New Zealand penguins

This video from New Zealand says about itself:

Why are penguins black and white?

23 June 2017

So, all penguins are, for the most part, black and white. But why is that? Has it something to do with blending into the environment or is it perhaps something entirely different?

From BirdLife:

3 July 2017

The Little People of Sea Land

Tucked away in rainforests, rocky crevices or under parked cars, these hidden (and not-so-well-hidden) birds are having a rough ride. Welcome to New Zealand, home to one third of the world’s penguins

By Shaun Hurrell

Car tyres rumble on tarmac. Ferries blast their horns. The smell of roasted coffee lingers and small waves carve into concrete harbour walls. Whilst only a stone’s throw from the lush native bush and outdoor adventure that New Zealand is often famed for, Wellington, on North Island’s southern tip, is very much a city, and its busy streets are home to over 400,000 people. Why is it then that a seabird with flippers is sheltering under a car at the water’s edge?

No, it is not an escapee from a zoo, disorientated by passing headlights. This is actually its home too, and as dusk arrives, strange noises can be heard from between rocks as more of these creatures raucously call out for a mate.

Yes, they are penguins. In a capital city. In the same place where people stroll their dogs along the breezy sea wall, penguins come ashore to find a place to nest; a far cry from Antarctica’s icebergs and the crashing southern oceanic waves where you’d expect to find the world’s famously cute black-and-white aquatic birds. Oh, and in Wellington, the penguins happen to be blue too…

New Zealand coastlines and islands harbour no less than six of the world’s 18 penguin species, and 13 species in total have turned up in the New Zealand region (including the Ross Dependency of Antarctica) – more than any other country. New Zealand is, in theory, a global penguin sanctuary. With a bespoke governmental Department of Conservation (DOC) holding 30% of the green and diverse land for protection and recreation, you could be lulled into a false sense of security. But this wasn’t always the case: human arrival on the islands 700 years ago set into motion a downward trend for penguins. And while now DOC does make a big difference with invasive predator control and disturbance management, the agency receives less than half a per cent of the government’s annual budget. Despite the best efforts from those involved, penguins are far from safe, on land or at sea.

Accustomed to close urban encounters with Little “Blue” Penguins, and with one of the rarest penguins adorning their $5 note, you could be forgiven for thinking that New Zealanders are all penguin conservation experts. But there is another side to the story: one of penguins hidden by rainforests and dangers masked by the ocean’s foreboding surface.

What’s black and white and red all over?

Not a penguin with sunburn, but a penguin listed as threatened on the Red List, and it’s not funny. Some penguins might be hard to reach, but the dangers to the second-most threatened seabird group are becoming clear. New Zealand’s sunny shores and seas need much attention if they are to safeguard its two Endangered (Yellow-eyed and Erect-crested), and three Vulnerable species (Fiordland, Southern Rockhopper and Snares).

It all started with the arrival of humans in the thirteenth century. From early exploitation for food by Polynesian settlers, to clearance of breeding habitat and the introduction of mammalian predators, whether deliberately or accidentally, humans quickly meant bad news for penguin populations on New Zealand’s islands. “Waitaha Penguin” (potentially related to Yellow-eyed) was discovered through analysis of subfossil bones in 2008, and is thought to have been extirpated by early Polynesian settlers; while as late as the nineteenth century, the “Chatham Penguin” (potentially another crested species) went extinct on the Chatham Islands, shortly after Europeans arrived there.

This gung-ho entrepreneur’s team clubbed over three million penguins to death in thirty years

One of the earliest ever international conservation campaigns began because of – not thanks to – one New Zealander, Joseph Hatch. In the early 20th Century, this gung-ho entrepreneur and former Mayor of Invercargill began a commercial project which nearly wiped out an entire colony of King Penguins on Macquarie Island (to Australia). His team clubbed over three million penguins to death in thirty years and built big, metal “steam-pressure digesters” with which to reduce these fantastic birds to nothing but oil. Thankfully, international scientists and polar explorers objected and the oiling industry was halted before utter destruction. Today, although not as blatant as the threat of Hatch’s clubs, the threats to New Zealand’s penguins are no less severe and warrant an inspired new global campaign to save them.

Between sea and land, home or graveyard

“Penguins cannot range far from their nesting sites while foraging to feed their chicks, so require abundant food near to the coast”, says Karen Baird, Seabird Advocate for Forest & Bird (BirdLife in New Zealand). “Both direct and indirect impacts from fishing are a threat to penguins’ food supply, exacerbated by environmental changes from a warming planet.” Of all New Zealand’s penguins, only Snares seems to have a stable food supply, but that doesn’t mean it is not threatened – there is an ever-ominous danger of a rat invasion, plus potential for oil exploration and fisheries bycatch because there is no official marine protection for the tiny 3.5 km2 subantarctic island group this species is restricted to. “Bycatch” – accidental capture or collision with fishing gear – affects many penguin species (and other seabirds).

“Time is not on our side”, says Karen. “We need to reduce the impacts we know are occurring to penguins now, as climate change impacts are set to make everything that much worse.” The response required is multi-faceted: better management of land-based impacts, and vital protection at sea both to prevent bycatch and to preserve foraging habitat. “We need a coordinated approach to protect penguins”, says Karen. “Establishing a Penguin Recovery Group administered by DOC is also a priority.” But the foundation work needs more support: “We also need to undertake penguin surveys to determine population trends, more ‘Places for Penguins’ management and support for vital research to underpin the management decisions that will make a difference for these special birds.”

“We need to reduce known threats to penguins now, before climate change impacts make everything that much worse”

As well as launching a global campaign to put penguin conservation in the spotlight and raise vital funds, BirdLife is researching penguin bycatch further and calls for more observers on board New Zealand vessels. Meanwhile, Forest & Bird is also heavily advocating for large Marine Protected Areas for the east and southeast coastlines, but more reserves are needed elsewhere. “I want a future where New Zealand is a wild penguin sanctuary”, says Karen.

In Wellington city, a local walker sees a group of Little Penguins emerge from the water’s edge like a cauldron of bubbling blue oil and hurriedly stumble up the harbour rocks, back from a marathon day trip foraging. She smiles, watching them walk like little humans. She puts her dog on its lead and “tweets” a photo of a penguin preening its feathers, but she seems troubled as she gazes out to the dark ocean, imagining the gauntlet of threats this Little Blue faces out there.

Little Blue neighbours. They can be found nesting on people’s doorsteps, or quite literally underneath them. Meet the world’s smallest penguins, unwillingly urban birds who are being given new homes by local volunteers: here.

Work by Forest & Bird on land is helping the Yellow-eyed Penguin, but threats at sea are very worrying: here.


London Grenfell Tower disaster, Australian solidarity

Australians Judy and Jenny

From the World Socialist Web Site:

Australian workers and youth speak out on Grenfell Tower tragedy

By our reporters

3 July 2017

The June 14 Grenfell Tower fire in London, which is thought to have killed over a hundred residents, has produced widespread shock and anger by Australian workers and young people.

Many who spoke to WSWS reporters over the weekend denounced the conditions that led to the blaze, including the flammable cladding on the building, and the lack of sprinklers and other basic safety measures.

Some drew parallels with the undermining of building regulations by successive Labor and Liberal-National governments in Australia. Media reports since the Grenfell Tower disaster have warned that flammable Aluminium Composite Panels (ACP) cladding is prevalent in the construction industry.

Government authorities, at the state and federal level, however, have done virtually nothing to identify at-risk buildings, let alone take action to prevent a similar disaster. Like their counterparts in Britain, the major parties represent the interests of the property developers and financial entities that have made billions of dollars from an ongoing property boom.

A limited audit in 2014 found that up to 51 percent of high-rise buildings in central Melbourne had flammable ACP cladding. A leaked report by the New South Wales (NSW) Department of Planning and Environment last year estimated that up to 2,500 high-rise buildings in Metropolitan Sydney were fitted with ACP cladding.

The Lacrosse apartment complex in Melbourne—the scene of a potentially catastrophic fire in 2014—is among the buildings across the country identified as having ACP cladding. Others include the Royal Women’s Hospital and Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Melbourne, and the Foyer Oxford apartment building in Leerdervale, Western Australia, which houses at-risk young people and, possibly, the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane, Queensland.

In NSW’s Central Coast, Jenny and Judy voiced their concerns. Both are forced to live on poverty-level Newstart unemployment benefits, despite being in their 60s.

Judy said: “When I saw the fire I was devastated and cried. I kept thinking of all the poor children and their parents killed in a terrible death. They could not be helped. It was disgusting. The council ignored the complaints from the residents about the fire hazard. They don’t care about the people, they just wanted them out.”

Jenny, who was recently kicked off disability benefits despite being partially blind, said the fire was an “attack on the working class.” She added: “It’s no different here. That cladding is used all over the world. How many more people will die before they do anything?”


Chris, 29, works in a dry-cleaning plant. He branded the Grenfell Tower fire as a “crime.” He commented: “I was surprised that a building could explode into flames like that, and spread so quickly. It was obvious then that there would be a lot of people trapped that would die. Even the firefighters were surprised and could do nothing to save the people.

“It was a crime because the council knew cheap inflammable cladding was on the building. I don’t think they cared because the building was home for lower-class struggling people.

“It didn’t surprise me when I heard that the council repeatedly ignored the complaints from residents that the building was a fire trap. They did nothing. They were willing to spend money to make the building look pretty because it was in a wealthy part of the city, but they didn’t want to spend money to protect the residents. They wanted the people out of the area. This was an attack on working people.”


In Melbourne, Georgia, whose family is from Britain, said: “Austerity will continue to kill, to make the poorest people suffer for the gains of the rich. It is disgusting.

“The cladding on these towers is just the tip of the iceberg. It has been used on schools and many other buildings.

“Hopefully the anger over this will be a catalyst for something. Capitalism is a global problem. We have to change things by getting involved. I think we need a revolution.”

David, a retired social worker, said those responsible for the disaster should be “brought to justice.” He said: “It’s always the poor or the disabled that get screwed. Both parties that are responsible for the deregulation should be brought to court. Their legislation caused the death of people. It’s a horrible way to die.”

David denounced the response of the authorities to the tragedy, including demands that residents of other at-risk apartment buildings move out with no permanent alternative accommodation. “I was astounded that all these people from other towers are being told not to live there. But where are you going to put them and how would you like to be taken away from your home that you’re used to, and be put somewhere else?”


Valerie, who lives in housing commission flats in Burnley, Melbourne, spoke out against the conditions facing public housing residents. “On this property everything is broken, including gates and doors,” she commented.

“We need a lot done. When you go to tell them [the housing commission] about it, they tell you to ring maintenance. Two months later they might send someone around! They’re not going to fix things. I’ve been here eight years and all my window sills are rotten. They should spend money on safety.

“Those poor people in London didn’t have any money. I feel so sorry. You aren’t safe anywhere. They just won’t spend money on the poor.”


In Sydney, Sam, who manufactures fire doors, said one of his friends previously lived in the Grenfell Tower. “After the fire happened he was very upset because he could have been living there,” he said. “He is a very good mate of mine, so it makes you feel bad when your workmate is upset.

“Working in the building-products industry, we use the fire code and I know how to deal with fire doors and fire ratings. If they didn’t check it [Grenfell Tower] properly, how did they get permission to build it in the first place?

“This was a big building so it should have been checked. They have electronic equipment that quickly tells you the fire rating of materials. If they weren’t following the instructions then the government should have cancelled their licence.

“It is a crime to play with other people’s lives and they should be punished,” Sam concluded. “If they are let go then it will happen again.”

Bill, an IT worker in Sydney, said: “It made me sick, just thinking about what happened and also what the government did afterwards—nothing. All those people had no place to go, it was absolutely shocking. It’s the rich and the poor. Big corporations making profit at the expense of ordinary people.

“The authorities don’t know, or they don’t want to know, how many people died. Ordinary people are saying it’s over 100 people dead. It’s indifference and a cover-up. This is a lot worse than the recent terrorist attacks in terms of how many people have died, but the response is completely different.”

Bill said he knew of at least one apartment building in Auburn, a working-class suburb in Sydney’s southwest, fitted with ACP cladding. He also recalled the Euro Terraces fire in Bankstown in 2012, which killed a young Chinese woman and seriously injured her friend. “There was no sprinkler system because the building was just under the required height for them,” he said. “They’d also had problems with the fire safety equipment, the building had failed an inspection.”

Bill commented on the broader erosion of building standards: “If you look at all the new buildings going up in Sydney, including in this area, they don’t check for a lot of things, including water-proofing. Property developers are just putting paint on them, and then the people who buy them have huge costs to fix up all the problems. The councils are not checking on that.”

Ostriches’ double-kneecaps, new research

This video says about itself:

3 Odd Facts About Ostriches

28 December 2015

Don’t bury your head in the sand for this one. We’ve got some odd ostrich facts for you!

Hosted by: Hank Green

From the Society for Experimental Biology:

Two knees or not two knees: The curious case of the ostrich‘s double kneecap

July 3, 2017

Ostriches are the only animals in the world to have a double-kneecap, but its purpose remains an evolutionary mystery. PhD student, Ms Sophie Regnault, from the Royal Veterinary College, UK says “understanding more about different kneecap configurations in different animals could help to inform prosthesis design, surgical interventions, and even robots with better joints.”

“In ostriches, the upper kneecap looks similar to the single kneecap in most other species, but the lower kneecap resembles a fixed bony process, like the point of your elbow,” says Ms Regnault. “As far as we know, this double kneecap is unique to ostriches, with no evidence found even in extinct giant birds.”

From Ms Regnault’s results, it appears that the ostrich’s double-kneecap counter-intuitively decreases the mechanical advantage of the knee extensor muscles, while in other species including humans, it has more mixed effects: increasing mechanical advantage at some knee joint angles and decreasing it at others.

The effect that this double-kneecap has on the running performance of ostriches is hard to identify, but Ms Regnault and her team have a few ideas: “We speculate that this might mean ostriches are able to extend their knees relatively faster than they would with one kneecap.”

Using a combination of CT scans and fluroscopy known as ‘X-ray reconstruction of moving morphology’ (XROMM) on a real ostrich leg, Ms Regnault and her team built a 3D model of the ostrich’s leg bones and kneecaps: “We then moved the ostrich’s leg, allowing us to animate the CT bone models to show how the patellae are actually moving in 3D.”

While this research has so far highlighted one aspect of how the sesamoid bones function, their true purpose remains a mystery. “We are still not sure why ostriches might have evolved this second kneecap,” says Ms Regnault. “It might help to protect the tendon of these heavy fast-running birds, but there are other potential roles that we haven’t yet explored.”

Pope Francis sacks Vatican sexual abuse office boss

This video says about itself:

1 July 2017

In what is considered to be a big shakeup, Pope Francis has replaced Catholicism’s top theologian, Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller. Mueller, a conservative German cardinal, has reportedly been at odds for awhile with the pontiff’s vision of a more inclusive Church. In a statement from the Vatican Saturday, it was announced that Mueller’s five-year term as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith would not be renewed. The 69-year-old, who was appointed by former Pope Benedict in 2012, will reportedly be succeeded by the key department’s second in charge, Archbishop Luis Francisco Ladaria Ferrer.

Pope shakes up Vatican by replacing conservative doctrinal chief: here.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Pope sacks head of sex abuse probes

Monday 3rd July 2017

POPE Francis sacked the head of the Vatican office that handles sex abuse cases at the weekend.

The dismissal of German Cardinal Gerhard Mueller underscores Irish clergy sex abuse survivor Marie Collins’s accusation in March that his department, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, had impeded the pontiff’s efforts to end internal cover-ups.

This department is responsible for processing and evaluating all claims that priests have raped or molested minors.

Pope Francis named Cardinal Mueller’s deputy Monsignor Luis Ladaria Ferrer, a Spanish Jesuit, as the new head of the powerful office.

During Cardinal Mueller’s five-year term, it amassed a 2,000-case backlog and came under blistering criticism from abuse survivors.

The German conservative cardinal also questioned Pope Francis’s attempts to be more open to “imperfect” Catholics, such as divorcees.

The Pope released Australian Cardinal George Pell last week from his position as papal treasurer to face charges of sex offences in his homeland.

Many birds nest on new artificial islands

This 2014 video says about itself:

Courtship and mating of Little Tern (Sterna albifrons). Filmed in the Netherlands.

Dutch NOS TV reports today that over 2000 bird couples nest this summer on the Marker Wadden new artificial islands.

1700 of them are common tern nests. Also rare birds like little tern and Kentish plover nest there.

French President Macron plays at being King Louis XIV

This 29 June 2017 Luxembourg TV French language video is about similarities between French President Macron and 17th century absolute French monarch Louis XIV, the ‘Sun King’.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

‘King’ Macron speaks in Versailles, critics criticize grandeur

Today, 11:01

All eyes are on President Emmanuel Macron again when he will speak in the Versailles Palace to the entire French parliament. In a kind of King’s Speech, he wants to explain the outline of his policy.

Such a speech might seem a logical beginning of Macron‘s presidency, but the young head of state is the first one ever to start his term in that way. France does not have a State of the Union tradition, as in the United States. Macron‘s predecessors spoke to the full parliament only at the height of the financial crisis (Nicolas Sarkozy, 2009) and after terrorist attacks in Paris (François Hollande, 2015).

Macron has his speech at 3:00 pm in Versailles, the Palace of Louis XIV. …

‘Sun King’ Macron is said to behave more and more like a monarch. The fact that he now holds his first big speech in the Versailles environment is said to be pure imagery. A political fairy is being told, critics say.

Additionally, Macron chose to be on stage one day earlier than his prime minister, Édouard Philippe. It is usual for government leaders to announce the government plans in a speech to the National Assembly, but it is questionable what the Prime Minister may add tomorrow.

Critics see Macron’s planning the evidence that he is authoritarian and dominates his cabinet members. …

The criticism is also substantive. Since Macron has been elected on 7 May, he has hardly spoken out about emerging domestic problems. He has abolished a traditional press interview on the Quatorze Juillet holiday. According to critics, Macron likes having nice pictures, but does not like difficult questions. They wonder what he has done in two months. …

[NOS correspondent] Renout, with a wink: “In Versailles the former French kings were honoured, but that same king was beheaded later.”

Some of Macron‘s opponents refuse to participate in what they call ‘a show’. The seventeen members of the left-wing La France Insoumise of presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon boycott the meeting. The group president of [centre right] Les Républicains also will not attend.

Apart from King Louis XIV, Macron is also compared to the French Napoleon Bonaparte imperial dynasty.

On Monday, newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron called together the two houses of the French parliament to deliver an extended address on his government’s policies. Macron called for military escalation in Africa and broad-ranging changes to the basic institutions of the French government, in line with the historic attacks he is preparing on social and democratic rights in France: here.

Sharks on videos

This National Geographic video from the USA says about itself:

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sharks | Earth LIVE

30 June 2017

Explore the underwater world of sharks and learn about the dangers these fascinating predators face.


This National Geographic video says about itself:

2 July 2017

Wildlife filmmaker Filipe DeAndrade swims with bull sharks off of the coast of Fiji.