Studying Atlantic bluefin tuna with a drone

This 2015 video says about itself:

Despite the ability to swim faster than a torpedo, the Atlantic bluefin tuna is under serious threat from overfishing. Photographer Brian Skerry swims with these giant fish to show that they’re more than just a meal—they are the “thoroughbreds of the sea.”

From the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center in the USA:

Measuring Atlantic bluefin tuna with a drone

June 5, 2020

Researchers have used an unmanned aerial system (or drone) to gather data on schooling juvenile Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Gulf of Maine.

This pilot study tested whether a drone could keep up with the tuna while also taking photographs that captured physical details of this fast-moving fish. The drone was equipped with a high-resolution digital still image camera. Results show that drones can capture images of both individual fish and schools. They may be a useful tool for remotely monitoring behavior and body conditions of the elusive fish.

Individual fish lengths and widths, and the distance between fish near the sea surface, were measured to less than a centimeter of precision. We used an APH-22, a battery-powered, six-rotor drone. The pilot study was conducted in the Atlantic bluefin tuna’s foraging grounds northeast of Cape Cod in the southern Gulf of Maine.

“Multi-rotor unmanned aerial systems won’t replace shipboard surveys or the reliance on manned aircraft to cover a large area,” said Mike Jech, an acoustics researcher at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts and lead author of the study. “They have a limited flight range due to battery power and can only collect data in bursts. Despite some limitations, they will be invaluable for collecting remote high-resolution images that can provide data at the accuracy and precision needed by managers for growth and ecosystem models of Atlantic bluefin tuna.”

Results from the APH-22 study were published in March 2020 in the Journal of Unmanned Vehicle Systems. Researchers conducted their work in 2015. They then compared their study results to values in published data collected in the same general area. They also compared it to recreational landings data collected through NOAA Fisheries’ Marine Recreational Information Program.

Atlantic bluefin tuna is a commercially and ecologically important fish. The population size in the western Atlantic Ocean is unknown. Fishery managers need biological data about this population, but it is hard to get. Highly migratory species like Atlantic bluefin tuna often move faster than the vessels trying to sample them. The tuna are distributed across large areas, and can be found from the sea surface to hundreds of feet deep.

Sampling with traditional gear — nets and trawls — is ineffective. Acoustical methods are useful but limited to sampling directly below a seagoing vessel with echosounders or within range of horizontal sonar.

It is also difficult to estimate the number of tuna in a school from an airplane. Both fish availability and perception biases introduced by observers can affect results. Estimates of abundance and size of individuals within a school are hard to independently verify.

Taking precision measurements of animals that are in constant motion near the surface proved easier with a drone that is lightweight, portable, and agile in flight. It can carry a high-quality digital still camera, and be deployed quickly from a small fishing boat.

Short flight times limit a drone’s ability to survey large areas. However, they can provide two-dimensional images of the shape of a fish school and data to count specific individuals just below the ocean surface.

The APH-22 system has been tested and evaluated for measuring other marine animals. It’s been used in a number of environments — from Antarctica to the Pacific Ocean — prior to its use in the northwest Atlantic Ocean. Previous studies estimated the abundance and size of penguins and leopard seals, and the size and identity of individual killer whales.

“The platform is ideal for accurately measuring fish length, width, and the distance between individuals in a school when you apply calibration settings and performance measures,” Jech said. “We were able to locate the hexacopter in three-dimensional space and monitor its orientation to obtain images with a resolution that allowed us to make measurements of individual fish.”

As new unmanned aerial systems are developed, their use to remotely survey Atlantic bluefin tuna and other animals at the sea surface will evolve. It may minimize the reliance on manned aircraft or supplement shipboard surveys.

The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas governs tuna fishing. It is entrusted to monitor and manage tuna and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas. NOAA Fisheries manages the Atlantic bluefin tuna fishery in the United States and sets regulations for the U.S. fishery based on conservation and management recommendations from the international commission.

Kemp’s ridley turtles beaching in Massachusetts, USA

This 6 December 2016 video from the USA says about itself:

Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle Rescue, Cape Cod, MA

I visited a few friends who volunteer saving Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtles (and others) on the shore of Cape Cod Bay in Massachusetts. Every November, migrant turtles get caught in the bay as they travel South. As the water cools, they become cold-stunned and wash ashore. They need human intervention to rescue them.

Volunteers scour the beaches and get the sea turtles to an aquarium that nurses them back to health and eventually releases them. It’s GREAT work!

90% of the turtles that wash up on Cape Cod are Kemp’s Ridley… the most critically endangered sea turtle in the world. Every single turtle is worth saving and the rescue efforts have been incredible.

The day was amazing and I was honored and privileged to be a part of it. We found three Kemp’s Ridley turtles (two were pronounced dead) and one 88 lb., five-year-old Loggerhead who should do well in rehab! Incredible.

From PLOS:

How do world’s smallest sea turtles become stranded in Cape Cod?

Computer simulations help reconstruct ocean conditions behind stranding

December 4, 2019

A computational analysis has surfaced new insights into the wind and water conditions that cause Kemp’s ridley sea turtles to become stranded on beaches in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Xiaojian Liu of Wuhan University, China, and colleagues present these findings in the open-access journal PLOS ONE on December 4, 2019.

The Kemp’s ridley sea turtle is smaller and in greater danger of extinction than any other sea turtle in the world. This species is found in coastal waters ranging from the Gulf of Mexico to Nova Scotia, Canada. While Kemp’s ridley populations have slowly risen since conservation efforts began in the 1970s, the number of turtles found stranded on Cape Cod beaches in the last few years is nearly an order of magnitude higher than in earlier decades.

To help clarify the conditions that lead to stranding, Liu and colleagues combined computational modeling with real-world observations. This enabled them to investigate circumstances that could trigger hypothermia in Kemp’s ridley turtles — the primary cause of most strandings — and subsequent transport of the cold-stunned animals to shore.

The researchers used the Finite Volume Community Ocean Model to simulate ocean currents in Cape Cod Bay. To validate these simulations, they also released drifting instruments into the currents and tracked their movements via satellite. Then, they looked for links between the simulations, the drifter data, water temperature data, and records of where and when Kemp’s ridley turtles were found stranded.

The findings suggest that Kemp’s ridley sea turtles are more likely to become stranded at certain beach locations along Cape Cod when water temperatures drop below 10.5° Celsius and, concurrently, winds blow with high wind stress in certain directions. Once stranded, hypothermic turtles usually require assistance from trained volunteers in order to survive.

While these findings provide new insights that could help guide future search and rescue efforts, questions remain. Further research is needed to clarify the depth of water at which Kemp’s ridley sea turtles typically become hypothermic, and how processes like wind and waves may impact stranding events at those depths.

Co-author James Manning notes: “While the state-of-the-art ocean model can help simulate the process, both the student-built drifters and bottom temperature sensors deployed by local fishermen are critical to the investigation.”

Nazis vandalize Jewish cemetery in Massachusetts, USA

Defaced graves in Fall River, Massachusetts, USA (photo: Fall River Police Dept)

By Kate Randall in the USA:

Fall River, Massachusetts: Jewish cemetery vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti

23 March 2019

On Sunday afternoon, March 17, police in Fall River responded to a report of vandalism at the Hebrew cemetery on McMahon Street in the southeastern Massachusetts city. The discovery was made by a cemetery maintenance worker. It is believed the vandalism occurred either late Saturday night or early Sunday morning.

Police originally reported that “approximately 25 gravestones” were defaced. But following a row-by-row examination of the cemetery on Tuesday, they announced on Wednesday that 59 gravestones had been defaced with anti-Semitic language and swastikas. Some had also been toppled over.

Gravestones were defaced with black magic marker. In addition to swastikas, anti-Semitic phrases included, “Heil Hitler”, “Expel the Jews” and “Oy vey! This is MAGA country”, a reference to President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again”.

According to the Fall River-based Herald News, the phrase “The Day of the Rope” was written on at least two gravestones. This appears to refer to a book of fiction about a white nationalist uprising against the United States government.

The anti-Semitic incident in Fall River took place just days after the March 15 fascist terror attack on two Muslim mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, which left 50 dead. It also occurred less than six months after the October, 27, 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that killed 11.

The Fall River attack, while claiming no lives, was inspired by the same white nationalist, fascistic views propounded by the Trump administration and right-wing governments in France, Italy, Brazil and elsewhere. These ideologies are openly promoted to incite violence against immigrants and others.

In the wake of the New Zealand atrocity, the President Trump was asked by a reporter whether he saw white nationalism as a “rising threat around the world.” He responded. “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems. … If you look at what happened in New Zealand, perhaps that’s the case.”

The facts tell another story, however. The shooter, Australian citizen Brenton Tarrant, hailed Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity”. His lengthy manifesto called for violence and civil war to force non-European “invaders” from Europe, the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Tarrant was in fact part of an international network of far-right organizations and had been radicalized in Europe, including in Britain. In the days following the Christchurch massacre, a number of far-right attacks on Muslims have taken place in the UK, pointing to the example provided by the horrific event in New Zealand to those inspired by white supremacist and Islamophobic views.

In Fall River, the Jewish community has long history. During the 19th century, the city was famous as the leading textile manufacturing center the US. It has always been a city attracting immigrants, many working in the textile mills or providing services supporting the industry.

“Spindle City,” as it was known, was second in the world in textile manufacturing only to Manchester, England. Thousands of workers, mainly of Irish and French-Canadian descent, came to Fall River in the 1860s and 1870s to work in the mills. German Jewish settlers came to Fall River beginning in this same period; Russian Jewish immigrants arrived in the 1880s and 1890s.

While World War I provided a general increase in demand for textiles, many mills in Fall River subsequently shut down as a result of the Great Depression, and by the mid-20th century the city was no longer a textile center. The city shrank in population from a high of about 120,000 in the 1920s to about 88,930 today.

The Hebrew Cemetery in Fall River is among the oldest Jewish cemeteries in the state, having been established in the late 19th century. Many of the German and Russian Jewish settlers who immigrated to the US in that period are likely buried there.

Fall River is still a city of many ethnicities. About half of residents are Luso-American, having their origins somewhere in the former Portuguese Empire. Recent immigrants include those from Cambodia and India. The Jewish population is now under 1,000, down from about 4,000 in 2008, as people have left to seek other livelihoods.

Friends and family of those interred at 300-plot cemetery in Fall River came Wednesday to survey the anti-Semitic vandalism and the check on whether the headstone of one of their loved ones had been damaged. The Herald News reported on Louis Gitlan, who walked through the graveyard row by row with a list of names, taking an occasional photo of a headstone. Seven of his relatives are buried there.

The Herald News wrote: “Gazing at the headstone of a man who died in 1939, he said every person buried in the Hebrew cemetery faced persecution at one time or had family members who did.”

Referring to those who had fled Nazi persecution, he told the newspaper, “What did they go through to get to this place, and finally be free? Then realize that they can’t escape it.” Even in death, they have been slandered by anti-Semitic filth.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 90 anti-Jewish hate crimes reported in Massachusetts in 2017, a nearly 50 percent increase compared to 2016.

A Jewish cemetery in Massachusetts that was vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti last week received a $5,000 donation from a Muslim charity to help repair the damage: here.

US Jewish cemetery vandalized, Hitler, Trump slogans

This 21 March 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Jewish cemetery vandalized: ‘Oy vey, this is MAGA Country

MAGA=Make America Great Again=Donald Trump‘s slogan.

Expel the Jew,” “Heil Hitler“, and other Hitler salutes were among the anti-Semitic slurs found defacing dozens of headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Massachusetts. Fall River Police said they are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

Sgt. Thomas Mauretti, with the Fall River Police Department’s major crimes division, confirmed the graffiti found at Hebrew Cemetery over the weekend, including phrases such “Oy vey! This is MAGA country.”

Mauretti told … the anti-Semitic phrases and swastikas were found scrawled in black marker on 59 gravestones and some stones were knocked over as well. Police said the gravestones were vandalized sometime Saturday or early Sunday. Investigators said the damage was first discovered by a cemetery maintenance worker who described to police what he had found.

Fall River Police said they were contacted by the Anti-Defamation League of New England. The organization is offering a $1500 reward in addition to a reward offered by the Fall River Police Department for information that leads to the arrest of the suspect or suspects.

The regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of New England, Robert Trestan, went to the cemetery Tuesday to survey the damage and spoke with people who have relatives buried there. …

According to the spokeswoman for the New England chapter of the Anti-Defamation League, there were 177 anti-Semitic incidents reported in Massachusetts in 2017, which is the last available data. She said that represents a 42 percent increase in reports, compared to the year before.

Horseshoe crabs, really relatives of spiders, scorpions

This 3 March 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

It’s Cameraman Tim’s debut as a field correspondent! Tim travels to Cape Cod, Massachusetts to investigate the annual Horseshoe Crab invasion!

From the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the USA:

Horseshoe crabs are really relatives of spiders, scorpions

March 8, 2019

Summary: By analyzing troves of genetic data and considering a vast number of possible ways to examine it, scientists now have a high degree of confidence that horseshoe crabs do indeed belong within the arachnids.

Blue-blooded and armored with 10 spindly legs, horseshoe crabs have perhaps always seemed a bit out of place.

First thought to be closely related to crabs, lobsters and other crustaceans, in 1881 evolutionary biologist E. Ray Lankester placed them solidly in a group more similar to spiders and scorpions. Horseshoe crabs have since been thought to be ancestors of the arachnids, but molecular sequence data have always been sparse enough to cast doubt.

University of Wisconsin-Madison evolutionary biologists Jesús Ballesteros and Prashant Sharma hope, then, that their recent study published in the journal Systematic Biology helps firmly plant ancient horseshoe crabs within the arachnid family tree.

By analyzing troves of genetic data and considering a vast number of possible ways to examine it, the scientists now have a high degree of confidence that horseshoe crabs do indeed belong within the arachnids.

“By showing that horseshoe crabs are part of the arachnid radiation, instead of a lineage closely related to but independent of arachnids, all previous hypotheses on the evolution of arachnids need to be revised,” says Ballesteros, a postdoctoral researcher in Sharma’s lab. “It’s a major shift in our understanding of arthropod evolution.”

Arthropods are often considered the most successful animals on the planet since they occupy land, water and sky and include more than a million species. This grouping includes insects, crustaceans and arachnids.

Horseshoe crabs have been challenging to classify within the arthropods because analysis of the animals’ genome has repeatedly shown them to be related to arachnids like spiders, scorpions, mites, ticks and lesser-known creatures such as vinegaroons. Yet, “scientists assumed it was an error, that there was a problem with the data,” says Ballesteros.

Moreover, horseshoe crabs possess a mix of physical characteristics observed among a variety of arthropods. They are hard-shelled like crabs but are the only marine animals known to breathe with book gills, which resemble the book lungs spiders and scorpions use to survive on land.

Only four species of horseshoe crabs are alive today, but the group first appeared in the fossil record about 450 million years ago, together with mysterious, extinct lineages like sea scorpions. These living fossils have survived major mass extinction events and today their blood is used by the biomedical industry to test for bacterial contamination.

Age is just one of the problems inherent in tracing their evolution, say Ballesteros and Sharma, since searching back through time to find a common ancestor is not easy to accomplish. And evidence from the fossil record and genetics indicates evolution happened quickly among these groups of animals, convoluting their relationships to one another.

“One of the most challenging aspects of building the tree of life is differentiating old radiations, these ancient bursts of speciation,” says Sharma, a professor of integrative biology. “It is difficult to resolve without large amounts of genetic data.”

Even then, genetic comparisons become tricky when looking at the histories of genes that can either unite or separate species. Some genetic changes can be misleading, suggesting relationships where none exist or dismissing connections that do. This is owed to phenomena such as incomplete lineage sorting or lateral gene transfer, by which assortments of genes aren’t cleanly made across the evolution of species.

Ballesteros tested the complicated relationships between the trickiest genes by comparing the complete genomes of three out of the four living horseshoe crab species against the genome sequences of 50 other arthropod species, including water fleas, centipedes and harvestmen.

Using a complex set of matrices, taking care not to introduce biases in his analysis, he painstakingly teased the data apart. Still, no matter which way Ballesteros conducted his analysis, he found horseshoe crabs nested within the arachnid family tree.

He says his approach serves as a cautionary tale to other evolutionary biologists who may be inclined to cherry-pick the data that seem most reliable, or to toss out data that don’t seem to fit. Researchers could, for example, “force” their data to place horseshoe crabs among crustaceans, says Sharma, but it wouldn’t be accurate. The research team tried this and found hundreds of genes supporting incorrect trees.

Ballesteros encourages others to subject their evolutionary data to this kind of rigorous methodology, because “evolution is complicated.”

Why horseshoe crabs are water dwellers while other arachnids colonized land remains an open question. These animals belong to a group called Chelicerata, which also includes sea spiders. Sea spiders are marine arthropods like horseshoe crabs, but they are not arachnids.

“What the study concludes is that the conquest of the land by arachnids is more complex than a single tradition event,” says Ballesteros.

It’s possible the common ancestor of arachnids evolved in water and only groups like spiders and scorpions made it to land. Or, a common ancestor may have evolved on land and then horseshoe crabs recolonized the sea.

“The big question we are after is the history of terrestrialization,” says Sharma.

For Ballesteros, who is now studying the evolution of blindness in spiders living deep within caves in Israel, his motivations get to the heart of human nature itself.

“I get to look with childish curiosity and ask: ‘How did all this diversity come to be?'” he says. “It’s incredible what exists, and I never thought I would have the privilege to be able to do this.”

The study was funded by the M. Guyer postdoctoral fellowship and supported by National Science Foundation grant IOS-1552610.

Saudi dictatorship-Massachusetts Institute of Technology connection

This 13 December 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

Senate Votes to End US Support for Saudi Mass Murder in Yemen

In a historic vote, the Senate voted 56-41 to withdraw military support for the US-Saudi war on Yemen. Yemeni-American community organizer Rabyaah Althaibani, whose family has been divided, tells TRNN’s Ben Norton she could not be happier.

By John Marion in the USA:

MIT refuses to cut ties to Saudi regime

22 February 2019

The administration at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has made clear that it will not cut funding ties with Saudi Arabia, despite growing outcries from students and faculty.

Calls for the severing of the extensive ties between the university and the Saudi regime came after the killing of the Saudi dissident and journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey in October of last year.

MIT President Raphael Reif’s decision to reject these calls is based on a report and recommendation made by Richard Lester, an associate provost for international partnerships, who was commissioned to review the university’s relationship with the Persian Gulf monarchy in late October 2018.

Last March, Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman visited the MIT campus for an “innovation forum” at which he was warmly received by Reif and Executive Vice President Israel Ruiz. In bin Salman’s entourage during the visit was Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, later accused by the US Treasury Department of “coordinating and executing” the Khashoggi assassination.

A now infamous photo on the campus shows Reif shaking hands with a smiling bin Salman, with Mutreb in the background.

The administration was forced to commission a review of the university’s relationship with Saudi Arabia in the face of immense public pressure from the students and faculty.

Lester’s preliminary report summarized what he referred to as the “large-scale activities that MIT is carrying out with the Kingdom.” These activities include funding from the Saudi government and state-owned companies for sponsored research in fields like energy and water management, and private and corporate gifts from Saudi sources.

Some of the largest Saudi sponsors of research at MIT include Saudi Aramco, the state-owned company that is the world’s biggest oil and gas producer; King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology (KACST), the Saudi National Science Agency and National Laboratory; and SABIC, one of the world’s largest chemical producers.

The report does not give an overall dollar figure for Saudi-sourced gifts and sponsored research contracts, but a federal database shows that MIT has reported receiving more than $77 million in gifts and contracts from Saudi sources over the past six years.

Lester’s report acknowledges the role played by Saudi Arabia in the war in Yemen and “large-scale violations of political, civil, and human rights in Saudi Arabia.” Lester justifies the relationship with Saudi Arabia by stating that the university felt the country “was on a path toward becoming a more progressive society” before the Khashoggi murder and that the university felt, “by expanding our engagement with the Kingdom we might contribute to this development, even if only in a small way.” He laments that, “the Khashoggi murder has deflated many of those hopes.”

Despite these statements, Lester ends his report by recommending against ending any of the university’s current engagements with Saudi Arabia. He writes, “It is true that those organizations are part of a government that has been implicated in the murder of journalist Khashoggi, that is pursuing repressive policies at home, and whose participation in the Yemeni civil war has been widely condemned… However, there has been no suggestion that any of these organizations had any role in the planning and execution of the operation that ended in Mr. Khashoggi’s murder.”

The conclusion, in other words, states that since the organizations themselves did not carry out the murder, the university can continue its relationship with the monarchy.

These developments underscore the deep integration of academia into the military intelligence apparatus. The continuation of such relationships with the Saudi regime is sanctioned only because the regime is a long-standing ally of the US in the Middle East.

Relations with Saudi Arabia are connected to the close integration of MIT and other universities with the US state apparatus. One upcoming event on campus will feature former Secretary of State and notorious war criminal Henry Kissinger, former Defense Secretary Ashton Carter, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman and hedge fund billionaire Stephen Schwartzman, to inaugurate the Stephen A. Schwartzman College of Computing.

Under the Obama administration, Carter oversaw American military participation in the Yemen war and the regime change operation in Syria.

Under the Ford and Nixon administrations, Kissinger played a leading role in numerous war crimes, including the US war in Vietnam, the CIA-backed coup in Chile, and the Indonesian invasion of East Timor. Provost Martin Schmidt issued a statement Monday defending the inclusion of Kissinger, claiming that “last summer, Dr. Henry Kissinger wrote a provocative reflection for The Atlantic that addressed his views on the ethics and dangers of artificial intelligence, topics directly relevant to the launch program.”

In November 2017, after having been a guest in bin Salman’s “ornate adobe-walled castle,” Friedman wrote in The New York Times that “not a single Saudi I spoke to here over three days expressed anything other than effusive support for [his] anti-corruption drive.”

Meanwhile, MIT has been increasingly forced to separate from scientific collaborators in China and Russia. Funding received from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for basic space research on campus can no longer be used for bilateral endeavors with educational institutions in China. This restriction was mandated by the US Congress under the Obama administration in support of the US government’s “pivot to Asia.”

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Two sisters from Saudi Arabia who fled the conservative kingdom and have been hiding out in Hong Kong for nearly six months said they did so to escape beatings at the hands of their brothers and father: here.

MAJOR DONORS INDICTED IN COLLEGE SCAM Major Democratic and Republican donors were indicted Tuesday in a college admissions scandal that also led to the arrests of Wall Street CEOs, famous actresses and Silicon Valley executives. It wasn’t clear whether campaign donors obtained letters of recommendation from elected officials based solely on contributions. Here’s why the college admissions process is already a scam. [HuffPost]

COLLEGE BRIBE FIRINGS The University of Southern California fired a high-ranking athletic administrator and a head coach after they were charged in the admissions bribery scheme. Stanford University ousted a sailing coach. The terminations showed immediate fallout from what the FBI called a “nationwide conspiracy.” [HuffPost]

United States police anti-leftist political spying

This video from the USA says about itself:

Cops Accidentally Admit They’re Spying On Left-Wing Groups

22 September 2018

The Massachusetts State Police accidentally revealed surveillance of progressive political groups in a social media post on gas explosions in Lawrence, North Andover and Andover, WBUR reports.

The police posted an image of 39 gas explosion locations. But the screengrab of the police computer included the browser’s bookmarks bar.

The post showed police had booked pages for Massachusetts Action Against Police Brutality (MAAPB), the Coalition to Organize and Mobilize Boston Against Trump (COMBAT), and other activist organizations.

Read more here.

Amazon workers oppressed in Massachusetts, USA

Inside the Bos-7 warehouse in Fall River, Massachusetts, USA

By Evan Cohen in the USA:

Following IAWV exposure at Texas warehouse

More Amazon workers speak out against atrocious working conditions

3 August 2018

Following the International Amazon Worker’s Voice exposure of working conditions at Amazon’s DFW-7 warehouse in Haslet, Texas, many more Amazon workers have come forward to confirm widespread resentment against the outrageous working conditions described by whistleblower Shannon Allen.

When Chardé, a former Amazon worker at BOS-7 in Massachusetts, read about the abuses at DFW-7 on the World Socialist Web Site, she realized that her experiences were shared by Amazon workers around the world: “I just really thought it might have been the town that I was in, but apparently not.”

When Amazon warehouses open, they target economically devastated areas with low incomes and high unemployment rates. Tax incentives are typically extorted from local governments. The company draws workers with promises of flexible hours, career opportunities, and even stocks and health care. Many workers shared stories of being attracted to Amazon by the pay and promises of stability—but then being injured, fired or driven to quit by the dangerous and strenuous conditions.

Chardé talked about the social conditions in her hometown, where Amazon chose to build its warehouse: “The building was launched in 2016, in Fall River, Massachusetts. Fall River is a small mill town. A lot of people are functioning drug addicts, alcoholics. I moved there because the rent is cheap, but it cost in other ways.” Like many towns in America, Fall River suffered social and economic devastation through waves of deindustrialization as manufacturers relocated in pursuit of cheap labor, beginning in the 1950s and accelerating in the 1980s and 90s. Chardé continued: “A lot of the mills and other things had closed down. It was a big factory town, and people who had worked at the factories for years, they’re getting fired and they’re getting laid off.”

Michael, a life-long construction worker and semi-retired house-builder from Coco Beach, New Jersey, applied to work at Amazon’s EWR-4 warehouse for similar reasons. “I figured I’d get some extra money because I wasn’t doing anything, and I wanted to get back to work. You look at all these other low-paying jobs and it was already like October, and Amazon would just immediately hire you.”

Michael needed to work in order to have a chance at retirement and to provide for his son’s wedding: “I was going to work through that for the extra money and then I was going to work my way back into the regular work system to make some more money for my old age. So I went there, applied and immediately was hired. I was thrilled—I figured $800 a week, I could use that.” Alex, who works at DFW-7, applied to work for Amazon because she needed the money in order to provide for her family: “I started at Taco Bell—I’d always done retail when I was younger. And when I heard Amazon was hiring I thought it would be a good time to apply, that it would be a good opportunity for me.”

When Chardé was hired in Fall River, her first child was 4-years-old, and she expected to be given some flexibility to accommodate her needs as a single mother. But when she was hired, she was given 60-hour weeks instead of the 40-hour weeks that she was promised. “They open the building, and they’re shuffling thousands of people through the building—they hired like 2,000 people in the first month.” A week after she was hired, she was told: “You’re on 60-hour a week shifts until further notice.” She worked 60-hour a week shifts for the next nine months. “I didn’t get a break. My four year old thought that I lived at Amazon.”

The floor of the Fall River, MA warehouse

“They were just selling you a bunch of dreams”, Chardé said, “and it turns out to be a lot of false fluff just to get a mass amount of people to be hired.” Alex confirmed the sight of ambulances arriving at DFW-7 during the summer to pick up workers who had dropped from the heat, a fact previously exposed by the World Socialist Web Site. She said that workers get injured “probably once a day” and that high temperatures are common in the non-climate-controlled half of the warehouse. “We used to have fans, but they took them away, I have no idea why. There are a lot of people getting heatstroke. Last summer I don’t think it was as bad as it is this summer—we did have more fans then.”

She also confirmed that workers can often be seen sleeping in their cars in the parking lot.

Chardé described how management employs informants and spies among the workforce. She recounted how a worker who suggested in a small group that they should “get a union going” was fired the next day. “Everybody always has to watch what they say … it’s Orwellian”, she said. Alex, also a problem-solver, confirmed this practice.

After Amazon workers finish their training, they are soon introduced to the infamous rate system that is integral to the company’s huge profits.

Michael described how the rate system is used to whip workers to work faster as well as to provide pretexts for firing workers who find themselves in management’s crosshairs. He was hired as a “stower”. Stowers receive items as they are delivered to the warehouse, scan them and place them in the “pods” where they are stored. The speed with which stowers are required to scan and place items is the “rate”, which is between 300 and 600 items per hour. If workers fail to make rate, they are harassed by management, “written up”, and if they’re “written up” a certain number of times they’re fired. Workers can also be written-up for any “time off task”, dropped items and miscounted items. According to Michael, rate requirements are often impossible to meet because the items to be picked, counted, or stowed vary in size. “You could easily do 500, 600, 1000 computer parts an hour no problem. When you give me 600 or even 200 or 150 weird items that don’t fit on every pod it takes time to go up and down.”

The frantic rates of speed are exhausting as well as dangerous: “That means you’re doing 300 to 400 squats an hour or going up and down the two-step ladder three to four hundred times—you don’t even see that in an exercise class. If you’re doing 300 squats an hour and you’re working for 10 hours, you’re doing 3,000 squats and it gets ridiculous—of course somebody’s going to get hurt.”

Workers are under immense pressure from management to work as quickly as possible without taking even momentary breaks: “If the pocket goes by and has space, then you’re standing there for a second and you have to make up the time again. Meanwhile, the people in charge actually come around, start conversations with you, and then when you get your report for what you did that hour there’s time off task.”

Alex at DFW-7 confirmed the fear of being penalized for small mistakes, as well as the practice of firing workers who are injured. She described how a worker dropped an item and was injured while reaching for it: “The first thing they did was review the footage and he got fired the same day. So people feel like they can’t go to Amcare.” Amcare is Amazon’s “in-house” medical care provider. Workers are told not to call 9-1-1 and to visit Amcare instead. Workers described how Amcare’s main function appears to be to generate a pro-management paper trail that can be used to deny liability for injuries.

In addition to strict punishments for small errors, workers are subjected to searches when entering the lunch room and when leaving the warehouse. Phones are confiscated when workers enter the warehouse. “It’s not safety for us, it’s for them”, said Alex

At BOS-7, Chardé witnessed an injury when her co-worker tore her rotator cuff lifting heavy, odd-size items in the “rainbow aisle”—“which is the big awkward items: Playskool cars, stuff like that.” After the co-worker went on disability, she contacted Chardé and confided, “they keep trying to fight me. One of the building managers kept saying it was a pre-existing condition—I’ve never hurt my arm before.”

View of Fall River, former industrial center

When the co-worker finally received compensation for her injury, she was subjected to retaliation. Chardé continues, “Then they would play games about her coming back, so she was out of work for about two months, and she had two small children. When she was finally allowed back, what do they do? They throw her right back in the rainbow aisle, where she currently works.”

Michael tore both menisci in his knees trying to make rate and appealed to his supervisors to give him long-term, light-duty work while he recovered. He often visited the HR office to file requests for medical treatment, as well as injury reports. When workers pursue medical treatment for their injuries, Michael described how the company tries to get workers to settle their claims for $2,500. It is worth noting that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has made around $2,950 per second so far this year.

Every single injury story that workers have shared with the International Amazon Workers’ Voice as this article was being prepared—together with many posts on social media responding to our coverage—shared a common feature: management’s response. After being injured, workers are taken into interrogation sessions, without an attorney present, where management tries to browbeat and manipulate workers to admit to pre-existing conditions, to sign away their rights, to “settle” their claims for trifling amounts, and to sign non-disclosure agreements that gag workers from speaking out. “There are so many people that sign that piece of paper and don’t speak up, and don’t talk about being pressured to sign it”, Michael said.

While in the HR office, Michael spoke with a young Somali immigrant who had injured his back. He described how HR representatives protected the company from liability by talking the immigrant into changing his story “saying he did sports before, and they were talking nice, and then they said ‘Well, I’m sure you hurt your back in the past playing soccer or something.’ And he would say no.”

The interrogation continued: “But they just kept it up with the same questions, and eventually he goes ‘Well yeah, I might have hurt it playing soccer’—and you could tell that he was just going along with them.” Due to his immigration status, Michael says, “He was scared. I think he was in the country all by himself, and he needed a job and was worried about his visa, so he signed the paper.” The young man was then thrown out of the warehouse: “As soon as he signed the paper, they said ‘Can we have your tags?’—that was the end of him. They took his tags, told him they’d be in touch, and showed him the door.” Regarding injured workers’ requests for light duty, Chardé said, “When the doctor gives you a notice and says you should be put on light duty, they don’t want to do that. They want to be able to use you as a worker wherever they want you. They don’t care.”

Chardé was targeted by management after becoming pregnant, a fact she tried to keep secret. Previously, she had clashed with management and HR after reporting how a male stower, emboldened by Trump’s behavior in the 2016 elections, was sexually harassing her and other female workers.

A floor manager had tried to help Chardé use some of her break time while she suffered from morning sickness, and “a lot of people told me I might not want to say anything.” When management found out, they changed her job function from a “problem-solver”—which requires walking the warehouse and monitoring inventory, rates and damaged items—to a stower and pit machine operator, a much more dangerous and strenuous position. Chardé worked in the new position for weeks, all while petitioning management and HR to assign her to another role. She asked them, “Why am I doing this? Why is this my job function? And when I would go to my supervisors they would tell me to talk to HR.”

She grew afraid of getting injured. “I’m 40 feet in the air, lifting boxes up to 50 lbs, and putting them into bins. And it’s getting to be April, and May, and I’m getting to be two and three months pregnant. I’m like, I can’t do this—you also have to wear a harness that goes around your abdomen, and I could kill my baby if I fell or if anything happened.”

When she went back to speak with HR, they pressured her to take unpaid medical leave. “HR would say ‘Oh, do you want to go home?’ and they would pull out a packet and say ‘You can take a medical leave and be pregnant.’ One lady told me I had to sign the paper to take a medical leave and go. I said there’s nowhere in your contract that I signed saying that if I became pregnant or had to be a problem-solver that I should be going on medical leave, or that I couldn’t get pregnant or I couldn’t get injured.”

After she petitioned HR to change her job function, she was assigned to scraping safety tape from the warehouse floor. After a week of scraping tape, she asked for four hours of leave to go to a doctor’s appointment to find out the sex of her baby. When she returned from her appointment, she found management had accused her of skipping work: “They’re calling me, saying that I’ve done a no-call no-show. And then they send me a letter saying that I’m in violation of their contract because I went negative in my time.”

After that: “I got my termination letter. And then they didn’t even want to send me my last check.”

Alex, at DFW-7, was injured by a PA—an assistant manager—who hit her with a pallet lift. “She hit me with the force of her pallet full of stuff—and pallets can weigh up to 300-600 pounds—and all that weight went into my shoulder, and it hurt.”

After being sent back to work by Amcare, she worked until she could no longer stand the pain, and lobbied HR to review the footage of the incident, which they refused to do. Alex had to take a week of unpaid time off to receive medical attention for her shoulder, which turned out to have a pinched nerve. The PA’s safety violation was never investigated. “They hurt us and then they don’t want to pay us. My shoulder has never been the same,” Alex said. As Chardé puts it, “once somebody gets hurt”, they have three options: “leave your job, roll over, or just fight them tooth and nail.” Workers who are injured and do not accept the pittances offered by Amazon as “buyouts” face the Kafkaesque, pro-management maze of America’s workers’ compensation courts, which drag out claims for months and years.

Jeff Smith, a former Amazon worker who was injured at TPA-2 in Florida, described the pressure to settle out of court for pennies on the dollar. “I have a wife, a three-and-a-half-year-old and another one on the way in October and we cannot afford to live without any income … I’m having trouble finding new work due to recovering still.”

Michael is one of the few workers who pressed ahead with his claim in workers’ compensation court. He was injured in 2015, but his insurance claim was denied despite every doctor agreeing that his knee injuries were work-related. The trial still has not taken place. “They want to give you 5 percent of what’s wrong, they want to put it to the lowest price that they can find, and they don’t want to give you lost wages. Amazon is hell and they get away with it because of the workers’ comp system.”

In Fall River, Chardé said, the joke about BOS-7 is that “everybody in Fall River is going to have worked at Amazon by the time the year is out.” When BOS-7 opened, Chardé had just been hired as a “problem-solver”. As part of the job, she had access to a system that catalogs and tracks each worker’s rates, as well as their role and status at the warehouse. Problem-solvers “make sure people who have been fired don’t have access to their badges or the computers.”

To direct problem-solvers to delete fired workers’ credentials, management would “send emails every day”, to Chardé, “and there would be like 800 people on one list—and we’re talking once a month.” Amazon compensates for these mass firings with a new round of hirings, placing ads for employees, according to Chardé, as far as Providence, Rhode Island.

The BOS-7 warehouse staged its grand-opening in September, 2016. In attendance were Fall River’s mayor, as well as Charlie Baker, the governor of Massachusetts, and “progressive” Senator Elizabeth Warren. Their speeches, as well as those of the warehouse’s managers, celebrated the number of jobs Amazon had brought to the area, and were uncritically reported by the Boston Globe. Listening to the speeches, Chardé thought, “The governor and senator are standing around smiling—why don’t you tell the truth and say that you just fired 800 people?”

The next year, when the New York Times and Democratic Party began the #MeToo campaign,

Actually, the #MeToo campaign started in 2006 by African American activist Tarana Burke.

Chardé described wanting to email Elizabeth Warren and say, “It’s a lot of lip service. You’re sitting there smiling and waving at the cameras, and in the meantime I was getting sexually harassed at this place.”

“I want to vote Trump out of office in November, but do I really want to vote Democrat? They’re so complicit—they’ve caused these issues too.”

Do you have a similar story you want to share? Contact the International Amazon Workers Voice now and alert your fellow workers. We respect anonymity.

A report by Reuters shows that nearly half of the US population does not earn enough money to cover expenses and is increasingly dependent on unsustainable levels of debt to survive: here.

Counting fish off Massachusetts, USA

This video from the USA says about itself:

Jonathan joins a group of volunteer divers as part of an international event called the Great Annual Fish Count to take a census of marine life across the globe. His mission: dive the chilly waters of Massachusetts with a pencil…and count fish!

JONATHAN BIRD‘S BLUE WORLD is an Emmy Award-winning underwater science/adventure program.

Turkeys circling dead cat video

This 3 March 2017 video from Massachusetts in the USA says about itself:

Why These Turkeys Circling A Dead Cat Remind Us How Amazing Nature Can Be

Jonathon Davis was on his way to work when he came upon the bizarre scene. A flock of more than 15 turkeys were filmed circling around a dead cat in the middle of a busy road Thursday outside Boston. Animal Planet‘s David Mizejewski spoke to Inside Edition about the awkward video. Davis posted the video on Twitter with the caption: “These turkeys trying to give this cat its tenth life” and it went viral in a flash. Some are calling it a “death dance.”