Barnacle and the Whale

The Barnacle and the Whale

The gray whale gets extensive press coverage every winter and spring as it migrates past the California coast. Traffic backs up for miles along coastal promontories, irate whale watchers shove for position at the overlooks and storms batter the viewers with rain and 50 knot winds. For what? For a fleeting glimpse of our magnificent State Marine Mammal.

I love whales, we all love whales. They are intelligent, majestic and BIG. But consider the lowly hitchhiker on the back of the gray whale, the barnacle. Only on the body of gray whales‑‑no where else in the entire world‑‑does Cryptolepus rhachianeceti live. When this whale was threatened with extinction, the barnacle was also in danger. But did you see any “SAVE THE BARNACLE” bumper stickers? No! Yet in their own petite way they are just as fascinating as their accomplices.

For many years zoologists considered barnacles to be mollusks, relatives of the common garden snail. The confusion was understandable, they do have a shell. Only when scientists were able to observe the entire life history of the animal did they recognize that juvenile barnacles resembled crab larvae and that barnacles are actually crustaceans.

Barnacles are extraordinarily successful and have changed little in hundreds of millions of years. This success is fostered by their reproductive strategy. Each individual has both female and male sexual organs and he/she possesses the longest penis relative to body size in the world. This remarkable appendage is four to seven times the length of their body. With it they impregnate all the barnacles in their immediate vicinity and are, in turn, so fertilized. Barnacles give new meaning to the expression “reach out and touch someone!”

After the eggs are fertilized the parent brood the eggs in its mouth. The eggs soon hatch and squirt out into the sea to begin life as free‑swimming macroscopic larvae. This parental care, albeit slight, gives the new barnacles a slender edge in the sea. Like other young crustaceans they have compound eyes and numerous swimming appendages.

When it’s time to settle down on the appropriate substrate a barnacle secretes cement from glands at the base of its first pair of antennae. The barnacle is now firmly anchored it in place. The glue is tough‑‑ask any boat owner. Dental researchers have identified its chemical nature and barnacle glue may soon be holding your teeth together.

Next a barnacle secretes a calcium shell and loses its eyes. Its feet, no longer needed for movement, now shovel bits of organic matter into the stationary adult’s mouth. So an adult barnacle stands on its head and kicks food into its mouth with its feet. Quite a trick.

Barnacles are ubiquitous and are found in all oceans and bays. They soon coat any object that moves very slowly‑‑a rock, a piling, a log, a ship, a turtle, or a whale.

The attachment of barnacles to gray whales begins in the shallow, warm Baja lagoons where the young of both are born. Within three days of a clean‑skinned baby whale’s birth barnacle larvae have bonded to the youngster for a lifetime of companionship.

We owe the “gray” in gray whale to the barnacle. Young whales are dark brown, nearly black. The barnacles are white and every time one falls off the remaining scar is also white. After several years of infestation the overall color of the whale becomes gray.

These barnacle are a drag, literally. An adult gray whale carries hundreds of pounds of barnacles during its yearly migration of 10,000 miles. These barnacles may live for 6 years before the whale’s skin sloughs off. That means that one barnacle can travel 60,000 miles in its lifetime and never even move! What a life. Summers in Alaska, winters in Baja and a constant opportunity to experience gray whales without getting in a traffic jam.

Bambi (and Angel Island)

BAMBI

“Run quickly, run!!! It’s Man in the forest. We have to run cause he’s gotta gun.” I respond to my four year old’s urgent plea, by dashing through the living room, cardboard antlers firmly fixed on my head. I am Bambi’s dad, eternally brave in the face of danger. We finally make it to the bathroom slamming the door, panting hard, but safe at last. I brush the fallen antlers out of my face. Bambi now lives in our house.

Bambi was first released in 1942 and then rereleased about every nine years after that. This timing insured that the movie thoroughly indoctrinated each new crop of baby boomers. Now it is available on video. I first saw Bambi in 1957. I can’t forget the raging forest fire set by careless hunters and the terrified animals fleeing. The hunting sequence resembles a scene from Rambo ‑‑ guns blazing at any animal that moves. Humans are never actually seen in the movie but their evil presence is an ominous undercurrent.

The animation is superb and visually stimulating. And what a storyline ‑‑‑ the painful loss of a mother, the bonding of the youngster to his father, the victory of good over evil, and a happily‑ever‑after ending. Mr. and Mrs. Bambi move to the suburbs in the forest and raise twins every year. It is a fine hour of entertainment and it’s popularity after 40 years is testimony to its timelessness. But according to wildlife biologists the movie’s anthropomorphic attitude toward deer and its negative portrayal of hunting continues to warp the public’s concept of proper deer management.

Hey Walt, where are the predators? What about starvation and disease? Why isn’t Bambi aggravated by flies and why isn’t he constantly biting at parasites ? Of course, who wants to pay five bucks to see fleas, ticks and round worms? “Bucks”, by the way, is short for buckskins. The hides of animals, often deer, were used in lieu of money during the frontier days. Davey Crockett killed and wore deer and he was considered an all‑American good guy. Disney even made a movie about him.

In 1976 at a dock in Sausalito the local television film crews were waiting. There was a rumor that a cargo of death was on the way. They were right. Fifty deer that had been killed on Angel Island were unloaded from a State Park boat. Their bloodied carcasses splashed across the evening news that night. This was an outrage! The Park officials were supposed to be in charge of protecting the wildlife not slaughtering it. The Bambi syndrome raised its ugly head throughout the Bay area.

Angel Island has always had deer but the resident Coast Miwok Indians guaranteed that the population never got high. Immigrant deer swam across Racoon (sic) Strait from the Tiburon peninsula and replaced those the natives ate. After the Miwoks were wiped out the US Army controlled Angel Island for over one hundred years. You can be sure that the officers regularly dined on venison.

It wasn’t until 1964 when Angel Island became a state park that the number of deer began to increase. The Island is only one square mile and this isn’t enough habitat to support a mountain lion ‑‑‑ the major predator on deer. For three thousand years the only control on herd size was man. The State Park forbids public hunting and the deer population grew dramatically.

The herd soon exceeded the carrying capacity of the island; the deer became weakened by starvation and disease. Hungry deer begging for food often besieged Park visitors. People were nearly mugged by deer for their lunch. So officials decided to increase the overall vitality of the deer by reducing the size of the herd. This is the standard management procedure. The State Park admits the hunt was poorly organized; the deer were improperly killed and dressed. And no one reckoned on the television crews.

The Coast Miwok and the US Army had kept the number of deer in check but when Angel Island became a State Park, hunting was prohibited. The deer population exploded. In 1976 the park decided to reduce the herd. Fifty deer were shot. The transported carcasses were met by television crews in Sausalito. The bloody scene was broadcast across the Bay area that evening.

The public’s response was immediate and visceral. The Park Rangers were cruel and viscous. The deer should be allowed to live and even be fed if necessary. Welfare deer. The State Park had erred, they backed off and soon the island was overrun with deer again.

By 1981 it became clear that something had to be done. Several options were proposed. Introduce coyotes….too bloody. Allow hunting by the rangers…..run Bambi run. Capture the deer and airlift them off the Island to safety…..too expensive.

Against the better judgment of most wildlife biologists but under intense pressure from the San Francisco Chapter of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), the State Park (and the Department of Fish and Game) captured and transported 215 deer from the Island. They were tagged and then released in the Mendocino National Forest.

After just three months 50% of the deer were dead and by the end of the first year only 30 deer remained alive. The total cost was $100,000. The project was a dismal and expensive failure. You can not remove an adult deer from its environment, place it in a new one and expect it to survive. The deer starved, wandered out in roads and were hit by cars, and actually walked into hunting camps looking for handouts. This was not prevention of cruelty to animals.

By 1984 the deer were overrunning the island again. The SPCA then started a sterilization program. They captured female deer and implanted birth control devices. But they kept catching the same does over and over. Another expensive failure.

Public hearings on the continuing deer problem began in 1985. One serious proposal was to introduce coyotes to the island. But the vision of Bambi being devoured by evil coyotes was too much for the SPCA and the general public. The State park had tried everything proposed by the SPCA; they had all failed.

Finally a consensus was reached. Angel Island rangers could reduce the herd by periodic hunting. Biologists estimate that a herd of 200 deer is the carrying capacity for Angel Island. Now the deer are more vigorous, healthier and never beg from the public. The venison is donated to St. Vincent de Paul to feed the hungry. The hides, hooves and antlers are saved and used in interpetive naturalist programs all over the state. Like the natives before them, the rangers waste nothing of the deer.

What can be gleaned from the Angel Island experience? First, that it is critical the public be informed and consulted when a government agency proposes a radical shift from current policy. In our pluralistic society it is important to listen to many points of view; it broadens our perspective.

While we should always have compassion for other living beings, we must view animals in an broader ecological context. Bambi is not a human being with antlers. Whether we like it or not, human beings are now in charge of this world and in many ways we play God. We are not prepared for this role. The best we can do is observe how natural ecosystems function and try to duplicate them in our managed public lands. If the natural predators that once controlled a population of animals is gone, then we need to rectify that loss. In some cases this may be by hunting. Regardless of how you feel about hunters and hunting, it is often much crueler to the animals to allow their population to rise, checked only by starvation and disease. We need to balance our hearts with our minds.

from 1991

Bats

BATS!!!

Sultry Vicky Styles in the 1990 movie, Batman tells the cub reporter that she likes his news coverage and that she likes bats. Hurray. It’s about time that these maligned mammals got some of the respect they deserve, even if it is through the rose‑ tinted lenses of Hollywood.

For centuries folks have associated bats with the mysterious and with evil. People are always threatened by things they cannot see or understand. In Macbeth witches used an eye of newt, a tongue of dog and a wool of bat to make a poisonous concoction. Most people still believe that bats routinely get tangled up in your hair and that all bats are rabid. Thousands of people have been bat‑damaged by the vision of Count Dracula sucking the blood from the necks of young virgins. People that actually like bats are considered to have bats in their belfry.

Bats are not the fluttering mice as the German opera Fledermaus suggests. But the confusion is understandable, bats are mammals yet they fly. An ancient Roman fable illustrates the paradox. “When the birds passed an edict to exile bats from their kingdom, the bats claimed they were mice. The birds then determined that all mice were to be held in contempt. Now the bats protested that they were birds! The animals all became angry and the bats, fearing for their lives, now only come out at night.”

Bats are an ancient group of mammals that have been around for at least the last 65 million years. While there are gliding possums, flying squirrels and soaring lemurs the only mammals that can truly fly are the bats. There are basically two major groups of bats, the insect‑eating and the fruit‑eating bats. The former are more numerous, use echolocation to find prey and are smaller (one is the size of a bumble bee). The latter‑‑also called flying foxes‑‑ find their food visually and are larger (one has a wingspan of six feet).

One in every five mammals is a bat, there are over 950 species found throughout the world. When primitive bats evolved the ability to fly, they were able to exploit a whole new feeding arena by being coming active at night. Birds like swallows and swifts are busy right until sunset, swooping through the air gobbling up flying insects. Then the sun sets and the shift changes. The birds go to sleep and the bats go to work.

The insect‑eating bats are able to see in complete darkness through the use of ultrasonic echolocation. Other animals have also evolved this ability‑‑ some shrews, a few birds, and the dolphins and porpoises. Bats make a number of noises that are audible to humans but most bat sounds are out of our auditory range. High frequency sounds are emitted and focused by the mouth or nose and reflect off the environment. The returning sound waves entering the highly modified ears form a “sound picture” in the bats brain. The image is extremely detailed; bats can distinguish a fine wire .1 mm in diameter, the size of a human hair.

Bats can track down and eat the army of night‑flying insects. In pursuing their prey bats are capable of making sharp and rapid turns. They frequently catch insects not in their mouth but in the skin stretched between the tail and the rear legs. This skin basically acts as a baseball mitt. After catching the insect, the bats toss it into their mouth. Snagging flies for a living. An individual bat may eat as many as 3000 insects in one night. There’s a colony of bats in Texas that eats 250,000 lbs of insects a night. Holy Bat Guano. Most people agree that anything that eats flying insects can’t be all bad.

There are around 15 species of bats in the Bay area. Some remain and hibernate through the winter, others migrate to Mexico and central America. Unfortunately like many other wild animals the number of bats has dropped dramatically in the past 30 years. Some species have already become extinct. But fortunately many people are becoming more aware of the importance of these interesting animals. If you would like more information write to Bat Conservation International, @ Milwaukee Public Museum, Milwaukee, WI 53233.

African Memory 1973

AN AFRICA MEMORY

In the early 1970’s I spent nearly a year bumming around North and West Africa. I had never been out of the United States and I abruptly went from East Tennessee to Marrakesh, from college campus to real world, from 20th century Christian to 16th century Muslim, from English speaking to Arabic/French speaking, from 1st world to 3rd world and all this transition was done on one short airplane ride. After suffering severe culture shock for about a week, I recovered. And proceeded to learn more about the world and myself during that short time on the African continent than any time since.

Life and travel is not easy in Africa. The joke among the free‑spirited travelers (AKA hippies) at the time was about the couple from New York who arrived in Dakar, Senegal and asked when the next train left for Kenya. Yea, right. In order to get from point A to point B in Africa, you have to travel by every method available and be incredibly patient. Sometimes you might wait for a week to cross a swollen river. Once a sand storm had just wiped out the highway I wanted to take. You learn acceptance. If you have money, it’s no problem you just fly. But the trick was to make your funds last as long as possible. Because when you were broke, you had to go home.

I and my friend were trying to get to Ethiopia and Kenya. We managed to get to Tunisia and were waiting for a ship to take us to Cairo (even in 1973 you skipped Libya). Word reached us that the Egyptians had attacked Israel and one of the tensest spots on the planet was exploding. The stability of our world was shaken to the core. Suddenly I did not want to be an American; I wanted to be Canadian. Oh, if I only had a maple leaf to sew on my pack! We began rapidly backtracking. Late one night on a darkened street I was accused by a hostile Algerian of being Jewish. I replied, “Non, non, Je suis Methodist!” He shrugged his shoulders and left me alone.

Back in Morocco we traveled north to Spain and from Spain hopped on a ship bound for the Canary Islands. We met a couple of Canadian girls on the boat and that made hanging out in the Canaries waiting for the world to cool down much more enjoyable. We heard rumors that in the United States they were rationing fuel, the freeways were empty, and there were long lines at the gas stations. But we were far away from that. Everything was calm and peaceful in the Islands. I learned to listen to the sea for perspective.

Finally we headed back to Africa on a Spanish troop ship that was taking soldiers to a remote outpost in the Spanish Sahara. After landing we crossed the border into the neighboring country of Mauritania. We were a couple of dozen young travelers of all nationalities and we were promptly “arrested” by a young policeman. In retrospect it was a comic scene. This mangy bunch of hippies refused to give up their passports and he didn’t know how to handle us, so he let us go. Our plan was to jump into empty hopper cars on a French-run iron ore train that traveled to a mine deep in the Sahara. As we were boarding the policeman returned with some buddies and stopped us again. They said we could not ride the train for free. We argued with them but to no avail. So we got out and when the policemen left we quietly hopped back on the train. I learned that good friends are the best support in uncertain times.

Finally after several false starts the train began to move. I will never forget the smell and taste of the iron ore dust that soon dyed us completely red. Soon twenty gritty heads popped up out of the railroad cars like red Jack-in-the Boxes. The sun was a squashed orange ball settling into the haze and along the tracks the village was full of life. Veiled women with loads on their heads and children at their feet walked alongside burdened camels. Turbaned men huddled and laughed. As our speed increased these strange and different humans slowly disappeared. The stars appeared and it got very cold as we plunged straight into the desert darkness.

We traveled all night and into the next day before we finally reached the mine. Waiting for us were tall Tureg tribesmen. Their distant ancestors had once run the extensive caravans from Arabic Africa south into Black Africa. Now these so‑called Blue Men of the Desert had traded their camels for Toyota Land Cruisers and still took travelers and merchandise across the forbidding Sahara. After sharing the traditional mint tea, we settled the financial arrangements and started our journey. It was already dark as we headed south for Senegal traveling through the greatest desert on Earth. I learned trust that night; my life was in the hands of total strangers.

Honeybees

HONEYBEES

While riding my bike the other day I drove through the middle of a swirling tornado of honeybees. Ever alert I quickly shut my mouth, squinted my eyes, hunched over and plunged on through. I emerged safe and unstung.

Honeybees periodically swarm. This enables the colony to divide and increase. Swarming is often associated with overcrowding coupled with warm weather. In Sonoma there are many untended wild colonies. These colonies are located in attics, in walls of abandoned buildings and in tree cavities. I have noticed several
hives in the base of old bay laurel trees. These trees often have rotten centers that provide a perfect home for the bees.

A honeybee colony consists of one queen, a few drones, and thousands of workers. The queen is basically an egg-laying machine. All day long as she is fed and attended by nurse bees, she continually pumps little oval eggs into special brood cells. In her prime she may lay 2000 per day!

The queen lays two types of eggs- fertilized and unfertilized. The fertile ones develop into the worker bees. These females are the bedrock of the hive. They do all of the work—gathering pollen and nectar, raising the young, guarding the hive, scouting, and tending the queen.

The infertile eggs develop into the drones. These stingerless smiles are useful only for mating; they lack the ability to gather pollen and nectar and don’t participate in nest maintenance. They are larger than the workers and tend to eat a lot of honey. No
doubt you have had a roommate or husband like that.

As the colony grows, it becomes crowded and the workers cannot maintain the optimal hive temperature. The queen may falter in her egg-laying ability. To insure the survival of the hive, workers secrete chemicals called pheromones that transmit a
colony-wide message—RAISE A NEW QUEEN NOW.

The workers construct several extra-large brood cells and the queen deposits a fertilized egg in each one. After four days the eggs hatch into white worm-like larvae. These larvae are given preferential treatment. A distinctive food called royal jelly, secreted by special glands in the workers, is fed to the developing young. This entree contains high levels of hormones that cause the larvae to evolve into sexually mature queens rather than infertile workers. The larvae then spin a cocoon and
Enter the pupa stage. The first queen to emerge is the winner. With her unbarbed stinger she kills all the other queens by repeatedly stinging them in their cells. If two or more queens emerge concurrently a battle will ensue.

Now there are two queens in the hive–the new one and the old one. Two females sharing a kitchen is an untenable situation. The old queen flies out of the hive with thousands of workers leaving the virgin queen with the house, the yard and half the staff.

Prior to leaving with the old queen the workers fuel up on honey. By eating honey, bees become mellow. Smoke also stimulates bees to ingest honey and become congenial. Beekeepers have exploited this trait by blowing smoke on bees, making them easier to rob.
So when I rode through the swarm of honey-satiated bees I was actually in little danger of being stung. Small consolation.

The swarm will temporarily settle on a tree or branch. Special bees (girl scouts) look for the best nesting location. When the scouts return they advertise sites by means of an elaborate” dance.” This “dance” is also used to communicate sources of nectar and pollen. Discovered in the 1930’s by Karl von Frisch, it demonstrated that honeybees use a symbolic language that is second only to humans in complexity. When the majority of scouts are reporting the identical location, the entire colony led by the queen move into it.

Back at the original hive the young queen soon takes a nuptial flight. She flies out and mates with one lucky drone. From this coupling she will store enough sperm for several years of egg laying. Ob-la-dee ob-la-da hive goes on.

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