The Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University
in Washington, D.C., holds an annual “Eco-Comedy Video
Competition,” based on a different environmental theme each year.
This year’s theme to challenge student creativity was “Clean water,
The winner of the Grand Prize and Viewers’ Choice awards this
year was a video called “Dude, or the Blissful Ignorance of
Progress” (shown in video player).
The Center for Environmental Filmmaking was founded on the
belief that films are vitally important educational and political
tools in the struggle to protect the environment, according to
Professor Chris Palmer, who started the center. The goal is to
train filmmakers to create films and new media that promote
conservation in ways that are ethically sound, entertaining and
All the contest entries can be found in the
comments section of the YouTube webpage about the contest.
I found another video on the center’s website that was not
involved in this particular contest but was both educational and
amusing. It was a public service announcement called “Tap Water.”
I recently discovered a series of 58 fascinating videos that
capture the highlights of the diverse national parks in the United
The five-minute videos, by photographer Dennis Burkhardt
of Oregon, take us on trips into some of the most amazing
wilderness areas in the world. The scenic photography and
accompanying narration make me yearn to visit every park to see
them for myself.
I’ve posted on this page three of the videos, including the one
that describes our familiar Olympic National Park. The complete set
of can be viewed on the YouTube channel
“America’s 58 National Parks.” Be sure to go full-screen.
I’m sure every park has a story to tell, and these videos
briefly tantalize us with the possibilities of exploration. I
recall stumbling upon a rich history and some amazing tales while
researching a Kitsap Sun story for the 75th anniversary of Olympic
National Park. It is called
“At 75, Olympic National Park has grown amid push-pull of
In 1872, our first national park was born when President Ulysses
S. Grant signed a law creating Yellowstone National Park.
Yellowstone was followed by Mackinac in 1875, then Sequoia and
Yosemite in 1890. Mackinac was converted to a state park in 1895 —
seven national parks to go out of existence in the national
National parks are selected for their natural beauty, unique
geological formations, rare ecosystems and recreational
opportunities. In contrast, national monuments, also administered
by the National Park Service, are selected mainly for their
California has nine parks, the most of any state, followed by
Alaska with eight, Utah with five and Colorado with four.
Washington has three — with
North Cascades National Park created in 1968.
New parks are still being created, with Pinnacles National
Monument in Central California becoming a national park in 2013.
(Pinnacles is the 59th national park and is not included in the
list of videos.) The largest national park,
Wrangell-St. Elias in Alaska, is larger then nine entire
states. The smallest is
Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas.
A handy list of all the parks with links to more information can
be found on
With the NCAA basketball tournament coming into the home
stretch, I thought it might be fun to show some animals sharing the
Petey, a border collie previously known as the volleyball dog,
has the best shooting ability of any dog I have seen. You’ll find
him practicing his skills in the first video on the page.
It appears that most dogs, in fact most basketball-playing
animals, require a lower basketball hoop to make a basket. That’s
the case with Zeke, who can dribble, catch and shoot, as you’ll see
in the second video player on this page.
With all this talk about dogs and basketball, I thought it would
be only fair to include cats. As any cat owner will tell you, cats
do things in their own time and with their own methods. As you’ll
see in the third video player, they also play basketball in their
own unique way.
When I first saw a video of a sea otter shooting baskets, I
questioned why anyone would train a sea otter to do this. Then I
saw the original video by Oregon Zoo in Portland. It describes how
Eddie the otter is undergoing physical therapy for arthritis, and
basketball is one way to get him to stretch his front limbs. The
description says Eddie’s basketball feats are not put on display
for the general public visiting the zoo. Check out the fourth video
player on this page.
I’m amused by this looping video, which shows a bear waiting for
a fish to appear. In the background, a wolf reaches down
nonchalantly, bites into a large salmon and carries it away.
Not long ago, it was widely believed that bears love salmon but
that wolves prefer deer, elk, moose and related animals whenever
they can find them. Now we know, from careful observations in
Alaska, that wolves will go after salmon when they get the
Researcher Dave Person of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game
says wolves will seek out tidally affected streams where they can
find salmon passing through shallow water and trapped in pools.
“They’re not as skillful as bears at fishing,” Person told Riley
Woodford, reporting for
Alaska Fish and Wildlife News. “Each year, they spend over a
month in estuary areas, with the pups. It’s right in middle of pink
and chum runs, and we watch them eat salmon all the time. There are
lots of places they could go; I think they go there for the
Based on the video, I would have to say that wolves are pretty
good at catching fish upstream as well.
Salmon may have gone unnoticed as a staple in the wolves’ diet,
because the entire salmon, bones and all, are digested by wolves,
leaving no signs of fish in their scat — unlike the bones and fur
discovered after they eat a deer or other mammal.
Another Alaskan biologist, Shelly Szepanski, has been studying
the stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in wolf bones to see
whether the bones are made of elements that come from the land or
the sea. She found that salmon appeared to make up as much as 20
percent of the diet of wolves living in coastal areas of Southeast
Alaska, compared to 10 percent of those living farther inland.
As I continued to look at the video of the bear and wolf fishing
for salmon, I wondered if they ever interacted and how things might
turn out in a head-to-head fight. I was able to find a video that
demonstrates that a bear might get the best of a wolf in a
one-on-one battle, but we can never forget that wolves often travel
in packs. If you watch to the end, you will see who takes charge of
the meal in question.
Speaking of fights, I am still amazed at the video below, which
shows a leopard swimming across a stretch of water, grabbing onto a
crocodile and dragging it back into the water. I never would have
guessed that a croc could be defeated in or around water like that
— but it looks like he never saw the cat coming until it was too
Each winter, I look for an opportunity to share amusing photos
and videos of household pets encountering a fluffy white blanket
and playing in the snow.
Guess what. Spring has arrived, and the Puget Sound region did
not experience a heavy snow this past winter. I know that many
people — especially those who dread driving in the ice and snow —
are rejoicing how they managed to escape what they consider an
For the skiers among us, the shortage of snow in the mountains
has been heartbreaking. We can all hope this is not the beginning
of the end for our incredible winter sports in Washington
Meanwhile, most of us have friends on the eastern side of the
United States who have no sympathy for the snowless conditions in
the West. They have seen one snowfall after another build up layers
of snow that they must dig through. They received our share of snow
and much more.
In honor of those living in the East and coming through one of
the harshest winters in history, I’m pulling up some amusing images
of snow dogs and snow cats. For those sick of snow, I hope this can
be a humorous glance at the season in the rearview mirror. For the
rest of us, we can take a moment to consider what we missed.
In the first video, Tiger Productions has put together a nice
compilation of clips of animals playing in the snow, including some
of my favorites. Another video by Official Dogs focuses on the
canines. A new video by Ann Got shows us why a cat won’t be stopped
by a little snow.
Also amusing are some still photos of dogs, cats and other
animals in the snow. Check out:
Starfish that live symbiotically inside a tube sponge were long
believed to assist the sponge with its cleaning activities, while
the starfish received a protective home for being such a helpful
companion. This type of mutually beneficial symbiosis is called
But this long-held assumption — that both the brittlestar and
gray tube sponge were benefitting from the deal — turned out to be
wrong when researchers took a close look at the relationship.
The video describing this whole affair and the research behind
it became a finalist in the Ocean 180 Video Challenge, judged by
37,795 students in 1,600 classrooms in 21 countries. Ocean 180 is
all about connecting science to people, and the video challenge is
designed to help scientists turn their discoveries into
I really like the concept of this contest. Joseph Pawlik, one of
the researchers involved, did a good job telling the story of the
starfish and the sponge in the video production, assisted by Jack
Koch of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. They called
the video “The maid did it! The surprising case of the
I won’t give away who killed whom, but answers to the murder
mystery are revealed toward the end of the 3-minute video.
A much more extensive research project involves monitoring the
largest active volcano off the coast of Oregon, a location called
Axial Seamount. University of Washington researchers and students
conducted the research and produced the video about the equipment
used in an extreme environment and how the data are transmitted
back to land via a fiber optic cable.
While the videos of the starfish-and-sponge and offshore volcano
were among the top 10 finalists, neither were among the top award
First-place winner Kelly Jaakkola of the Dolphin Research Center
said Ocean 180 is a way to make a connection with the next
generation of ocean scientists:
“For a lot of students, science can have a negative, scary
image. They picture people in white lab coats talking about topics
that nobody understands in the most boring, unimaginative way
possible. If we want to get kids excited about science, we need to
change that image.”
Third-place winner Charles Waters said some of the most
inspiring science writing uses analogies, metaphors and similes to
describe the scientific process and research findings:
“Video helps lift images from print, and the message comes
closer to being an experience for the audience in contrast to a
mere information stream.”
The Ocean 180 Video Challenge is sponsored by Florida Center for
Ocean Sciences Education Excellence.
Wyland Foundation’s annual “Water is Life” mural and art
challenge always seems to attract a sizable number of entries —
some 3,500 last year, according to organizers.
I’m always impressed with many of the winners in the individual
competition for grades 1-12 along with collaborative work on a
variety of murals.
Last year’s theme for the contest was “Our Ocean.” The
foundation provided 100 packages of art supplies, including a large
canvass. Also included were educational materials for students and
teachers to study ocean issues and work together to paint a
Theme for the 2015 contest will be “Our Coast and Climate.” For
details about entering individual entries and qualifying for free
art supplies, visit Wyland’s
website. The deadline for this year’s contest is Nov. 25.
Below are more of the individual winners along with the winning
For the past 22 years, students from across the country have
been painting and drawing some amazing pictures of ducks, swans,
geese and related water birds.
Each year, the best pictures are printed up as Federal Junior
Duck Stamps, which can be purchased from participating post offices
and sporting good stores. With the deadline for the 2015 art
contest approaching, I thought it would be a good time to share
some of these great artworks.
The Junior Duck Stamp Conservation and Design Program is
sponsored by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The $5 junior duck
stamps are modeled on the $15 Federal Duck Stamps, purchased by
hunters and used by others as a pass for national wildlife
Proceeds from the junior duck stamps are used for conservation
education, including a national curriculum for students from
kindergarten through 12th grade. The national program involves
elements of science, art, math and technology.
The deadline for the art competition is March 15. At the state
level, students are judged in four groups by grade: K-3, 4-6, 7-9
and 10-12. Numerous awards are given in each group, and one “best
of show” from each state are entered into the national competition
in April. Participants are encouraged to include a conservation
message with their entries.
American Rivers, an environmental group, has released an
inspiring new short film that captures the sense of wonder and
adventure people can experience in the wild outdoors.
The video features one little boy named Parker who exudes
enthusiasm as he runs, jumps and explores the rivers of the Olympic
Peninsula. We listen to fast-paced music as the scenes change
quickly, jumping from one place to the next, while Parker
demonstrates his “top 50 favorite things about Northwest Rivers.”
(Be sure to watch in full-screen.)
“We wanted a video that would connect with people on a fun,
personal level, reminding all of us why healthy rivers matter and
why rivers make the Northwest such a special place to live,” Amy
Kober of American Rivers told me in an email. “Wild rivers are
amazing places for kids and adults; they can make us all feel like
Amy said she chose filmmaker Skip Armstrong of Wazee Motion
Pictures “because of his talent, unique style, and creativity — and
his own love of rivers.”
Skip says he got the idea for a simple film about unbridled
enthusiasm and curiosity while watching his fiancee’s nephew
playing on the beach. When it came time to shoot the American
Rivers video, that particular boy was not available. Skip looked
around his hometown of Hood River, Ore., and found an equally
energetic and curious youngster named Parker Arneson, son of Emmie
Purcell and Shane Arneson. This high-powered 8-year-old is an avid
snowboarder and skateboarder.
Skip spent three days last summer scouting out locations on the
Olympic Peninsula, then came back in the fall with Parker for an
eight-day shoot, traveling the Highway 101 loop around the Olympic
Peninsula in a counter-clockwise direction. Being a home-schooled
student, Parker did not miss any school.
“We just followed Parker around when we got to locations,” Skip
said. “He literally did everything else. He’s an amazing person.
What struck all of us on the shoot was his ability to engage us and
the camera and to come up with ideas. He’s a ton of fun to be
“We only had one comical setback,” he said. “Hayden Peters and I
set off to scout a location and got a bit lost on the way back to
the van. It was pouring rain. We finally got to a hillside that
looked like the road was above it, so we set off to climb the hill.
Only problem was a benign-looking puddle that I stepped in with
great confidence, only to sink immediately to my armpits.
“Shortly thereafter, we arrived back at the car, me smelling
like a swamp and totally soaked. Parker thought it was pretty
Parker took some pretty good falls while running around, but he
always bounced back and was ready to go again, Skip said.
Parker even got a speeding ticket from an Olympic National Park
ranger for running too fast in the Staircase area near the North
Fork of the Skokomish River. It was a joke, of course. The ranger
was one who accompanied the film crew as part of the permit
requirements for shooting video in a wilderness area.
Emmie, Parker’s mom, said he had a great time shooting the
Skip has produced numerous films with a water theme. Check out
“featured work” on his website, WazeeMotionPictures.com. He
says it is important to remember the joy we feel in wild
“To me, there is no faster access to unbridled joy than through
the eyes of a young person or child,” he wrote me in an email. “It
was refreshing for our team to spend so much time with Parker, and
it’s cool to see audiences connect with his enthusiasm, too.
“American Rivers works so hard to protect our precious
resources, and I love that Parker shows us why this is important.
When we were shooting, we met so many wonderful people of all ages
enjoying the rivers and sights of the Northwest.”
Skip’s film reminds us that some of our best times can be had
outdoors. As the weather improves, I’m inspired and eager to get
back to some wild places with my own kids and grandkids.
I also want to thank Skip for sending along the still photos
that show Parker and the film crew out and about on the Olympic
BirdNote originated in 2005 at a single station — KPLU in Tacoma
— and expanded to 50 participating stations by 2010 with about 200
stations today, according to a
list of facts put together for the anniversary. Birdnote began
as a once-a-week segment before expanding to daily segments in
The searchable archive
covers more than 1,200 shows, featuring more than 650 species of
birds. Besides the daily audio clips, each webpage links to related
sources — including photos or videos; a little history or
biography; scientific explanations; occasional notes or blogs; and
often more information about the featured birds.
In honor of the 10th anniversary of BirdNote, and since this is
a blog about water issues, I’ve picked out 20 clips from the past
two years or so that I think you will enjoy: