Nature documentaries as catalysts for change: Mapping out the ‘Blackfish Effect’ (2021) Boissat et al., People and Nature, https://doi.org/10.1002/pan3.10221
Wildlife documentaries generally have the best of intentions, but our ability to determine their actual impact is limited at best. There have been attempts to analyse a documentary’s content or impact before, but they’re few and far between (outside of financial success).
Blackfish is a 2013 documentary which brought to light the poor treatment of orcas at SeaWorld, in particular the whale Tilikum, who killed three people while in captivity. Blackfish received widespread publicity, and in the years following its release, SeaWorld saw an enormous drop in attendance. They also saw a huge drop in stock price, redesigned their orca show to focus on conservation, and ceased their orca breeding program.
Today’s researchers wanted to investigate how closely the release of Blackfish was linked to the negative impacts and subsequent revamp that SeaWorld’s orca program underwent.
A young octopus (Graneledone verrucosa) moves across the seafloor. Observed during the Okeanos Explorer Northeast U.S. Canyons 2013 expedition. (Image Credit: NOAA Ocean Exploration & Research, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image cropped)
In nature every death brings new life. A fascinating example are whale-falls: when a whale dies, its carcass will sink down to the ocean floor where it creates a unique ecosystem for bottom-dwelling organisms. Whales’ bodies can weigh up to 200 tons and contain massive amounts of fat and proteins. When a dead whale reaches the ocean floor it brings a lot of resources to an environment which is usually limited by food availability. The fortunate creatures experiencing the whale-fall welcome such a great source of nutrition, and use up everything they can, until the last vertebra is decomposed.
Clearing for palm oil forests in Borneo. Norway recently made headlines with a government mandated reduction in palm oil imports, but there were of course those who found a negative here (Image Credit: T. R. Shankar Raman, CC BY-SA 4.0, Image Cropped)
Around 7-8 months ago, Norway made the news when the government decided to place restrictions on the import of palm oil. Over the last few months, reports have shown that the move has made quite a difference, dramatically reducing the amount of palm oil brought into the country. I figured it would be hard to see this in a negative light.
But of course I was stupid enough to look at Facebook comments.
Rasmus Hansson, former leader of the Norwegian Green Party and the Norwegian WWF (Image Credit: Miljøpartiet de Grønne, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped)
Environmental politics is a tricky business. We live in a world where environmental crises are at the forefront of the news cycle, and in which science is simultaneously becoming the subject of distrust. So it makes sense that at this point, politics should be adapting and evolving as science does.
So when Rasmus Hansson stopped by NTNU last month, Sam Perrin and I took the chance to sit down with him and see whether this was the case. Rasmus studied polar bears at NTNU in the 70s, before later becoming the leader of the World Wildlife Fund in Norway and then of the Norwegian Green party. We spoke with Rasmus about the transition from conservation to politics, the clash of ideologies and the future of environmental politics.
The thought of an orca playing with its food – a cute seal – can be a grim one. But is it useful to project our ideas of morality and emotion onto other species? (Image Credit: Christopher Michel, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)
Guest post by Mary Shuttleworth
Scene: A lone seal on a piece of ice, surrounded by an expanse of deep and frosted blue. The scene would be romantic, except the water is rippling. Every now and then dark fins with streaks of white emerge, jostling the ice. It is an orca, and it is in training. Members of its family, or pod, are nearby, watching it as it practices how to take down its prey. The seal is in distress, stress resonating throughout its body. If they have noticed, the orcas take no notice. They are learning how to hunt. More than that, it appears that they could even be playing.
Image Credit: Aquaman, 2019
We look at the world of Atlantis from 2018’s Aquaman. Why would you domesticate a whale? Can a turtle grow to the size of a Great White Shark? Can an octopus play the drums? Spoiler alert: probably not.
5:48 – The History of Aquaman
10:33 – The Ecology of Atlantis
38:43 – The Karathen vs. Gypsy Danger (Pacific Rim)
You can also find us on iTunes and Google Play.
A young orca from the southern population chasing its dinner. (Image Credit: JC Winkler, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped)
Long-distance migration of prey synchronizes demographic rates of top predators across broad spatial scales (2016) Ward et al, Ecosphere, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.1276
Populations that experience some kind of connection are classified as “meta-populations”, as they are all interconnected in some way and can influence one another. Although these populations may be geographically and reproductively isolated, meaning that they are in different places and the organisms from the different populations don’t breed with one another, certain environmental factors may cause these populations to grow or shrink in similar ways.
The key to understanding how this synchrony between the varying populations happens is understanding what connects them. Killer whale (orca) populations in the northeast Pacific Ocean inhabit three distinct areas, with orcas from the northern and southern populations never coming into contact with one another. They do, however, feed on the same salmon populations that migrate from where the southern population lives to the where the northern lives. The authors wanted to find out if this connection via a food source could result in the demographic rates of these distant populations syncing up.