Category Archives: natural world

Digging around inside nature’s giants

Credit: Windfall/Richard Taylor/Jones

A sperm whale’s penis has no bones. This allows its flexible member to penetrate a female sperm whale from any number of directions; a necessity when two multi-ton animals are trying to line up tab A with slot B in an unsteady ocean environment.

This and other interesting facts about sperm whales are the subject of the first episode of the documentary series Inside Nature’s Giants, which premiers in the U.S. on January 18th. Each of the series’ four episodes centers around the dissection of a large animal, which is used as a starting point to explore the animal’s biology. (A clever device, which I also used in this Scientific American video about jumbo squid.)

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A crocodile’s salt water surprise

Crocodile near the beach in La Manzanilla, Mexico

It was a bit unsettling to see a crocodile occupy the same several square meters of ocean where I’d swam only a few days before. The croc must have been over ten feet in length and appeared suddenly and silently in the surf near the beach. He was probably chasing after a morning meal of fish. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) this beach is where I happened to be eating breakfast with my family. We had planned to spend the day swimming in the same stretch of water now occupied by the croc.  It was Thursday and earlier in the week this is where we’d been swimming, body surfing and even taking my 16 month-old niece Lucia for a dip.

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‘Tis the season for ARKiving

Horsfield’s tarsier on ARKive.org

I had planned to blog about crocodiles this week and post an accompanying video. But unfortunately my video editing program developed a mind of its own just before the car showed up to transport me to the airport and back to my hometown of Seattle for the holidays. Ah, techmology [sic]!

So I started looking for something else to write about and came across the ARKive.org website.  ARKive is an initiative of  the  UK-based Wildscreen organization, whose mission is “to promote the public understanding and appreciation of the world’s biodiversity, and the need for its conservation, through the power of wildlife imagery.”

Living in the U.S., I’d never heard of ARKive  before, even though it’s been around since the early 2000s. It was launched by legendary broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and the basic idea is to collect and consolidate high-quality video and images of endangered species into a massive database. The goal is to “create a unique audio-visual record of life on Earth, prioritising those species at most risk of extinction.”

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Should broadcasters pay to protect the ‘stars’ of wildlife films?

A lion cub in Mana Pools National Park, Zimbabwe

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Discovery Channel’s reluctance to air the climate change episode of the Frozen Planet series–an episode they helped fund.  I asked that we label this act ‘unsustainable nature filmmaking’ because Discovery had failed to use its bully pulpit to protect the species that feature heavily in its films. An opinion piece in the journal Science this week, penned by Oxford geography professor Paul Jepson and colleagues, takes this argument one step further and asks that broadcasters like Discovery make direct monetary contributions to protect the ‘stars’ of wildlife films:

We ask whether it is time..[for] media corporations
producing and commissioning nature-based
programming…[to] adopt PES [payment for ecosystem services] principles.

For those unfamiliar with the concept of ‘payment for ecosystem services’, this is basically the idea that the many benefits provided to us by nature have a monetary value and that corporations profiting off of those services should give a percentage of profits back to conservation efforts.

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Wealth of Multimedia Surrounds Ardipithecus Paper in Science

Artist's rendition of Ardipithecus ramidus. (credit: J.H. Matternes)
Artist's rendition of Ardipithecus ramidus. (credit: J.H. Matternes)

Yesterday saw a blizzard of media surrounding the Ardipithecus paper published in the October 2nd issue of Science. A quick Google search reveals more than 600 articles published on the subject since yesterday morning.

If you don’t know already know, Ardipithecus (affectionately known as Ardi by some) is a hominid fossil discovered in Ethiopia some 15 years ago. However, the buzz is not about the fossil discovery itself, but rather the insight that Ardi is an early ancestor of humans–something that wasn’t entirely clear until now. This revelation is making scientists rewrite the book on early hominid history and also their vision of the last common ancestor we shared with chimps, more than four million years ago.

Somewhat reminiscent of the American Natural History Museum’s “missing link” campaign back in May, Ardi also has its own primetime cable television special that airs October 11th on the Discovery Channel. But if you just can’t wait, there is already a wealth of multimedia on-line to quench your Ardi thirst.

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Friday Fun…The Fantastical World of Biomedical Animation

One of the most frustrating things about working in biomedical research is the inability to translate infinitely small processes into something both visually meaningful and easy to digest.

Within every cell of our bodies is a chaotic symphony of molecular and chemical interactions that are difficult or impossible to see with the naked eye.  Scientists rely on experimental ‘snapshots’ to give them an idea of what’s happening at the microscopic level. Then they work backwards, reconstructing a sequence of events from these rather abstract clues.

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Resource for Free High-Quality Science Images

ian_screenshot1

After taking a short hiatus from writing after graduation from the  SHERP program at NYU,  I’m ready to launch this blog properly.

What sort of blog is this going to be you might ask? What the heck is a collision of science, journalism and technology? Well, I’m not exactly sure either. But science, journalism and especially journalism fueled by technology (i.e. multi-media journalism) are passions of mine.  Continue reading Resource for Free High-Quality Science Images