Today is Endangered Species Day, a day to bring awareness of the many vulnerable creatures around the world who are losing their habitats due to human actions. More and more species are being affected by our actions: acidifying oceans, melting sea ice, forest logging and warming temperatures, and extreme weather. Today however I’d like to highlight a success story: the California Condor. I wrote a blog post about a month ago; I sketched the condor because I wanted to bring awareness to this bird, and because I think the shape of the head contrasting with it’s black plumage is very dramatic and beautiful. Now in celebration of Endangered Species day, I’m offering this sketch for sale as a print. It’s available framed and unframed. Remember 10% of the purchase price always goes to NRDC to help endangered animals, wild places, and combat climate change.
For more information and ways to help endangered animals, here are some links.
Many years ago, my sister and I went on a camping trip to southern Utah. She was familiar with the area, but it was new to me. One of the places we visited is called Valley of the Gods.
We were driving through southern Utah, through some pretty flat, but broken landscape. Big rocks littered the side of the road, and there was a decent amount of low scrub brush and small trees. As far as you could see, all the way to the flat horizon, was rocks, orange-red dirt, and dark green trees and bushes. We came around a corner and suddenly, dropping about 150 feet below us, was a massive valley. We were driving on top of a huge mesa, and now we were standing before a valley spread out to the horizon. The valley was flat except for massive stone structures, towers and buttes, dotted throughout the valley. It looked like a gigantic ocean with buttes representing massive sailing ships, sailing off to the horizon. The sheer space and vastness of it left me in awe of our natural world.
Today Valley of the Gods is part of the Bears Ears National Monument, created after five Native American tribes planned and worked with government to designated these lands as protected; it is the first-ever tribal monument request approved by a President, President Obama in December, 2016. Now the government of Utah has appealed to President Trump to open these lands for potential logging, mining, and drilling.
The Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, is accepting comments until May 26. You can submit comments here: www.regulations.gov. You can also submit comments through the Bears Ears Coalition web site.
The NRDC is also accepting signatures for a petition to Secretary Zinke.
Sketch of Valley of the Gods
On Sunday we went up to the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin Headlands, just north of San Francisco. It was a warm and sunny day, which in my experience of the Marin Headlands, is rare. Here is our view looking back at San Francisco.
We wanted to see the seals at the Mammal Center; it’s pupping season, so all the baby seals that get separated from their moms end up there. We were also told that if there are storms, which we’ve had a lot this winter, the likelihood of separation is higher, so it’s a busy time for the center.
These are the baby elephant seals. In the center right now, over half the patients are baby elephant seals. When the seals are separated from mom too early, they don’t yet know how to get food and come into the center severely malnourished. The center rehabilitates the seals, and when they are healthy again, releases them into the wild. Elephant seals were nearly hunted to extinction; after whale numbers dropped drastically in the early 1900’s, hunters then turned to elephant seals for the blubber to make lamp oil. It’s estimated numbers were down to 100 animals living off the coast of Guadalupe Island in Mexico. Numbers now on the west coast are at 150,000.
Volunteers at the center told us that baby elephant seal vocalizations are the sounds of the orcs in Lord of the Rings, and the sounds of the dragons in How to Train your Dragon. Their barks are a combination of a sharp bark and a sort of eerie whine. They are also very loud!
The center has an adopt a seal program, in which you can (symbolically) adopt a baby seal. Some of the seals eat up to 1,000 pounds of fish per day!
We took a small hike down to the beach and on the way found a whale skeleton. The bones were laid out in the size and shape of the whale.
Here is a closeup of the baleen at the head.
Marin Headlands are a beautiful place to hike and I loved seeing the baby seals, so if you ever get a chance, definitely a great place to visit!
The American Bison is the iconic image of the American West. Vast herds of 40,000,000 used to roam the plains of America. Bison is a crucial part of the plains ecosystem.
Bison were almost hunted to extinction as white settlers moved west in the 1800’s. Today most bison are kept on private lands, with a few small herds roaming free. Yellowstone Park is the only place where bison have lived continuously in the wild.
Fortunately today there are several groups striving to move bison to the prairie and reintroducing bison to tribal lands.
Read more bison facts here!
Scientists are using robots off the western coast of Canada to figure out what whales are doing. Sometimes they stop in their migration, and linger in what is called “hot spots,” and the scientists would like to discover what it is about those spots that cause the whales to hang out. In a similar study, scientists were able to adjust shipping lanes to reduce encounters with whales and ships, improving the whales natural habitat. You can read more here!
When I was reading last week about the attempt to save the nearly extinct vaquita porpoise, I was reminded of the huge conservation effort for the California condor. As a kid growing up in California, the effort was well publicized; many thought the birds would become extinct. There were so few left, all the wild birds were captured to start a captive breeding program. No one knew if it would succeed. When many chicks started to be born in the late 80’s and early 90’s, the program was determined successful; later chicks were released into the wild to continue a wild as well as a captive population. Today there are only about 400 condors in the wild, and there is still work to do to protect the species, but this program worked to save this beautiful and important bird.
The historic range for the condor used to be all over the southwest, from California to Texas. Condors were often shot or poisoned by early settlers, and their habitat was reduced due to human development. More recently, pesticides and lead in bullets (condors are carrion feeders and consume lead in animals that have been shot) have lead to their decline.
Click here for more info on the Condor and past conservation efforts.
This article shows photos from space of the California landscape and it’s amazing the difference in just a few years.
Today’s daily sketch is highlighting the Vaquita, which is now in grave danger of going extinct. It’s the most endangered animal in the world today. The estimate is there are only 30 left in the wild and now a desparate attempt is being made to introduce them to captivity. Experts warn that the vaquita is not suitable for captivity, but this porpoise will vanish without some intervention.
This is an issue that has been going on for years: illegal net fishing of the totoaba fish has greatly affected the vaquita, as it is easily caught and killed in the nets. The population has been on a steady decline for many years and some (mostly ineffective) intervention has been attempted in the past. But now with so few in the wild, there’s not much else to be done. This, as with many extinction events like the baiji or Yangtze river dolphin (which became extinct around 2006), is like watching a slow motion train wreck. Often conservation is complicated, and most efforts reflect short term emergencies (because the species has declined to an unsustainable level) rather than long term proper management of natural resources.
Please donate to the following organizations on the front lines of saving the Vaquita:
Sea Shepard: this organization currently has 2 boats in the Gulf of Mexico, working to protect the vaquita.
Vaquita CPR: this is an organization consisting of governmental and animal conservation groups, who are working on implementing the plan to capture the vaquitas and introduce them to temporary sanctuaries.
July 8, 2017 is International Save the Vaquita Day, click here to find out what you can do!
The Rusty Patched Bumble bee is officially the first bee on the Endangered Species list. This bee, a native of eastern United States and upper Midwest, has been on the decline for a while; it’s imperative we take action to protect the decline of bees, as bees are a keystone species and the environment depends on their actions.
In February there was some doubt the bumblebee would make it on the list, although it has been slated to join in January. NRDC sued the Trump adminstration, who froze the federal protection through an executive order. The adminstration backed down, and allowed the bumblebee to be added to the list of protected animals.