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.)
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.
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.”
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.
This might be of interest to budding science filmmakers–I just published a video interview with legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog on his new film Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which opened to U.S. audiences yesterday. His film is about the Chauvet Cave in the South of France, which is an archaeological site rich in paleolithic cave art. Enjoy!