Whale Sharks Gather in 100s for Food


Aerial photo of whale sharks feeding at the Afuera aggregation in August 2009. (Photo: Oscar Reyes)

While this isn’t what they were seeking, scientists studying the habits of whale sharks have incidentally learned how effectively these behemoths – the heaviest and longest, at up to 40 feet, of all fishes – communicate with each other.

Whale sharks (Rhincodon typus) are often thought to be solitary behemoths that live and feed in the open ocean. Scientists at the Smithsonian Institution and colleagues, however, several  years ago found that this is not necessarily the case: As well as being gregarious, whale sharks have been seen to collect in schools, or aggregations, numbering into the hundreds to feed in coastal waters.

Their communications, via sounds and movements, serves to alerts others of the presence of food – as in this instance – or the availability of a potential partner, Sharks-World explains.

Aggregations numbering in the dozens of creatures were observed before 2011, but surface and aerial surveys then revealed an enormous aggregation of whale sharks—the largest ever reported—with up to 420 individuals off the coast of the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. What brings them together is food.

“Whale sharks are the largest species of fish in the world, yet they mostly feed on the smallest organisms in the ocean, such as zooplankton,” said Mike Maslanka, a biologist at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and head of the Department of Nutrition Sciences. “Our research revealed that in this case, the hundreds of whale sharks had gathered to feed on dense patches of fish eggs.”

While much remains unknown about whale sharks, it is known that they have a very widespread distribution, occurring in all tropical and sub-tropical regions of the ocean around the world. Understanding this filter-feeder’s diet is especially important since food sources determine much of the whale shark’s movement and location.

During the dozens of surface trips that team members made to the aggregation, called the “Afuera” aggregation, they used fine nets to collect food samples inside and immediately outside the school of feeding whale sharks. Scientists then used DNA barcoding analysis to examine the collected fish eggs and determine the species. They found that the eggs were from little tunny (Euthynnus alletteratus), a member of the mackerel family.

“Having DNA barcoding is an incredibly valuable resource for this research,” said Lee Weigt, head of the Laboratories of Analytical Biology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “It not only allowed us to know what exactly this huge aggregation of whale sharks were feeding on, not readily done from only physical observations of eggs, but it also revealed a previously unknown spawning ground for little tunny.”

The team of scientists also examined a nearby, less dense aggregation of whale sharks, known as the Cabo Catoche aggregation, off the northern tip of the Yucatán Peninsula. They found that the prey of this group mostly consisted of copepods (small crustaceans) and shrimp. Increased sightings at Afuera coincided with decreased sightings at Cabo Catoche, and both groups had the same sex ratio, implying that the same animals were involved in both aggregations.

“With two significant whale shark aggregation areas and at the very least one active spawning ground for little tunny, the northeastern Yucatán marine region is a critical habitat that deserves more concerted conservation effort,” said Maslanka.

The whale shark is listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. Populations appear to have been depleted by harpoon fisheries in Southeast Asia and perhaps incidental capture in other fisheries.

The scientists’ findings were published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE, April 2011. In addition to the Smithsonian Institution, team members were from the Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas in Cancún, Mexico, the Center for Shark Research in Sarasota, Fl., project DOMINO and the Georgia Aquarium, Inc. in Atlanta, Ga.



Paper Towels As Hurricane Relief

paper towels to PR

Paper towels: Really? That’s what the president of the United States offers as ‘help’ to Puerto Ricans whose homes, whose whole island, was essentially destroyed by Hurricane Maria. That’s precisely what he threw, by the roll, to crowds in San Juan on his October 3rd visit to the island.

The 3.5 million people there – American citizens because this country saw the island as a good defense post and ‘adopted’ it in 1898 under terms of the Treaty of Paris — was devastated by Maria, leaving most of the main island, and its smaller related neighbors, with no electricity, no water, no properly functioning services of any kind.

In my youth, in my early 20’s, as a new resident of New York City, I developed an intense dislike of Puerto Ricans because I saw them as freeloaders seeking to suck the greatest possible amount of milk and honey from the ‘American dream’ and ship it back to PR.

Sometimes it’s hard, particularly when you’re young, to separate the people from the territory where they call home. It’s especially hard to make that distinction when you regularly hear how Puerto Ricans come to New York City, go on welfare (public assistance) and then, some months later, take the bulk of their hardly-earned, taxpayer-funded ‘loot’ back to their island paradise.

Well, Puerto Rico is hardly a paradise now. But it is home to some 3.4 million American citizens facing a serious crisis that will, in all likelihood, continue ceaselessly well into 2018. Imagine trying to survive with little or no drinkable water, no electricity, severe food shortages, and scarce medical services. (Hospitals depend heavily on electricity to accomplish their life saving missions.)

On my sole visit to Puerto Rico, in the late 1960’s, I met many hard-working, peace-loving citizens. I’ve met and worked many like them in the years since then. No longer an innocent youth, I have come to have more than a little sympathy for members of an island community entitled to pay taxes to Washington but not allowed to fully participate as American citizens – they have no voting rights for national officials (congressmen, senators or the president) so long as they remain on the island. But Puerto Ricans living on the mainland do have full voting rights. (Go figure!)

When President Trump told Puerto Rico aid in the face of their disaster was slow in coming “because we have to take care of Americans first,” he was not only wrong, he was insensitive. In other words, he was acting fully in character.

Feline “First Citizen” Passes, Leaving Townfolk Appawled


Stubbs poses on a car in a 2006 photo. (Jenni Konrad / Flickr)

Legend has it that Stubbs, the ginger-haired, long-time feline “mayor” of tiny Talkeetna, Alaska, rose to stardom fairly early in his 20-year, three-month lifespan, shortly after he was found in a box by employees of the Nagley’s General Store.

Talkeetna, a historic district without an annual mayor, long ago accepted Stubbs as honorary “first citizen” who, thanks to Nagley General Manager Lauri Stec and others, had run of the store and a good deal of the town, according to a 2013 Wall Street Journal profile. (Paywall.)

Stubbs died earlier in July, quietly, in his sleep, according to a statement from the family that has owned Nagley’s and the West Rib Cafe Pub for two and a half years.

Unlike many modern-day politicians, he was universally beloved by the town he led for more than 18 years. And the people of Talkeetna, population 900, deeply mourned the death of the four-legged fellow they called mayor.

“He was a trooper until the very last day of his life,” Stubb’s human family’s statement said.”Thank you, Stubbs, for coming into our lives for the past 31 months; you are a remarkable cat and we will dearly miss you.”

The cat was embraced by residents of the area as a tourist attraction – Talkeetna is a Smithsonian.com “Best Small Towns of 2017” pick – and beloved figure of local pride. “We don’t know what we’d do without him, really,” local resident Leah Vanden Busch told Jim Carlton in the Wall Street Journal profile. Politically too, he was widely approved of. “He hasn’t voted for anything I wouldn’t have voted for,” resident Peg Vos told Carlton.

That year, however, a mauling by a local dog left Stubbs in need of surgery. He soon resumed his mayoral duties, which mainly consisted of wandering around the town, drinking catnip-laced water from margarita glasses, and of course, sleeping a lot.

Stubbs was even drafted for a last-minute campaign as a write-in candidate in 2014 for Alaska’s U.S. Senator race, though he was unsuccessful in his bid.

In the last few years, however, reports Charles Levin for CNN, Stubbs began to come to the general store (his “mayoral office”) less and less, preferring to hang around the home of his owners.

“Stubbs did a couple TV shows and more than a handful of interviews, but was not fond of the camera and all the people; it had gotten to be too much for him,” his owners said in a statement.

The end came peacefully last week, reports Chris Klint for KTVA News, with Stubbs dying in his sleep.

The mayoral post is vacant for the first time in a long time, but it likely won’t be for long, reports Levin. The fittingly named Denali, one of two kittens taken in a couple of years ago by Stubbs’ family, may soon step into the power vacuum.


What’s Swimming In The Pool YOU Use?

swimming pool

A little known fact: 19% of American adults have admitted to peeing at least once in a swimming pool. The share of children doing so is undoubtedly much higher than that.

If you’re wondering, ‘and this is important to know for what reason?’ the reason is simple: Though urine is sterile, it contains various chemicals – urea, ammonia, amino acids and creatinine among them – that can react with such pool sterilizers as chlorine to form volatile disinfectant byproducts (DBPs) that can lead to eye and respiratory irritation and even a form of asthma.

How much pee might there be in a pool? A team of scientists at Canada’s University of Alberta (the Division of Analytical and Environmental Toxicology, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry) found some in 100% of the sizab le sampling of pools and hot tubs they studied last year, with a 110,000 gallon (416, 395 l) pool containing 7.9 gallons (26.5 l) of urine and a 220.000 gallon pool (832,790 l) included close to 20 gallons (75 l) of liquid human waste.

It’s hard to avoid ‘absorbing’ some pool water when you find it streaming down your face when you emerge from beneath it. Even if you don’t swallow, but blow it out, you could be taking in some urine, albeit diluted. But that’s what the pool water samples were in the tests done by the Canadian researchers.

That tinkle of pee you may have absorbed on a single pool visit is hardly like to hurt you. But if you are a regular pool user, this is a fact to keep in mind: That person next to you – yes, that one – just did a bladder dump, and the splasher on the far side of that person is pushing “it”| toward you.


Fore! Is That a Golf Ball in My Hash Browns?

mcCain Hash Browwns

Foods get recalled for an assortment of (sometimes odd) reasons – but because they may contain pieces of golf balls? CNN reported Sunday that McCains announced a recall over the weekend of several brands of hash brown potatoes because, as the company put it, “they may contain extraneous golf ball materials” – from balls (or pieces thereof) grabbed along with the spuds during the harvesting process.

It’s not uncommon for farm land to be re-purposed for other uses, but it says something – what, we’re not sure! – when a golf course’s greens are replaced by fields of brown potatoes. If, in fact, that’s what happened in this instance. Or perhaps someone was randomly firing golf balls into a potato field.

A statement on the FDA website says: “McCain Foods USA, Inc. announced today it is voluntarily recalling retail, frozen hash brown products that may be contaminated with extraneous golf ball materials, that despite our stringent supply standards may have been inadvertently harvested with potatoes used to make this product. Consumption of these products may pose a choking hazard or other physical injury to the mouth.

The impacted products include the following: Roundy’s Brand, 2 lb. Bag of Frozen Southern Style Hash Browns (UPC 001115055019) and Harris Teeter Brand, 2 lb. Bag of Frozen Southern Style Hash Browns (UPC 007203649020).

The Roundy’s products were distributed at Marianos, Metro Market, and Pick ‘n Save supermarkets in the states of Illinois and Wisconsin. The Harris Teeter products were distributed in the states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, District of Columbia, Delaware, Florida, Georgia and Maryland. Distribution occurred after the date of January 19, 2017. No other products under the respective brands are impacted by this recall.

The products being recalled were manufactured on January 19, 2017. The production code date is B170119 and can be found on the back of the packaging. Any product with a different production code date is not impacted by this recall.

Consumers who have purchased these products are urged not to consume them. These products should be thrown away or returned to the place of purchase.

There have been no reported injuries associated with the consumption of this product.”

This Should Never (Ever!) Have Been Necessary – But, Sadly, It Was



The Washington Post has reported on – and posted a video of – a nine-year-old girl testifying before the Charlotte VA City Council against the mistreatment of African-Americans by the city’s police – and “y’all” in general. This should never have had to happen.

But a sense of racial injustice has become so severe in Charlotte, Virginia’s largest city, that it prompted a nine-year-old to stand up, not before a classroom of her peers, which is always hard enough at her age, but before a collection of adults who have the power, but apparently not the will or the guts, to make a difference. To bring the police department to heel; to make whatever efforts are required to work with civic groups – including churches of all types, fraternal organizations, and whatever other groups exist, particularly in predominantly Black neighborhoods – and to work in whatever way necessary to change mindsets that, in one way or another lead to situations like this.

‘This,’ in this instance, was the shooting to death of a Black citizen by a (coincidentally white) police officer. Neither of two videos of the event released, under pressure from the public, by the police department clarified whether the victim was carrying a gun, as police contend, or not. A cell phone video shot and quickly released by a family member similarly failed to clarify what prompted the officer to what sounded, in the family member’s video, like close to half a dozen shots into a man standing less than ten feet away. (All else aside, that doesn’t speak well for the officer’s confidence in the Charlotte P.D.’s target practice standards!)

(An interesting, possibly critical point: The Charlotte P.D. has admitted that one officer failed to turn on his body camera when he responded to the scene. That’s a violation of department practices, and a pretty serious, we’d reckon. I mean, police departments are spending tens of thousands of dollars equipping their officers with those cams and shoulder mics (which, by the way, were being used – the mics, not the cams – by the Metropolitan Police — the ‘bobbies’ — in London as long ago as the 1980’s!)

I recently attended a church-sponsored ‘block party’ in my small Virginia town. Along with the face-painter, the bounce tent and several other attractions for kids, there was an ‘example’ of a local police department car – with doors open, and an unspoken invitation for kids to climb in either the back or the front. And climb they did: The car was seldom empty throughout this hot August afternoon, and the by-standing police officer readily answered any questions any kid had.

An incredible example of ‘community relations’ work that, in effect, cost the town nothing, as it is common practice to make an officer and car available just in case there’s a need at most, if not all, of this town’s public and open-to-the-public events, as this one was.

In the course of setting up an interview for tomorrow with our town’s police chief – I write for the local paper and another one – he noted that he’d recently met with officials of police departments in Tempe AZ and Dallas TX. He said that the more he gets out and about on visits like that – he was set to lecture in each of those to cities – “the more I find community support behind what police departments are doing, and I’m encouraged by that.”

That is good, but, sadly, not good enough: I fear that the more police departments militarize – accept from the U.S. Army armored vehicles and the like the military no longer wants or needs (because, no doubt, they’ve graduated to even more frightful, and frightening ‘tools’) – the more police officers will come to view themselves as ‘combatants’ of one sort or another. Meaning, in effect, despite whatever efforts their communities undertake to reduce the incidence of violence, individual cops will fall back on the old ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ formula. Too often, of late, a deadly formula.

When police officers in small (and ever smaller) towns get to access, free or at bargain basement rates, ‘weapons of war’, in the form of armored vehicles, high tech surveillance and communications gear and whatever, they are going to want, child-like, to try out their new ‘toys’. And one way or another, in controlled environments or on the streets, try them they will.

The generation joining police departments today grew up playing video games, too often violent ones. And while many of the early and current video game fans would deny they are victims, many among them come to have a diminished sense of responsibility, or ability to distinguish, regarding the respective relative to push-a-button versus pull-a-trigger reality.

Zianna Oliphant’s comments before the Charlotte City Council should – if they haven’t already  – ‘gone viral’, whatever that means. (I don’t understand how that happens and wouldn’t care in the least unless something I said did so, and resulted in lots more followers of this (YouSayWHAT.info) or my other blog (FoodTradeTrends.com).

(Zianna’s video isn’t long, but if you don’t want to take the time to watch it, as you surely should, here’s the essence: Y’all [whomever she meant that to include] are treating Black people bad – however you want to interpret that.


“We are black people and we shouldn’t have to feel like this,” Zianna said, sobbing. “We shouldn’t have to protest because y’all are treating us wrong. We do this because we need to – and have rights,” she said.


What a sad, but hopeful, day: When a nine-year-old (some media have said she’s ten) is so distressed that she has to trek to City Hall and put herself in a role she probably never imagined playing -that of ‘interpreter’, or spokesperson, for an under-served,  under-appreciated community. Some 13.5% of the population there, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. A minority, yes, but an important one — that does, among other things, low-wage job members of the majority refuse to. Too often collecting some kind of ‘benefits’ instead.

If you want a clear (as any) picture of how sad this current presidential election campaign, and how inadequately the candidates have failed to address, or propose realistic solutions to major structural and societal issues in this country – including the issue that inspired that brave nine year old to so eloquently speak out as she did – see this clip, from Steven Colbert’s live show Monday night. He sums the whole mess up wonderfully, in one word.

Regardless of your preconceived ideas about who’s right and who’s not (but not necessarily) left, watch it.

Kids Die, But Shouldn’t, When Left Alone inside Cars That Overheat


Photo: KidsandCars.org


We’ve all heard the warnings/cautions: Don’t leave kids or pets in cars when temperatures are high. Safe Kids Worldwide, a global organization dedicated to preventing injuries in  children, says that every eight days a child dies from heatstroke from being left in a car that got too hot. That’s inexcusable, and totally preventable, the group says.

Sometimes parents forget little ones are in the car if the kids have fallen asleep. Other times, people think they just have to go into a store for a few minutes. But, young children’s bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adults, Safe Kids Worldwide says.

Heat stroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle related deaths among children, the group noted.

To protect young children from dying of heatstroke in a car, parents and other caregivers need to remember to “ACT.”

  • Avoid heat stroke by never leaving children alone in a car, not even for a minute. Always lock your car when you’re not in it so children don’t get in on their own.
  • Create reminders that your child is in the car by putting something next to your child in the back seat, such as a briefcase, purse or cell phone that you’ll need when you arrive at your destination. This is especially important if you’re not following your usual routine.
  • Take action. If you see a child alone in a car, call 911. Doing so could save a life.

The alarm to parents and caregivers to never leave a child alone in a car sounded louder during a week in 2012 after three more children died of heatstroke in cars. As summer temperatures reach record highs across the country, as tey are doing again this year, these preventable tragedies remind us to be even more vigilant to prevent heatstroke from killing another child.

Heatstroke is the leading cause of non-crash, vehicle-related deaths for children under the age of 14. Since 1998, 545 children across the United States have died in cars from heatstroke, including 18 children this year.

More than half of these deaths occur when a driver forgets that the child is in the car. Experts will tell you this can happen to anybody. Our busy lifestyles create enough stress to trigger mental “lapses,” which can bury a thought and cause your brain to go on autopilot. The lapses can affect something as simple as misplacing your keys or something as crucial as forgetting a baby.

Almost 30 percent of the time, children get into a car on their own. Kids love to pretend they’re driving. They find a way into the car, but sometimes, they can’t find a way out.

The third scenario is when someone intentionally leaves a child alone in a car. A parent might be running an errand and think, “The baby just fell asleep. I’ll just be gone for a second.” But seconds turn into minutes, and before you know it, the temperature inside of the car has reached lethal levels.

Many people are shocked to learn how hot the inside of a car can actually get. On an 80 degree day, the temperature inside of a car can rise 20 degrees in 10 minutes. You can only imagine what happens when the temperature outside is 100 degrees or more, as it has been in many places around the country this summer. And cracking the window doesn’t help.

Heatstroke sets in when the body isn’t able to cool itself quickly enough. Young children are particularly at risk as their bodies heat up three to five times faster than an adult’s. When a child’s internal temperature reaches 104 degrees, major organs begin to shut down. When that child’s temperature reaches 107 degrees, the child can die. Heatstroke deaths have been recorded in 11 months of the year in nearly all 50 states. These tragedies can happen anytime, anywhere.

Two years ago, 49 children died in cars from heatstroke. Last year, one of the hottest years on record, we lost 33 children. Losing one child is one too many.