Some of the best photographers in the world contribute to
National Geographic magazine. So it’s no wonder that a photo
contest sponsored each year by the publication draws in some
Last year, more than 7,000 entries were submitted by amateur and
professional photographers from 150 countries, and I would expect
an equal number this year. The deadline has passed for submissions
in 2014, and the winner of the $10,000 grand prize plus several
runners-up will be announced later this month.
The environmental group Conservation International has a message
to share: “Nature doesn’t need people. People need Nature.”
Celebrity voices — including those of Julia Roberts, Harrison
Ford and Robert Redford — have been delivering this message by
playing the roles of “Mother Nature,” “The Ocean” and “The
Redwoods.” In their roles, they talk about their relationships with
humans, while the videos display beautiful images appropriate to
the subject. (When viewing, be sure to go full-screen.)
The three mentioned above are joined by other actors in this
project, known as “Nature is Speaking.” The latest video features
Penelope Cruz, who plays the role of “Water” in a film released two
weeks ago. Her character asks:
“Where will humans find me when there are billions more of them
around? Where will they find themselves? Will they wage wars over
me, like they do over everything else.”
The message from “Water” comes across in softer tones than the
one from “The Ocean” (Harrison Ford), in which we hear a more
ominous message about humans:
“I don’t owe them a thing. I give; they take. But I can always
To understand this view of Nature, Conservation International
has posted a written statement called “Our Humanifesto.” The
organization also has invited some folks with special knowledge
about the various subjects to post blog entries. Read their essays
In addition to the videos shown above, check out the full list
of films completed so far in the “Nature is
Speaking” project, or choose from the list below:
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Interior requested
photographs of veterans enjoying America’s public lands. Many
responded, and the result is the following video, which covers the
entire nation. In Washington state, veterans are featured at three
Margaux Mange, Army veteran, Mount Rainier National Park
Mike Polk, Air Force veteran, Grand Coulee Dam, and
Maxine Gresset, Army Nurse Corps veteran, Olympic National
As one YouTube commenter said, “A perfect combination — all
those spectacular places and the brave people who defended
Since tomorrow is Veterans Day, entrance fees are being waived
at most national parks, national forests, national monuments,
national wildlife refuges and other
federal lands in Washington state. For details, visit the
website of the agency in charge.
I’ve always heard that downtown Seattle and its waterfront area
were built on a massive amount of fill, but I never knew how
massive until I viewed the video on this page.
According to the researchers involved, Seattle is “one of the
most dramatically re-engineered cities in the United States.”
The video was completed two years ago, but I had not heard of it
until I read a recent blog post by archeologist Peter Lape,
researcher Amir Sheikh, and artist Don Fels, who together make up
the Waterlines Project. The three have collaborated to study the
history of Seattle by focusing on how the shorelines changed over
time. As they state in the
blog post for the Burke Museum:
“For more than ten years, we’ve worked as an informal group,
known as the Waterlines Project, to examine Seattle’s past
landscapes. Drawing from data gathered by geologists,
archaeologists, historians and other storytellers, we are literally
unearthing and imagining our collective pasts…
“What have we found? Among other things, Seattle is one of the
most dramatically re-engineered cities in the United States. From
the dozen or so settlers who founded it on Coast Salish land in
1851 to its current status as America’s fastest growing city,
hardly a decade has gone by without its residents taking on some
major ‘improvement’ projects affecting its shorelines.”
The maps and photos
collected during the Waterlines Project will take you back to
another time. Thanks to photographer Asahel Curtis, much of the
history of our region has been preserved for us to see. Some of his
notable photographs on the waterfront theme:
Science merges into art in new studies of biofluorescence, in
which researchers identify colorful marine creatures that glow in
the dark. Their ultimate goal is to figure out why.
Biofluorescence is essentially the “black light” effect, in
which organisms absorb a narrow frequency range of blue light and
transform it into other colors, such as green and red. In deep
water, blue is the only frequency of light that makes it
Until recently, there was no technology to capture images of
fluorescent fish in extremely low-light conditions. Artificial
light ruins the effect, and older low-light cameras were too bulky
to travel underwater. New cameras developed at Yale University
changed the ability of research divers to capture colorful images
of sea creatures and bring them back to the surface for further
study. So far, more than 180 biofluorescent fish species have been
David Gruber, John Sparks and others are trying to figure out if
there is a reason that some fish produce a glow. They would also
like to know which of the other creatures are able to see them in
the darkness. Check out the article in the journal
PLOS ONE published Jan. 8.
Gruber notes that camouflage fish — those able to blend in with
their surroundings in regular white light — are often those that
stand out brilliantly in fluorescent light. He speculates that fish
of the same species are better able to see them, offering
advantages in communication and mating. For the sake of these
glowing fish, it would be nice to learn that their predators cannot
spot them so easily.
The natural beauty of these fluorescent patterns is not
overlooked by Gruber and his associates.
“I just find a real serenity and beauty being on the reef at
night,” Gruber says in the first video on this page. “And now when
we add on this kind of fluorescent layer, it’s like being on
Last month, “Yale Environment 360” announced the winners of a
video contest with a focus on environmental themes. I found the
videos fascinating and very well done, although they may not fit my
normal definition of “amusing.” I think you’ll enjoy them.
“Yale Environment 360,” or
“E360” for short, is a thoughtful online publication published by
the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental studies. It is filled
with reports and opinions on many environmental issues.
Clicking the image on this page will take you to the
second-place winner in the contest, titled “A Red Dirt Town: An
Enduring Legacy Of Toxic Pollution in Southern Waters.” Producer
Spenser Gabin tells how the community of Anniston, Alabama, has
been forced to cope with a legacy of PCB pollution from a Monsanto
plant located upstream.
Gabin focuses on two main characters, Frank Chitwood, the Coosa
Riverkeeper, who is attempting to get the rivers and lakes posted
with warnings, and David Baker, a community activist who was one of
the first to begin cleanup at the Monsanto site. Baker’s brother,
who played in a PCB-contaminated area as a child, died at age 16
from cancer of the brain and lungs.
The winning video in the contest is
“Badru’s Story: Inside Africa’s Impenetrable Forest,” an
account of Badru Mugerwa, who manages a network of cameras to
document the loss of biodiversity and effects of climate change on
Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. The film was produced
by Benjamin Drummond and Sara Joy Steele.
The contest rules prevent the entrants from showing their videos
anywhere but on “E360” for at least 60 days, So I’m not able to
embed the videos at this time.
Contest judges included “E360″ editor Roger Cohn, “New Yorker”
writer and “E360″ contributor Elizabeth Kolbert, and documentary
filmmaker Thomas Lennon.
Another fascinating video produced for “E360″ is
“The Colorado River: Running Near Empty,” which takes
award-winning photographer Pete McBride back to his home area in
Colorado. From there, he follows the Colorado River until it runs
dry short of its historic delta in the Sea of Cortez.
“Raise the River or Move the Ocean” blog from earlier this
year? It featured Robert Redford and Will Ferrell feigning a debate
about the future of the Colorado River. I still get a laugh from
those videos, which manage to help educate us about the issue.
Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called drones, could play an
increasing role in killer whale studies, according to Brad Hanson,
a researcher with NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center who has
been studying Puget Sound’s orcas for years.
Brad said a plan to use UAVs (he doesn’t like “drones”) has been
on the drawing board for several years. Unmanned aircraft can fly
over the whales far more cheaply than a full-size helicopter, which
has been used in the past. The small aircraft also may be able to
come in close for biological samples with less disturbance to the
whales than when operating from a research boat.
“I’ve been looking at this for a long time,” Brad told me. “We
have it in our (Endangered Species Act) permit to be able to use a
UAS (unmanned aircraft system).
Remote-controlled aircraft have been used by researchers to
study seals and penguins in the Arctic and to estimate their
populations with less disturbance than approaching the animals on
the ground. They’ve also been used to count birds in remote
In August, NOAA and Vancouver Aquarium researchers teamed up to
test the use of a remote-controlled hexacopter as they observed
Northern Resident killer whales in British Columbia. Mounted with a
high-resolution camera, the copter captured some amazing videos and
still pictures, including those on this page. See also
One can learn a lot from a good aerial view of a killer whale,
including general body condition, Brad told me. From a boat on the
water, it is often difficult to tell if an orca is healthy,
underweight or pregnant. From above, a whale’s girth is easier to
Researchers involved the British Columbia study — including John
Durban of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center and Lance
Barrett-Lennard of Vancouver Aquarium — identified several females
who seemed to be pregnant.
They also spotted two whales that seemed emaciated. Those
animals later went missing and are presumed dead, confirming that
they were in poor health. What is not evident from photos, however,
is the cause of the problem, Brad Hanson said. Were the whales
suffering from disease, injury or another problem that caused them
to lose weight, or was it simply a lack of food?
Aerial photos also can be used to measure the length of a whale
and, over time, determine the growth rate at various periods in its
Brad said the ultimate goal is to develop health assessments for
the Southern Residents, listed as “endangered” under the federal
Endangered Species Act. A lot of technical details need to be
worked out, he said, but the plan is to use unmanned aircraft to
collect breath and fecal samples from the whales.
A breath sample is the next best thing to a blood sample, Brad
told me, and fecal samples provide information about stress
hormones, potential pathogens and other things.
“If you tied that in with imaging, we might be able to build
individual health profiles and begin to understand when something
is going wrong,” Hanson said.
Currently, breath samples are taken by driving a boat alongside
the whales and holding out a pole with an apparatus on the end.
Fecal samples are taken by following the whales and sifting feces
from the water.
If a small helicopter flown from a boat some distance away can
be used, the result would be less intrusive than a boat coming near
In the study in British Columbia, the general goal was to keep
the UAV at least 100 feet above the whales. The study also included
some closer movements to test the reaction of the whales. No
obvious changes in behavior were noticed, Brad said.
One permit still is needed for Hanson to operate a UAV in
Washington state. The Federal Aviation Administration must issue a
certificate of authorization, or COA, which spells out limitations
of the flight to avoid other aircraft operating in the area.
The Canadian experiment received similar permits from Fisheries
and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada. The aircraft was an APH-22
marine hexacopter built for NOAA by Aerial Imaging Solutions.
Ironically, amateurs in the United States are allowed to operate
unmanned aircraft in some areas without permits. But flying around
wildlife could create unanticipated problems for the animals. And
anyone operating around endangered whales could be in violation of
other state and federal laws — such as the Endangered Species Act
or Marine Mammal Protection Act — if they fly below 1,000 feet.
The GoPro action camera is the force behind hundreds of amazing
videos. Thanks to this unique camera, we have raced across the
land, soared into the sky and dove beneath the waves.
We have not only followed people closely as they’ve undertaken
wild adventures, we have traveled with a variety of animals through
their natural habitats. One of my favorite videos, shown first on
this page, includes some of the best animal shots taken by many
photographers and compiled by the producers of Tastes Like
The GoPro is no longer the only compact, rugged and mountable
high-definition camera around, but the name has become synonymous
with the type of videos I’d like to highlight today. The history of
the GoPro was the subject of an interesting “60
Minutes” segment, in which Anderson Cooper mentions
that the GoPro has been used again and again to capture video for
the television program.
If it’s action shots you like, check out the second video, a
compilation by GoPro, created as a promotion for its Hero3 camera.
If you’re like me, you will be intrigued by the time-lapse photos
in this video and transfixed by the action shots.
How about some more great animal shots? Of course, all these
videos should be viewed full-screen:
Jellyfish Lake: Photographer Nana
Trongratanawong of Bangkok, Thailand, shot this amazing video in a
lake in Palau. She used different music in the video she posted on
Humpback whales: Drone photographer Justin
Edwards captures some amazing shots of a young humpback whale and
its mom swimming off the coast of Maui in February of this year.
About halfway through, you can see the baby riding on its mom’s
Shark Riders: Free divers Roberta Mancino and
Mark Healey create a dreamlike video that tells a story of becoming
one with the ocean and its creatures.
Teaching a pelican to fly: After a storm, a
young pelican was found stranded on a beach in Tanzania>The
staff of the nearby Greystroke Mahale resort adopted the animal,
named him “Big Bird” and reminded him how to fly. With a GoPro
attached to his beak, the pelican investigated the waters, then
swooped back around to the beach where the flight instructors were
I want to recognize the Kitsap Sun’s editorial cartoonist Milt
Priggee for capturing the feeling of the moment last week when the
final piece of a dam on the Elwha River was blown up. See Water Ways, Aug. 27, 2014.
The video below was recorded on that same day by Anne Shaffer of
the Coastal Watershed Institute while snorkeling in a kelp bed in
western Freshwater Bay, not far from where the Elwha River flows
into the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Watching this video and the large number of herring gives me a
feeling of optimism, although I recognize there is no scientific
basis for this. Someone please tell me the herring are doing
“We couldn’t think of a better place to be the day the last dam
went down,” Anne said in an email to members of her listserv.
Watershed Institute has been monitoring the nearshore
area, where the Elwha River has been dramatically transforming the
delta. Sediment, unleashed by dam removal, pours out of the Elwha
and builds up in the estuary.
Roorda, an aerial photographer, has been documenting
the transformation with thousands of pictures he has taken over the
past several years.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Alvin, a deep-sea vehicle
that has made some incredible scientific discoveries over the past
The latest issue of Oceanus magazine is a special edition that
takes us through the history of Alvin, including its part in
locating a lost hydrogen bomb, investigating the Deepwater Horizon
oil spill and documenting the remains of the Titanic.
What really drew my attention to this issue is a photo feature
Animals.” It was posted as a slide show in the online version
of Oceanus. It registered high on my amusing meter, and I encourage
you to click through the buttons that take you from one odd-looking
creature to the next.
One of Alvin’s most significant discoveries came in 1977, when
the submersible traveled to the Galapagos Rift, a deep-water area
where volcanic activity had been detected. Scientists had
speculated that steaming underwater vents were releasing chemicals
into the ocean water. They got to see that, but what they
discovered was much more: a collection of unique clams, worms and
mussels thriving without sunlight.
These were lifeforms in which bacteria played a central role at
the base of a food web that derives its energy from chemicals and
Since then, other deep-sea communities have been discovered and
documented throughout the world, with hundreds of new species
examined and named.
The Oceanus article also describes in some detail the
just-completed renovation that has given Alvin new capabilities.
The people responsible for various aspects of the make-over are
interviewed in this special edition.
The first video on this page is by Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution celebrating Alvin’s 50th birthday. The second is a
walk-around the newly renovated craft by Jim Motavalli, who usually
writes about ecologically friendly automobiles.