“The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.” — J.B.S. Haldane, British geneticist and evolutionary biologist (1892-1964)
“I believe in nothing, everything is sacred. I believe in everything, nothing is sacred.” — Tom Robbins (1936- ), Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976)
This blog began in October 2009 as an email sent to friends to share news and a photo of a new baby born into the L pod orcas of the Pacific Northwest — one of three pods in the Southern Resident community that was hit hard by captures for marine parks before captures were banned in 1976 and is still threatened by underwater noise, pollution, diminishing food stocks, you name it.
Seeing the photo of that baby lifted me so completely out of myself and gave me such a sweet, sharp thrill that I had to share it and spread the good feeling around.
I felt happy and excited as I sent that email, like I was doing something good for people, sending them a lovely surprise gift — a chance to forget themselves for a moment, open a virtual window onto our big, beautiful world and experience the cleansing, centering, soul-soothing effects of reconnecting with Nature: Oh, right. It’s not all about us, is it? Look at that.
It felt so good I did it again, and again, and again — each time choosing a different nature news subject. I got good feedback. I kept it up. Over the next few months I sent out Nature News emails about once a week on subjects including but not limited to:
• A revised estimate of how many people two man-eating lionesses from Kenya, now stuffed and on display at Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, had actually killed and eaten over a nine-month period in 1898: not 135, as previously thought, but probably more like 35. Oh. Well. That’s different.
• A rare sighting of some 60 members of an elusive whale species called Arnoux’s beaked whales in the waters off Antarctica that got researchers very excited because they hardly ever see these whales at all, much less socializing in a big group at the surface.
• An invasion of giant Nomura’s jellyfish in the Sea of Japan — creatures so huge, heavy and plentiful that a fishing boat capsized trying to haul in a netfull.
• The birth of a baby beluga later named Nala to a wild-born female named Aurora at the Vancouver Aquarium, followed by the death of an adult male named Nico just weeks after he was shipped from the Georgia Aquarium to SeaWorld San Antonio. Note: Baby Nala died at age one.
• The ability of a crow-like bird called the great British rook to problem-solve and create and use tools with a level of intelligence researchers put on a par with that of chimps.
• The November Leonid Meteor Shower. The December Geminids. The 2009 New Year’s Eve Blue Moon.
• The advance of two invasive species of huge, voracious, leaping Asian carp up the Mississippi toward — and now, it seems, into — the Great Lakes.
• The ability of the small veined octopus to assemble discarded coconut shells into shelters it actually carries around with it, and the debate about whether this equals tool use. There’s no debate about whether octopuses are smart. They are.
• The phenomenal pole-to-pole migrations of the Sooty Shearwater and Arctic Tern, birds that travel farther in their annual migrations than any other creature on the planet and do it mostly over open ocean: a roundtrip journey of about 37,968 miles for the shearwater and 44,055 miles for the tern.
• The tallest dog in the world (at the time), according to Guinness World Records.
• The biggest waves and the surfers who ride them.
• A contest to name the new 7 wonders of the natural world.
• The Gulf Spill.
My initial objectives were:
1. Mix it up so there’s something for everyone, even though my personal passions are dolphins and whales, because not everyone shares these passions and they’re not the only things I care about, either.
2. Keep the news upbeat and entertaining to balance out the bad nature news we’re always being hit with and encourage people to enjoy and engage with nature instead of just feeling guilty and hopeless about how we’re destroying it.
3. Keep newsfeeds image-heavy and text-light because everybody loves looking at pictures and there are so many incredible ones out there that most people don’t get to see, and because nobody wants to read long blocks of text anymore — especially online.
4. Keep the news surprising, amazing and exciting. The thrill I felt when I saw that photo of the baby orca — that’s what I was going for: I was going for Wow.
I still think these are good goals, but it didn’t take me long to stray from them, because it’s hard to resist writing about the things you care about most, hard to stay upbeat when the news is upsetting, and hard to keep it short when a subject grabs hold and won’t let go.
• Put them all together, and you get “Oh, No, Mr. President!” my 1/12/10 newsfeed on President Obama’s unfortunate decision to let his girls swim with captive dolphins during the family’s 2009 Christmas vacation in Hawaii, why organizations like the Humane Society of the United States were dismayed, and why they oppose captivity and want to see these facilities shut down.
• Put them all together, and you also get “Killer Whale Chronicles,” my six-part series (11/24 – 12/22/10) on births, deaths, attacks on trainers and other newsworthy events involving SeaWorld’s captive orcas that SeaWorld would just as soon people not know too much about.
You won’t find those early newsfeeds on this blog yet. I meant to upload them as soon as I launched it in December 2010, but then beloved anti-mountaintop removal coal-mining activist Judy Bonds died in January just after the head of a huge mining operation retired with millions in his pocket and just before the EPA stopped another mining company from destroying another stretch of Appalachia — and honoring Judy had to come first.
• And then I saw this incredible video of a squirrel negotiating the most unbelievably complex obstacle course and got curious about squirrel intelligence.
• And then, ohmygosh, have you seen the footage of a mother polar bear taking her baby for baby’s first walk outside their den that was captured by a camera disguised as a big snowball?
• And then there was so much dolphin and whale news to report and all this other news about how SeaWorld was trying to get people to forget that a killer whale had killed a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando in April 2010 and get them excited about paying to see captive killer whales perform again.
• And every day brings more Daily Nature News than I can keep up with.
As Rosanne Rosannadanna used to say, “It’s always something.” And as my friend Kalia Donor says, “It’s hard to go backward.”
All of which is to say that Gini’s Nature News is still very much in the process of becoming. So please bear with me, keep checking in and leaving comments, and email me at: email@example.com
I’d love to hear your thoughts.