Orcas- Not cute and cuddly! (I’m posting this for fun)

The media is practically taken over by anti-SeaWorld activists. People are saying that SeaWorld is keeping Orcas from experiencing the wild and Orcas are dying thanks to SeaWorld. The opposite of the second argument could not be more true! While I do not and never will condone the abuse of orcas in captivity, I will have to make this clear: Orcas are doing incredibly well when it comes to their stable population. In fact, they are overpopulating many areas of the ocean.

Also keep in mind that Orcas are savage apex predators. Their population is increasing tremendously, to the point that animals they prey on are being wiped out by them. In April 2016 alone, one Whale watching agency in Monterey witnessed (key word here is witnessed; there were definitely more that were not recorded) five separate predations on Gray whale calves from orcas, during which the calves were ripped apart right in front of their mothers, as well as well over a dozen predations on California sea lions and Northern elephant seals. The quantity of incidents like this has never been seen in the past thirty years, and is alarming to say the least. Furthermore, Gray whales and Sea lions are not the only animals being wiped out by Orcas. Across the arctic, Narwhals are being slaughtered in the hundreds by Orcas, and are now on the endangered species list primarily because of Orcas.

What can we do to stop the orcas? I have no direct solution, but there is an indirect solution: We should stop treating orcas in the media like they are in danger of extinction and are innocent creatures that wouldn’t harm a fly. We should call them what they are: Savage predators that are taking advantage of their population spike.

Pleistocene Park- Hope for the Mammoth?

It doesn’t take a genius to know that Woolly mammoths are extinct. But will they be extinct forever? Could it make a comeback? Multiple specimens of frozen mammoth carcasses in Canada and Russia prove that it could help the idea of cloning mammoths and resurrecting them.

Now, this idea isn’t new. The big summer blockbuster, Jurassic Park (and its various sequels), focuses on the cloning of dinosaurs. While the method for cloning dinosaurs is proven to be impossible in real life due to the half-life of DNA, what about Mammoths? We have various specimens, some as recent as 12,000 years ago, opposed to the 66-million-year minimum of dinosaurs. We actually can clone a mammoth. Japanese scientists are already working on doing it. They have been working round the clock since 2011, and said that they will have the first mammoth clone by 2020. They already have the funding and the means to do it.

But where would we put the cloned mammoth, if it were to happen? Russia has already answered that question, in the form of Pleistocene Park, which is in Siberia. It is a park already home to dozens of Caribou and Yakutian horses, as well as European bison, Altai wapiti (Elk), Musk oxen, Moose, Eurasian brown bears, Tundra wolves, and other sub-arctic animals. The Russian government is planning on releasing endangered animals into the area for conservation purposes, such as Bactrian camels, Saiga antelopes, and Siberian tigers. This park is the main area where we would put cloned Woolly mammoths. Who knows, in 2040 we could have a functioning park home to herds of Mammoths and a stable population of other animals. Only time will tell.

Fish- Will We Run Out?

The oceans seem so vast, most people will wonder, how could anybody fish out the ocean? Unfortunately, over 90% of the large fish we eat are gone. Millions upon millions of fish are killed for dinner tables each year. This statistic is over a span of at least 200 species, not including invertebrate species such as crab, lobster, and krill, or bycatch such as marine mammals, reptiles and inedible fish species. Adding Invertebrates and bycatch to the statistic would double the species and the individual count. Several of the fish that we eat are keystone species, such as the European Anchovy, Striped Marlin, all species of Freshwater Eel that are commercially farmed or fished, all subspecies of Bluefin Tuna, at least a dozen Shark species, and more. These particular examples are all heavily overfished, and will be extinct by 2040 at the very latest.  If (keep in mind, IF) we don’t watch what we eat when it comes to this, the entire ocean will be out of edible fish between 2070 and 2100. Following this will be the collapse of food chains of habitats that rely on animals such as anchovies and top predators such as Tuna or sharks. This will result in even more extinctions.

How can we fix this? We can start by eating fish that are not overfished. Examples include Yellowtail Amberjack, Striped Bass, farmed Carp, Channel Catfish, Atlantic and Pacific Cod, Lionfish (highly recommend this one, as it is an invasive species in many areas, is inexpensive, and very delicious and nutritious), any kind of Mackerel, any kind of farmed (and wild-caught) Salmon, and the Spiny Dogfish Shark (note: this is the only shark species commercially eaten that is not overfished). One recommendation is to also boycott certain types of fishing techniques, such as longline, and also areas of the world (such as most asian countries) that are not careful of bycatch or waste products.

The massive elephant seals (and the massive story behind them)

On January 5th, 2016, I had experienced something that few outside of California do: See first hand a rookery of Northern elephant seals during the peak season when males, females, and pups are all on the beach. There was a massive surplus of males- over 360 of them, according to the census, as opposed to around 240 females, 50 pups, and 1 adolescent. The males were massive, with a couple of them reaching 5,000 pounds in weight! One of those 5,000 pound males had a harem of half a dozen females, two of them with newborn pups (evidently, he was their father). Several males, of all age groups, were fighting for either dominance or just out of testosterone. Overall, it was an amazing visit! I will look forward to going again!

However, Northern elephant seals were not always this prosperous. They were hunted relentlessly for their fat in the 1700’s, far more than their natural predators (Orcas and Great white sharks) have ever done to them. By the 1800’s, they were actually declared extinct.

A small group of a dozen Northern elephant seals were discovered on Guadalupe island in the 1850’s. It was by pure luck that the people who discovered them were not poachers, otherwise the seals would have all been killed. Happily, this tiny population grew tremendously, and today, their numbers exceed 200,000. They are not on the Endangered species list, but, due to being Marine mammals, are protected.

This is considered to be one of the biggest success stories with animals, right up there with the American alligator and the Bald eagle, both of those sharing similar success stories. However, not all mammals, birds, and reptiles had such a happy ending. Since the year 2000, over 30 species and subspecies of Mammals, Birds, and Reptiles have been declared extinct, among them the Pyrenean ibex, the Yangtze River dolphin, the Florida panther, and the famous Pinta Island giant tortoise. What can we do to save more from sharing this fate? It’s up to you and me.

Future Opportunities

For winter break 2015, I have already booked a trip to Monterey, California.  There I am going to do many sustainability-related things, including visiting Año Nuevo State Park to see colonies of Northern Elephant Seals, Scuba Diving in the Kelp Forests of Monterey Bay, and visit the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium, which tries hard to educate as many people as they can for the sustainability of our oceans.

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is an incredibly successful aquarium. Millions of people visit it every year.  The aquarium is in fact the only aquarium to ever successfully keep a Great White Shark.  The Shark was caught as by catch, but instead of killing her, they put her into the aquarium, where she lived for about 7 months.  I was fortunate enough to see her in her full beauty nine years ago when she was on exhibit.  Unfortunately, when she started eating the other sharks in the tank, the keepers could only release her into the wild.  She is currently roaming the depths of Monterey Bay, now a top predator, only rivaled by the Orca.  The Great White Shark is one of many endangered animals that the Aquarium has showcased. Other species include the Sea Otter, which the Aquarium has been breeding for decades.

The main highlight I am looking forward to seeing in Monterey is the Elephant Seal Colonies in Año Nuevo State Park. I am going at the peak season for when the males go into brutal fights to take the head of all the females on the beach. While Elephant Seals are not currently endangered, their number were depleted in the early twentieth century. Thanks to conservation efforts, there are now tens of thousands of Northern Elephant Seals dominating North America’s West Coast.  This is a big conservational success story, comparable to the likes of the American Alligator and the American Bison, both of which are in the same predicament.

Another highlight is me going to go scuba diving in the Kelp Forests, where I hope to see many types of animals there, including some of my favorites, the Shovelnose Guitarfish, a type of Ray with a Shark’s tail (imagine a sawfish without a saw. That’s a Guitarfish). I also hope to see Sea Lions, Sea Otters, and many types of fish.


Galapagos Trip- Inspiration for my future career!

As most of the people in the Sustainability LLC class know, I visited the Galapagos Islands on June 2015. The trip, of course, was the trip of a lifetime. Not only did I see almost every animal I wanted to see, not only was the culture and history of the islands beyond fascinating, not only did i dive with over sixty female Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks, but the entire trip set in stone the job I knew I wanted to do. What was the job, you may ask? To go into the wild and record animal species and quantities for science and conservation.  A few weeks or months later, I would then go back, record again, and compare the statistics. You are probably wondering, why would an exquisite trip to the Galapagos Islands cause someone to become so ambitious for such a specific job? The answer lies in what I did on my trip.

On my trip to the Galapagos, I actually recorded both the species of animals I saw, and the quantity of each species, each according to their Order or some higher classification (i.e., Mammals, Birds, Reptiles, Bony Fish, Sharks, Rays, and Invertebrates). I did it on the fly, after each excursion that I did every day. My grand total of animal species that I spotted during my nine days there, disregarding insects due to difficulty and lack of interest, was roughly around one hundred and ten. That is nearly five times more than animal species spotted in my trip to Alaska in 2007. That number is also incidentally a quantity of animal species three times more than both of my trips to Yellowstone in the years 2012 and 2014. The vast majority of animal species I spotted were Bony Fish, primarily while scuba diving.

This species recording that I did on my trip to the Galapagos not only helped me enjoy and appreciate the trip of a lifetime even more, but this activity that I did on my own was perfect practice for my future ambitious career.  What could I do next as practice for the future career? Could I go to Africa, and record the amount of Ungulates? Could I head to the mountains of Nepal and find the elusive Snow Leopards? Could I dive in the Great Barrier Reef just to see how the reef is doing?  Of course, the possibilities are endless.  What do you think I should do?

My experience at a camp at SCBI

For many consecutive years in my childhood, from the years 2008 to 2012, I have attended a camp at the Smithsonian Conservational Biology Institute, in Front Royal, Virginia. This was long before the institute was given a campus for George Mason University. This amazing camp was where I first laid eyes on my dream, the dream to become an Animal Conservationist. Here at the camp, I met many fantastic friends, socialized with them, hiked with them in nature, and even watched and learned from the caretakers of the animals at the center about how they live. This was the stepping stone that led me to go to Mason and follow my dreams.

On the first year, when I was out of fifth grade, I went to this camp out of curiosity. From the very start, where we watched a newborn Black Footed Ferret being taken care of, I was hooked. I had a blast hiking, touring the area, and just plain socializing. Incidentally, since I had started this camp, I had become less tense, less awkward, and far more social than I was during my early elementary school years.

On the second year, I had much more luck finding animals in the wild, aside from the captive ones in the Institute. One of the days, I saw three black bears and a bobcat on the same day! Too accompany that feat, I made at least a dozen new friends, and I even got to interact with a Kiwi! I learned amazing things, like what the diet of all the animals in the SCBI, and even got to pet an endangered Clouded Leopard!

The next two years I stayed there for not one but two full weeks for both years. I got even more social, won many contests in the camp games, had a lot of fun with the students who matured with me, and got to see even more animals.

As the years went on, I became more and more distant from the other campers and the animals of the center, but often I look back, and think “man I want to see them again!” I even was able to revisit some of the hikes in recent years, sniffling tears of nostalgia while doing it. I also revisited the 4-H center where the camp visited last weekend, and I felt many more tears of nostalgia go through to my eyes. What a lovely experience!