Scientists are bringing life on Mars closer and closer to reality by growing edible plants in soil similar to that of the red planet.
Researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands successfully grew 10 crops of which four so far have been tested and claimed edible, according to a Mars One statement. Radishes, peas, rye and tomatoes grown in Mars-like soil were deemed safe for human consumption.
"These remarkable results are very promising," senior ecologist Wieger Wamelink said. “We can actually eat the radishes, peas, rye, and tomatoes and I am very curious what they will taste like."
Scientists at Wageningen University have experimented with growing crops on Mars- and Moon-like soil simulants, developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, since 2013.
The first round of experiments proved that plants could in fact be grown in the soil. Scientists then needed to test if the plants produced in the soil simulants would be edible.
Mars' soil contains heavy metals—aluminum, copper, iron, manganese, zinc, arsenic, cadmium, chrome, nickel and lead—that could be poisonous if consumed at certain levels.
"Mars One is very proud to support this important research," Bas Lansdorp, CEO and co-founder of Mars One, said. "Growing food locally is especially important to our mission of permanent settlement, as we have to ensure sustainable food production on Mars."
Wamelink and team's research is being funded by a crowdfunding campaign, which run until the end of August. So far, the project has raised 12,745 euros out of a goal of 25,000. The remaining money will fund the testing of the other six crops, including potatoes.
"It's important to test as many crops as possible, to make sure that settlers on Mars have access to a broad variety of different food sources," Wamelink said.
Watch Wamelink talk about the experiments in more depth in this video:
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Who knew that the Windy City has become so green? As Co.Exist reported, Chicago is quietly becoming the country's urban agriculture capital with 821 growing sites across the city, from small community gardens to multimillion dollar indoor farms, according to the Chicago Urban Agriculture Mapping Project. Even O'Hare's Terminal 3 is home to the world's first airport aeroponic garden.
Farmed Here is the first organically-certified indoor vertical aquaponic farm in Illinois. Photo credit: Farmed Here
Chicago’s "urban farming renaissance" has been led by a burgeoning indoor farm market, Co.Exist writes. This includes FarmedHere, a 90,000-square-foot space in Bedford Park that is not only the first organically-certified indoor vertical aquaponic farm in Illinois, it’s also the largest indoor farm in North America. FarmedHere’s two-story farming facility currently sits on the site of a formerly abandoned warehouse in the outskirts of Chicago.
FarmedHere’s produce is grown in a sustainable environment where 97 percent of fresh water is reused and plants are grown without the use of herbicides or pesticides. The farm’s LED lighting system mimics outdoor conditions, meaning plants don’t need natural sunlight to grow.
EcoWatch previously mentioned how urban farming has really made a comeback in the U.S. in recent years. Cities around the world are developing and expanding their local food systems to create a more sustainable method of food production and distribution, which will become increasingly necessary as cities adapt to climate change.
Farmed Here CEO Nate Laurell also mentioned to Co.Exist that investors are becoming increasingly interested in indoor farming as LED lighting and solar energy drive operation costs "cheaper and cheaper." Incidentally, Chicago has relatively cheap electricity, with Chicago area households paying 15.4 cents per kilowatt hour versus the New York metro area average of 18.2 cents per kilowatt hour.
"The greens market for Chicagoland alone is $400 million dollars," Laurell said. "Given the market is so big, and it’s so top of mind for people where their food came from and how it was grown, even if only some fraction of that food grew in an indoor environment, when you extrapolate to other cities in the U.S. and abroad, you’d easily reach $4 billion; $4 billion seems light."
Inside the Nation's Largest Organic Vertical Farm https://t.co/UtZjda9EfR @SoilAssociation @eatsustainable— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1445392516.0
Laurell explained that vertical farming is ideal compared to outdoor agriculture as it produces local food year-round, has a small geographic footprint, a high yield per cubic foot ratio and slashes food miles.
"On the consumer side, there is a large demand for local food, food grown close to the city. People want to know where their food comes from and cut out transportation miles to get more freshness," he added.
Farmed Here plans to expand to up to 15 cities within the next decade, Laurell said.
Chicago #Urban #Agriculture Mapping Project http://t.co/MMQ1um7oki #farming #gardens #health #food http://t.co/tJs4VByOhw— Doing Things Differently (@Doing Things Differently)1434530097.0
Urban Till is another indoor hydroponic farm. Located on the west side of Chicago, the company offers herbs and microgreens to more than 200 clients in the area, the Chicago Tribune reported last year.
CEO Brock Leach told the publication that Urban Till will expand nationally and internationally with its proprietary hydroponics this year.
“We have an intellectual property to produce more water from the air than what we use in the farm at no additional cost of electricity, and we’re able to produce agricultural goods without water supply to do so,” Leach said.
"Our Pullman facility annually grows up to 10 million heads of leafy greens and herbs, year-round, for the finest retailers and restaurants across the greater Chicagoland area," the venture boasts.
The climate controlled greenhouse facility also sits on top of an already environmentally friendly factory occupied by eco-soap company Method.
Lettuce for days.🌱🌱🌱🌱 #Chicago #HappyMonday https://t.co/fCTN40w5iB— Gotham Greens (@Gotham Greens)1465836179.0
Gotham Greens has three existing greenhouses in New York. "Chicago was a logical expansion because it is a large city—by market the third largest—a cold weather place with a short growing season and a limited supply of year-round local produce," Viraj Puri, CEO and cofounder of Gotham Greens, told Co.Exist.
"The traditional farmer in Illinois turns a head of lettuce twice a year, every 60 days—maybe a third turn if they’re lucky. We do 25 crop turns per year, and a lot of that has to do with controlling climate, temperature, humidity, light and carbon dioxide," Puri added.
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Solar Impulse 2, a sun-powered aircraft, took off from John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City at 2:30 a.m. on June 20. The flight to Seville, Spain, took approximately 90 hours to complete—traveling at 140 km/h (about 87 mph). Bertrand Piccard, a Swiss adventurer, piloted the airplane.
“The Atlantic is the symbolic part of the flight," Piccard told The Guardian. “It is symbolic because all the means of transportation have always tried to cross the Atlantic, the first steamboats, the first aeroplane, the first balloons, the first airships and, today, it is the first solar-powered aeroplane."
Here are 10 best photos from Piccard's journey on the Solar Impulse 2:
The Solar Impulse 2 makes an historic flight over the Statue of Liberty before landing at New York's JFK airport on June 11. Photo credit: Jean Revillard, Solar Impulse
Solar Impulse 2 flies over the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi as it prepares for take off for the first leg of its journey to Muscat, Oman. Photo credit: Reuters via The Guardian
After a pit stop in Oman, Solar Impulse 2 sets off for Ahmedabad, India, on March 10, 2015. Photo credit: Jean Revillard, Solar Impulse
strawberry moon. Photo credit: Solar Impulse
The Solar Impulse 2 landing in Mandalay, Myanmar, after the flight from Varanasi in India on March 19, 2015. Photo credit: Stefatou, Solar Impulse
The Solar Impulse 2 team completed a record-breaking longest solar flight across the pacific from Nagoya, Japan to Hawaii—117 hours and 52 minutes. Photo credit: Solar Impulse
The Solar Impulse 2 lands in Muscat, Oman. Photo credit: Stefatou, Solar Impulse
Piccard and Borschberg celebrate after completing the first ever crossing of the Atlantic by a solar-powered aeroplane. Photo credit: Jose Manuel Vidal, EPA via The Guardian
Piccard chronicled his journey on Twitter:
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By Jodie Van Horn
Here at the Ready for 100 campaign, we believe in using bold messages to highlight bold opportunities. We know that achieving 100 percent clean energy will completely transform our communities, our economy and our environment and we are in awe of the growing movement of people who are bringing about that change.
We have a vision where every community is powered by clean energy sources, where no child has to stay home because of an asthma attack from dirty air and where people can find good jobs in industries that help protect our planet, not pollute it.
What's more, we believe that social change can be fun and that creativity and ingenuity can help us move the world as it is toward the world as we dream it can be.
So this summer, we're launching the #ReadyFor100 national tour, a “human art" event where thousands of people come together in cities across the country to create bold images showcasing the demand for clean energy.
In our launch event last night in Aspen, Colorado—one of the first cities in the country to commit to 100 percent clean energy—hundreds of people gathered in historic Snowmass Village to form an aerial image of a “human sun," designed by renowned aerial-artist John Quigley.
Over the next few months, you'll see similar art events happening in cities both large and small, from the East Coast to the West Coast, showing the public demand for 100 percent clean energy.
Sixteen municipalities across the country, including major cities like San Diego and San Francisco, have already committed to 100 percent clean energy and a movement is growing to urge other mayors to follow suit.
Aerial art events are a way to showcase how people, joining together, can build something dazzling, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We hope that the people who join us at these events will bring their friends, families and anyone who wants to be inspired by a vision for a better future.
To join an “aerial art" event in a city near you, visit www.readyfor100.org to find out more details about our national tour.
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By Tim Radford
The herbivorous marsupial (Phascolarctos cinereus), unique to the world's largest island, is rarely seen. It moves slowly, lives high in the canopy on a diet of eucalyptus leaves, sleeps for up to 20 hours a day and yet is known to billions worldwide as the model for a cuddly toy loved by children.
Its demands are few: a supply of fresh eucalyptus foliage, a little water to drink and somewhere quiet to flourish. But a new study in Global Change Biology suggests that by 2070 much of its native homeland won't provide what it takes to make a home any more.
Natalie Briscoe, an ecologist at the University of Melbourne and colleagues used everything they knew about koalas—behavior, body size, fur depth and physiology—to predict how much energy and water koalas would need to survive at any location. They made the assumption that eucalyptus trees would be available everywhere.
Then they used their knowledge of the animal to make a map of potential koala habitat 60 years from now. And they found the animal's potential range dramatically smaller.
The problem lies not in inexorable global warming—average planetary atmospheric temperatures have risen by 1 C in the last century and the world has pledged to keep the overall rise to lower than 2 C— but in the frequency of extremes of heat and drought. And in a land of extremes, more extremes are on the way.
Dr. Briscoe said:
“Studies of climate change impacts on wildlife have often focused on how changes in average temperature or rainfall will affect species, but our research highlights the importance of thinking about the extreme conditions that will be most stressful for the animals—such as hot, dry periods—and how these may change in the future.
“By developing a better understanding of what controls species distributions now, we are much better placed to forecast how these may shift in the future."
The researchers also correlated all the known koala locations and then matched that data with climate records from the recent past—another way of helping understand what climate change can do to wildlife. Both models predicted that the animal would suffer in the hotter, drier parts of its range.
The summer of 2013 broke all records for temperature extremes in Australia and researchers expect rainfall patterns to be disrupted and heatwaves and droughts to grow in number and intensity with time.
The challenge for conservationists is to identify those regions where the koala is more likely to survive. Ecologists call these places refugia: in times of stress, a species retreats to a limited range and expands when conditions improve.
“There is a lot of uncertainty when predicting the impacts of climate change on species, particularly when climate change leads to novel weather patterns," Dr. Briscoe said.
“Comparing predictions from different models allows us to more confidently predict the location of havens where koalas could survive in the future."
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This zero-net energy home took only a few weeks to build. Photo credit: Bone Structure
The Stanford professor's Solutions Project famously lays out roadmaps for 139 countries, including the world’s major greenhouse gas emitters, to switch to 100 percent clean, renewable energy generated from wind, water and sunlight for all purposes by 2050. He made an appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman in 2013 and said we already have enough wind to power the entire world “seven times over."
It's no surprise then that his new house is incredibly eco-friendly. The 3,200-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bathroom home was designed and built by Canadian prefab homes company BONE Structure. The building is zero-net energy (ZNE), which means that the total amount of energy used by the home equals the amount of energy created on site.
A rendering of the master bedroom. Photo credit: BONE Structure
The house runs on 100 percent electricity with the help of rooftop solar, a Tesla Powerwall for energy storage, a Tesla charger for his electric car and Nest appliances. The property doesn't even have gas lines.
"The net energy efficiency, once the envelope is leak-proof, is due not only to the structure but also to energy sources and appliances," Jacobson said. "I have no gas going onto the property; instead, all energy comes from electricity. I will use electric cars, heat pumps for air and water heating, and an electric induction stove. The house will be powered by solar panels on the rooftop and energy will be stored using Tesla batteries in the garage."
A rendering of the kitchen. Photo credit: BONE Structure
Jacobson, who is the head of the Atmosphere and Energy Program at Stanford University, commissioned the company to build his new abode in order to meet his green building standards.
"I study climate and air pollution problems and try to solve them through large scale, clean, renewable energy and I try to practice what I preach," he said.
Jacobson also pointed out that because BONE Structure's homes are prefabricated, it reduces waste, decreases dust and minimizes disruption to neighbors because they are faster to build.
The home’s shell is made of 89 percent recycled steel that is 100 recyclable, seismically resilient (ideal for earthquake-prone California) and safe from damage by termites and mold.
Prefab steel frame reduces waste, errors, time in home build @BONE_Structure @theguigzbaz @CharlesBovet @g_labrosse https://t.co/EuCPeI4JAU— Mark Z. Jacobson (@Mark Z. Jacobson)1463182340.0
BONE Structure's homes are built from columns and beams that are laser cut in a manufacturing plant, making it endlessly customizable.
“The steel frame system allows for exciting design features that would not be possible using traditional building methods,” Jacobson, who lives on an odd-shaped lot, explained. “Interior spaces and window lines can run up to 25 feet between columns.”
Additionally, as Curbed reported, thanks to a "clip-together design," the frame took less than a week to put together. According to the publication, "another week was spent spraying it with a soy-based foam that, once dry, should provide an airtight envelope that insulates and keeps the steel from shrinking or contracting with the weather."
The garage under construction. Photo credit: BONE Structure
The house is designed to meet California’s ZNE goal that calls for all new houses in the state to be ZNE by 2020. Jacobson's new residence is the first BONE Structure home in California.
“This is a great first project for BONE Structure in California and a perfect example of the benefits of our system,” Charles Bovet, vice president of BONE Structure, U.S., said. “Stanford is an academically and environmentally focused community and a perfect location for our first net zero home. Our shells are net zero ready, meaning they are extremely energy efficient and with the addition of a small solar system they can produce more energy than they consume.”
The company, which has an office in San Francisco, expects to build 50 more new homes in California this year and is also is scaling up to produce 1,000 residences per year "to address growing demand for this disruptive home construction technology making it the only net zero-ready energy builder that can produce homes on a large scale."
Future=now: elec car+#Powerwall+engy-effic prefab @elonmusk @teslamotors @charlesbovet @theguigzbaz @SolutionsProj https://t.co/AKuZjAIkVb— Mark Z. Jacobson (@Mark Z. Jacobson)1466226938.0
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Boyan Slat's ambitious plan to rid the world's oceans of plastic has taken another step towards reality with its first prototype to be tested at sea. The Ocean Cleanup Foundation, founded by the 21-year-old Slat, has deployed a 100-meter clean-up boom today in the North Sea in The Netherlands.
Since 2010, at least 66 million trees have died in California due to drought and rising temperatures, the U.S. Forest Service reported. At last count in October, the death toll was at 40 million trees.
The ongoing, five-year drought in California has made trees increasingly vulnerable to insects and disease and the 65 percent increase in tree die-off has officials concerned about the possibility of a disastrous wildfire season.
“Tree die-offs of this magnitude are unprecedented and increase the risk of catastrophic wildfires that puts property and lives at risk,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
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The electric car company made the announcement Tuesday and explained the offer in a blog post:
Tesla’s mission has always been tied to sustainability. We seek to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable transportation by offering increasingly affordable electric vehicles. And in March 2015, we launched Tesla Energy, which through the Powerwall and Powerpack allow homeowners, business owners and utilities to benefit from renewable energy storage.
It’s now time to complete the picture. Tesla customers can drive clean cars and they can use our battery packs to help consume energy more efficiently, but they still need access to the most sustainable energy source that’s available: the sun.
“The world does not look for another car company, the world looks for sustainable energy companies,” Musk told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday.
The prolific entrepreneur is the chairman of SolarCity, which was founded and is operated by his cousins, Lyndon Rive and Peter Rive. Musk is the largest individual shareholder of both companies, with 21.3 percent of Tesla and 22 percent of SolarCity, according to estimates.
SolarCity is the top residential solar installer in the country. Its customers pay for the panels with a monthly fee that's typically less than what they would pay to the power company. A marriage between the two companies would seamlessly tie SolarCity's panels with Tesla's Powerwall batteries. Having a solar-plus-storage system installed by a single company would allow an easier transition to customers to unhook themselves from a carbonized grid.
This morning, in a conference call to reporters and shareholders, Musk further discussed the rationale behind the offer. He said that the idea of consolidating Tesla and SolarCity "has been floated over the years" and it would be “extremely unwieldy” to operate as two companies.
Tesla makes offer to acquire SolarCity https://t.co/bo6TaeGvCJ— Tesla (@Tesla)1466544004.0
In its blog post, Tesla listed off a number of "significant benefits to our shareholders, customers and employees" if the deal is completed:
- We would be the world’s only vertically integrated energy company offering end-to-end clean energy products to our customers. This would start with the car that you drive and the energy that you use to charge it, and would extend to how everything else in your home or business is powered. With your Model S, Model X, or Model 3, your solar panel system, and your Powerwall all in place, you would be able to deploy and consume energy in the most efficient and sustainable way possible, lowering your costs and minimizing your dependence on fossil fuels and the grid.
- We would be able to expand our addressable market further than either company could do separately. Because of the shared ideals of the companies and our customers, those who are interested in buying Tesla vehicles or Powerwalls are naturally interested in going solar, and the reverse is true as well. When brought together by the high foot traffic that is drawn to Tesla’s stores, everyone should benefit.
- We would be able to maximize and build on the core competencies of each company. Tesla’s experience in design, engineering, and manufacturing should help continue to advance solar panel technology, including by making solar panels add to the look of your home. Similarly, SolarCity’s wide network of sales and distribution channels and expertise in offering customer-friendly financing products would significantly benefit Tesla and its customers.
- We would be able to provide the best possible installation service for all of our clean energy products. SolarCity is the best at installing solar panel systems, and that expertise translates seamlessly to the installation of Powerwalls and charging systems for Tesla vehicles.
- Culturally, this is a great fit. Both companies are driven by a mission of sustainability, innovation, and overcoming any challenges that stand in the way of progress.
“This is what the world needs ... this is Earth’s solution,” Musk said of the merger this morning. Musk has long been a champion solar energy and highly critical of fossil fuels and the fossil fuel industry.
“We have to look back on gas engine cars like we look back on steam engines,” as well as power from fossil fuels, Musk added.
The fact that Musk has the biggest slice of both companies leaves Musk in a bit of an awkward situation, media reports have noted. Electrek explained that the offer to SolarCity "will be contingent on a vote from the shareholders and Musk will abstain from voting his shares due to his vested interest in the deal."
Analysts and investors do not appear happy with the plan. Reuters reported that Tesla’s stock price spiraled more than 13 percent to $189.99 following the announcement yesterday. At the same time however, shares of SolarCity soared about 18 percent to $25.02.
This is what happened to the stocks after Tesla announced its bid for SolarCity https://t.co/KJfj1sc7jZ https://t.co/bjPgHbKmVv— MarketWatch (@MarketWatch)1466602282.0
Electrek also observed that shareholders are "calling the deal a 'bailout' of SolarCity, especially after Musk bought another $10 million worth of shares last year—before the stock fell 60 percent in 2016."
SolarCity is also in an ongoing battle against regulators and utilities in states that are unfriendly to rooftop solar, aka the "solar wars" in Nevada over net metering, which allows homeowners to offset the cost of their panels by selling any electricity they don’t use back to the grid. Nevada's NV Energy has been fighting these policies tooth and nail.
Musk, however, shot down the idea of a “bailout” of SolarCity, calling it a “false description.”
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An historic agreement has been reached between Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), Friends of the Earth and other environmental and labor organizations to replace the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors with greenhouse-gas-free renewable energy, efficiency and energy storage resources. Friends of the Earth says the agreement provides a clear blueprint for fighting climate change by replacing nuclear and fossil fuel energy with safe, clean, cost-competitive renewable energy.
BREAKING: California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear plant to be replaced with 100% clean energy! https://t.co/3VQuCIReKJ— NRDC (@NRDC)1466514647.0
The agreement, announced today in California, says that PG&E will renounce plans to seek renewed operating licenses for Diablo Canyon’s two reactors—the operating licenses for which expire in 2024 and 2025 respectively. In the intervening years, the parties will seek Public Utility Commission approval of the plan which will replace power from the plant with renewable energy, efficiency and energy storage resources. Base load power resources like Diablo Canyon are becoming increasingly burdensome as renewable energy resources ramp up. Flexible generation options and demand-response are the energy systems of the future.
By setting a certain end date for the reactors, the nuclear phase out plan provides for an orderly transition. In the agreement, PG&E commits to renewable energy providing 55 percent of its total retail power sales by 2031, voluntarily exceeding the California standard of 50 percent renewables by 2030.
"This is an historic agreement," Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, said.
"It sets a date for the certain end of nuclear power in California and assures replacement with clean, safe, cost-competitive, renewable energy, energy efficiency and energy storage. It lays out an effective roadmap for a nuclear phase-out in the world's sixth largest economy, while assuring a green energy replacement plan to make California a global leader in fighting climate change."
A robust technical and economic report commissioned by Friends of the Earth served as a critical underpinning for the negotiations. The report, known as Plan B, provided a detailed analysis of how power from the Diablo Canyon reactors could be replaced with renewable, efficiency and energy storage resources which would be both less expensive and greenhouse gas free.
With the report in hand, Friends of the Earth’s Damon Moglen and Dave Freeman engaged in discussions with the utility about the phase-out plan for Diablo Canyon. The Natural Resources Defense Council was quickly invited to join. Subsequently, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, Coalition of California Utility Employees, Environment California and Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility partnered in reaching the final agreement. The detailed phase out proposal will now go to the California Public Utility Commission for consideration. Friends of the Earth (and other NGO parties to the agreement) reserve the right to continue to monitor Diablo Canyon and, should there be safety concerns, challenge continued operation.
The agreement also contains provisions for the Diablo Canyon workforce and the community of San Luis Obispo.
“We are pleased that the parties considered the impact of this agreement on the plant employees and the nearby community,” Pica said. “The agreement provides funding necessary to ease the transition to a clean energy economy.”
Diablo Canyon is the nuclear plant that catalyzed the formation of Friends of the Earth in 1969. David Brower left the Sierra Club and founded Friends of the Earth over a disagreement about nuclear power and the Diablo Canyon plant specifically. The plant was the first issue on the organization’s agenda and it has been fighting the plant ever since. This agreement is not only a milestone for renewable energy, but for Friends of the Earth as an organization.
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Today marks a special day for astronomy enthusiasts. The summer solstice and June's strawberry moon will coincide for the first time in nearly 70 years.
In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice marks the longest day of the year and the official start of summer. The solstice officially starts at 6:34 p.m. ET, the exact time the sun will be in the northernmost position in the sky, directly over the Tropic of Cancer, according to National Geographic.
As the sun sets in the west, the moon will rise in the east. It will fill the sky with rose-tinted light.
This astronomical phenomenon hasn't occurred since 1948, the Baltimore Sun reported.
While the summer solstice and June full moon combination is rare, it is actually mathematically predicted to happen every 15 years, Flarmer's Almanac reported. During a live stream event hosted tonight by the almanac and Slooh, astronomer Bob Berman will discuss why its been so long since the last occurrence.
“Having a full moon land smack on the solstice is a truly rare event," Berman said. “We probably won't push people off pyramids like the Mayans did, but Slooh will very much celebrate this extraordinary day of light with fascinating factoids and amazing live telescope feeds."
Heads up: Full "Strawberry" moon to coincide w/ summer solstice for first time since 1948 https://t.co/IqGOR6agnA https://t.co/AHkewTB5Sm— KTLA (@KTLA)1466283903.0
The Algonquin tribe called June's full moon the strawberry moon because it marked the time of year they should gather ripening fruit, according to the Farmer's Almanac. In Europe, June's full moon is also known as the Rose or the Honey moon.
- Burning herbs. Fon suggests burning any or all of the following herbs to celebrate the solstice: Ruta, Verbena, Misletoe, Lavender, Thyme, Fennel, Plantain, Artemisia or the grass of St. John.
- Drink to the sun. Enjoy a cup of cinnamon or ginger tea to honor the sun and its warmth. Make a celebratory toast.
- Set your intention. Fon said the moon has significant manifestation powers, so this astronomical phenomenon is a great time to set your intention(s). Make a list of things you want to bring into and release from your life. The list can include behaviors, goals and desires.
- Just enjoy the event. The solstice/full moon even is time to be free, Fon wrote. She suggests putting some music on and dancing to express yourself.
- Take a dip. Fon suggests finding a body of water and taking a dip in it. "As full moon pushed and pulls the waters of our Earth, a purification takes place." Taking a dip will rejuvenate and invigorate your soul, she said.
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Temperatures climbed rapidly over the weekend in Arizona and southern California, hitting a scorching 118 F in Phoenix and leading to four deaths. The excessive heat stoked at least four major wildfires in the region and more than 300 million people remain under heat warnings or advisories.
The heat will intensify in the Southwest today. Records likely to fall: https://t.co/ejW5LlH7oV https://t.co/JaPWpwuos7— The Weather Channel (@The Weather Channel)1466343008.0
A Phoenix-bound flight was forced to return to Houston due to the extreme heat conditions. The National Weather Service issued a list of record-setting temperatures in cities across southern California, as CNN Meteorologist Pedram Javaher called it the hottest start to summer ever in California, New Mexico and Arizona.
The National Weather Service issued a list of record-setting temperatures in cities across the Southwest. Here’s a sampling:
- Burbank: 109 (previous: 104 degrees, set in 1973)
- Chula Vista: 93 (previous: 88, set in 1957)
- El Cajon: 104 degrees (previous: 94, set in 2001)
- Escondido: 103 (previous: 102, set in 1929)
- Idyllwild: 94 (previous: 93, set in 1954)
- Indio: 118 (previous: 117, set in 1945)
- Palm Springs: 118 (previous: 116, set in 2008)
- Ramona: 106 (previous: 102, set in 2008)
- Riverside: 111 (previous: 107, set in 1922)
- Sandberg: 101 (previous: 94 degrees, set in 1961)
- Santa Ana: 103 (previous: 95, set in 1973)
- Thermal: 119 (previous: 118, set in 2008)
- Woodland Hills: 109 (tying previous record, set in 2008)
Heat Watches & Warnings have been issued by @NWS for parts of CA. Get the latest alerts here https://t.co/3jJvYNlLtg https://t.co/xgU3Tijh7b— Cal OES (@Cal OES)1466277234.0
As the climate warms, the most extreme heat events are becoming dramatically more frequent.
For a deeper dive:
Background: Climate Signals
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By David Kirby
Paul Spong deftly threads the June Cove through the churning tidal waters of Broughton Strait, skirting granite outcrops topped with evergreens, until we enter the bottle-green expanse of Blackfish Sound. Rounding a rocky headland on Hanson Island, we pull into a sheltered cove surrounded by thick stands of cedar, fir and spruce. In the distance, snow-flecked peaks tower above nearby Vancouver Island. Screeching bald eagles circle overhead and behind us, black-and-white Dall's porpoises resembling miniature orcas dart around in the icy sound.
“Welcome to Double Bay," the marine mammal scientist, who has studied captive and wild killer whales for decades, said with a smile. “This, I think, would be a terrific home for Corky."
As I survey the serene swath of wilderness, I find it hard not to agree. Corky the killer whale is one of the star performers at faraway SeaWorld in San Diego. In 1969, at around age four, the orca was snatched from her family (which still patrols this area each summer) in a notorious roundup in Pender Harbor, on the British Columbian mainland. Six whales were removed from their pod and sold to theme parks and aquariums, hungry for more of the crowd-pleasing ticket sellers. Now, nearly 47 years later, Corky is the longest-held captive orca.
She is one of 56 killer whales confined to tanks in the U.S., Canada, Russia, China, Japan, France, Spain and Argentina. Their lives are vastly different from those of orcas in the ocean, which typically stay with their families for life; captive orcas are often removed from their mothers, sometimes at very young ages. Orcas in the wild can swim up to 100 miles per day; orcas in tanks are lucky to swim 100 laps. Most studies show that death rates for captive orcas are higher than for wild ones. Unlike their captive relatives, orcas in the ocean don't need antibiotics, antifungals and even antidepressants to maintain their health and well-being.
Spong and his wife, Helena Symonds, who operate the nonprofit research center OrcaLab, have been hoping to return Corky to her native waters for decades. They even envision the whale rejoining her pod in the wild. But the obstacles have been daunting. SeaWorld vows it will never transfer any of its marine mammals to sanctuaries because, the company claims, it would endanger the animals.
But Spong and Symonds refuse to give up, bolstered by a burgeoning international movement that has risen up around them in recent years—one that seeks to deliver captive whales and dolphins into “retirement" from the noise-filled arenas and barren concrete tanks where they labor daily to entertain tourists. If Ringling Bros. can retire its elephants and research universities can send lab chimps to sanctuaries, many animal welfare advocates ask, why can't the same be done for whales and dolphins?
Not too long ago, that question would largely have been brushed off as naive, if not patently absurd. But times are changing. When I published my book, Death at SeaWorld, in 2012, the ethics of holding huge whales in small tanks were not on many people's radar. But the book and to a greater extent the documentary Blackfish, profoundly altered public opinion about captivity.
At first, SeaWorld tried to ignore the escalating clamor, betting that the outrage was just a fad. But ticket sales continued to flag, the company's stock plummeted and corporate partners fled to safer waters. Then in March 2016, SeaWorld issued a stunning announcement: It would stop breeding captive orcas immediately and phase out theatrical orca shows by 2019.
The about-face has reenergized the anti-captivity movement and given hope that SeaWorld and other marine parks will one day agree to transfer at least some of their animals to seaside sanctuaries. But where will they go? In the works are at least nine “retirement" plans, under which captive whales, dolphins and porpoises would be transferred to netted-off pens in the ocean off the coasts of the U.S., Canada, Europe and South Pacific islands. The movement might extend to China, where nine Russian-caught killer whales were recently exported to Chimelong Ocean Kingdom amid a marine park building boom, though they have yet to be put on display.
“People are now seeing that these sentient beings aren't corporate assets," said Courtney Vail, campaigns manager for the U.K.-based Whale and Dolphin Conservation and a leading advocate of the sanctuary movement.
A More Natural Life
The marine park industry argues that transferring marine mammals to sea pens exchanges one form of captivity for another and would harm them by exposing the animals to pollution and other hazards. Sanctuary proponents counter that life in a netted-off area of the ocean is infinitely preferable to confinement in what amounts to a glorified swimming pool.
Video: See How SeaWorld's Killer Whales Can Go Home Again
“Any sanctuary is going to be better than captivity," said Lori Marino, a marine mammal neuroscientist, the founder of the Utah-based Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy and the executive director of the Whale Sanctuary Project. Unveiled in May, the project has brought together marine scientists, conservationists, legal experts, veterinarians, former animal trainers and others to build the world's first permanent seaside sanctuary for whales and dolphins held in captivity.
“We have to look at the kind of environment that their brain evolved in, what their brain evolved to do and how far or close their setting is to that natural environment," Marino told me. “They have a brain that obtains pleasure in figuring out how to go places, how to get prey with others, in swimming and deep diving, even in navigating their social lives and communicating over long distances."
Sanctuary advocates envision that sea pens could be established in a cove or a bay, with an anchored net closing off the mouth or perhaps among a group of small islands surrounded by barriers. In most cases, whales and dolphins would have access to acres of deep, natural seawater rather than barren concrete tanks. If possible, they would learn to catch fish rather than consuming only frozen-and-thawed food. They would receive round-the-clock monitoring and regular veterinary care but could spend their lives without having to perform tricks. Though most sites would provide public access to the animals, visitors most likely would be kept at a discreet distance. There would be no stadium-style seating filled with flashing cameras, roaring crowds and deafening music.
Sea pens, proponents say, could improve the overall health, well-being and longevity of the animals. How do they know this? Because pens exist, at least for certain species.
The U.S. Navy keeps 82 bottlenose dolphins—and a number of sea lions—in sea pens in San Diego Bay and at Naval Base Kitsap in Washington state, where they are trained to detect mines and “enemy swimmers" and retrieve objects from the deep. Some marine mammal facilities with swim-with-the-dolphin programs also maintain their animals in seawater, according to Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute.
Back to Nature?
Retiring captive animals to a seaside sanctuary for the rest of their lives—while complicated and expensive—is one thing. Rehabilitating them for return to the sea is quite another.
Although many people would like to see that happen, captive-born whales and dolphins are poor candidates for such release. Not only do they have no experience in the wild, but they have no families with which to reunite. They might learn to catch food, but without a social group to join they could become solitary social misfits. Though it's possible to release captive-bred animals, it would not necessarily be ethical or sound.
“I seriously doubt we could teach them how to be normal in a social setting," Rose said, even though solitary whales and dolphins have been documented in the wild. “The arrogance of thinking we can teach a captive-bred whale or dolphin how to be a wild, competent adult is pretty outrageous."
Animals obtained from the ocean are better candidates for release. Hundreds of dolphins and several pilot whales and false killer whales (members of the dolphin family) held in tanks around the world were taken from places such as Russia, Korea, the Solomon Islands, Cuba and Taiji, Japan. There are also scores of wild-caught beluga whales, mostly from Russian waters.
Of the 56 orcas in captivity, only a small number were taken from the ocean; the rest were bred in captivity. But knowing where the animals were captured is not the same as knowing where their families are.
Among all wild-caught killer whales, we know the definitive identities of the families of just two, both from the Pacific Northwest: Corky, from the A5 pod of Northern Resident whales and Lolita, a solitary orca who has been held for 46 years in a tiny pool at Miami Seaquarium, who belongs to the L pod of Southern Residents. So if the idea of repatriating animals to the ocean is to reunite them with their native pods, the notion of release for most of them is problematic.
Can Corky Swim Free?
As Paul Spong ferries me around Blackfish Sound, the 77-year-old scientist with longish, wispy hair and a playful smile concedes that his vision for the "Free Corky Campaign" has evolved over time. Spong and others have been trying to return the orca to her pod since 1990. For years, reunification seemed like an optimal and plausible option. After all, researchers are familiar with her relatives, who routinely swim by Hanson Island, home to the twin inlets of Double Bay.
No orcas are around on this sparkling spring day, but I have seen many wild killer whales. The encounters are exhilarating. They chase prey together, chattering wildly to coordinate the hunt. They “spy hop" above the surface to get a look around and leap from the sea in exuberant, thunderous breaches. I once watched an entire pod of orcas frolicking in a cove, only to disappear within seconds after one of them, presumably the oldest female, gave the signal that it was time to go. Their communication skills are that staggering.
Two members of Corky's immediate family are still alive—siblings that were born after her capture but share the same calls. Spong thinks other relatives would also recognize her as one of their own.
Video: Watch and listen to Corky's family, from the A5 pod of Northern Resident whales, seen on Aug. 13, 2015. (Video: Megan Hockin-Bennett for Orcalab)
“These are extremely intelligent animals with long memories," he told me, adding that each family group has a distinct set of vocalizations or dialects. “We can identify approaching orcas just by the sounds they make, even before we see them."
“When we began this decades ago, our idea was that she'd learn how to catch live fish again and we would see how she was interacting with her family group," Spong said, gazing at Corky's potential future home. “And then at a point where it was obvious she was interacting with them, we would let her go with a tracking device."
Sadness engulfs Spong's face as he continues. “The problem now is that so much time has passed—she's so much older—that we're hesitant to go there," he said. “Our thought at this point is to create a permanent retirement home for her and care for her."
When I ask SeaWorld about this, company officials email me a written statement. “Putting our killer whales in sea cages would expose them to disease, pollution and other man-made and natural disasters," the statement reads. “In addition, given the ages of our whales, the length of time they've spent in human care and the social relationships they've formed with other whales, it would do them more harm than good [and] could cause the whales immense stress and even death during transport and release."
Still, Spong clings to hope for a corporate change of heart. “We think it would be a great thing for SeaWorld," he said. “They're recognizing that when they do good things, the public responds." SeaWorld would need to be directly involved with Corky's retirement. “She would need trainers she was familiar with."
Spong steers past the outcrops along Double Bay's mouth, explaining how barriers could connect them to complete Corky's enclosure. We enter the tranquil inlet. Spong points to a compound of low-rise wooden buildings along the shore, originally built as a private fishing lodge. He said that he intends to look into buying the place. With its dock, restaurant and sleeping quarters, it's ready-made for housing workers and even visitors who would pay to see Corky, helping to offset some of the costs.
Those costs are considerable. While the lodge would negate the need for building infrastructure, buying the place and all the land around Double Bay would likely run into the millions. Even the nets could cost $100,000 or more.
Two Homes for Lolita
Of all the orcas in captivity, perhaps none engenders as much public sympathy as Lolita, who has spent the past 46 years at Miami Seaquarium, much of it alone, with the exception of a few dolphins. Her enclosure is small: 80 feet long and 35 feet wide, with a depth of just 20 feet, the same length as her body. She has limited protection from the blistering Florida sun.
Lolita was taken from her family at about age four in 1970 during the largest orca roundup in history, at Penn Cove on Whidbey Island, about 40 miles northwest of Seattle. More than 90 whales, probably the entire Southern Resident population, were corralled into the narrow bay. Four of them died and seven of the youngest ones were sold to marine parks. Today Lolita is the only Southern Resident of the 45 captured who is still alive in captivity.
Lolita might also stand the best chance of any captive orca of being delivered from her confines. The Southern Resident orca population was listed as endangered in 2005 and in 2013 the federal government agreed to include Lolita in the listing in response to a lawsuit from animal welfare groups. Although a federal judge on June 2 rejected conservationists' claims that Lolita's cramped confines at Miami Seaquarium violate the U.S. Endangered Species Act, the animal rights activists are appealing the ruling and there is another pending action against the federal government that could conceivably result in Lolita's release.
There are two competing plans for retiring the whale to her native waters.
The older plan, dating to 1995, was conceived by Ken Balcomb, director of the Washington state–based Center for Whale Research, along with his half-brother Howard Garrett, an outspoken anti-captivity activist featured in Blackfish and his wife, Susan Berta. Together they run the Orca Network conservation organization on Whidbey Island, not far from Penn Cove.
On a sunny May morning, the snow-covered Olympic Mountains glistening across the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Garrett and I make our way to horseshoe-shaped Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands, to tour the site he has selected for Lolita—265 acres of wooded waterfront property owned by Jim Youngren, a real estate developer who would donate the land for the killer whale's resettlement.
We head down to the estate's waterfront, which includes a large cove that would be netted off for Lolita. Garrett and Youngren say the site is ideal: It is isolated, protected from the elements and there is little boat traffic on the sound. And, they say, it would be temporary. After her arrival, they would embark on a regime of training Lolita to reunite with her family by improving her stamina, teaching her to catch fish and taking her out on “walks," accompanied by a boat, into the sound.
The detailed proposal for Lolita's rehabilitation focuses on weaning her from dependence on humans for survival and includes plans for a project manager, a staff veterinarian, caregivers, divers, security personnel and a water quality manager. The total estimated budget, for transportation, infrastructure and feeding and caring for Lolita for three to six months ranges from $758,000 to about $1.56 million.
"We will raise the money through traditional fund-raising, including individual small donors, major foundation grants and appealing to benevolent benefactors, anybody willing to pitch in to help Lolita go home," Garret said. "Unfortunately, I don't have a Rolodex of billionaires that I play golf with."
Money isn't the only obstacle. Miami Seaquarium has consistently rejected the idea of retiring the whale.
“There is no scientific evidence that … Lolita could survive if she were to be moved from her home at Miami Seaquarium to a sea pen or to the open waters of the Pacific Northwest," Andrew Hertz, Miami Seaquarium's general manager, informed me in an email. “It would be reckless and cruel to jeopardize Lolita's health and safety. Miami Seaquarium is not willing to experiment with her life in order to appease a fringe group."
But Garrett is confident that Lolita will recognize her family and yearn for reunification with them. (Lolita's mother is alive and well). He envisions the day that Lolita hears her family in the ocean.
“It would be the moment we're all waiting for," he said. “Her family might be 20 miles away, chattering as normal and she recognizes them and calls back in their calls that only that family uses. If they're curious, they'll probably make a beeline to her. I don't think it's going to be an immediate warm welcome. I think there will be a time of rebuilding relationships and trust levels. But that will be the most fascinating scientific experiment: How tight are those bonds and how clear is that memory after all those years?"
After visiting Orcas Island I take a ferry to Port Angeles and make the 90-minute drive along a narrow, winding highway that skirts the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the far northwestern corner of the continental U.S., home to the 47,000-square-mile Makah Indian Reservation. Just before Cape Flattery, I pull into Neah Bay, a large, curving expanse bisected by a mile-long rocky jetty connecting the mainland to Waadah Island.
It is here, alongside the jetty, that an informal coalition of conservationists and members of the Makah Tribe want to install a floating pen, with nets anchored to the seafloor, to house Lolita.
I meet with two key members of the project: Michael Harris, a Seattle-based network television journalist and former president of the Orca Conservancy and Micah McCarty, former chairman of the Makah Tribal Council and member of the federal government's National Ocean Council.
There is an orca on McCarty's family crest. Like most Native American tribes in the region, the Makah revere killer whales in their mythology, in which orcas are considered “Killer Whale People" who live in villages under the sea and put on orca costumes when they come to the surface.
In 2008, Harris was contacted by a number of Hollywood luminaries, including Ron Howard and his producing partner Brian Grazer, who had heard about Lolita's plight and wanted someone to devise a plan to return her to the Pacific Northwest.
Their plan recommends a project team of five people to direct day-to-day operations, a 10-member scientific advisory team, a chief veterinarian, a “boat follow" team, a bay pen team and a project security chief. Before leaving Florida, Lolita would be thoroughly examined for infectious diseases or any medical condition that would put her in danger during transport to the sea pen.
Once in her pen, Lolita would be taught to catch fish and be conditioned to go out for walks, initially led by the boat team and later with a “non-human device" such as an underwater drone so she no longer associated boats with human care.
“We need to get these animals away from imprinting on people in boats," Harris said. “You cannot ocean walk a human-imprinted whale into a congested recreational boating area. We're 70 miles from the nearest major population center."
McCarty says the location is ideal. There would be several levels of security, including Makah authorities and year-round access to wild salmon and other fish. Another advantage: Killer whales pass nearby 12 months of the year, he said. The proposal calls for installing underwater hydrophones on an island at the mouth of the strait, operated 24 hours a day, that could detect the approach of Lolita's family when it came time to reintroduce her to her pod. Before swimming free, Lolita would be outfitted with tracking devices, possibly attached with suction cups, to monitor her success and rescue her if she got into trouble.
If the successful release of Lolita cannot be achieved, the plan calls for her permanent residence in the bay. “I'm an optimist, but I think the options have to be that she'll be cared for well the rest of her life if she can't make it in the wild," McCarty said, noting that the pen, envisioned at 10,000 square feet, could be expanded or a new pen could be installed in a cove on Waadah Island.
Harris declined to offer a long-term budget, but looking at expenses from other orca relocation efforts, he estimated that the move from Miami and the first six months of operations would run about $1 million. The proposal calls for academic partnerships, in which universities and research centers would pay fees in exchange for access to Lolita for scientific studies.
There is a rich history of wild-caught cetaceans returning to nature, with varying degrees of success. One of the earliest involved a 20-year-old pilot whale named Bimbo, who was reintroduced into the ocean in 1967 by Marineland of the Pacific, near Los Angeles, after nearly eight years in captivity. Two years after his reintroduction, Bimbo was sighted near Santa Barbara and five years later, he was seen again near San Clemente.
Without question, the most famous, expensive and controversial orca release involved Keiko, star of the 1993 Warner Bros. movie Free Willy, who was yanked from his family near Iceland in 1979 when he was about two years old. Keiko had languished for years at a Mexico City amusement park in a small, shallow pool filled with tepid tap water spiked with chlorine and table salt. The subpar conditions caused Keiko to lose weight and contract a papilloma viral infection that left large patches of his skin with disfiguring warts.
Keiko's plight gained worldwide attention. In 1995, the California-based Earth Island Institute, with seed money from Warner Bros. and American telecommunications billionaire Craig McCaw, helped establish the Free Willy-Keiko Foundation. A $7.3 million, high-tech rehab facility was built at the Oregon Coast Aquarium with the intention of returning Keiko to the ocean. In early 1996, Keiko was flown to his new tank, which was filled with cold, fresh seawater. He learned to catch fish to supplement his frozen diet.
In September 1998, Keiko was transferred to a floating sea pen in Iceland anchored in a spectacular inlet surrounded by volcanic cliffs. Over the next few years, Keiko's health and stamina continued to improve. In 2000 Keiko began taking walks in the open ocean, outfitted with a tracking device. He often stayed away for days. Then, in the summer of 2002, for unknown reasons, Keiko took off, embarking on a 50-day, 1,000-mile odyssey across the North Atlantic, under constant satellite tracking, to the coast of Norway. Data from his tag showed that Keiko made repeated deep dives on his journey, suggesting he was foraging for fish.
The killer whale's arrival in Norway sparked a public sensation, as hordes of boaters and swimmers flocked around the Hollywood star. It was a terrible situation, given that the idea was to wean him from humans. Critics declared the experiment a wretched failure. Keiko's caretakers relocated to Norway and walked him further up the coast to Taknes Bay, far from the raucous crowds. He spent the next 15 months coming and going as he pleased. Then, in December 2003, he began exhibiting signs of lethargy and lack of appetite. On Dec. 12, Keiko beached himself on the rocky shoreline and he died that evening. No necropsy was performed, but his vet suspected the cause was pneumonia.
Skeptics accused the project of murdering a hapless animal that never should have been released. The seven-year project, they noted, had come with a $20 million price tag, said David Phillips, executive director of the Earth Island Institute, which worked on the release project. “Keiko had five years with the sights and sounds of natural seawater," he said. “I think it was a great success in terms of Keiko, his well-being and the whole world that wanted to do the right thing."
Are seaside sanctuaries a pipe dream of well-meaning but misguided whale huggers? Critics say the money spent on sea-pen retirement could be better used on conservation of wild animals. “I find that the continued debate over SeaWorld's 27 well-cared-for killer whales seems to encapsulate how nonprofits in the U.S. are fighting for animals not in need of saving while ignoring species and animals that are in the wild and truly need help," said Eric Davis, editor of the pro-industry website Awesome Ocean, which has received funding from SeaWorld.
On Tuesday, the National Aquarium in Baltimore announced that it would build the first North American seaside sanctuary by the end of 2020 for its eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins currently living in an amphitheater at the facility.
For the past five years, aquarium officials have been evaluating the feasibility of building a seaside sanctuary and searching for possible sites, which include locations in the Florida Keys and the Caribbean.
The move will undoubtedly send tremors throughout the captive whale and dolphin industry and put pressure on companies like SeaWorld to soften their resistance to retiring some their animals to sea pens.
There are at least five other proposed whale and dolphin release projects that have a shot at coming to fruition.
Chief among them is the Whale Sanctuary Project. Leading the charge are board members Lori Marino, Naomi Rose, David Phillips and Charles Vinick, who directed the Keiko project from 1998 through 2002.
The new group's goal is to establish a “model" sanctuary somewhere in North America where whales, dolphins and porpoises can be rehabilitated for release into the ocean or, for the majority of animals, allowed to live out their lives in an environment as close as possible to their natural habitat, one that enhances well-being and autonomy.
“We're really focused on British Columbia right now," said Michael Parks, a licensed engineer and commercial freighter captain who worked on the Keiko project for five years. “There are so many good-looking sites there, especially the west side of Vancouver Island, with waterways that go quite a ways inland, provide good protection and have access to road systems." Parks is also looking at sites in southeast Alaska, Washington, Maine and Nova Scotia.
The ideal site must not only be protected and accessible year-round but has to have the right temperature, salinity and seafloor depths; tidal action to flush out animal waste; an area for veterinary care and animal husbandry; and room onshore to construct a command post and visitor center. The group plans to allow public access, which is legally required for U.S. sites, not only to educate people about marine mammals but also to accept donations. The site will likely have two sections: one for rescued cetaceans and wild-caught captives being rehabilitated for release and the other to permanently house those that cannot be freed. Federal, state and local authorities will have to sign off.
Project officials are expecting to spend upwards of $20 million raised from donors to acquire a site, install nets and build infrastructure. They're off to a decent start. Munchkin, a global baby-product company, has donated $200,000 for the site search and pledged at least another $1 million to the project. Munchkin CEO Steven Dunn tells me the idea came to him after a claustrophobic experience in an MRI machine.
“I thought, This is what captive orcas feel like," he said. “I had empathy for them that I couldn't get out of my head."
What if they built a sanctuary and nobody came? Marino says that rescued marine mammals might be among the first arrivals. She, like many others in the movement, believes that parks and aquariums might one day bend under public pressure and retire parts of their “collections."
Other sea-pen projects are on the drawing board. Merlin Entertainments Group and its aquarium division, Sea Life, which is opposed to keeping marine mammals in tanks, announced in 2009 that the company was working with Whale and Dolphin Conservation to create a sanctuary plan for belugas and dolphins at properties it had acquired.
“We're working towards advancing two sanctuary projects right now," said Whale and Dolphin Conservation's Courtney Vail. "One involves relocating three female belugas caught in Russia that are now at Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, a Merlin-acquired property. Merlin is working toward readying them for relocation to an arctic sanctuary that WDC [Whale and Dolphin Conservation] is helping to site and develop."
Vail's group is also working on a feasibility study to develop a bottlenose sanctuary in the Mediterranean within five years.
One of the most well-known sanctuary efforts involves Morgan, a female orca who was found, alone, emaciated and sick, off the Netherlands in 2010. The three-year-old killer whale was captured and taken to a local theme park, which was given a permit to rehabilitate her and return her to the sea. That never happened. Despite months of legal wrangling by animal welfare advocates, in 2011 Morgan was sent to Loro Parque in the Canary Islands. She was put in a tank with five other killer whales living there on a “breeding loan" from SeaWorld, which today claims ownership of Morgan.
Almost from the beginning, Ingrid Visser, a renowned killer whale scientist and founder of New Zealand's Orca Research Trust, has fought for Morgan's liberation. Visser is also a leading sea-pen proponent whose recent renderings of a conceptual high-tech sanctuary—with an expansive modern pier and attached husbandry pen and glassed-in observation centers for paying visitors—were derided by industry defenders as being little different from SeaWorld.
Visser and some colleagues were able to obtain a few recordings of Morgan's vocalizations while the whale was in Holland and they matched them with a group of Norwegian whales known as P pod, though the identity of Morgan's immediate family remains unclear.
Visser cofounded the Free Morgan Foundation and helped devise a plan to send the killer whale to a sea pen in Norway, with the intention of reuniting the orca with her family.
“We have at least five different sites in mind and we've looked at three of those in detail," she told me. “One is a [fjord] where the entrance is protected from large swells and it's within a half-mile of known feeding grounds of Norwegian orca, but it has limited road access. Another one is within a group of islands, though it's near a fishing harbor."
But, Visser said, “there's no point in building a sea pen if the authorities won't release her. It's putting the cart before the horse."
If Morgan's reunification with her family fails, the Free Morgan Foundation is prepared to look after her for life.
“Let's at least improve her life with a fjord to swim in," Visser said. “Or even train her to swim beside a boat and go out with whale-watching tours and use that for education and science. It's far better than where she is now, doing the tango and moonwalk for tourists."
The Whale Sanctuary Project's Marino firmly believes that day is coming for Morgan and many other captive killer whales.
“The SeaWorld announcement about breeding is a good one, but they need to take the next step and transfer the animals that are going to be there for the next 30 years to a sanctuary," she said. “They can't be released, but their quality of life can be improved by orders of magnitude. Still, this is not just as easy as saying, 'There's a good inlet—let's throw a net across and put some animals in it.' It's a solemn responsibility and it's the best we can do for animals that are in captivity."
This article was reposted with permission from our media associate TakePart.
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