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...

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...
Coming up: Storytelling for scientists

Coming up: Storytelling for scientists

I’m giving a talk next month to a group of health science graduate students, on how to communicate their work in the media. I’m no expert, but I have worked in both worlds, and understand a bit about how they often clash. Both sides have work to do. For example, many (most?) reporters will cover a story about a scientific publication without reading the paper itself (relying instead on the press release). But, since the talk is for a training day for scientists, this advice is for them. As I prepare I’m going to post my ideas here. Some working titles: An introduction to the other side Know what your story isn’t Be the one to make it simple Stay human Have confidence in what you know What does all that mean? I’ll flesh out each point and post it in coming...