National Geographic April 2016, Part 2

Every Last One, by Rachel Hartigan Shea, photographs by Joel Sartore

In my last National Geographic post, I said that this article will also be tangentially about death. And extinction, cancer, John James Audubon painting the portraits of dead birds, there’s a lot of death, and potential death, going on here.

Joel Sartore is a photographer who used to travel all over the world, until his wife, Kathy, developed cancer. Sartore needed to be there for her and to take care of his kids, so he stopped traveling for his work. Using John James Audubon as his inspiration, he decided that he wanted to start taking portraits of animals. As you may or may not know, Audubon was drawing, which takes longer than photography, and he needed his subjects to sit still longer than they would in life, so every bird that Audubon drew was dead and wired into a natural pose.

Sartore contacted a friend who worked at a local zoo and got his friend to lend him a white box and a naked mole rat. And thus Sartore’s new career was born. Some of the animals that Sartore is photographing are endangered, some even critically endangered. Sartore photographed one of the last five northern white rhinoceros in the world just before she died. Sartore’s photographs are amazing. In this article, we see 77 of his photographs. Sartore estimates that it will take 25 years to finish photographing just the species that are in zoos. He may not live to see that part of his career finished.

Oh, and Kathy had another bout of cancer in 2012, but has been cancer-free for four years now. His son, Cole, had Hodgkins lymphoma in 2012, but Hodgkins lymphoma is curable, so his prognosis is excellent.

Urban Parks, by Ken Otterbourg, photographs by Simon Roberts

If you’ve been reading here very long at all, you’ll see that I really love urban parks, so this article was right up my alley. Otterbourg traces the origins of some of our urban parks, mostly focusing on lands that have been reclaimed from other uses, including the rebirths of the Cuyahoga and Chonggyecheon rivers, the creation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and other parks.

I’m disappointed that Millennium Park isn’t listed here. The creation of the park above a parking lot and old railroad lines seems right in keeping with the “reclaming land to make parks” theme of this article. Speaking of which, it’s August, so it’s only about two months before I return to walking San Antonio’s own reclaimed-land park, the Peak Greenway.


National Geographic: June 2015, Part 1

High Science, by Hampton Sides, photographs by Lynn Johnson

I have to admit that I’m less-than-enthusiastic about the legalization of pot. I have some friends who are into the whole thing, and that’s just fine by me, so long as they don’t smoke it around me, or, really, smell very strongly of it around me, or drive under the influence.  And before you go saying, “there’s no evidence that people are more likely to drive under the influence of pot.” and then obfuscate the issue by bringing up drunk driving, I wouldn’t have the first idea how to go about getting pot, but I know three people who have driven under the influence, one of whom almost got into a serious accident as a result. Now maybe those are the only three people in the history of ever who have driven under the influence and that one person is the only one who ever almost got into a major accident, but I suspect there just might be more of them out there.

But I come from a family of alcoholics and I have asthma. Neither of these are conducive to me wanting, personally, to indulge in pot. As a result, I really did not want to get into this article, and I’m currently sitting here staring at my computer screen trying to psych myself up to write about it.

Basically, Sides takes us into the lives of a number of people who are in the pot business, including Raphael Mechoulam, the scientist who identified THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana), a breeder of recreational marijuana, a cancer researcher who has discovered a marijuana-based cancer treatment that works in mice, a family who uses cannabis oil to treat their child’s seizures, and a man who is mapping the genome of pot.

And, I guess if I had a condition that a marijuana-based treatment would help, I would consider it, just like I’ve taken Tylenol #3 and Vicodin four times that I can recall in my adult life (two tooth extractions, a c-section, and as a cough suppressant). I never found any of those meds so enjoyable that I didn’t want to quit, so perhaps my worries about addiction aren’t very well founded. But I don’t believe in taking unnecessary risks, either.

Born to Be Wild, by Tim Zimmermann, photographs by various photographers

Apparently, this is the second in a three-part series, Understanding Dolphins. It’s Time for a Conversation from the May 2015 issue is the first installment.

Born to Be Wild is about projects that attempt to return dolphins, generally those who were captured, back to the wilderness. We see Tom and Misha, dolphins from the Agean, who were captured in 2006 and kept in a park in Turkey. Four years after their capture, a man named Jeff Foster, who used to work for a company that captured dolphins began work to get them ready to be released into the wild. Foster worked with Tom and Misha and set them free We see the process that Foster used, including how he retrained Tom and Misha to eat live fish once again, and how he conditioned them to be able to swim long distances. The process took a while, around a year and a half, but eventually, they opened the sea pen that they had kept Tom and Misha in, and they were off. Their tracking tags stopped working within a year, but the scientists had by then gathered enough information to be sure that Tom and Misha had successfully reintegrated into the wild.

We also see the less-detailed return to the wild of three dolphins captured from the wild and kept in captivity in Korea. Tom and Misha separated and disappeared into the wild, but two of the Korean dolphins were seen nearly a year later, traveling with a pod of wild dolphins.

As to how many wild-caught dolphins can be released into the wild, Naomi Rose, a marine biologist thinks that one-third might be candidates for release. There is also a graphic showing how many captive dolphins in the world were wild-caught, and the vast majority of them were. However, most of the dolphins in the United States, Mexico, and Europe were born in captivity. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is up for debate. I cautiously think of it as a good thing, since at least we’re not contributing so much to the traffic in dolphins. I wish we had more up-to-date facilities for them, however, that allow them a more naturalistic environment. Hopefully that will come with time.