Saturday, September 29, 2012

Whaling Down to a Science

Ahh, what a relief to be back home! Relaxation at its finest, people. I can actually go a couple minutes without thinking about my next calculus test or literature paper. Now that's saying something. Of course, all good things must come to an end. This good thing will come to an end in the next 24 hours, sadly. Then back to school for another couple of weeks. Oh, the life of a college student.
Currently I'm in a communications class and I'm working on a small speech due this upcoming week. I get the amazing chance to talk about something I care about! Guess what it is? Whales! And how whales are being negatively affected by humans! Yeah, bleak. It truly is a sad story of decline and ruin in the whale populations. Let me tell you about what I'm going to say! This could be good practice for me, even though I'm not standing in front of all of you and speaking it aloud. Just imagine it. I'm supposed to talk for a maximum of 2 minutes; I don't think my teacher understands the magnitude of fascination I have with this subject. He may have to give me like 20 minutes to talk about it, at least! 
Diver and Humpback whale.
Whales. We all have come to know them as the biggest mammals in the world. This is correct. Actually, the biggest animal in the history of the world is the blue whale, which still roams the planet's seas today. Most people don't know more than that about them, though. Hopefully I can help change that today. 
These amazing animals are extremely intelligent. In fact, the sperm whale is known to have the largest brain in the animal kingdom. They have a beautiful, other-worldly form of communication that can echo through the ocean deep for literally hundreds of miles. People comment that their audible communication sounds lyrical or like that of singing a song. They don't only communicate verbally; they can also communicate through gestures such as tail-slapping or breaching. Socially, their ways of hunting and migrating are incredibly complex. Some species hunt alone, like sperm whales, but many will hunt in groups called pods. It is essential that they communicate with each other to obtain food for themselves. Also, touching on their intelligence, they can learn very quickly. Their "cousins," shall I say, the smaller cetaceans such as dolphins and porpoises, have been known to learn and be easily trained for entertainment purposes for the masses. As humans, we don't have a clue how truly intelligent these marine mammals are.
Throughout history, whales have been hunted. They have been hunted by many different people groups for many different reasons. Some hunted for whale blubber or oil. Others hunted for the bones or just purely the meat itself. They would use these whale parts for oil in lamps, clothing, food, and tools and other crafts. So, why have whales been in decline just recently if they have been hunted for centuries? It all comes down to traditional whaling technique versus commercial.
Killing pilot whales is tradition in the Faroe Islands. (1981)
Traditionally, small groups of people would go out on a small boat and wrangle in a whale to beach itself. Some hunters even learned how to use certain weapons, like handmade harpoons and knives, against the mammals while in the sea to successfully kill them. Obviously through these types of whale slaughter, the populations of whales species didn't drastically decline.
Commercial whaling is a much different and wilder mutation of traditional whaling. Technological advances over the years have pushed the envelope. Pretty much, the act of killing is put down to a science. Quotas are estimated. Ways of killing are perfected. Mass killing by sending out fleets of ships is formulated. Over the recent decades, certain countries have developed their killing methods to perfection, so much so that the whales are on the brink of endangerment and extinction. Ecological damage is much more prevalent with modern-day whaling compared to traditional.
The IWC, or International Whaling Commission, has been in existence since the 1940s. This organization brings countries together to meetings based on the subject of preserving whale populations. In 1986, the IWC made a moratorium (temporary prohibiting of something) on commercial whaling. Here's the catch: if the whale hunting is used for research purposes, then it is permissible. That's the "loop hole" that certain countries took advantage of, specifically Iceland, Norway, and Japan.
Japan is now the big name in whaling. It's been getting huge amounts of press on the subject lately. They still have a government funded operation that sends a fleet of ships down to the Southern Ocean to hunt whales annually. Usually their quota is about 900 to 1,000 whales, just recently including 50 of the endangered humpback whales. They claim this is for scientific research. They are taking blood samples. They are checking their stomach contents. However, they're packing up and shipping off the whale meat to be sold in Japanese markets for profit. How does that make any sense?
Packaged whale meat in Japan.
Anyway, no one should be eating whale meat in the first place. It's toxic. Yeah, it's toxic. Whales and other big marine predators of the ocean, like sharks and tuna, have large amounts of mercury in their bodies. This is because of the smaller creatures they eat that contain mercury as well. The amount of mercury will get larger and larger as the animal is a bigger predator. So, if you eat whale meat, just remember that you're deliberately putting toxic levels of mercury in your body.
Thankfully there are activists and organizations out there that say enough is enough. These intelligent creatures are being murdered and eaten, and for who to benefit? Certainly not them. And certainly not us as consumers because of their meat's toxicity. 
Be sure to check out the Causes tab and learn about the some organizations that combat issues like these. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and GreenPeace are the big ones. Thanks for letting me practice my whole speech on you guys! I have a feeling this will need to be trimmed down a lot for my 2 minute boundary...

Friday, September 21, 2012

Finding No One

I find it funny how the movie Finding Nemo is named Finding Nemo. Only because I've taken Latin in high school and learned what "nemo" is in Latin. Nemo means nobody or no one. So, from the get go, the movie Finding Nemo is a tragedy. It's surprising Marlin found the little guy in the end.
Am I the last person on the face of the planet who hasn't seen Finding Nemo 3D? Because that's how I feel! Every other person I've asked to join me in this ceremonial event at the movie theater has told me they've already seen it. Every time. May I ask this question, then: Why not go see it again? I mean, it is the greatest movie in all of eternity, so do your old pal a favor. However, if there is no one to accompany me into the theater, I will go by myself. 
Fish are friends, not food.
Yes, I said it. I would go by myself to watch Finding Nemo 3D. I would submit myself to ridicule from annoying young children sitting in the theater with their apathetic parents. I would be "that girl" who you see walk in alone, watch the film alone, and walk out alone. But, you know what? I would enjoy every single golden moment of my solidarity. Think about it. If you're by yourself watching a movie with a bunch of random people you don't even know or care about, you can be as loud as you want when you laugh or cry or cackle at the movie screen. (I don't know about you, but I perform all 3 of these actions while watching Finding Nemo.) Usually my number one rule for movie-going is never go alone. This case is the only exception. Other than Finding Nemo 3D, I am abiding by that rule.
Thankfully, today I found a friend going to the movie. Phew, that was a close one! I actually thought for a few days this week I would be laughing obnoxiously aloud at the screen alone; now I'm going to be laughing obnoxiously aloud at the screen with a couple people sitting beside me. Huge difference. It will now be socially acceptable, I think. So, the moral of the story: if you have a desperate friend going to see Finding Nemo 3D by themselves, save them from ridicule and humiliation and just tag along. It will save millions of lives. The more you know.
(Transition to another subject) Earlier this week I had been thinking more about my next move in my college career. If you haven't heard, I've sent my application to Auburn University. War Eagle! I'm not 100% sold on transferring to Auburn, though. I'm still praying about it and seeing where God leads me. Still, I need to be able to know what my next move is, whichever road I take. If I don't go to Auburn I'll stay at my present university and major in biology. Either way, I have fantastic news! Like, this news is groundbreaking. Positively joyous. Heavenly. Wondermous. Hallelujah-worthy. Never-endingly amazazing. I'm making up new words. Anyways, I don't have to take a second organic chemistry class!! Whooo! (This is the appropriate time to ensue a celebratory dance or shout, depending upon your preference.)
I can't stress how much weight that sentence right there has lifted off of me. If you've never had the burden of taking organic chemistry ever, you are one lucky duck. If I stay where I am, I won't take any more chemistry. If I leave for Auburn, I only take an overview of biochemistry. Now what I have to really worry about is the physics I have to take. Ugh. Physics. College problems. My life is so tough, isn't it? That reminds me, I need to find a friend who is decent in the field of physics. By that I mean I need to find a person I will befriend probably only because they are decent at physics and I am not. I won't call it full out "using" someone. Maybe we can rename this "getting to know" someone (getting to know their brain, more likely). Yeah, that sounds less parasitic. Let's end on that note.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Big Bad Bugs

You may think I am in love with all wildlife on earth just because I consider myself one who enjoys biology. That I love all things nature. All the weird and ugly animals of this world are my best friends or something. Boy, are you wrong! I do enjoy nature. However, I do have a limit. My limit's label: BUGS. If you put me in a cage surrounded by sharks in the water, my heart would be racing, but I would overall be fine. Like I would be enjoying myself. But if you dare to put a spider or cockroach in front of my face, doesn't matter how small, I will freak to the point of complete embarrassment. 
Example. Today I was sitting in the 3rd row of my organic chemistry class. I was focused on trying to understand whatever my professor was saying (which is impossible) and all of the sudden I saw a humongous spider crawling 6-odd inches away from my feet. Needless to say I freaked to the point of complete embarrassment, as I usually do. (Whenever I tell someone a bug is big, they don't believe me because any bug to me is big. Big in scariness. I think my brain tells my eyes to multiply the size of the bug 2 or 3 times. Maybe it's a health condition. Or a mental illness.) 
A Brown Recluse Spider.
It crawled right to me, like it knew. Yeah, it knew. It knew I was the one to go for. They probably talk about me in their bug meetings or conventions or whatever they do. They probably have me on like a "list to kill" or something. At the end of their meetings they all say, "...and remember: if you see her, you know what to do." 
So it started to come to me, closing the gap between it and my feet. I started to see black spots. All at once I felt a heaviness in my stomach, my lungs collapsing, and this intense heat in my throat.
I booked it outta there! I was gone. My neighbor, the poor guy who doesn't know me very well at all, almost got sacked. There was no way I would try to kill the spider by putting myself nearer to it. Nuh-uh. No siree. Thankfully someone squished and killed it with their tennis shoe. Lord, thank you for the brave soul who took one for the team! It would've taken me hours to kill that. Goodness, I wish I had taken a picture so you see how huge this thing was! The girl who killed it looked over to me and said in the most quiet and tranquil way, "Glad we killed him. I'm pretty sure that was a brown recluse." Then she turned back around like everything went back to normal as I sat there in horror, still shaking to the point where I couldn't even write legibly. The rest of class time consisted of me looking at my feet every 30 seconds, searching for the spider's army of friends surely coming after me soon. Was it a brown recluse? We'll never know. Unless we obtain a sample from the bottom of that nice girl's shoe...
As you can tell, I don't like spiders. Bugs in general are just my ultimate fear, but spiders...they are the big kahuna. The big enchilada. The top banana, shall we say. You will never catch me dead with a spider in my presence willingly. Of course, they're everywhere, so I don't have much choice. I heard some time ago that in life there will always be a spider in a certain small circumference of your person. Like a few feet or something horrifying like that. Now there's a scary story to tell your kids at night. They won't sleep for weeks.
Why, God, not multitudes of bunnies?? Look at their cuteness!
It's just too bad that the biggest group of animals in this world is the bug population. Why, God, can't it be birds? Or bunnies? Or platypuses? Platypi? Who cares. Just not bugs! Okay, I can deal with multitudes of butterflies or lightning bugs. But not the beetles or the roaches. I cringe just typing it out! If you like bugs, you must be so mad at me right now. Sorry for the huge slap in the face of bugs, but I can't stand them.
They are definitely necessary for our world. Sadly, this is true. If it weren't for certain types of insects that eat decomposing material, we would have a bunch of (you guessed it) decomposing material stinking up the world. If not for certain insects that eat other even worse insects, we would have a world filled with overbearing populations of dangerous bugs, even more than we have now. I can't imagine. Ughh...I guess we should thank them for their services. I'll thank them. But not as much as I thanked tennis shoe girl for the defeat of my arch nemesis.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Einstein and the Blowfish

It's official. I've started the process of applying to another school: Auburn University. Well, it's been official in my mind for quite awhile that I'm going to apply there. I guess I can say it's "officially official." You may be asking me why I'm doing this. Do I hate where I'm attending now? What's so bad about where I am that is pushing me to the point of applying to move multiple hours away? Let me assure you, oh, dear reader, I am not doing this out of malice towards the university I am attending presently.
I don't know how many times I'm going to say this, but, let me say it again, I'm currently a chemistry major whose future goal is marine biology. I've realized since my declaration of major that I'm here on this earth to study marine biology. Not chemistry. Not physics. Not whatever else you can put under my nose. Marine biology. And, let me tell you, the chemistry department is not the place to be for someone like me. Now I know this!
It's nothing personal toward chemists. Or the study of chemistry for that matter. I like the way the great scientist Albert Einstein puts it:
Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb up a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.
Why try to say it when Einstein says it so poetically? I may be "good" at chemistry in some aspects (like in the classroom, usually), but when it comes to research and hands-on approaches to the science, I've learned that it is definitely not my cup of tea. Now that I have come to realize this, I can move on from it and try out some other things. I will repeat this cycle either until I get tired of it or until I find that one aspect of science that I know I'm made for. Who knows, it could be research, conservational work, tourism, education, etc. Maybe it could be a mix! That's for God to know and me to find out!
The pufferfish pre- and post-puff.
Let's get to the good part of the blog: the biology. Today's topic of conversation is the famous pufferfish, or blowfish as some may call it. This little fish is so cute when it isn't mad and territorial to the point where it puffs out its spikes at you in defense. All they do is just suck in a bunch of water, and voila, you have an angry-looking pufferfish telling you to get away or else. By the way, the terms "pre- and post-puff" in the caption I completely made up off the top of my head. They aren't scientific whatsoever. Far from it. But you get what I'm saying!
Pufferfish have a toxin that is usually lethal to fish. (Some marine animals aren't affected by the pufferfish toxin, such as tiger sharks and sea snakes. They're the lucky ones.) According to National Geographic, the toxin made in the pufferfish, called tetrodotoxin, is over 1,000 times more lethal to humans than cyanide. One pufferfish holds enough toxin to kill 30 humans. So that means, kids, don't touch these cute little things!...Or you will surely die. When I say surely I definitely mean surely. Why? Because there is no known antidote for the pufferfish's tetrodotoxin. Not every single species of pufferfish makes this toxin, so you have a small chance of living if you dare to test your luck.
Unlike a lot of the marine creatures I talk about, the pufferfish population is considered quite stable. Some species are vulnerable because of overfishing, loss of habitat, and pollution, but what animal these days isn't negatively affected by any of these 3 things? Not many, if any. 
Pufferfish language saying, "Get away!"
I have never seen one of these guys in their natural habitat, but I have seen them in tanks. Like in a few aquariums and at university marine labs. When I first saw them, they were much smaller than what I thought they would be. Maybe it's just me. Probably. And I don't know if the ones that I've seen were the smaller of the species. Anywho, the biggest they can get is about 3 feet, which is huge for a pufferfish.
This may seem obvious and I probably don't even need to mention this: it is not the best swimmer. Duh! If you were a big puff ball half of your life then you might not be able to swim too well either. Even still, they are capable of defending themselves extremely well. Yes, the pufferfish has its downfalls, but it can also kill 30 humans without breaking a sweat. (Okay, some can. Not all poisonous...) I respect them for that. So whenever I see one in the wild, I will observe from a safe distance!

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