Gorilla Baby–Photo

Zachary gets a warm welcome

   Western lowland gorilla Kamba, 11, cuddles her day-old son, Zachary, at Brookfield Zoo on Thursday. Kamba, a first-time mom, was born and raised at the zoo. Zachary’s dad, JoJo, 35, was formerly at Lincoln Park Zoo.


A Win For The Whales

A Win For The Whales: Navy Agrees To Limit Sonar Use

Image result for whale photos                                                            National Public Radio    All Things Considered        source

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As part of a legal settlement with environmental groups, the U.S. Navy has agreed to limit their use of sonar in certain areas off California and Hawaii that are whale habitats. NPR’s Arun Rath speaks with Joshua Horwitz, author of War of the Whales.

As part of a legal settlement with environmental groups, the U.S. Navy has agreed to limit their use of sonar in certain areas off California and Hawaii that are whale habitats. NPR’s Arun Rath speaks with Joshua Horwitz, author of War of the Whales.


This week, a settlement in the 20-year-long battle between the U.S. Navy and whale advocates. The Navy has agreed to limit its use of sonar and underwater explosives off the coast of California and Hawaii. Joshua Horwitz wrote about this conflict in his book “War Of The Whales,” and joined us earlier this week from Barcelona. He started by explaining the key dispute in these lawsuits – the Navy’s use of active sonar.

JOSHUA HORWITZ: This originated from the Navy’s need – going back to the Cold War – to track enemy submarines in dark ocean depths. And so to do that, they’ve resorted to using active sonar, which bounces sound waves off of objects in the ocean. And if whales are there, particularly in a closed environment like an underwater canyon, it can cause hemorrhages in the brain and bleeding through the eyes and the ears and, in the most extreme case, it could be lethal.

RATH: So help us understand what this settlement is. If it’s not stopping this testing, it’s just limiting it?

HORWITZ: Yes. Well, this whole 20-year legal battle is over the use of sonar in training. No one has ever contested the Navy’s need to use sonar in battle situations. However, for training exercises, the environmentalists and conservation groups have tried to get the Navy to agree to limit their use in whale habitats, when whales are present, and that’s what this case has mostly been about.

RATH: So given that they’ve been making an argument against it for 20 years, why is the Navy yielding on this point now?

HORWITZ: I think the reason the Navy is – has been willing to make accommodations on this round that they haven’t been previously prepared to do is that they’re under increased pressure in the context of the Asia pivot to be more prepared and have more flexibility to coordinate international naval exercises in the Pacific. In the past, there have been injunctions that have actually prevented them from initiating exercises like the RIMPAC exercises, which are held in the summer and now involve up to two dozen international navies. So you actually have had the situation historically where you have hundreds of warships that have convened in Hawaii for training exercises where they’re just idling at sea waiting for the two sides to negotiate an agreement. So I think another factor is that there’s a new generation of fleet commanders who are more pragmatic, and it’s in their interest to get past this legal war of attrition they’ve been bogged down in.

RATH: Now these restrictions only apply, though, to a relatively small piece of the ocean and the U.S. Navy, and there’s a lot of ocean and other countries with huge navies, who I imagine might want to do this kind of testing – Russia, China. How much of a difference will this make for whales in the big scheme of things?

HORWITZ: Well, I think that the significance is that the Navy has really crossed the Rubicon in terms of their position on what they can and can’t do to accommodate marine mammals during their training. So let’s hope that those will extend all the way up both coasts and the Gulf of Mexico, but it’s still very significant because of – it’s the U.S. Navy, and they are by far the biggest.

RATH: That’s Joshua Horwitz. His book, “War Of The Whales,” explains the decades long struggle over sonar testing in the ocean that led to the settlement this week. Joshua, thanks very much.

HORWITZ: Thank you, Arun.



Animal Emotions


The inner lives of animals   William Falk  The Week
Ken Gillespie/All Canada Photos/Corbis
September 18, 2015

Do animals have feelings similar to ours? To anyone who’s ever looked deeply into the eyes of a dog (especially mine), or watched mama orangutans cuddle their babies or young gorillas roughhouse like teenagers, it’s a ridiculous question. Many hardheaded scientists, however, dismiss speculation about animal consciousness as pointless anthropomorphizing; they view lesser species as furry or finny animatrons, acting out instincts and impulses installed by evolution. But in his new book, Beyond Words, marine conservationist Carl Safina thoroughly dismantles this behaviorist view of animals. (See an excerpt here, which appears in The Week magazine.) With detailed, first-hand observations, Safina demonstrates that wolves, elephants, and orcas exhibit complex planning, empathy, jealousy, anger — even sheer joy at being alive. Many animals, he points out, have brain structures similar to the regions associated with emotions in humans. People who observe animals closely know them to be individuals, with distinct personalities. “You have to deeply deny the evidence to conclude that humans alone are conscious, feeling beings,” Safina says.

The evidence shows that elephants and apes mourn their dead, becoming listless and depressed. Dolphins can recognize their own reflections, have intricate social structures, and appear to call each other by individual names. Apes and chimps make tools, plan for the future, and display empathy and inferential reasoning. Primatologist Frans de Waal, writing in The New York Times about the recent discovery of a hominin ancestor with both human and ape characteristics, blames human vanity for the belief we are separate and distinct from the “extended family” of creatures on the great continuum of evolution. “The wall between human and animal cognition,” de Waal says, “is like a Swiss cheese.” If you doubt our kinship with the animal kingdom, I refer you to the daily news coverage of our species’ Darwinian struggles for dominance and survival. Evolution is a work in progress: We are still closer to the beasts than to the gods.

Video Retrieved From GoPro Balloon That Soared to Nearly 100,000 Feet

Click on this article from the New York Times – the video is very much worth watching.  Be sure to wait until the end when the ballon plummets toward Earth.  Amazing.


Screen Shot 2015-09-16 at 9.18.23 AM


Breathtaking footage of the Grand Canyon was retrieved from a GoPro attached to a balloon two years after it crashed in the desert.

Vedphoto.com, via The New York Times


New Human Species in Cave


South African Cave Yields Strange Bones Of Early Human-Like Species

Anthropologist Lee Berger’s daughter, Megan (top), and Rick Hunter, a member of the underground exploration team, navigate the narrow chutes leading to the Dinaledi Chamber of the Rising Star cave in South Africa. That’s where fossilized bones belonging to H. naledi, a new species related to humans, were discovered. Photo by Robert Clark/National Geographic

Scientists have discovered the fossilized remains of an unusual human-like creature that lived long ago. Exactly how long ago is still a mystery — and that’s not the only mystery surrounding this newfound species.

The bones have a strange mix of primitive and modern features, and were found in an even stranger place — an almost inaccessible chamber deep inside a South African cave called Rising Star.

“It is perhaps one of the best-known caves in all of South Africa,” says Lee Berger, who studies human evolution at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

In 2013, some local cavers found some fossils inside Rising Star cave. Berger had asked them to be on the lookout, so they brought him photos.

“And there I saw something I perhaps thought I’d never see in my life,” recalls Berger. “That is, clearly primitive hominin remains lying on the floor of a cave.”

A jaw and a skull were just sitting there in the dirt — usually such bones are encased in rock.

Berger was excited, but he knew he personally could never reach this fossil site. To get into the cave chamber, you have to climb a steep, jagged rockfall called Dragon’s Back, then wiggle through a small opening that leads to a long, narrow crack.

The crack is only about 7 1/2 inches wide, and goes down more than 30 feet. Squeezing through it is the only way to reach the chamber of bones at the bottom.

Since he couldn’t go, Berger sent in his tall, skinny 16-year-old son. “When he came out after 45 minutes, he stuck his head out. And to tell you how bad I am, I didn’t say: ‘Are you OK?’ I said: ‘And?’ And he says, ‘Daddy, it’s wonderful.’ ”

A composite skeleton of H. naledi is surrounded by some of the hundreds of other fossil elements recovered from the Dinaledi Chamber in the Rising Star cave in South Africa.Photo by Robert Clark/National Geographic/Source: Source: Lee Berger, Wits, photographed at Evolutionary Studies Institute

Berger got funding from the National Geographic Society to excavate the site. And he advertised for research assistants on Facebook — for skinny scientists who weren’t claustrophobic. Six women took the job.

They worked in the chamber almost like spacewalkers, communicating with researchers outside via cameras and about 2 miles of fiber optic cable. The team in the chamber used paintbrushes and toothpicks to gently unearth fossil bones — there were more than 1,550 of them, an incredible treasure trove. The researchers describe their find Thursday in a journal called eLife.

“Often I was wondering, ‘How on Earth are we going to get that fossil out?’ because the density of bones in that chamber was so great, it was like a puzzle to get each fossil out,” says Becca Peixotto, one of the scientist-cavers and a doctoral student in anthropology at American University.

The bones come from at least 15 individuals, says John Hawks, a paleoanthropologist from the University of Wisconsin, Madison who was on the team that studied the bones.

“We have every age group represented” among the fossils, he says. “We have newborns; we have children of almost every age; we have adults and old adults.”

He says these creatures were short — less than 5 feet tall — and thin. They have a particular combination of features that has never been seen before. “It’s a new species to science,” says Hawks. Researchers have named it Homo naledi, because “naledi” means “star” in a local South African language.

National Geographic paleoartist John Gurche used fossils from a South African cave to reconstruct the face of Homo naledi,the newest addition to the genus Homo. Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

“They have a very small brain — they are not human-like at all in their brain,” Hawks says. “It’s around a third the size of a human brain today.”

But the creatures had feet like us, and walked in a very human-like way. Their hands were also like ours, but their fingers were more curved.

The researchers also tackled this question: How did these human-like creatures get into such a crazy spot? It looks as though the cave chamber has always been hard to reach.

There are no animal bones there, except for a handful of bits from birds and mice. There’s no evidence that a carnivore dragged the human-like creatures in, or that they somehow got washed in. And there’s no evidence of a mass death, such as a cave accident.

More details of the discovery of H. naledi appear in National Geographic magazine. All images in this post are from the magazine's October issue.

More details of the discovery of H. naledi appear in National Geographic magazine. All images in this post are from the magazine’s October issue.  Photo by Mark Thiessen/National Geographic

Berger believes someone had to have put the bodies there.

“Homo naledi was deliberately disposing of its dead in a repeated, ritualized fashion in this deep underground chamber,” he says.

That’s quite a claim — that kind of ritual has been thought to be unique to modern humans or our very close relatives.

And really, the whole discovery — from the bones to their bizarre location — has perplexed experts on human evolution.

“To be honest, I would really distrust anyone who thinks they understand what the significance of these finds is,” says Bernard Wood, a paleoanthropologist at George Washington University.

Usually scientists can tell how old fossilized bones are, but in this case the geology of the cave gives no clues. The bones could be less than 100,000 years old or several million years old.

“These folks do not have an age, yet they have some remarkable fossils, and the context of them is also remarkable,” says Wood. “It’s not only remarkable, it’s also rather weird. But nonetheless, the fossils are important. So the community is, I think, struggling to work out what it all means.”

He notes that only a small section of the cave chamber has been excavated, and it looks like many more bones are down there.

“There is the potential for thousands of specimens in that cave,” says Wood. “Intellectually, it’s a real puzzle. And I think it’s going to take scientists quite a time to get their heads around what the real significance of these discoveries is.”

Another good story has slide-show with photo of team of women who were first scientists to enter the cave.


Hey Hey We’re The Monkees !

Image result for monkees photos
When our kids were small, late Sixties, we enjoyed watching The Monkees on television.  In this radio piece, the director tells how the band was assembled and the highly successful television series was created.   rjn


The Monkees       BBC Radio   Witness

LISTEN to 9-minute show

The Monkees were the world’s first ‘manufactured’ boy band – created especially for a TV show. Hear from the man who directed that show – Bruce Kessler.



MUSIC AND VIDEO— Monkees’ song


The series and feature film are available on Netflix.