September 30, 2010

The Sandhill Cranes of Homer, Alaska

Have you ever seen a tall crane with a red forehead and a six to eight foot wingspan? If so, you may have been looking at a Sandhill Crane. Sandhill Cranes make their homes in North America and in Siberia. The video below is about the Sandhill Cranes of Homer, Alaska. It was made by Daisy Lee Bitter, a former science teacher who has lived in Alaska for 55 years.

The Sandhill Crane flies south for the winter. In their wintering areas they form flocks of over 10,000 birds. One place to observe this is at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, 100 miles south of Albuquerque, New Mexico. There is an annual Sandhill Crane Festival in November.

Daisy Lee Bitter has lived in Alaska for 55 years, having taught science in Anchorage for 29 years, produced an award-winning TV series, administered educational programs for Alaska Native students, and served as a school principal. By 1986 Daisy Lee had become a regular on public radio's Kachemak Currents. She set up an award-winning program for Homer's Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies, helped organize the Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, and she still volunteers for many non-profit organizations. Her interest in Sandhill Cranes is deeply held as it is for many in Homer, Alaska.

September 28, 2010

A Brief History of Bears

Did you know that the closest relative of bears are sea lions? It's true. Bears are mammals of the family Ursidae, also classified as dog-like carnivores, with the pinnipeds being their closest living relatives. Pinnipeds are fin-footed semi-aquatic sea mammals-- a group of mammals that includes sea lions and fur seals.
Adult grizzly bear at the San Francisco Zoo

As for diet, Polar Bears are the most carnivorous species, and Giant Pandas live on bamboo, but the remaining six species of bear are opportunistic omnivores, meaning that they eat plants, meat, and just about anything tasty that they find in your campsite. It may surprise some that Giant Pandas are now included among the other species of bear. For a long time, Pandas were not classified as bears, but rather as members of the raccoon family. Recent genetic studies, however, have confirmed that pandas are much more closely related to other bears than to raccoons.

The fossil record of bears is exceptionally good. Earliest fossils of extinct bears date from the Miocene period. These animals looked very different from today's bears, being small and raccoon-like in overall appearance, and eating a diet perhaps similar to that of a badger.

September 23, 2010

American Rich Get Richer, Poor Get Poorer

The 400 people on Forbes magazine's list of the richest Americans saw their combined net worth increase 8% this year. This happy news for the wealthy comes at the same time that the poverty rate in the United States has reached a 15-year high and unemployment is near 10%. The idea of the "American Dream," in which anyone can work hard and improve his socioeconomic situation lives on, but the reality has changed. The data suggest that the social mobility that used to define American culture has decreased significantly in the past 40 years. Is the legendary land of opportunity a thing of the past?

September 20, 2010

Biotech Battle over Franken-food Salmon

A battle is being fought over whether the U.S. Food and Drug Administration should approve the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption: a fast-growing Atlantic salmon. The salmon is being developed by a small biotech company from Massachusetts, AquaBounty Technologies (Arrrrrrrrr!), and contains an extra growth gene that makes it grow twice as fast as conventional farm-raised salmon. But is genetically engineering a super-fast growing salmon the best solution to the dwindling wild salmon population? Research suggests that the project could eventually spell doom for the wild fish, and leave consumers with some very fishy problems. As the company pushes for approval of its new franken-food fish, scientists and consumer groups alike are protesting on the grounds of safety and environmental sustainability.

Is it safe to eat? That's the big question, isn't it? AquaBounty says that the gene is safe for the salmon, safe for humans and safe for the environment, but some scientists and consumer groups say the agency should slow down and get more information. The FDA says it cannot determine whether a food is absolutely safe, but it can compare it to a food on the market that is already known to be safe and produces no additional risks, like toxins or allergies.

September 17, 2010

First International Observe The Moon Night

This Saturday night people will be gathering in groups around the world to examine Earth's nearest celestial neighbor as part of the first ever International Observe the Moon Night.

National Geographic News has announced that, "The global event is a joint project between NASA and several partners to raise awareness about the scientific importance of the moon, such as studying how the solar system formed or planning any future human missions to the lunar surface."

So when we view the moon, what exactly are we looking at? Not green cheese, that is for certain. Scientists have theorized about the origin of the moon for centuries, and many implausible theories abound. But there is one very plausible explanation about the birth of the moon, which not only answers where it came from, but explains the earth and moon's rotation, current orbit, and composition. In fact, rock samples of the moon very closely match rocks on earth. Called the Big Impact Theory, it states that the moon formed when another celestial body about the size of mars crashed into the earth. A  major side effect of the collision was the ejection of a large chunk of earth's rock which was sent into orbit around the earth, becoming its moon.

September 15, 2010

Human Bodies Have More Microbes Than Cells

Have you ever heard that there are trillions upon trillions of microbes living on and in the human body. To put this in perspective, Jeffrey Gordon, a professor at the Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, who studies the microbes that live on and in us, explains, "We think that there are 10 times more microbial cells on and in our bodies than there are human cells. That means that we're 90 percent microbial and 10 percent human. There's also an estimated 100 times more microbial genes than the genes in our human genome. So we're really a compendium [and] an amalgamation of human and microbial parts."

September 14, 2010

Goliath Tiger Fish Caught

One of the most feared freshwater predators ever known, Tigerfish have a nasty reputation. Featured in the Proceedings of the Ever So Strange, the largest of them all is the Goliath Tiger Fish of the mighty and richly diverse Amazon River. These fish hunt in large packs, just as their South American counterparts, the Piranhas do. Because they have razor sharp knife-like teeth, and extremely strong jaw muscles, they can munch their prey very efficiently. Prey consist primarily of other fish, but just about anything alive can fall prey to the Tigerfish. There are unverified reports of attacks on humans. There is a report of a spearfisherman in Kariba who once had to have 16 stitches after a wounded tigerfish gashed his side.

September 13, 2010

"White Space" for Faster Internet?

"White space" is what the Federal Communications Communication calls unused airwaves. The FCC is thinking about opening up some of that white space to the public, which would result in better, faster Internet. According to North Carolina Public Radio, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is meeting next week to talk about something called "white space," a chunk of the air waves that aren't used at the moment and whether to make it available to the public. It could, if everything works out, lead to all kinds of new devices and make your current gadgets work better and faster. With more people using more gadgets every day, that could be good news. 

September 2, 2010

Another Gulf of Mexico Oil Rig Explodes

There is more bad news for the flora and fauna that call the Gulf of Mexico home: An offshore petroleum platform exploded Thursday in the Gulf of Mexico about 100 miles off the Louisiana coast, west of the site where BP's undersea well spilled after a rig explosion. It's burning now, but the U.S. Coastguard rescued the 13 people on board the oil rig and reports no casualties.

"Thirteen people were seen huddled together in the water wearing gumby suits or immersion suits, water protection suits, so we were able to confirm that all people were accounted for," Coast Guard spokesman Chief Petty Officer John Edwards recently told National Public Radio.