More Cetacean Stuff

Ah, synchronicity! Yahoo News has this interesting piece today titled “Killer Whales Set Traps for Gullible Gulls.” Seems researchers in Canada observed a young orca who figured out if he left pieces of chewed fish floating on the water’s surface it would attract gulls who would land to try and eat it. He would lurk underwater beneath this “bait” and snap up the gulls who landed. The orca would do this over and over.

The orca’s younger brother observed him doing this and started trying it. Then their mother learned how. Eventually the whole pod learned the new hunting technique. Very interesting.


A day late and a dollar short– well, usually more than that– as usual, so, first, a roundup of the usual suspect subjects…

The Alpha Environmentalist has a good post up on coyotes. Look, I have no objection to ranching, period, or to killing coyotes that kill stock. But a Gummint Agency killing coyotes on either public or private land, using tax dollars, for the alleged benefit of private individuals, doesnt cut it ecologically, economically, or even on the grounds of common sense. One fact Jonathan mentions is that coyotes increase the numbers in their litters under persecution– which may give the bureaucrats self- perpetuating jobs. Another, which he doesn’t, is that ranchers dont even have to ask for help, and I am not sure they can even refuse it. My rancher friend Lee, on whose ranch we do most of our hunting, came over to to me the other day at the Post Office, a bit bemused, to tell me to keep my dogs off his (entirely “deeded”, ie private) acreage for the next couple of weeks, because the Government trappers were cleaning out coyotes there. They hadn’t even asked his permission– just told him.

Shoot your own coyotes! Or better still course them, and keep them on their toes…

Matt has some good stuff up on his own blog re the latest animal “Rites” (I have noticed I must mispell this and “Peatah” else I get their ads on the blog!) nonsense.

Paul Domski and Matt both noticed this interesting piece about using pigeons to remote- monitor pollution– though Paul wonders if it won’t be considered “pigeon abuse”…

Several good pieces out on India’s decision to ban Diclofenac, which has been responsible for the catastrophic decline of vultures there. Peculiar also sent this link. Vultures are not only (extremely) important to sanitation in the subcontinent; they have a big cultural role in the lives or rather deaths of both Tibetan Buddhists and Parsees. In Tibet, corpses are still cut up and fed to the vultures– “sky burial”. And Parsees, even in big cities like Bombay, still expose their dead on “towers of silence” lest they contaminate the four traditional elements of earth, fire, air and water. Vulture numbers had become so low recently that Parsees actually consulted with raptor expert Jemima Parry- Jones, then in England, to see if she could provide an answer..

I wrote about this for The Atlantic a couple of years ago, but now it is behind a subscriber’s firewall. Can’t even get it myself unless (if) I renew.

Finally, Matt sent me this
article: “Airline passengers reach record 4 billion”– with a mordant comment:

“They will sieze and euthanize our birds, Steve, but the 4 billion-person airline travel rate will go unchecked. Which activity do you think has a greater chance of spreading bird flu: global commercial air travel or keeping pet birds?”

Actually i’m not sure I’d bet on either– but if I had to pick one…

Whale Attack!

Last Wednesday evening at just before sunset, Gerald Gormley left Santa Barbara harbor in his new 27 ft Bayliner boat. It was a brand-new boat, only the second time he had taken it out, and two friends accompanied him for a planned sunset run. They were off Leadbetter Beach and Santa Barbara Point when a 30 ft long gray whale suddenly breached – came completely out of the water – and landed on top of the boat. The weight of the whale crushed the cabin (see photo above) and it rolled off the boat back into the water. Just to show this wasn’t a clumsy whale accident, the beast came around and took another run at the Bayliner and slammed the boat with its tail. This damaged the boat’s rail and injured Gormley’s friend Robert Thornburgh. The whale’s tail broke some of his ribs, cut his hand, and imbedded some barnacles in his back. Finally the whale made a third run at the boat, rolled one of its eyes out of the water and stared at the boaters.

”You can look into most animals’ eyes and see nothing,” Mr. Gormley said. ”But not this one.”

After staring them down, the whale left, and Harbor Patrol quickly rescued Gormley and his party. Thornburgh was treated at a local hospital and released. This incident was briefly mentioned in local TV news (which I missed) but is in today’s Santa Barbara News Press (whence the picture) as well as the LA Times. I apologize if the News Press link is blocked, sometimes they work and sometimes not. I heard an interview with Gormley on the radio while driving in to work this morning. I’m surprised none of the wire services has picked it up yet.

This is not typical behavior for gray whales, which regularly migrate through here on their seasonal journeys between Alaska and Baja California. The most plausible cause for this may be that this was a female and the boaters may have gotten too close to her calf. The whale left some shreds of blubber on the boat and a biologist took samples for DNA analysis to confirm it is a gray and to determine its sex.

In the interview I heard this morning, Gormley seemed somewhat blase’ about the fact his brand-new $50,000 boat was wrecked. He did say that when he called his insurance carrier to file a claim that the adjuster refused to believe him and said, “You can get into a lot of trouble making crank calls like this!”

Great Proulx Quote

I just finished Annie Proulx’s collection of short stories, Close Range. This one includes the good story, now very well known, “Brokeback Mountain.” (It’s a Western!)

The quote I’d like to share comes from a different story, entitled “The Governors of Wyoming.” Here the misguided but earnest anti-ranching activist Wade Walls (I don’t think “eco-terrorist” is a term he uses, but others would) prepares to spend an evening cutting fences. He aims to release the cows, which he despises and hopes die in the road or at very least cause the rancher some headache with the round up and fence mending. As Wade explains to an accomplice, “It’s not so much the logic of the act, it’s the action of the act, the point made.”

Another accomplice, this one a little fed up with her part in the deal, quizzes Walls over diner:

“Wade,” said Renti, “do you work for a real estate developer?”

“For god’s sake, no. What gave you that idea?”

“You want to get rid of the cows, right? I mean, isn’t that what it comes down to, cows or subdivisions? I mean, what happens to a ranch once the stock is gone? Development, right? What else is there? I mean, what are you trying to do?” Contempt came out of her like water from a firehose.

“I want to bring it back,” he said. His voice swelled with professional passion. “I want it to be like it was, all the fences and cows gone.”

Proulx lets Wade wax on in a perfectly executed and obviously well-rehearsed polemic, but its music is flat to Renti’s ear. After Walls finishes his speech, Renti says:

“Yeah. Why don’t you blow up a meatpacker then instead of hammering ranchers? Why don’t you wreck Florida ranchers? I bet there’s more beef comes out of Florida than the west.”She walked out of the room with a haunchy slouch, not waiting to hear him say that western beef was the pivot point on which it all turned, that the battleground was the ruined land that belonged to the People.