Squid surveillance, in several ways

Squid surveillance, in several ways

I find squid pretty inherently interesting. They’re believed to be smart, and I’d call them beautiful, but they’re also so alien to our terrestrial, vertebrate selves. Even more interesting, or perhaps alarming, is what’s happening with the Humboldt squid in B.C. waters. First, why are they here? They’re native to northern Mexico, but in the past ten years have spread northward, first to California, and now all the way to southeast Alaska. That is a big change in such a short time. Secondly, they’re washing up dead on beaches in large numbers. Given this, I was pretty curious when I learned about a new study tagging two dozen Humboldt squid and trying to trace their movements around the North Pacific, as part of the Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking project. The goal is to figure out what the jumbo squid are doing up here. That’s important to know for fisheries because these squid prey on commercially valuable species like hake. It also matters because their rapid change of range could tell us something about our changing oceans. You can watch my CBC TV story (vid link) from last week to see the squid, and hear from the scientist leading the research. There’s an online text version here. Eyes on the ground If you look at the TV story, or even the photo above, you’ll see that CBC didn’t capture the images of the squid. The video came from a Tofino-based group called the Raincoast Education Society. I found some of it on YouTube, then called up Josie Osborne and asked if we could use it. She said yes, and ended...
A decent year for some threatened whales

A decent year for some threatened whales

One whale story begets another, I suppose. Researching another story this week on humpbacks, I called up Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard at the Vancouver Aquarium. He’s a scientist with a gift for speaking clearly, and he studies marine mammals on our coast. He’s also the co-chair of the Killer Whale Recovery Team organized by Fisheries and Oceans Canada. I asked him about the killer whales he studies — the Northern Resident population, which can be seen in the Johnstone Strait area and further north during the summer. Last year, he had spoken out about that population starving, and described whales swimming for hours before finding fish to eat. (Their preferred food: chinook salmon). This year, what a difference. The central coast runs for chinook were abundant, he told me. So the whales seemed to have enough to eat, and it could be seen in how they act. “That basically means the whales don’t have to be making a living every minute of the day they have time to socialize,” said Barrett-Lennard in an interview on the Aquarium’s research boat, Skana. “When whales are ‘happy,’ we see a lot of social behaviour, they’re a lot like us in that respect,” he said. “We see larger groups, lots of playing, lots of pushing and shoving and jumping and rolling over on their backs.” Take a look at my CBC TV story (vid link) to see killer whales, and learn what other threats they...
Are humpbacks still endangered?

Are humpbacks still endangered?

When I worked on B.C.’s Central Coast in the summer of 2000, seeing a humpback whale was a rare treat. They’re huge, but far more acrobatic than their grey whale cousins we were studying. The good news is: seeing a humpback whale in the North Pacific isn’t as rare anymore. They’re considered threatened in Canada, and for as long as the U.S. has had an endangered species list (since 1973) the humpback has been on it. But that could soon change, in the U.S. at least. This week, NOAA announced it’s reviewing the humpback’s status. A recent international study puts the North Pacific population estimate at almost 20,000, up from a low of less than 2,000 animals. While humpback numbers are now growing steadily, the population is still just one-fifth of the pre-whaling size, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. good, but good enough? “It’s been such a gift to watch them come back,” Jackie Hildering told me this week. She’s a naturalist with Stubbs Island Whale Watching in Telegraph Cove, and remembers in 2002 when humpback sightings were uncommon in the Broughton Archipelago. This year, she identified 47 individuals. She laughs in wonder as she recalled to me juvenile humpbacks energetically slapping their tails on the water. But Hildering worries what a loss of protection could mean for the whales, given that status can help drive research funding. “There’s just so much we don’t understand about these animals,” she said. Dr. Jay Barlow, one of NOAA’s own lead scientists studying humpbacks, told me he agrees are still many unknowns — especially when it comes to climate change. For example,...

The dirt on clean: avoiding antibacterials

With all the talk about swine flu and handwashing, I decided to take questions from parents to an expert in public health, Dr. Bonnie Henry with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. (CBC story here). Dr. Henry just published a book on preventing disease spread, called Soap and Water & Common Sense, and has been on the front lines of media-messaging around the swine flu virus. The piece of advice that’s yielded the most discussion online, and in our newsroom, is about avoiding antibacterial soaps with ingredients like triclosan. As Dr. Henry noted, they can lead to drug-resistant strains, and do nothing against viruses like the flu. Pros and Antis I’ve seen two camps of reaction: people who are surprised antibacterials are considered harmful, and people who have known that for years and are surprised anyone is surprised. (As a recent post on yoyomama notes, triclosan was one of the chemicals the authors of Slow Death By Rubber Duck loaded their systems with.) Dr. Bonnie Henry says ad campaigns are adding to confusion: People think that having ‘antibacterial’ on it means it’s more healthful and it’s going to protect myself and my family. And they honestly believe that because of the advertising. When in reality it may cause harm, and it’s certainly not needed.” I’m happy to hear a prominent health official talk about this. I’ve long avoided antibacterials, not because I’d researched them carefully, but because past biology-student roommates had ranted about their damaging effects on the environment. It was an easy decision because I’m not remotely germophobic. But it’s nice to see what’s good for human and...
Opting out of phone books: Yes, and not yet but soon

Opting out of phone books: Yes, and not yet but soon

I did a story for CBC News in Vancouver today that’s already getting a bunch of comments on our site. It’s about phone books being delivered that aren’t wanted, and what companies are doing about it. Not one but two thick business directories arrived on Vancouver doorstops a few weeks ago. I didn’t think much more about them until I saw Darren Barefoot’s post about putting the new books straight into the recycling bin. Others have also been griping about it too. Jonathon Narvey blogged about it and last year started a group on Facebook called The Yellow Pages Must be Stopped. His concern, as he said in my story: I understand they are recyclable and I understand they’re made from recycled products, but the energy that goes into making a product that very few people want just seems to me a huge waste of resources.” So what do the companies say? Both say their print directory is still well used. But, they’re responding to the concerns by letting people get off the distribution list if they want to. Canpages: You can opt out now This is the newer book in Metro Vancouver, but Canpages still delivers more than 800,000 business directories here (about the same number as their competition, the Yellow Pages Group, and at about the same time). Their Director of Marketing, Michael Oldewening, told me you can opt-out now from Canpages directory — and you have been able to for years. This year, for the first time, he said, there is a feedback form in the directory (page 142 in Vancouver edition) where you can request...
Talking trash with the Clean Bin Project

Talking trash with the Clean Bin Project

I spent yesterday morning with the people behind The Clean Bin Project, Jen and Grant. As I showed in my CBC story (video link) last night, they haven’t taken out the garbage in seven (!) months. They’re buying almost nothing, except food, and even with edibles they’re following strict rules to reduce packaging and waste. If you’re interested in reducing waste — and, like me, bored with stories about green living that encourage buying stuff — it’s worth checking out what they’re up to. Sure, they’re on the far end from most people in the enviro-commitment spectrum. Taking the garnish home from the restaurant to put in the compost is, even in Grant’s words, “a bit silly.” But other things they’re doing could suit the semi-committed: Make it harder to throw stuff away. The garbage bins they used to have around the house (bathroom, office) are gone. Make recycling easy. They have 10 bins, so everything has a place, and they’re all within reach. Don’t wait until you finish a food item to figure out whether its packaging is recyclable. Check it in the store. We’ve been doing a bit of this at home, on the recycling front. I realized last summer that I was throwing out toilet paper rolls just because the garbage was easy to reach. So, I put a paper recycling bin in the bathroom, and now it fills up faster than the garbage. Do you have any tips to reduce waste that you’ve used in your own...