An exploration of our Earth's ever-captivating fauna through musings on the bizarre side of Zoology, Cryptozoology, Paleontology, and Paleoanthropology

Sunday, June 10, 2018

New Study Illuminates the Bear-Salmon Synergy

The black bear individual observed on Vancouver Island who inspired the creation of this article, and who I will never forget. Photograph coursesy of Dr. Michael Noonan.
During my visit to British Columbia last May as a student of the Canisius Ambassadors for Conservation program, a recurring topic of discussion was the substantial influence that the consumption of salmon by black bears and brown bears has on terrestrial ecosystems. Bears consume salmon selectively to optimize their intake of fat, and the caloric energy remaining in the discarded carcass or spread through ursine feces provides a foundation for the flourishing of biodiversity on streamsides and coastlines. A study by Gene & Quinn (2006) demonstrated that a staggering 70 percent of the nitrogen within trees along streamsides and coasts originates from partially eaten salmon. During our hikes, we were frequently reminded to reflect upon the flow of nitrogen throughout the groves of awe-inspiring temperate rainforest. This inspired a deep appreciation for the enormity of species interactions occurring around me, and an emotional manifestation of biophilia that culminated with our observations of a black bear while on a boat tour off the coast of Vancouver Island. This sight of such an impressive animal against a gorgeous backdrop of green, with the bear-salmon synergy in mind, served as a reminder of the magnitude of beauty that we have the potential and indeed the duty to conserve despite our anthropocentric blunders. For my first article for the Bear Trust International e-newsletter, I knew I had to attempt to instill in readers the same profound feelings that this unforgettable sight compelled in me. It is my sincere hope that my piece, titled, “New Study Illuminates the Bear-Salmon Synergy,” will succeed in this manner. With college in full swing and my internship with Bear Trust occupying the majority of my free writing time, my articles here will be scant. Please subscribe to the quarterly e-newsletter here for more content from this fantastic group, as well as my own writing. It is my goal to apply an anthrozoological lens to bear conservation to improve our interspecies interactions, and to spread the same reverence for bears that I felt so viscerally in British Columbia. The full article is featured here: New Study Illuminates the Bear Salmon Synergy.
I have reproduced an excerpt below that is especially applicable to the theme of this blog…
This finding serves as a reminder that we must not limit the scope of conservancies to the confines of human constructs and current understanding, such as our legislative boundary between land and sea. The famed luminary of sociobiology Edward O. Wilson (2015) described food web interactions as “near-bottomless in complexity,” and stressed the importance of intimately understanding all facets of an ecosystem before proper conservation can occur. A holistic approach to ecology also supports the call for management of the quota of harvested salmon to consider the critical relationship between these fish and other prominent predators such as orcas and eagles (Raincoast Conservation Foundation 2011). If we are to base our appreciation of wildlife on a standard of profit to our species, bears certainly benefit both the forests that we obtain wood from or seek mental refuge in, as well as the seafood on our plates. However, with an understanding of the delicate yet instrumental bear-salmon synergy, it is hard to not feel a strong sense of reverence for these charismatic animals beyond their conceived worth. On a personal note, perhaps my most profound feeling of biophilia was felt while observing a muscular black bear amble along a shoreline on Vancouver Island against a backdrop of lush temperate rainforest, habitat substantially fostered by the feeding of such influential mammals. If more observers of this breathtaking sight learn to see the forest through the trees, which in this case are invigorated by nitrogen from decomposed salmon, then a drive for conserving British Columbia’s pivotal carnivores may spread like wildfire.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Ape That Denied Its Nature

Humankind may have displayed godly feats, but knowledge of our evolutionary origins dispels the notion that we are angelic beings bearing no relation to the ‘less advanced’ animal kingdom. Unfortunately, the modern human-animal relationship continues to operate largely under the latter premise. (TOP ILLUSTRATION IS BY ALAN KENNEDY, BOTTOM RIGHT IS NASA IMAGE OF BUZZ ALDRIN)

Many people put an unconscious distinction between the world as experienced by our daily lives and society’s activities, and the landscapes that we perceive as the ‘natural world’ or domain of the animals. At the basis of this dichotomy, there is ‘Nature’ and then there is humanity, with a clear divide being drawn due to humankind’s alleged special traits that have largely been demonstrated to be of trivial novelty by modern animal cognition research. With the natural environment being outside of our immediate concerns and instead acting as the backdrop to our species’ progress, countless short term concerns take precedence over the imperative of fostering a healthy biosphere. Nonhuman animals are often placed in the distant categories of pests to drive out of our properties, food to consume on our plates, or curiosities to gawk at in the local zoo. When it comes to our nonhuman kin and the environment, humankind certainly acts in a peculiar and often contradictory fashion. We launch exhaustive searches for extraterrestrial intelligence in the far reaches of our galaxy while ignoring the complex minds of the nonhuman species with whom we share our planet (de Waal 2016). Stretches of forest just like those that our hominid ancestors inhabited are cleared for lumber or farming, despite their vital role in providing the very oxygen that we breath. Yet we decorate our cities with green spaces, paint animals on the walls of our newborn children’s rooms, and share a considerable amount of resources with the small carnivores that we welcome into our homes as pets. In a beautiful testament to humankind’s moral reach, ecotourism agencies characterizing wildlife as natural heritage worthy of living space and protection are beginning to outpace industries capitalizing on the death and commoditization of such species. Human compassion is gaining in its inclusion of our planet’s nonhuman life with recognition of both their intrinsic value and our reliance on the ecosystem services they provide, but there is still plenty to consider about the past, present, and future of our coexistence.
Thought-provoking painting by Banksy titled “Cave Painting,” depicting a street worker power washing various Paleolithic-style artworks

Friday, June 1, 2018

The Human Animal: Denial and Reconciliation with Our Nature

I have come a long way since I began writing at the blog, and my perspectives and interests have undergone substantial change. As such, I have embarked on yet another intellectual journey, resulting in my third and hopefully final blog relocation. I have started “Animal in the Mirror," the result of a year’s worth of formal education in Animal Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation at Canisius College that has challenged and altered how I view our relationship with nonhuman animals, as well as the best manner in which to seek to understand them. Carrying on this blog's legacy of examining peculiar aspects of the animal kingdom, this blog’s topics will center around arguably one of the most bizarre behaviors exhibited by the human animal: our attempts at anthropocentric dominion often coupled with a denial of animal self. The focus on this topic will seek to evoke readers’ reconsideration of their attitudes towards the human-animal relationship, as well as foster hope amidst the impending Anthropocene. It is my hope that this blog will serve as a channel for my musings as a rising scientist, and actively inspire readers to live consciously in accord with the conservation and well-being of our nonhuman animal kin. I will be reposting some articles here given that this page receives substantially more viewer traffic. Thank you for sticking with me!

My new site can be found at the link here, please check it out: