“Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel” – In Stores June 2015

January 27th, 2015 | No Comments
Elephants, Homepage, Whales

Beyond Words jacketIn a world where we usually measure animals by human standards, I take us into the inner lives of animals themselves; witnessing their profound capacity for perception, thought and emotion; showing why the word “it” is often inappropriate as we discover who they really are.

Weaving decades of observations of actual families of free-living creatures with new discoveries about brain functioning, I bring us inside their lives and minds, breaching many commonly held boundaries between humans and other animals. In Beyond Words, readers travel the wilds of Africa to visit some of the last great elephant gatherings, and follow as free-living wolves of Yellowstone National Park sort out the aftermath of their personal tragedy. Then we plunge into the astonishingly peaceful society of killer whales living in waters of the Pacific Northwest. We spend quality time, too, with dogs and falcons and ravens and dozens of other denizens; and consider how the human mind originated.

In this book readers explore astonishing new discoveries about the similarities in our consciousness, self-awareness, empathy, non-verbal communication, imitation, teaching, the roots of aesthetics and music, and a surprising capacity for grief widespread among elephants, wolves, whales, and even certain birds. Turns out, animals think and feel a lot like people do; after all, people are animals.

I’m passionate about this topic. I’ve worked hard to provide a graceful examination of how animals truly think and feel, and to show what really does—and what should—make us human.

Publication date: June 2015

 

Near Collapse of Gulf of Maine Cod Leads to Fishing Ban

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Fish, Fishing & Fishermen, Homepage, Overfishing

By Carl Safina and Elizabeth Brown

Last Monday, fishery managers with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that they are banning nearly all fishing for Gulf of Maine Atlantic cod for at least the next 6 months, to protect the severely depleted population.

In August, scientists declared that the abundance of Gulf of Maine cod was at an all-time low. Scientists estimated that the population was at a mere 3-4 percent of a sustainable abundance level. They also found very few young cod in the population, which means recovery of the population is not going to occur anytime soon.

Atlantic cod. Photo Credit: NOAA

Atlantic cod. Photo Credit: NOAA

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on Huffington Post, November 17, 2014.

 

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How Climate Change is Sinking Seabirds

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Climate Change, For the Birds, Homepage

By Carl Safina

Far out in the center of the cobalt pacific, hundreds of miles from the next atoll—about as far from a continent as it’s possible to get—Laysan Island seems like the morning of the world, a place you and I aren’t meant to see. The atoll measures roughly two by three miles; you can walk around it in a couple of hours, and as you do you’ll find a million screaming Sooty Terns swirling overhead like a living tornado. You hear, smell, and feel the heat of life at full burn.

Tiny and remote, Laysan is one speck in a small, far-flung chain. The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, with less than 0.1 percent of the state’s land area, provide breeding grounds for 90 percent of its seabirds, about 6 million of them, representing some 20 species. In addition to the terns, there are frigatebirds, noddies, tropicbirds, and Bonin Petrels, not to mention 600,000 breeding pairs of Laysan Albatross and 60,000 pairs of Black-footed Albatross—virtually the entire world populations.

Laysan albatross, Photo Credit: Frans Lanting

Laysan albatross, Photo Credit: Frans Lanting

Click here to read the full article originally published in Audubon Magazine, September 9, 2014.

 

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The Passenger Pigeon, A Requiem

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
For the Birds, Homepage, News

By Carl Safina

September 1, 2014, marks the 100th anniversary of the extinction of what had been the most abundant bird in the Americas, and likely the world.

By 1850, the Passenger Pigeon was still the most abundant bird in the Americas. Around that same time, a long-distance migrant bird called the Eskimo Curlew was shot by the wagonload on the Plains. The prairies and their herds of Buffalo are essentially gone, both birds are extinct, and even the very remembrance of the Eskimo Curlew is vanishing; almost no one I ask has ever heard of it. I feel a loss, but, honestly, does it matter? How many people miss Passenger Pigeons?

Passenger P

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on Huffington Post, September 2, 2014.

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A Tortoise Isn’t a Billboard, Except in Aspen

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Homepage, Uncategorized

By  Carl Safina

The Aspen Art Museum might be doing tortoises a favor but probably isn’t. In a new exhibit linked to the opening of a $45-million new facility, an artist named Cai Guo-Qiang, who was born in China and lives in New York, has glued iPads to several African spurred tortoises. They wander around an enclosure while a film about Colorado ghost towns plays on the iPads. In China turtles and tortoises are eaten in numbers large enough that they’ve essentially been wiped from vast areas of numerous countries. Even U.S. turtles are illegally caught and sent there.

So, in a way, getting iPads glued to them is not the worst thing that can happen (as long as the upright tablets don’t get mistaken for shark fins, in which case all bets could be off). Numerous humane groups have complained to the museum, saying that the exhibit is cruel. The museum says it is taking pains to make sure the turtles are well cared for.

 

A well-appreciated spurred tortoise accepts a slice of sweet potato at the American Museum of Natural History in New York earlier this year (photo: C. Safina)

A well-appreciated spurred tortoise accepts a slice of sweet potato at the American Museum of Natural History in New York earlier this year (photo: C. Safina)

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on Huffington Post, August 20, 2014.

Enjoy the Show: Learn More After ‘Sharknado 2′

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Homepage, Sharks

By author, marine scientist and Safina Center Fellow Dr. Ellen Prager and Carl Safina

People-eating sharks whipped up in a tornado, Manhattan as an ice-capped frozen wasteland, and solar flares that rapidly increase the temperature of the Earth’s core resulting in cataclysmic earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and biblical-scale flooding. Over-the-top? Yes. Based on science? Loosely, at best. And that’s just fine with us.

Hollywood blockbusters are not science documentaries nor do they pretend to be, they are pure entertainment that recognizes the interest and fascination people have with nature, natural disasters, and the Earth. So go out, enjoy the show. But we hope you’ll also take a moment to think about the issues related to the topic at hand. With the summer shark media frenzy already in swing and the upcoming release of Sharknado 2, it is an opportunity to think more about sharks in the real world.

 

Black Tipped Reef Sharks, Photo by Shawn Heinrichs

Black Tipped Reef Sharks, Photo by Shawn Heinrichs

 

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on Huffington Post, July 27, 2014.

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Return of a Native: Reflections on the 38th Voyage of the whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, July 11, 2014

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Fish, Fishing & Fishermen, Whales

By Patricia Paladines & Carl Safina

The first whale was spotted at around 11am. We approached it with the quiet stealth afforded by a light wind in our sails. To the best of our knowledge the animal could not imagine or have any concern that a wooden whale-hunting ship was nearing its magnificent, enormous body.

One hundred years ago this ship’s crew would have spied the whale through a lens on the economic worth of its body parts. When the whaleboat was launched and the rowers approached the whale, they would have been armed with harpoons to begin a bloody attack that would last hours, sometimes days.

Charles W. Morgan by Vernon Smith, NOAA

Charles W. Morgan by Vernon Smith, NOAA

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on NationalGeographic.com, July 21, 2014.

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The Guardians of Raja Ampat: Community-Driven Conservation in the Heart of Indonesia

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments
Climate Change, Fish, Fishing & Fishermen

Guest blog by photographer, filmmaker and Safina Center Fellow, John Weller

Reversing overfishing, climate change, and population growth can seem insurmountable. Safina Center Fellows strive to amplify the global conservation discussion and, in targeted ways and places, overcome some of these obstacles. They bring a wide range of skills, engaging in every way from primary research to policy to popular media. They make a difference.

Where the rubber meets the road to change, the drive to redefine the future of our damaged oceans starts with the belief that progress is possible.

The story you are about to read from Safina Center Fellow John Weller and his partner Shawn Heinrichs reaffirms that belief. I am proud to introduce and be associated with their project, “The Guardians of Raja Ampat.” —Carl Safina

The Guardians of Raja Ampat: Community-Driven Conservation in the Heart of Indonesia

 

Lush vegetation clung to all but the steepest slopes of the towering islands. Their near-vertical walls hung over the sea, which had undercut the razor-sharp honeycombs of eroding rock. It was as if the spectacular bullet-shaped islands had erupted out of the bay and were frozen in time, hovering just above the surface. The landscape eluded words.

Click here to read the full blog originally posted on NationalGeographic.com, July 8, 2014.

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Palau Plans to Ban Commercial Fishing, Create Enormous Marine Reserve

December 16th, 2014 | No Comments
Climate Change, Fish, Fishing & Fishermen

Originally published July 2, 2014 on NationalGeographic.com.

By Carl Safina and Elizabeth Brown

The people of Palau, a small island nation in the northwestern Pacific, have long realized that the health and prosperity of their nation depends on the ocean. Because of this realization, Palauans have always worked to protect their ocean resources.  That’s why Palau has drawn the world’s top scientists and ocean writers, and why Palau has repeatedly been rated the world’s top diving destination. When you go there, you see some of the healthiest, most accessible coral reefs and abundant reef-fish populations anywhere in the world.  

In the old days, when fish in Palau would become scarce, they would declare a bul – today this is known as a fishing moratorium. Fishing was prohibited during spawning and feeding periods to allow the fish populations to recover, so they would remain abundant.  The goal was always to restore balance between people and nature.

The idea is also ingrained in Palauan law, which calls for the government to take action to conserve “a beautiful, healthful, and resourceful natural environment.”  Over the years, the Palauan government has taken many actions to do just this. Palau has protected its reef fishes from the export business that has destroyed fish populations on many other reefs, banned fishing with destructive bottom trawls, and created the world’s first shark sanctuary. Palau has also been an international leader for ocean conservation, calling on other countries to follow their lead and do more to protect the ocean that we all share¹.

These proactive conservation measures are why Palau has remained a tropical coral paradise, and one of the “last great places on earth,” according to National Geographic. Palau’s waters contain 1,300 different species of fish, 700 species of coral, and 130 rare sharks and stingrays. They have more coral fish and invertebrates per square mile of ocean habitat than anywhere else in the world.

Still, Palau has not been immune to the various threats facing our oceans, including commercial overfishing, illegal fishing, pollution, and rising ocean temperatures and seas. Fishermen have seen their fish decline and become smaller over the last decade. And recently large storms have decimated Palau’s shores.

Coral reef in Palau. Photo: Carl Safina

Coral reef in Palau. Photo: Carl Safina

So like in the old days, Palau is declaring a bul to give their marine life a chance to recover. But this time, the Palau president, Tommy Remengesau, is calling for a more drastic bul that would close all of Palau’s waters to commercial fishing. This would essentially turn Palau’s waters into a 230,000 square mile marine reserve, roughly the size of France. Locals and tourists would still be allowed to catch fish recreationally in waters close to shore.

President Remengesau’s proposal to close Palau’s waters to all commercial fishing is certainly bold. The waters of Palau contain vast amounts of bigeye and yellowfin tuna. Countries like Japan and Taiwan pay Palau so they can fish for tuna in their waters. Nevertheless, the president’s proposal would move them out of Palau, to international waters.

The president’s idea is extremely visionary. He understands that tuna, sharks, and other fish in Palau are worth much more alive than dead. Each year tourists from all over the world come to Palau to SCUBA dive in its bountiful waters. Eco-tourism accounts for over half of Palau’s GDP. President Remengesau believes that they can grow their tourism sector and replace lost fishing income, all while preserving Palau’s incredible marine life².

The creation of Palau’s marine reserve would also have larger global benefits for our marine environments. Ocean scientists have been saying that there is need for more marine reserves around areas of important biological diversity. And scientists say that marine reserves are most effective if they are large, isolated, and enduring. Marine reserves with these characteristics were found to have 840% more large fish mass and 1990% more shark mass compared to areas open to fishing³!

The world’s leaders have committed to conserving 10% of the world’s oceans in marine reserves to protect the diversity of ocean animals and habitats.  Yet, so far we have only protected 2.8% of the ocean. The creation of Palau’s enormous marine reserve would move the world closer to its goal.

The reserve could also help Pacific tuna populations. Palau is a nursery area for tuna species, so protecting their waters would give young tuna a safe place to grow. This could result in healthier tuna for the Pacific and enhance fishing for tuna in waters outside Palau 4.  Countries that now pay Palau for the privilege of taking tuna should perhaps pay Palau for the favor of producing and protecting more tuna.

But in order to enforce the fishing ban and make it effective, Palau will need help from other countries. Palau only has one boat to patrol its waters. There is technology available, such as surveillance drones, which could help Palau monitor its waters for illegal fishing, if they can get economic support 5.

We hope the U.S. and others will support Palau’s plans to close its waters to commercial fishing. Palau is doing what is necessary to secure their economy and secure food for its people. And this historic decision could have immense positive affects for our global oceans.

Palau is doing its part “to reverse the devastation to our oceans and seas.” And President Remengesau is calling on the world to join him.  He says, “It doesn’t matter where you live around the world; we are all connected somehow and are impacted by what we do to the oceans and the health of the oceans and the seas.”

Notes:

1.) Palau at the United Nations: Reflections on our 10th Anniversary

2.) Palau President Remengesau’s address to the United Nations

3.) “Global conservation outcomes depend on marine protected areas with five key features”,Nature, February 2014.

4.) Environmentalists say proposed Palau marine sanctuary could create more fish stocks

5.)  Drone patrol tests to deter illegal fishing

 

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Tribute: Peter Matthiessen

December 16th, 2014 | No Comments
News

Originally published in Audubon Magazine, June-August 2014.

Author Peter Matthiessen at his home in Sagaponack, NY.  Photograph by Damon, Winter/New York Times/Redux

Author Peter Matthiessen at his home in Sagaponack, NY. Photograph by Damon, Winter/New York Times/Redux

By Carl Safina

If Miles Davis suddenly walked into a small cocktail party, what could a young trumpet player possibly say to him? What could I, a greenhorn writer, say to Peter Matthiessen? It was 1998. I was in my early forties, and had just published my first book. Peter was past 70; the first of his novels, Race Rock, was published in 1954. Anything I could think of saying seemed lame. Then Peter took two steps toward me and ended my dilemma: “So, Carl, when are we going fishing?”

Peter had fishing friends and birding friends and writing friends (and political enemies). His strong opinions often incited debates. We disagreed a bit about fishing policies–he’d fished commercially, and I’d advocated sharp catch limits for men he’d worked with. But I never found him unreasonable, or grudging in conceding a point. Anyway, on the broader unraveling of both civilization and the natural world, we saw eye to eye, both in anger and in hope.

Our biggest disagreement was on the value of his nonfiction work. He wrote more than 20 nonfiction books; many of them were inspirations in my youth. But Peter was clear that he was foremost a novelist, that for him fiction was both a venerable challenge and a sublime task. While working to combine his Watson trilogy into a single book–it would becomeShadow Country–he declined my repeated invitations to fly-fish, which he loved for its Zen-like form, explaining that when the fiction was coming, staying in the flow was paramount. I’d stop at his house to drop off a fish, and even in a quick hello I could see his mind pacing like a caged leopard. When Shadow Country went on to win the National Book Award, Peter, already 80, was elated and told me the award was “tremendously vindicating.” If I ever allowed myself the temerity of feeling proud of Peter Matthiessen, it was at that moment.

Though born to privilege, Peter held great affection for the grace of working and native people of all kinds, whether they inhabited local fishing boats, Indian reservations, the shadows of Amazon rainforests, or the highlands of New Guinea. Like a multivalent electron of some strange element, Peter could exist in numerous orbits in quick succession, one week being feted among the brightest literary lights and the next hanging out with fishermen or teachers or conservationists or birders. Or appearing in The New York Times or on Charlie Rose, and then in our kitchen making tamales with my girlfriend of 10 years, Patricia, whom he alone called Patty.

One day some mutual friends and their kids were visiting our home on Lazy Point, the peninsula that juts into Long Island’s Napeague Bay. Peter joined in as we pulled a beach seine and showed the kids crabs and little fishes and the delightful defense of baby puffers, which swallow water until they’re swollen like balloons. He decided to take some silversides home for the frying pan. Virtually no one eats these finger-long fish anymore; they were food in harder times. Seeing Peter, at 84, with his little bag of silversides seemed a round-trip contraction in a life that had included wide horizons and ocean battles with great swordfish and tuna. He then mentioned that he would soon leave for Mongolia to spend time with hawkers who train Golden Eagles for hunting foxes and hares. One moment Peter was in our humble circle, picking little fish out of a net on his hands and knees. The next he was out of sight, up in the widening gyre of his singular lofty life.

During that trip to Mongolia he became quite weak; upon his return he was diagnosed with leukemia. It was serious. He began that dance while continuing work on a novel set in the Nazi death camps, which–he said with certain relish–was sure to upset a lot of people. (In Paradise would be published three days after his death.)

For years Peter had never failed to end a phone call by telling me to say hi to Patty, and he and his wife, Maria, frequently opined that I “should marry this woman already.” This past January, when Patricia accompanied me to Hawaii, I did just that. Returning home, I proudly called Peter and Maria to tell them I’d finally taken their advice. “Great,” he said enthusiastically. “I’m having a chemo treatment on Tuesday, and right after that we can come to your house and take you out to dinner to celebrate.”

Peter had grumbled good-naturedly that because of his compromised immune system, his doctor had forbidden him alcohol. So when he and Maria arrived at our house for that celebratory dinner I said to him, “I’d offer you a glass of wine but…”

“I can have a little,” he replied with a wink. At the restaurant he ordered another glass. As Peter and I discussed animal communication and Yellowstone wolves, out of the corner of my eye I noticed Maria engaging Patricia in low tones.

After dinner we went back to the house briefly and said our goodbyes. Once they’d left, Patricia closed the door and said, “While you and Peter were talking, Maria told me that the chemo isn’t working anymore. That’s why Peter had a glass of wine.”

A few days later our mutual friend Andrew Sabin returned from a successful quest to see free-living snow leopards–the creatures that had so famously eluded Peter decades earlier when he wrote The Snow Leopard. It was a splendid excuse for me to phone. “That son of a gun!” Peter said, “and they saw three! ” Peter and George Schaller had trekked to 18,000 feet, he recalled, and in that cold, thin air, they were unable to get warm, day or night. “That son of a gun!” Peter said again, still attending to the world yet still inhabiting his own unique relationship with it.

Soon, after a new drug failed, Peter landed in the hospital. Several days later he returned to his beloved home, and his family gathered. When he died on April 5, a flock of blackbirds gathered noisily outside his bedroom window.

And Maria said, “A mighty tree has fallen.”

 

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