Showing posts from 2024

An open letter to the community cats of Fremont, California

  April 25, 2024 To The Felines It May Concern: I understand that the City of Fremont has a “community cat” program, managed by the Tri-City Animal Shelter and Fremont Animal Services, and that there is some concern about the management of these feral cats. Article from the Municipal Journal in Fremont.  First, an introduction. I obtained a PhD in Biological Ecology from the University of California, Davis, in 1986, and am an Emeritus Associate Professor at Utah State University (USU), where I have held positions since 1991. Before USU, I was a Natural Resources Specialist in the Department of Forestry and Resource Management at the University of California, Berkeley, focusing on oak woodland regeneration and wildlife issues in north coastal California, including Alameda County.  From 1991-2002, I was a faculty member in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at USU, and in 2002, I moved to the newly created Department of Environment and Society because of my interest in the human

How rude... correcting a museum!

  It goes without saying that natural history museums are full of experts in their fields, and that one person's area of expertise is another person's area of total ignorance. I pick up my grandson from the Denver Museum of Nature and Science  (DMNS) on a regular basis, and we spend many hours roaming the halls. Over time, I've noticed some errors, inconsistencies, and puzzling displays. I recognize that, unlike something on a screen that can be altered with a few keystrokes, displays are complicated things to change. But, step one has to be noting that they actually should be changed. I'm going to go out on a limb and propose some changes. These suggestions sometimes will be in my area of expertise, and sometimes will not. I'm going to start with one that is absolutely not within my expertise, but caught my attention because of my experience. It starts off with... a plesiosaur skeleton. Signage for this plesiosaur, Thalassomedon haningtoni , discovered in 1939 in

Visiting an alien planet... on Earth

  Visiting an alien planet... I don't know how else to describe the experience of exploring underwater. "Alien" can be defined as "coming from another world." To a terrestrial, air-breathing, homeothermic bipedal hominin , being underwater can only seem like being, well, on a different planet. There's a reason astronauts train in a pool to experience " neutral-buoyancy" diving to simulate the weightlessness of space travel. And creatures have been evolving in Earth's seas for a LONG time. Complex life appeared in the Earth's history about a half billion years ago. "The basic body plans of all modern animals were set during the Cambrian Period, 542 - 488 million years ago." Since then, species have come and gone (mostly gone), but if you visit a thriving reef environment, you won't even think about what has disappeared, because there is just so much still there! This week we (Caroline, Wes and Mignon) went on a dive trip in t

Orcas in captivity... a comparison with Russia dissident Aleksei Navalny

  Two mammal-eating "transient" killer whales photographed off the south side of Unimak Island, eastern Aleutian Islands, Alaska.   Photo by Robert Pitman (NOAA). It is easy to become discouraged when you first hear of the impact of whaling on our cetacean neighbors. In 2014, researchers  estimated that, between 1900 and 1999, 2.9 million whales were killed by the whaling industry. This doesn't count the whales killed prior to 1900, before diesel engines and exploding harpoons. In terms of biomass, this may be the largest removal of wildlife in human history, surpassing the removal of American bison from the plains states. And this was a minimum estimate, as wounded animals not recovered were not included in this estimate. Casks of whale oil. Photo courtesy: New Bedford Whaling Museum/ NPS. These complex, intelligent mammals were rendered into a variety of products for industry and vanity. And the estimate demonstrates the number of whales that our oceans could hold. A

Teaching non-hunters, and hunters, about hunting

  Hunter education student taking shooting test. I may be unique in the world for having taught more non-hunters the basics of hunting than anyone else. Let me explain. For years, I taught a course titled "Living With Wildlife" at Utah State University. Obviously, and especially in Utah, one of the ways people interact with wildlife is by shooting and eating them. It was a large class, averaging about 100 students from a variety of majors. I wanted all students to understand the education requirements for hunters in the state, so I made all students, hunters and non-hunters alike, take this course. Yes, even the hunters, who had already gone through hunter education (HE) and may have had years of hunting experience. The only ways to opt out of this were to demonstrate that you had taken HE within the past year (happened once), a judge said you couldn't be around firearms (once), you were ethically opposed to touching firearms (usually one student per semester), or firearm