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What does SeaWorld do with its Orcas?

Posted on 27 May 2016 by Jerry

SeaWorld gave up after years of fighting with liberals, resisting pressure from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) amongst others, and reacting to the blow-back from public reaction to the movie “Blackfish” which criticized its handling of the Orcas in its care. SeaWorld Entertainment announced it would end its Orca performances in San Diego.

The orca or killer whale is actually the largest member of the oceanic dolphin family, a water borne family of mammals. Considered apex predators they have no animal that preys on them. We have explored in depth the intellectual capabilities of dolphins and easily extend those capabilities to the orcas. They are smart animals that are used to ranging wide in the open ocean (as much as 160 kilometers in a day).

We assume there are plans to continue performances in Orlando, Florida and San Antonio, Texas because there are no reports of a change in its plans. By agreement with the Humane Society of the United States, SeaWorld Entertainment said they are completely ceasing their orca-breeding program. They face a problem and great controversy in the question of what to do with an orca that is borne and raised or has existed almost entirely in captivity.

The two sides of the argument are those who favor releasing the orcas into the open ocean and those who believe SeaWorld should build sea pens in which to keep the orcas until they die or keep them in the same enclosures they presently inhabit. Unfortunately the past history of orcas that have been released or found their way into the open ocean is not good.

A prime example is Keiko who was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1979 and the star of the “Free Willy” movie. After several years performing at a Mexico City theme park, Keiko in 1998 was transported to a sea pen in Iceland. The sea pen was 250 feet long, 100 feet wide and 30 feet high.

On one of its excursions outside its sea pen, while accompanied by its caretakers on a ship, Keiko later swam away. He was later spotted in a deep inlet in Norway where he was playing with fishermen and their children. Keiko later died of pneumonia.

SeaWorld points to Keiko as an example of a whale that while caught in the wild did not survive being returned to the open ocean. Detractors would disagree in the sense that Keiko was close to his natural age and was not in his sea sanctuary when he died.

SeaWorld’s CEO summed up the Keiko experience by saying, “Never in the history of mankind has an orca born under human care survived in a release to the wild. Even though Keiko was born in the wild and millions were spent preparing him for release, after being released he died from pneumonia and starvation. We are not going to take this risk with SeaWorld’s whales.”

While SeaWorld made the right decision to suspend its orca performances in San Diego, it needs to affirmatively suspend all performances of orcas at every facility. It also made the right decision to halt its breeding program at all SeaWorld sites. It has a dilemma facing it now with its decision of what to do with its orcas.

With a lot of people on both sides of the argument, it faces a real quandary as to what to do. The writer believes that continuing the performances at SeaWorld should not happen and that the orcas should be housed in sea pens that are specially designed for them. I don’t believe the Keiko pen was big enough for orca health and satisfaction but I also do not support release in the open ocean since it would mean certain death for many of SeaWorld’s orcas.

What is your opinion about what should be done with the remaining 23 or so SeaWorld orcas? Should SeaWorld keep having orca performances? Should SeaWorld continue their confinement to their present facilities? Should sea pens be provided or should they be released to the open ocean? Please let us know your views by appending your comments and questions to this article.

Use the following links to obtain more information about the orcas or access the original stories that served as the basis of this article.

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It Is Time To Commemorate Us

Posted on 14 February 2016 by Jerry

We should formally recognize our impact on planet Earth. We should rename the epoch we are in. We should close the Holocene Epoch and open the Anthropocene or human altered geologically significant Epoch. We should use it as the rallying point to express the urgency of our fight to reverse humanity’s devastation of the planet.

The International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) is a professional organization that determines the Geological Time Scale under which the Earth operates. They, for example, formally named the Holocene or “entirely recent” Epoch that we are presently in. It began 11,700 years ago after the last major ice age and was progressing before our global affect on the planet was recognized.

The IUGS has formed an Anthopocene Working Group (from anthopo, for “man” and cene for “new”) with a target date sometime in 2016 to determine if we should change the name of our present Epoch to recognize humanity’s impact. This group is to make a formal recommendation to the IUGS this year.

It has already been well documented that humanity has fundamentally changed the planet. We know for example that we transitioned to the industrial age beginning in the early 1700’s. This represented the beginning of our global impact on the Earth. We started with England and by 1850 we were beginning to transform the rest of the world.

We quickly transitioned to fossil fuels and never stopped our increasing use. We moved from ongoing flows of water, wind, plants and animals to first coal then oil and gas. These fuels offered access to carbon stored in the ground from millions of years of photosynthesis. This represented a massive energy subsidy from the past to the present and became a great source of human wealth.

Today we use about five times as much energy as the hunter-gatherer societies that have gone before. Between the years 1800 to 2000 the human population grew more than six-fold with the worldwide economy growing about 50-fold and our energy use expanding about 40-fold. Nowhere was our growth more evident than our impact on the atmosphere.

An article by Will Steffen, Paul Crutzen, and John R. McNeil in December of 2007 said, “By 1950 the atmospheric CO2 concentration had pushed above the 300 ppmv, above its preindustrial value of 270-275 ppmv and was beginning to accelerate sharply.” In 2015 we have already had days and weeks above the 400 ppmv. It is only a matter of a short time when we will reach an average annual rate above 400 ppmv.

Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer originally proposed this formal adoption of the Anthropocene Epoch in the year 2000 in an article that appeared in the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) Global Change Newsletter. Readers will remember that Paul Crutzen was given a Nobel Prize for discovering the destruction of the ozone in our upper atmosphere by human used chemicals.

An article appearing in the March 11, 2015 issue of Nature magazine entitled the Anthropocene: The human age stated, “When Crutzen proposed the term Anthropocene, he gave it the suffix appropriate for an epoch…Between then and the new millennium, he noted, humans had chewed a hole in the ozone layer above Antarctica, doubled the amount of methane in the atmosphere and driven up carbon dioxide concentrations by 30%, to a level not seen in 400,000 years.”

The same article observed, “When the Anthropocene Working Group started investigating, it compiled a much longer list of the changes wrought by humans. Agriculture, construction and the damming of rivers is stripping away sediment at least ten times as fast as the natural forces of erosion. Along some coastlines, the flood of nutrients from fertilizers has created oxygen-poor ‘dead zones’, and the extra CO2 from fossil fuel burning has acidified the surface waters of the ocean by 0.1 pH units. The fingerprint of humans is clear in global temperatures, the rate of species extinctions and the loss of Arctic ice.”

A key objective is to establish a key ‘geological signal’ or ‘golden spike’ that can be used worldwide by stratigraphers (scientists who study rock layers) and geologists to show the separation of one epoch from another. In an article entitled the Geology of Mankind in 2002 by Crutzen published in the journal Nature Crutzen argues “The Anthropocene could be said to have started in the late Eighteenth century when analysis of air trapped in polar ice showed the beginning of growing global concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane.” This would be around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in Europe and/or coinciding with James Watt’s design of the steam engine in 1784.

Other seminal events or golden spikes have been suggested.   A leading candidate is a spike in geologic time or a visible signal shown in sediments worldwide that occurs in the 1950s and 1960s representing the worldwide fallout from nuclear weapons and their tests in the open air of the planet. In fact a member of the IUGS Working Group has suggested the specific date of 16 July 1945 or the day of the first atomic-bomb blast, as the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch.

Those who have read the book Beyond Animal, Ego and Time know that chapter 12 states, “On July 16, 1945 the United States led an unknowing world into the nuclear age with the Trinity test nuclear explosion in New Mexico…Most people would credit the development of nuclear weapons as the tipping point where human beings moved from being incapable of destroying all life on planet Earth to fully capable.”

In a Smithsonian magazine article appearing in January of 2013 Joseph Stromberg writes, “Will Stephen, who heads Australia National University’s Climate Change Institute and has written articles with Crutzen, recommends starting the epoch with the advent of the industrial revolution in the early 1800s or with the atomic age in the 1950s. Either way, he says the new name sends a message: “[It] will be another strong reminder to the general public that we are now having undeniable impacts on the environment at the scale of the planet as a whole, so much so that a new geological epoch has begun.”

The article continues, “To Andrew Revkin, a New York Times reporter (now blogger) who suggested a similar term in 1992 that never caught on (“Anthrocene”), it’s significant that the issue is being debated at all. “Two billion years ago, cyanobacteria oxygenated the atmosphere and powerfully disrupted life on earth,” he says. “But they didn’t know it. We’re the first species that’s become a planet-scale influence and is aware of that reality. That’s what distinguishes us.”

For this reason and because it is true, the choice of this date and the use of the development of nuclear weapons as the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch would be very appropriate. We should endorse this change and allow all of human kind to mark its ascension as the initiators of a new and dangerous epoch, the Anthropocene.  It should give every one of us a new urgency to change the destructive path we are on. The future is ours to shape. Whether we are victorious or go down to a final defeat is up to us and depends on what we do in the coming days and years.

For additional information or to access the source documents used for this article use the following links.

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What Can You Do With Air? Suck Carbon?

Posted on 14 November 2015 by Jerry

One way to control climate change is not to put more carbon dioxide into the air but rather to take it out. Numerous firms and researchers are trying to develop cost effective ways of sucking carbon dioxide from our polluted air and turning it into salable products. Stuart Licht, a Professor of Chemistry at George Washington University in Washington D. C, leads researchers attempting to exploit this opportunity.

Licht begins with a solar cell that is a concentrated photovoltaic. He uses it to focus sunlight to a semiconductor panel that converts about 40% of the energy into electricity at a high voltage. An article in the September 11, 2015 issue of Science magazine goes on to state, “The electricity is shunted to electrodes in two electrochemical cells: one that splits water molecules and another that splits CO2. Meanwhile, much of the remaining energy in the sunlight is captured as heat and used to preheat the two cells to hundreds of degrees, a step that lowers the amount of electricity needed to split water and CO2 molecules by roughly 25%.”

The problem that all researchers have run into is the absence of government funding which they originally believed was possible. The question they then have to confront is how to monetize what they do; have someone else pay them to remove CO2 for example from coal plant exhaust, from the air or turn it into a product that they can sell.

Licht’s team from George Washington University had earlier solved this problem by turning the extracted CO2 to carbon nanoscale fibers. Appearing in the August 19, 2015 MIT Technology Review, the article states that assuming there would be great growth in demand Professor Licht believes “the material’s properties, especially the fact that it is so lightweight and also very strong, will spur greater and greater use as the cost comes down.”

The team is taking CO2 and cooks it in molten carbonates. Surrounding air is added with a current of electricity from steel and nickel electrodes. Carbon nanofibers begin to grow on the steel electrode. The article continues as Dr. Licht is quoted as saying, “Imagine that carbon fiber composites eventually replace steel, aluminum, and even concrete as a building material…at that point, there could be sufficient use of this that it’s actually acting as a significant repository of carbon…We have found a way to use atmosphere CO2 to produce high-yield carbon nanofibers.”

Another company that has built a demonstration machine in British Columbia, Canada, is Carbon Engineering out of Calgary. David Keith is executive chairman of the firm and is also a climate physicist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His company is partially funded by Bill Gates. They recently opened a facility at Squamish, British Columbia, that processes about a ton of CO2 per day.

An article in the October 15, 2015 issue of Nature magazine states, “The plant uses fans to push air through towers containing potassium hydroxide solution, which reacts with CO2 to form potassium carbonate; the remaining air now containing less CO2, is released. Further treatment of the solution separates out the captured CO2, regenerating the capture solution for reuse.” Carbon Engineering additionally announced a deal with the province of British Columbia to assess the feasibility of turning the CO2 into fuel to power local buses.

There are other startups including one that has as its largest investor Edgar Bronfman Jr., former chairman and CEO of Warner Music. Another startup is working with Audi. These startups are looking to sell CO2 to be pumped into greenhouses to increase crop yields. In addition, they would like to remove carbon dioxide at the behest of a U.S. energy company.

This is not to say that any of the aforementioned companies will succeed or dominate a thriving business. They are trying however to develop a technology that will obviously benefit those of us that are concerned about climate change. This is the type of entrepreneurial effort that we need to be encouraging and saluting. Let us all hope for great success for these entrepreneurs and the venture capitalists that are funding them.

Use the following links to access additional information or look at the original source documents used for this article.

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Pope’s Visit Highlights Humility

Posted on 25 September 2015 by Jerry

The Pope delivered a message and was a prime example of humility to the Congress. Most of us were moved by his messages that pointed out we are each single human beings with responsibilities to find our highest values and act on them. All of the members of Congress could not help but put aside political considerations and seek a path to work together on the very special issues we are all facing. It is gratifying to see the Pope use his platform to highlight the worldwide dilemmas we face. As a human being, he is truly deserving of our admiration.

The humility he displayed was underscored by how he spent his time. His decision was that he would not spend his lunchtime with our legislators but rather have lunch with a group of homeless people served by a Catholic charity. This choice exemplified his priorities.

He stressed that as individuals we must protect other humans from adversity (or take care of people and realize what they are going through) whether they are refugees from Syria, Mexico or anywhere. We need to put ourselves in their shoes and empathize with the challenges they face. He changed subjects and stated we must protect the environment as the final shepherds of our planet’s wellbeing (or we must pool our collective efforts to deal with global warming).

While there are some areas that are still ripe for disagreement, the messages he gave were general enough to be inclusive of most of us. As an example he asked each of us to respect the sanctity of life, to protect life at every stage of its development. His remarks about the abolishment of the death penalty were consistent with his admonishment to respect the sanctity of life.

His remarks were also interpreted by some as a reference to abortion.   Whether you are a supporter of a woman’s right to choose or believe that life begins at conception, his point was broad enough to include most of us.

He reminded people to reject their tendency to paint all peoples, including those who have our adversaries in their ranks, with a common brush. We must not extend our dislike of individual actions to an entire population (we should not blame all in a group, for instance Muslims or arms traders, for the violent or illegal actions of a few within that group). We should love all peoples irrespective of members within these groups whose actions we don’t support.

He reminded us to eradicate poverty and hunger in the world. He restated that we must become our brother’s keepers who truly care about the well being of all others no matter where they exist in the world.

His references to great examples of faith included Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day (founder of the Catholic Worker Movement) and Thomas Merton (an American Cistercian monk). These were pious Americans who lived the essence of these beliefs. We also appreciated his reminder for us of the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Mt: 712).

No matter who you are or which belief system you accept, his statements resonate at a very personal level as a single human being concerned about the future. He picked issues of concern to all of us to include in his statements. We all hope that the warm glow of his remarks continues beyond the time of his departure.

There are so many things that we, each of us, must do. Ours is a time for reflection where each of us must ask ourselves what are we doing to further these beliefs or solve humanity’s problems. We have a common cause with Catholic beliefs to act consistent with our highest values in how we conduct ourselves and which issues we support and to which we dedicate our lives.

Use the attached link to access the Pope’s message to Congress. The link accesses the text of the Pope’s speech.



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Humans are Super-Predators and Anti-Evolution

Posted on 22 September 2015 by Jerry

Predators, other than humans, assist the process of evolution by picking the young, sick, lame or aged as the victims of their predation or the ones they kill. They help the evolution of the strong and healthy by taking victims who are less capable of resisting their attacks. They beneficially cull the bloodlines of all animals. They improve a selection process that favors stronger animals.

Human hunters however, act as an opposing force to evolution. They do not seek to kill the young, sick, lame or aged but rather seek the robust specimens they would be proud to mount on their walls. Using deer as our example, do you see the heads of females or babies on the wall or the adult male ‘five pointers’ or heads with huge antlers? The answer is obvious. These are the successful male deer, those who avoided hunters and represent a strong evolutionary line and influence. These are the deer to preserve not destroy.

Hunters relive old animal instincts. They attack the most able, reliving age-old demonstrations that they are the greatest natural predator. Hunters cloke their behavior in modern rationalizations to confuse the recognition of their true motives.

A new study summarized and published in the August 21, 2015 issue of Science magazine compares the human predator, hunters and fishermen, with the rest of the carnivore predators in the animal kingdom. An article about the results of the study in part states, “We are still the unique super-predator that we evolved to be. Analyzing an extensive database of 2125 exploited wild animal populations, the authors find that humans take up to 14 times as much adult prey biomass as do other predators.”

Many articles defend the need for hunters citing excess animals in a variety of cities across the world. Of course these articles do not list the reasons for too many wild pigs in San Jose, California, too many wild turkeys in Maine or too many deer in Ohio. They also do not address the surplus of Badgers in the U.K., Whitetail deer in Long Island, elephants in South Africa, Red Deer in Scotland or grey wolves in the U.S.

It could be the humans or bureaucrats who control these areas made earlier mistakes that created a surplus of these animals. It could be just a bureaucrat who feels he or she has reached an equilibrium that should allow the raising of more money by selling hunting permits.

These locations and bureaucrats all argue that they permit hunters because the alternative of professional exterminators is too expensive. This does not explain why hunters are unencumbered by limitations on their weapons. Why bow hunting is separately permitted in various jurisdictions? Why heavy weapons with large caliber ammunition is used to give the hunter an inordinate advantage over the defenseless animal.

A professional sharpshooter in explaining how a cull actually works was quoted in an Outdoor Life article published on April 9, 2014. He stated, “It is unfortunate that suppressed firearms aren’t more widely accepted across the country. Luckily, we were able to utilize them during culls, even though New York doesn’t permit their use by the general public. We used .243-caliber rifles built off of Remington and Savage bolt actions…Upon penetration, the rounds quickly broke apart and dumped all of their energy into the animals’ soft tissue…I can’t recall a single instance of pass through, and the devastation the bullets caused was truly amazing, often turning the entire skull to jelly.”

Most of these jurisdictions do not point at the issuance of hunting permits to generate revenue. Many of these jurisdictions seek to hide their motivation in a variety of regulations that are an olive branch to those who would protect these animals. Most areas for example, dictate that if a mature female of a species is taken and would leave a young baby to fend for itself (or die alone) the baby should be killed along with the mother.

Hunting permits issued to human beings are an imbedded feature of most human societies around the world. It probably would take a very long campaign to abolish or put enough peer pressure on the hunting culture of human beings. We should try however. The behavior of these people is archaic and represents one of the worst ongoing offenses of our species. Given the age of the species, we should have outgrown this behavior long ago.

We should once and forever admit that hunting should be abolished except in cultures where it provides necessary sustenance. That everywhere else it is a throwback to behavior that is the worst, most animalistic in our history. We should admit that hunting permits are established all over the world as a revenue-generating tool. We should use all other options even if they are more costly to protect our view of human beings, our behavior, and ourselves. We should make being human a greater calling than just being at the top of the food chain as the world’s greatest predator.

Use the following links to access additional information or see the original documents that generated this article.

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