all the major bases, including the egregious water pollution caused by massive agricultural operations; the truly awful conditions in which factory-farmed animals live out their lives and the brutal ways in which they are slaughtered; the vast quantity of antibiotics used on factory farm-raised animals; and much more.  

By the end, if the film hasn’t convinced you to put down your hamburger mid-bite, it will almost certainly have made you think about the cow it came from and the farmer who raised it.

Eating Animals also includes some interesting, lesser-known tidbits, particularly when it comes to the history of factory farming in the United States.

As the narrator — vegan actress Natalie Portman — explains it, back in the early 1900s, a woman named Celia Steele more or less accidentally became the first factory farmer in the country. She had ordered 50 chicks, but for some reason or another, received 500 instead. Rather than send them back, she decided to take advantage of the mistake, and experimented with keeping the chicks indoors for the winter. The experiment worked — the birds didn’t see the light of day or have space to move, but they survived.

By 1923, Steele was keeping 10,000 birds, and in 1935, she had 250,000. By the mid-‘40s, Delaware’s Delmarva Peninsula, where she lived, had become the poultry capital of the world, and Steele had, as Portman remarks, had “perhaps unknowingly given birth to the modern poultry industry and begun the global creep of factory farming.”

From there, the film …more

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Strangers in Town

How the arrival of beavers divided the small California city of Martinez

Heidi Perryman did not set out to change the fortunes of California’s beavers. When, back in 2007, the first pair began building in Alhambra Creek, she was simply delighted by the novelty. “They were adorable,” she told me, before revising her opinion. “Well, they were unusual. They were more unusual than adorable. Actually, they’re not really that adorable — but they were very cool.” Perryman was most enamored of the life that rode in on the beavers’ coattails: herons, otters, mink, muskrats. She and her husband Jon strolled daily down to the bridge that spans Alhambra Creek to film the frolicsome creatures. More than a decade later, she has external hard drives loaded with two terabytes of beaver footage — the equivalent of around a dozen MacBooks’ worth.

 photo of martinez beaverPhoto by Yosemite Love / FlickrBeavers first began building in Alhambra Creek in Martinez, CA in 2007, causing concern among some residents that they would contribute to flooding. Locals were divided over how to address the possible threat.

The city of Martinez, however, was less enchanted. Alhambra Creek flows through downtown on its way to San Francisco Bay; during heavy winter rains, the stream is prone to rampaging through the streets. Although Martinez alleviated the problem with a ten-million-dollar flood control project in 2001, the specter of deluge still loomed large. The town wasn’t sure whether beavers represented a true threat, but creek-abutting business owners preemptively complained. The Martinez city council reassured its constituents that the beavers would be killed.

The announcement alarmed Perryman, who’d fallen head over heels. The beavers had recently birthed four kits, who actually were adorable, and who uttered the most beguiling squeaks and gurgles. “I remember thinking, do the people that want them killed even know about the sound that a baby beaver makes?” Perryman said, the silver beaver pendant on her necklace glinting in the sun. “And if I don’t do something, will I ever hear that sound again?”

At this point in our conversation, Perryman decided her story required a visual aid. “Jon!” she hollered toward the interior of the house. “Bring the scrapbook! Oh, and could we have more coffee? Some waitress you are.” A moment later, Jon, a genial fellow who wore a worth a dam tank top and his hair in a silver ponytail, emerged with a swollen scrapbook, its pages bursting with the paper trail of Perryman’s campaign. I leafed through the documentary evidence of her …more

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‘The Population Bomb’ Is Still Ticking 50 Years after Publication

Why Paul Erhlich's warning deserves a new and less hysterical hearing

“The battle to feed all of humanity is over,” Stanford biologist and ecologist Paul Erhlich declared on the first page of his 1968 best-seller, “The Population Bomb.” Because the “stork had passed the plow,” he predicted, “hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.”

 photo of Dhaka, BangladeshPhoto by Kibae Park/Sipa PressDhaka, Bandladesh has one of the highest population densities in the world and struggles with pollution and congestion.

Ehrlich’s book identified dramatically accelerating world population growth as the central underlying cause of myriad problems, from a food crisis in India to the Vietnam War to smog and urban riots in the United States. It sold more than 2 million copies and went through 20 reprints by 1971. Ehrlich appeared more than 20 times on NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” and became the first president of Zero Population Growth, a Washington DC–based advocacy organization, while remaining a professor at Stanford.

“The Population Bomb” created more space to hold radical views on population matters, but its impact was fleeting, and maybe even harmful to the population movement. By the early 1970s, many critics were savaging Ehrlich and the larger goal of achieving zero population growth. And the politics of “morning in America” in the 1980s successfully marginalized Erhlich as a doomsdayer.

A Malthusian Warning

Ehrlich drew on nearly 200 years of thinking inspired by British pastor and political economist Robert Thomas Malthus. In his 1798 study, “An Essay on the Principle of Population,” Malthus famously predicted that “geometric” population growth would overwhelm “arithmetic” gains in agricultural production, leading to wars, famines and societal collapse.

Fears of the potentially dangerous social and ecological effects of population growth intensified after World War II. Global population surged as public health improved greatly in developing nations, increasing life expectancy. At the same time, the new science of ecology demonstrated the fragility of Earth’s interconnected systems. And the Cold War promoted worries that population-induced poverty would breed communism.

Mainstream advocates of arresting population growth emphasized better access to family planning and education, but Ehrlich had no use for such baby steps. “Well-spaced children will starve, vaporize in thermonuclear war, or die of plague just as well as unplanned children,” he wrote.

However, as a historian who has studied debates about population growth throughout US history, I believe that Ehrlich’s warnings deserve a new and less hysterical hearing. While Ehrlich has acknowledged …more

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