Brünnich’s guillemot video, Svalbard


This video is called Brünnich’s Guillemot, 27 June 2014, Spitsbergen.

Canadian environmentalist socialist author Farley Mowat, RIP


This video from Canada says about itself:

Sea of Slaughter” with Farley Mowat

5 March 2011

Canada’s foremost naturalist recounts the impact of our culture on life in the Northwest Atlantic ocean, over the last 500 years, and explains what must be done now. This very important 2 part documentary was produced by CBC at the expense of Canadian taxpayers, including me. Farley Mowat’s book, Sea of Slaughter, which he considers his most important work, was the basis for this film.

Book and film are both brutally honest enough to make many people uncomfortable. Only now has science come to understand exactly how the former multitudes of large sea animals preserved their own food base, while conditioning both the marine environment and the atmosphere of the planet (via accelerated nutrient cycling/fertilization). This adds to the current urgent imperative that we face up now to the full consequences of what we have done to life in the sea. (both parts are posted here in sequence)

By John Green in Britain:

Farley Mowat: writer, socialist and environmentalist

Tuesday 20th May 2014

THE Canadian author Farley Mowat, who died on May 12, wrote with humour, keen perception and passionate social commitment, completing over 40 books and numerous articles.

He is sadly not so well known in Britain but deserves to be. His family came from Scottish immigrant stock and he retained a special fondness for Scotland.

His works were translated into 52 languages and his books sold more than 17 million copies. He achieved fame with his works on the Canadian North such as People Of The Deer (1952) and Never Cry Wolf (1963).

Mowat’s advocacy for environmental causes and his own claim to never let the facts get in the way of the truth earned him both praise and criticism, yet his influence is undeniable.

Never Cry Wolf, a fictional narrative of a man living among wolves in the sub-Arctic was made into a successful film.

It is credited with shifting the mythology and fear of wolves. After the Russian version was published, the government even banned the killing of the animal.

His stories are fast-paced, gripping, personal and conversational and descriptions of Mowat refer to his commitment to ideals, poetic descriptions and vivid images.

His first non-fiction work People Of The Deer became a classic. In it he documented the disappearing communist way of life of Canada’s native Inuit people, among whom he lived while writing the book.

He showed how a colonial arrogance and an exploitative system had driven the Inuit and their culture to the edge. …

Mowat became a lifelong advocate of indigenous people’s rights, labelling Canada’s treatment of them abominable. Never one to shy away from controversy, Mowat was outspoken about many environmental and social issues.

During the second world war, Mowat was commissioned as a second lieutenant, rising to the rank of captain. After the war he returned to Canada, desperate to escape from what had been and seemed likely to remain a world run by maniacs. He fled north to live among the Inuit people.

Many of his works such as Owls In The Family about childhood and And No Birds Sang about his experience fighting in the second world war are autobiographical,

Mowat published a denunciation of the destruction of animal life in the north Atlantic entitled Sea of Slaughter in 1984. In 1985, as a part of the promotional tour for the book, Mowat was invited to speak at the university in Chico, California, but US officials denied him entry.

His security file indicated he should be denied entry for violating any one of 33 statutes. Reportedly, these statutes included being a member of a group considered radical by the US government.

The result was a media circus, which brought worldwide attention to Mowat. The negative publicity eventually forced the Reagan administration to allow Mowat to enter the US but he declined because to accept would be undignified as the permission was valid for only one visit [of] his book tour.

Mowat documented the reasons why he was refused entry to the United States in his 1985 book, My Discovery of America.

He won a number of prestigious awards for his books and environmental work and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society ship RV Farley Mowat was named in honour of him.

Mowat, a strong supporter of the Green Party of Canada, died less than a week before his 93rd birthday.

Farley Mowat, May 12 1921–May 6 2014.

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How polar bears survive the Arctic


This video from Alaska is called Grizzly vs. Polar Bear.

From Wildlife Extra:

Gene study reveals how polar bears cope with killer lifestyle

A study of the genes of polar bears reveals how quickly they evolved to handle the extremes of life in the high Arctic, and why, and how they cope with being profoundly obese. A comparison between polar and brown bears has found that the former is a much younger species than previously believed, having diverged from brown bears less than 500,000 years ago to spend life on sea ice. There, the bears subsist on a blubber-rich diet of marine mammals that would result in cardiovascular diseases in other species. The relatively short time that has passed in its evolution and how it evolved was what interested the scientists.

The study, published in the journal Cell, was a collaboration between Danish and Chinese researchers and a team from the University of California Berkeley, including Eline Lorenzen and Rasmus Nielsen.

Unlike other bears, fat comprises up to half the weight of a polar bear. “For polar bears, profound obesity is a benign state,” said Lorenzen. “We wanted to understand how they are able to cope with that. The life of a polar bear revolves around fat. Nursing cubs rely on milk that can be up to 30 per cent fat, and adults eat primarily blubber of marine mammal prey. Polar bears have large fat deposits under their skin and, because they essentially live in a polar desert and don’t have access to fresh water for most of the year, rely on metabolic water, which is a by product of the breakdown of fat.”

The genome analysis comes at a time when the polar bear population worldwide, estimated at between 20,000 and 25,000, is declining and its Arctic sea ice habitat is rapidly disappearing. As the northern latitudes warm, the polar bear’s distant cousin, the brown or grizzly bear is moving farther north and occasionally interbreeding with the polar bear to produce hybrids that have been called ‘pizzlies’. This is the possibly the same process that led to the emergence of polar bears in the first place.

The bears’ ability to interbreed is a result of a very close relationship, Nielsen said, which is one-tenth the evolutionary distance between chimpanzees and humans. “It’s really surprising that the divergence time is so short. All the unique adaptations polar bears have to the Arctic environment must have evolved in a very short amount of time.”

These adaptations include not only a change from brown to white fur and development of a sleeker body, but big physiological and metabolic changes as well. The genome comparison revealed that over several hundred thousand years, natural selection drove major changes in genes related to fat transport in the blood and fatty acid metabolism. One of the most strongly selected genes is APOB, which in mammals encodes the main protein in LDL (low density lipoprotein), known widely as “bad” cholesterol. Changes or mutations in this gene reflect the critical nature of fat in the polar bear diet and the animals’ need to deal with high blood levels of glucose and triglycerides, in particular cholesterol, which would be dangerous in humans.

What drove the evolution of polar bears is unclear, though the split from brown bears coincided with a particularly warm 50,000-year interglacial period known as Marine Isotope Stage 11. Environmental shifts following climate changes could have encouraged brown bears to extend their range much farther north. When the warm interlude ended and a glacial cold period set in, a pocket of brown bears may have become isolated and forced to adapt rapidly to new conditions.

There is potential for the polar bear research also to have applications in the study of human’s lifestyles. “Polar bears have adapted genetically to a high fat diet that many people now impose on themselves,” said Nielsen. “If we learn a bit about the genes that allows them to deal with that, perhaps that will give us tools to modulate human physiology down the line.”

See also here.

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Svalbard Arctic tern research


Randall Hyman writes about this video:

Return of the Terns

Scientists at the Dutch research station in Ny-Ålesund on Norway’s Spitsbergen Island study annual migration patterns of Arctic terns.

More about Randall Hyman in Norway: here.

More about Svalbard Arctic tern research: here.

New tracking technology reveals birds’ epic and amazing journeys. Smaller and lighter tracking devices are opening up whole new insights into behaviour, movements and migrations: here.

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Smith’s longspurs, world’s most loving birds?


This video from Alaska says about itself:

5 Sep 2013

© 2013 Jared Hughey
All Rights Reserved

The Smith’s Longspur (Calcarius pictus), one of the least studied songbirds in North America, breeds on the arctic tundra and has become a species of conservation concern. I spent the summer working as a field technician for Heather Craig, a Master’s student at University of Alaska Fairbanks who is studying the breeding ecology of this polygynandrous species in the foothills of the Brooks Range in northern Alaska.

From eNature blog in the USA:

The Smith’s Longspur May Be Nature’s Champion Lover

Posted on Wednesday, February 12, 2014 by eNature

Are you the type that has an insatiable appetite for lusty affairs?

Do you seek the same qualities in a partner?

Then you’ll probably enjoy the story of the Smith’s Longspur. This bird’s 70’s swinging style is enough to make even Hugh Hefner blush.

Small like a sparrow, the Smith’s Longspur spends its summers in Alaska and Canada and its winters in the Midwest and the South, often congregating in open fields.

In terms of range, then, it’s a lot like some other species. What sets the Smith’s Longspur apart is its astonishing libido.

At the peak of the spring mating season, the typical Smith’s Longspur copulates more than 350 times a week. The females solicit these encounters, and the males cooperate roughly half the time. Otherwise the creatures are resting and refueling.

You can always plan eNature’s Mating Game to find what creature you most resemble in love.

John James Audubon named the Smith’s Longspur after his friend Gideon B. Smith.

More about the Smith’s Longspur is here.

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Polar bears’ Valentine’s Day


This video is called Mother Polar Bear and Cubs Emerging from Den – BBC Planet Earth.

From eNature blog:

Three Guys For Every Girl— Why Male Polar Bears Have A Tough Time Getting A Date

Posted on Wednesday, February 05, 2014 by eNature

Valentine’s Day is coming up and love is in the Arctic air.

So what’s the best place for a male Polar Bear to meet a potential mate?

The experts recommend going to a prime seal-hunting spot. But finding such a spot is only the beginning of the challenge.

Nature Doesn’t Make It Easy

One reason a male Polar Bear must work overtime for a date is that females of the species don’t breed every year or even every other year. A female Polar Bear usually breeds only once every three years, which means that males outnumber eligible females three-to-one at the start of breeding season in the spring.

So competition for female attention is fierce, and males must fight one another, sometimes viciously, for the privilege of mating.

The Girls Can Play Hard To Get

Further complicating matters is the fact that female Polar Bears enjoy a good chase and will lead pursuing males across the ice for miles and miles.

In some cases, a chase can cover more than sixty miles—not for the timid or the weak of heart.

And we all thought it was tough to get a date to the Prom!

Without the vibrant color of a cardinal or the sweet song of a sparrow, how does a seabird go about attracting its mate? Here.

St Valentine’s Day is traditionally the time when birds start to choose their mates, with egg-laying for most resident species commencing in March or April. For a handful of birds, including Tawny Owl, Mistle Thrush and Dipper, nesting may already be under way in February, but numbers of these three early breeders are falling rapidly, according to the British Trust for Ornithology’s (BTO) BirdTrends report, published on-line today: here.

The secret of how the polar bear copes with a high-fat diet without getting a heart attack can be found in the creature’s genetic makeup according to scientists who have analysed the genome of the world’s greatest living land predator: here.

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Spitsbergen flowers photos


Purple Saxifraga, Svalbard, June 2013

A bit late, but better late than never :) Photos from June 2013 in Spitsbergen. They depict Saxifraga oppositifolia, purple saxifrage, flowers. They are the most northerly flowering plant species in the world. The colour of the flowers varies.

White Saxifraga, Svalbard, June 2013

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