Monday, April 16, 2012

Sharing the blame

Two very different charismatic large animals are veritable poster children for the terrible effects of human activity on the planet. The polar bear is threatened by global climate change because sea ice is a crucial part of their habitat. And collisions with human pleasure boats are a major cause of death for manatees.

But it's only fair to say that sometimes these animals are really not helping themselves, as a couple of recent news items show:

-Bear Suicide by Cop

A Newfoundland man awoke to a commotion early one morning to find a polar bear breaking into his home. He fired two shots to drive it off, but that just sent it off to make trouble elsewhere:
He said the bear beat in doors and broke windows at three other homes, and killed some sheep and ducks at a nearby stable without stopping to eat.

“It seemed like it was killing for the sake of killing. It wasn't hungry.”

At one home, the bear “just broke the windows out of each side of the house and went on,” he said. “It seemed like he was in a bad mood.”

Wildlife officials tracked down the bear and shot it, and honestly, after this violent crime spree, who can blame them? We have a right to defend our own species. And if an animal's survival is already threatened, shouldn't it be a little more careful about provoking armed citizens?

Sea-cow Stupidity

Scientists apparently have never had any idea why the heck so many manatees get hit by boats. It's true that they can't see very well, so that could be part of it. But motorized boats are pretty damn noisy. Are these animals deaf too?

Well, that's not the answer either. A recent study proved that manatees in fact have very sensitive hearing, as shown by a test where they were trained to hit a paddle to get a treat when they heard a sound. In fact they're so sensitive that they refused to participate when the noise was at higher frequencies, as if it annoyed them.

So if they can hear the boats, why don't they get out of the way?

The scientist suggested:
"Manatees might be less aware of these sounds when they are sleeping, eating or performing other activities related to their daily lives that require their full attention," Gaspard said. "There are also a multitude of environmental factors that come into play. Understanding how animals use their various senses is a complex process. Could their sense of touch also be playing a role here? We are working on that question now."

But an alternate theory was proposed on Twitter by my go-to guy for marine animal science, @WhySharksMatter:

Why can't manatees avoid speedboats?... Because they're dumb. They shouldn't die for that, but it's true.
@WhySharksMatter The manatee is nature's D student.

Yes, perhaps boaters should be more careful. But if boats are making a racket that an animal can hear perfectly well and it can't be bothered to move out of the way.... well, it takes two to make a collision, you know?

That design submitted to Threadless in 2007 apparently never made it to a t-shirt. Too far ahead of its time, I guess.

1 comment:

  1. (I know this is such an old post! Reading through the archives... still, had to say this.)

    I have an alternate explanation for why they get hit by boats so much.

    A friend from college grew up in Florida. She said her grandfather, who's always lived there, goes around in his speedboat a lot. He hates manatees. When he sees one in the water, *he aims the boat at it.* She did not seem very shocked about this although she did not approve. I wonder how many others like him there are...


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