Thursday, September 29, 2011

Another adorable aquatic menace

What is it about being an aquatic mammal that messes with people's minds? Dolphins are not the only one of these sleek wet creatures whose reputation is far more positive than the reality. When you think of seals and sea lions, you no doubt think of cute circus tricks or those adorable fuzzy white babies - the ones that people all over the world banded to together to save from cruel slaughter for their fur.

This positive attitude is encouraged by gushing articles like this one, where a nature photographer thinks it's just perfectly adorable when a seal chews on her diving flippers and tries to eat a camera.

That article compares the seal to a playful puppy. Sure, the kind of cute puppy who drags helpless five-year-old children into the water, and kills scientists who've dedicated their lives to studying marine biology.

The private lives of these animals is also far from adorable. Like dolphins, they make a regular practice of sexual assault and infanticide. In one highly endangered seal species, one of the main threats to their survival is that the males have the habit of ganging up on females in breeding season so violently that they kill them. Not the best strategy if you're trying to perpetuate the species, guys.

And a couple of recent stories show that their more of their bad behavior is heading our way. In Prince Edward Island, Canada, Chris MacLeod and Mary MacDonald took their dogs to swim at the same beach they always do, but this time it led to tragedy:

On Aug. 27 one of their dogs, Dipstick, swam into the water. MacLeod said seals surrounded his dog, and stopped her from coming back to shore. MacDonald made an effort to swim out and clear a path for the dog, but failed.

"The seals were actually meeting Mary, and not letting her, more or less, go any farther and Mary was kind of scared," said MacLeod.

Unable to rescue their pet, the couple could do nothing but watch as the seals mobbed the dog for two hours till it drowned. And adding the usual insult to this painful injury, a naturalist consulted by the news media just made excuses, rationalizing that "seals are curious creatures and that might explain their behavior" and insisting that they "almost never" attack humans or dogs.

And it seems you're not even safe from these creatures anymore if you avoid the shore. In Victoria, Australia, a man looked out his window to see something shocking peering back:
A sea lion swam on to Dendy Beach in Brighton, made its way up the sand and beach stairs, waddled along the Esplanade, then crossed the road into the garden of Esplanade resident John Battersby.

Note that while Australia has a wide range of exotic wildlife, this is not a common occurrence. The neighbor who spotted the animal crossing the road at first thought it was a bear, which was apparently only a slightly less ridiculous theory than the truth. This is a part of the country where sea lions are spotted at most once or twice a year, and never - till now - on someone's front porch.

So if you live on the coast, watch your back. If they gang up with the dolphins, we're really in trouble.

PS: You'd know all that stuff about seals if you read the book. Also, that hard-won law that made it illegal to club baby seals to death? It only applies until they are twelve days old and start losing the white fur. I'm sure they think we've done them a HUGE favor.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Porcipcide most foul

Dolphins, again. Yes, I'd love to stop beating this aquatic dead horse and spend more time covering the bad behavior of other animals. But the battle against the absurdly positive reputation of these psychopaths of the sea continues to make little or no progress. So I would be remiss in not covering a recent story in the San Francisco Chronicle about the increasing number of dolphin attacks on harbor porpoises off the coast of northern California.

These smaller marine mammals pose no threat to dolphins and reportedly don't even compete for the same food sources. But as we've already noted, they are often beaten to death by dolphins, possibly gangs of sexually frustrated young males.

Dolphins didn't used to venture as far north as San Francisco. But in the last few years they've started to move in, so the neighborhood has gone rapidly downhill for the porpoise: there have been over 50 deaths since 2005, and of course, those are only the ones we know about, where the bodies have washed up on shore. Even the scientists are calling it "porpicide."

Here are the particularly heinous details of the attack on one recent victim:
It had two badly broken jawbones, fractured ribs on both sides and a broken scapula, evidence of a sadistic attack. Worst of all, the female porpoise, which had been seen twice before and identified by researchers in Monterey Bay, was lactating when she was killed, according to marine biologists.

And yet, while somewhere out there a motherless baby starves to death, what do we see but the release of yet another ridiculously positive and heartwarming dolphin movie.

Where are the porpoise-proponent protestors picketing this piece of propaganda? Where are the international organizations exposing the slaughter? If it's not OK for us to do this kind of thing, why do dolphins get a free pass?

Peruse more pictures of porpicide in progress at The SF Chronicle. And ponder: if you don't pass this post around, are you part of the problem?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Vacation Linkarama

While I'm trying to relax at the beach despite having read the last story linked to below, enjoy some high quality bad animal reporting and analysis from elsewhere on the web:

A brave fellow at Gizmodo presents the evidence: Why we should just let the damn pandas go extinct, already

At the Guardian: That pet cat who turned up after five years - heartwarming tale or feline conspiracy?

A world traveller keeps track of the number of birds (and one bat) that have crapped on her

And before you laugh at that: Scientists implicate seagulls in the worldwide spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

And now I'm off to the beach - no, on second thought, the nice bird-free outlet mall.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Our continuing coverage of Animals vs Infrastructure

Animals continue to attack the technological underpinnings of our society, and some of the perps are creatures that we never think of as a danger. In the latest case, traffic descended into chaos in the town of Darlington in northern England when traffic lights at a major intersection went dark. Investigation revealed that a slug had crawled into the control box and short-circuited the electronics.

Green and pleasant England frequently has trouble with slugs and snails that goes beyond a nibble on the herbs and lettuce in the garden. A couple of years ago, a particularly wet summer found these slimy invertebrates interfering with the mail, climbing into mailboxes and eating the contents. It's the glue that appeals to them, according to a Royal Mail spokesman: "They are particularly keen on stamps and air mail letters. Something in the dye attracts their taste buds."

And animals interfering with electricity is common all over the world. They often cause power failures, as we've seen here (raccoon, eagle) and here (snakes) and there was a recent case in South Carolina where the culprit was a squirrel (and hey, there are quite a few in the book, too),

They can also keep you from learning about their misdeeds on this blog by cutting off your internet access, such as the crows in Tokyo that slash open fiberoptic cable for nesting material. And when crews investigated an outage in rural Idaho, “They said that bears had been rubbing against the towers,” said one victim.

Sometimes these attacks on our technology are suicide missions. Moist invertebrates and electricity are a dangerous combinations, and the slug in the traffic box incident was described as "fried." You can see a picture of the result when an individual computer user was attacked in the same way, looking a bit more like "melted," here.

But we humans seem not to recognize our own vulnerability. A local official in Darlington commented:
Unfortunately, it was dead by the time we found it, so we were unable to question it. Sadly, you just can't legislate for a rogue slug trying to take out Darlington's traffic system.
Very funny. But if he read this blog, he might not be laughing. This isn't the first time we've reported on a British kamikaze slug taking out a traffic light. And in that case, someone died in a resulting accident.

I suspect these slugs aren't giving their lives for nothing. We'll continue to keep our eye on this slimy situation.

Photo of attacking slug by Flickr user ecstaticist.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What happens when animals party too hard in the Internet age

Maybe you worry about who will see those party photos on your friends' Facebook pages. Well, ours isn't the only species who may wake up to find our drunken embarrassment plastered all over the Internet:
When Per Johansson of Särö, south of Gothenburg, returned home from work on Tuesday it was dark outside and the rain was coming down hard. Suddenly Johansson heard a bellowing noise from the garden next door.

“I thought at first that someone was having a laugh. Then I went over to take a look and spotted an elk stuck in an apple tree with only one leg left on the ground,” Johansson told The Local.

Johansson took pity on the animal and called for help. He and his neighbors tried to saw the branches to make it more comfortable, but it finally required the efforts of the fire brigade to get it out of the tree. Then, rather than running away like a respectable wild creature would, it lay on the ground:
According to Johansson, it looked very much like the elk was severely drunk after eating too many fermenting apples.

Drunken elk are common in Sweden during the autumn season when there are plenty of apples lying around on the ground and hanging from branches in Swedish gardens.

While the greedy animal was reaching ever higher to reach the delicious but intoxicating fruit, it most likely stumbled into the tree, getting itself hopelessly entangled in the branches.

And from what Johansson could gather, this particular animal had been on a day-long bender.

“My neighbour recognised it as the animal that almost ran into her car earlier in the day. She was pretty sure the elk was already under the influence,“ said Johansson.

The hungover elk finally dragged itself away the next morning and is no doubt trying to hide out as photos and reports of its predicament have gone all over the world.

Of course, readers of this blog know that there is nothing unique about this case. We've seen drunk birds, fruit flies, a deer, baboons, a badger, bees, and elephants. (In fact, there is a whole chapter about drunken and other substance-abusing animals in the book. Have you ordered your copy yet?)

But let's also not forget that the last time we reported on a drunk elk in Sweden, it was no laughing matter. In 2009, a man was jailed for ten days for the murder of his wife and only released when cleared by forensic evidence: hair and saliva found on the dead woman's clothes belonged to an elk. The motive was unclear, but police cited the aggressive tendencies of elk drunk on fermented apples.

Mr. Johansson may have meant to do a good deed, but I hope he is watching his back.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Don't say I didn't warn you

In 2009, a bear broke into a car in Colorado. Alerted by the car alarm and assuming a theft was in progress, the owners called the cops. When deputies arrived, they helpfully opened the car doors so the bear could escape.

In 2010, also in Colorado, officers didn't arrive till the bear had gotten a little further - this time it had driven the car out of the owner's driveway. These officers made sure to take photos to post on the Internet before, yes, opening the car doors so the bear could escape.

Now, it's happened again, in Lake Tahoe. Another bear managed to drive a car a short way, and this time, it got away on its own.

While the police in this recent case weren't active accomplices in the bear's escape - probably only because they didn't get the chance - they clearly took the incident just as lightly. A spokesman for the police department reportedly laughed when he said "Normally, you'll get reports of the Dumpster divers and trash divers, but bears breaking into cars is different."

And the owner of the car reportedly "had no clue why a bear would want to get inside his car," because there was no food inside.

People: Bears are teaching themselves to drive and you're not paying attention. When the bear army arrives, and you're surprised that they're in vehicles, don't say you weren't warned.

If only Patches was right that simple mauling was all we had to worry about.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Another great American heroine

They warn you not to get between a mama bear and its offspring. But someone needs to tell bears that they better not get between a human woman and her beloved dog.

Last year we met a woman in Montana who saved her dog from a bear by hitting it with a zucchini. Now, an Alaskan woman is getting attention far and wide for rescuing her dog from a bear with her bare hands.

Brooke Collins let her dogs out as usual one evening, but then heard her dachshund Fudge barking, making “the most horrible sound in the world.”

And then, she told the Juneau Empire, she saw a bear crouched down, holding Fudge in his paws, biting his neck: “That bear was carrying her like a salmon.”

Collins didn't even have a vegetable to use for defense, but that didn't stop her: She ran up to the bear and punched it in the snout. It dropped the dachshund and she grabbed him and ran.

“It was all so fast. All I could think about was my dog was going to die,” she said. “It was a stupid thing but I couldn’t help it.”

Stupid or not - well, yes, stupid. But still, this woman's brave bare-handed stand against bad animals has grabbed the world's attention: she's been contacted by radio stations and newspapers around the world for interviews.

Collins says that her unexpected fame is a bit overwhelming and she kind of wishes it would go away. Well, she needn't worry - it will soon enough, her viral celebrity eclipsed by yet more photos of cute baby animals and heartwarming tales of unlikely interspecies friendships. But for a moment, for a change, the spotlight is on a story of a bad animal getting what it deserves - let's enjoy it while we can.

Monday, September 5, 2011

They've got her!

Cows have been up to all kinds of shennanigans lately, but the star of the season has been Yvonne. She escaped from a farm in Bavaria in May and spent the summer roaming the countryside, making fools out of the humans who couldn't catch her despite the latest high-tech search equipment. The situation caused conflict between groups with wildly varying approaches, from cops who wanted to shoot her to animal rights activists who thought she'd come running to them at a glimpse of one of her darling offspring.

But Germans can finally rest easy: Yvonne has been captured.

She didn't go down without a fight, of course. It took two tranquilizer shots - twice the normal dose - and even after that, rescuers struggled to get her into a transport truck. "She acted very aggressively," said a veterinarian. "She has the qualities of a Spanish Toro."

It seems like a happy ending for everyone. The farmer who spotted her got a €10,000 ($14,500) reward from a German tabloid, and Yvonne will live our her days at an animal sanctuary owned by a group that purchased her while she was on the lam, along with her sister and one of her calves.

And these cow-hugging activists - the ones who thought that appealing to her maternal nature would be enough to entice Yvonne to give up her freedom - happily say "The whole family is waiting for her."

I guess it's nice that some people have apparently had such an idyllic experience of family life. But does it really not occur to anyone that maybe that was exactly what Yvonne was trying to get away from?

See the rest of the photos of Yvonne's capture at Spiegel Online.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Even dolphins are entitled to a defense

Today has been declared Save Japan Dolphins Day by people who want to stop dolphins from being fished for food in Japan. They encourage you to join them in protests at Japanese embassies around the world.

The last thing dolphins needs is more publicity. But this blog, as an almost-lone voice against dolphin worship, can't let the event pass without comment.

Defenders of dolphins are usually people with romantic notions about animals. They think that animals are better than we are, that we're the only species that commits acts of senseless violence. They're definitely not readers of this blog, where we have repeatedly documented the facts:

-Male dolphins form aggressive gangs to chase down female for sex.

-They sexually harrass females of another species as well - our own.

-They kill babies - the young of harbor porpoises as well as their own,
and recent studies suggest this is done by sexually frustrated young males.

-They kill adult harbor porpoises as well.

Yet people are so unable to believe that these animals are ill-intentioned that their ignorance may put them in danger. People continued swimming out to play with a dolphin called Moko in New Zealand even after many had to be rescued from his aggression by lifeguards, and when he died he was given a funeral by those who continued to defend him.

Now, none of this is meant to defend the slaughter of these animals. I'm just saying that the main reason to stop it is this: we shouldn't lower ourselves to their level.

Dolphins may be no better than we are, but we live in a civilized society, where even murderers are entitled to a defense lawyer. So protest all you want, but remember, when you watch celebrity endorsements of the claim that dolphins save lives - we never hear from the people the dolphins push AWAY from shore.

Dolphin taking a smoke break - you know they would if they could - by Natalie Dee.