National Geographic July 2015, Part 2

How Orcas Work Together to Whip Up a Meal, by Virginia Morrell, photographs by Paul Nicklen

That’s an uncomfortably wordy title, but I guess it’s descriptive. How Orcas Work Together to Whip Up a Meal is the final installment of the three-part Understanding Dolphins series, because orcas are dolphins — the largest of the dolphins, in fact.

The meaning of the title is that orcas do what is called “carousel feeding.” They surround schools of herring and swim in ever-tighter circles around the herring. Then, once they have the herring trapped, they smack them with their tails. This stuns or kills the herring, making them easy to eat. They use other tactics, of course, but carousel feeding is one of the most fascinating.

While researching the story, Morrell saw whales hunting with the orcas. This was surprising because whales are also prey of orcas (the name “killer whale” is actually a mistranslation of the Spanish name, asesina de ballinas, or “whale killer.” Yet the whales were out there with the orcas, unmolested. The orca specialist that Morrell was talking to, Tiu Similä, decided later that the whales were freeloaders. However, there were enough fish for all, so the orcas allowed them to hang around.

In the Footsteps of Gandhi, by Tom O’Neill, photographs by Rena Effendi

In the Footsteps of Gandhi is about Gandhi’s literal footsteps. As part of India’s path to independence from the United Kingdom, Gandhi and thousands of other Indians walked from to the coast of the Arabian Sea. The British forbade the people of India to harvest their own salt from the sea, instead requiring them to buy the mineral from the British. In protest, Gandhi walked to the sea, intending to harvest salt from the salt flats, but the British had ground the salt into the beach. Gandhi was able to find one crystal of salt on the beach and picked it up, breaking the law. Gandhi and tens of thousands of his followers were arrested.

O’Neill decided to walk the same path, from Ahmedabad to the Arabian Sea. Through this article, we see the places he visits and talk to the people he meets, looking for traces of Gandhi.

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.