Tag Archives: National Geographic

Amusing Monday: Stirring photos honored by National Geographic

Nearly 10,000 photos were entered into this year’s National Geographic Photo Contest, and I’m sure that it was difficult for the judges to choose. To feature some great water-related images, I picked three of my favorites from the finalists.

“Moonlight,” a photo of the famous Wanapa Tree in New Zealand. (Click to enlarge.)
Photo: Mo Wu, Taichung, Taiwan

The first photo, titled “Moonlight,” focuses on the Wanapa Tree, which photographer Mo Wu of Taichung, Taiwan, called the most famous tree in New Zealand. Wu waited until the moon was over the tree to capture the reflection and moon shadow in Wanapa Lake. The photo was entered into the Places category.

The second photo, titled “emBEARassed,” shows a brown bear slipping and taking a brief tumble while fishing at Brooks Falls in Alaska.

“EmBEARassed,” a photo of a brown bear taking a tumble at Brooks Falls, Alaska.
Photo: Taylor Thomas Albright, Yuma, Ariz.

“Anxious, aggressive and hoping to get a better angle at the leaping salmon, this bear reached out a bit too far and lost his footing,” explained photographer Taylor Thomas Albright of Yuma, Ariz. “Splashing into the pool below unharmed, he eventually climbed back into his spot to wait for the next chance at a salmon.”

A National Geographic producer, David Y. Lee, commented, “Fantastic moment you documented here, Taylor. I usually see images of the bears at Brooks Falls just standing and waiting, maybe a salmon or two jumping up in the air. So I love seeing something different. Yes, this is a #bearblooper. I love the way the other bear is looking at the falling one, like ‘What are you doing?’ or ‘Are you OK?’ Great job being ready to make this frame when it happened. Well done.”

“Surfers in Bali,” taken at sunrise in Indonesia.
Photo: Carsten Schertzer, Oxnard, Calif.

The third photo, titled “Surfers in Bali,” was taken at sunrise in Indonesia, according to photographer Carsten Schertzer of Oxnard, Calif. It was entered in the Place category.

“I first saw the gate earlier in the morning, knowing this would be a perfect place for an image,” he said. “I only needed a subject to walk within the frame, so I sat and waited, locked in my composition and waited until the surfers walked into my frame.”

Kimberly Coates, a photographer for NatGeo’s “Your Shot” program, noted, “You captured this shot at the perfect moment! I love the symmetry of the structure in front and how it frames the surfers. The sky is also such a lovely shade of purple! Thanks for sharing, Carsten!”

“Unreal” shows thousands of Volkswagen and Audi cars lined up in the desert. Click for a slide show of winning photos in the National Geographic contest.
Photo: Jassen Todorov, San Francisco

The fourth photo is the Grand Prize winner of the photo contest, with photographer Jassen Todorov of San Francisco claiming a $5,000 prize. The picture shows thousands of Volkswagen and Audi cars lined up in the middle of California’s Mojave Desert, the result of a recall after Volkswagen was caught cheating on emissions controls.

Click on the photo to call up a slide show of all 12 winning photos, or go directly to the “Wallpapers: Winners” page. You can review all the finalists by category or look a those that made the judges’ cuts over a five-week period. The pictures can be downloaded and used as wallpaper for your computer, tablet or cellphone.

Entries for next year’s contest may be submitted in October. Updated rules are expected to be posted later, but general information can be found on the Rules webpage.

Europe may soon launch wide-ranging solutions to plastic pollution

Taking on the enormous problem of plastic pollution in the ocean, the European Union is on track to ban single-use items made of plastic, while communities in Washington state slowly adopt bans on plastic bags.

Straws are listed as a problem plastic.
Photo: Horia Varlan, Wikimedia Commons

The European Commission is targeting specific plastic products that constitute 70 percent of the items found among marine debris lost in the sea and along the shoreline. Cotton swabs, plastic cutlery, plates, drinking cups and straws are among the items that would be banned outright, because non-plastic alternatives are available.

The proposal announced this week goes well beyond those items, however, calling for a 90-percent reduction in plastic drink-bottle waste, possibly through a deposit system. In addition, plans are underway for new waste-disposal programs, ongoing cleanups, and educational efforts designed to reduce the purchase of and encourage the proper disposal of food containers, plastic wrappers, cigarette butts, wet wipes, balloons and fishing gear. Manufacturers of plastic products would help fund those various programs, according to the proposal.

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Amusing Monday: Amazing nature photos from around the world

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 incredible photographs.

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.

For now, with permission from National Geographic, I’d like to share 10 water-related images from a gallery of the judges’ favorite photographs for 2014. To see more pictures, visit National Geographic’s Photo Contest 2014 Galleries.

When Gregory Lecoeur jumped into the Salish Sea near Vancouver Island’s Race Rocks, the water was cold, visibility was poor and the current was strong. When he sensed shadows moving about him, he slowed his movements. Soon, curious Steller sea lions were trying to play with his camera and nibble his fingers.
When Gregory Lecoeur jumped into the Salish Sea near Vancouver Island’s Race Rocks, the water was cold, visibility was poor and the current was strong. When he sensed shadows moving about him, he slowed his movements. Soon, curious Steller sea lions were trying to play with his camera and nibble his fingers.
Rick Loesche caught this decisive moment in the life of a crab, which was about to be eaten on Sanibel Island, Florida.
Rick Loesche caught this decisive moment in the life of a crab, which was about to be eaten on Sanibel Island, Florida.
Dave Kan was finishing up a photo shoot in Queensland, Australia, when a kangaroo appeared out of nowhere and bounded across the edge of a lake on the Noosa River, as if the animal were walking on water.
Dave Kan was finishing up a photo shoot in Queensland, Australia, when a kangaroo appeared out of nowhere and bounded across the edge of a lake on the Noosa River, as if the animal were walking on water.

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Amusing Monday: Glowing fish are both beautiful and amazing

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 through.

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 identified.

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 another planet.”

Last week, National Geographic published the latest installment in its Emerging Explorers series featuring Gruber and including a new video about his studies called “David Gruber: Seeing the Ocean in Neon.”

Amusing Monday: Humoring a friendly leopard seal

In today’s featured video, National Geographic photographer Paul Nicklen calmly describes his underwater encounter with a massive leopard seal in the Antarctic.

I guess Nicklen was not so calm at the time, as he tells in his narration, but he stayed in place and kept shooting as the leopard seal made moves toward him that could be interpreted in various ways. Nicklen, who has plenty of experience around wild animals, said the seal acted aggressive at first but later tried to make a connection, perhaps by offering the diver a penguin to eat.

Nicklen, who has been working in the polar regions for 17 years, had a “unique childhood among the Intuit in Canada’s Arctic,” according to his bio. He has shot some amazing and exciting scenes, and I’m an admirer of his images of the spirit bear, which is another unique story. See the spirit bear photos on his webpage, and check out the National Geographic story by Bainbridge Island writer Bruce Barcott. Nicklen lives on Vancouver Island.

As for leopard seals, they are pretty amazing creatures, though not always amusing. Take a look at this series of videos by BBC Nature. You can also swim with a leopard seal via a “crittercam” in this National Geographic video, which features the work of biologist Tracey Rogers. (The crittercam part starts about halfway through.)

Another crittercam captures the movements of an Australian sea lion as it hunts for and eventually eats an octopus. The National Geographic footage is from a project designed to figure out what the sea lions are eating. Australian sea lions were once hunted to near-extinction but are now protected by the Australian government.

Amusing Monday: A blue whale is more than its parts

Scanning a 100-foot blue whale an inch at a time is an impressive way to gain a perspective on the world’s largest animal.

If you allow yourself a meditative moment, this Flash-based graphic offers a rare form of amusement. Warning: Don’t be in a hurry when you open this web page, brought to us by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society. Ready? CLICK HERE.

The scrolling image of the whale is purported to be “life-size,” while a second image of the entire animal serves as a map for navigating the massive body.

According to Greener Magazine, the graphic was created by the German ad agency Jung von Matt using Soulpix 3D animation. It is made up of 10,000 JPEG images, which the Flash engine downloads at the appropriate time while the whale “swims” by. The entire image is more than 80Mb.

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Amusing Monday: Battle of the depths

Note: I’m on vacation for the next 10 days, so I’m repeating an “Amusing Monday” entry from Aug. 4, 2008, which features a “National Geographic” video dramatizing a battle between a shark and an octopus.

When I first ran this item, I did not know for sure where this action took place. I later got the full story of the shark-versus-octopus battle from staff at the Seattle Aquarium. See “Amusing Monday” for Aug. 12, 2008.

As for my vacation, I’m sticking around home, so I may post a few blog entries if I get a chance.

This might not be the kind of story that triggers the normal kind of laughter.

In fact, now that I think about it, this video ought to come with a warning. “Caution: This video contains violence of the animal kind.” OK, it’s really not that bad.

I’ve been trying to figure out where this event took place. The animals involved are Northwest natives, but the video does not say which aquarium was involved. I’ve put in an inquiry to National Geographic, but they have not checked back yet.

An Internet search reveals several comments linking this event to the Seattle Aquarium, but none of them are official sites. At least one site mentions a connection with the Oregon Coast Aquarium. If anybody knows more, please let me know.

You’ve got to see the dramatic video of the baby blue (whale)

National Geographic has posted a remarkable five-minute video of a newborn baby blue whale to promote the its new television production “Kingdom of the Blue Whale” on National Geographic Channel. It’s the first time that such a sight has have been captured on video.

By now, you may have heard of the remarkable discoveries by whale researchers, including John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia. National Geographic helped fund the venture, which followed blue whales on a migration route to a social gathering point known as the Costa Rica Dome.

This month’s National Geographic magazine features a story by Ken Brower about the adventure, which includes this description:

The Costa Rica Dome is an upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water generated by a meeting of winds and currents west of Central America. The location is not fixed; it meanders a bit, but the dome is reliably encountered somewhere between 300 and 500 miles offshore. The upwell­ing brings the thermocline — the boundary layer between deep, cold water and the warm water of the surface — up as high as 30 feet from the top. Upwelling with the cold, oxygen-poor water from the depths come nitrate, phos­phate, silicate, and other nutrients. This manna, or anti-manna — a gift not from heaven but from the deep — makes for an oasis in the sea. The upwelling nutrients of the dome fer­tilize the tiny plants of the phytoplankton, which feed the tiny animals of the zooplankton, which bring bigger animals, some of which are very big indeed.

The blue whale, Balaenoptera musculus, is the largest creature ever to live. Linnaeus derived the genus name from the Latin balaena, “whale,” and the Greek pteron, “fin” or “wing.” His species name, musculus, is the diminutive of the Latin mus, “mouse”—apparently a Linnaean joke. The “little mouse whale” can grow to 200 tons and 100 feet long. A single little mouse whale weighs as much as the entire National Football League. Just as an elephant might pick up a little mouse in its trunk, so the elephant, in its turn, might be taken up by a blue whale and carried along on the colossal tongue. Had Jonah been injected intravenously, instead of swallowed, he could have swum the arterial vessels of this whale, boosted along every ten seconds or so by the slow, godlike pulse.

Calambokidis tells of his personal experience in an interesting radio interview by Boyd Matson on National Geographic Weekend.

I’m eager to see the documentary in high definition. Reviews of the program have been over the top. A collaborative review on “Biochemical Soul” offers this praise: “For those of you who don’t want to read the whole review, here is all you need to know: ‘Kingdom of the Blue Whale’ is stunning! It’s beautiful. It’s sad. It pisses you off. Then it wows you some more. Then it saddens you again. Then it’s uplifts you and then leaves you thinking, ‘We’ve got to save them!’”

Here are some “fast facts” condensed from information taken from the Web site of this production.

Blue whales are the largest animals ever known to have lived on Earth. Their tongues alone can weigh as much as an elephant.

They reach these mind-boggling dimensions on a diet composed nearly exclusively of tiny shrimplike animals called krill. An adult blue whale consumes about 4 tons of krill a day.

Blue whales live in all the world’s oceans, occasionally swimming in small groups but usually alone or in pairs. They often spend summers feeding in polar waters and undertake lengthy migrations towards the Equator as winter arrives.

Blue whales are among the loudest animals on the planet. They emit a series of pulses, groans, and moans. It’s thought that, in good conditions, blue whales can hear each other up to 1,000 miles.

Blue whale calves enter the world already ranking among the planet’s largest creatures. After about a year inside its mother’s womb, a baby blue whale emerges weighing up to 3 tons and stretching to 25 feet. It gorges on nothing but mother’s milk and gains about 200 pounds every day for its first year.

Between 1900 and the mid-1960s, some 360,000 blue whales were slaughtered and nearly became extinct. Since coming under international protection, they’ve managed a minor recovery to between 10,000 and 25,000 in the world today.

Blue whales have few predators but are known to fall victim to attacks by sharks and killer whales, and many are injured or die each year from impacts with large ships.

Update on shark-versus-octopus battle

Last week’s “Amusing Monday” entry was indeed shot at the Seattle Aquarium — and there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

The announcer in the video doesn’t say where the scene was shot, so I put out a request for information. Thanks go to Susan Berta of Orca Network for putting me in touch with folks at Seattle Aquarium, which ultimately led to an interview with biologist and lead diver Jeff Christiansen, who was involved in shooting the video.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Aquarium

Before 1987, the dome exhibit often included three octopuses — the number required to almost guarantee that people would see one, Christiansen told me. The octopuses would hang out in a recessed area under the lower windows inside the tank, he said. That was before the rocky reefs were installed.

Also in the tank were a number of dogfish sharks, another native of the Puget Sound region. But not all the dogfish survived.

“If you were lucky enough, you could see it happen,” he said. “They would wait for fish to swim by, then you’d see the arms flash out and a bit of a struggle. Whatever the octopus didn’t eat was chucked out.”

Frequently, aquarium workers would arrive in the morning to see the remains right in front of the viewing windows. The middle of the dogfish carcasses were completely eaten down to the bones, but the head and tail were intact.

“It was considered bad to have dead animals sitting down there in the tank when you opened up (the exhibit) in the morning,” Christiansen said.

Divers, who normally went into the tanks in the afternoon, had to put on their gear and make a special trip into the tank, he said. Today, divers are in the tank several times a day.

Although the sharks were easy to replace, especially in those days, aquarium managers were worried about losing rare and valuable fish, he said. In fact, once an octopus was able to eat a sizable salmon before the decision was made to take the octopus out.

Anyway, about 10 years ago, Mike DuGruy of National Geographic Films was doing a feature on octopuses when he heard the story about the shark-eating creatures.

“He came to us and asked if we could recreate the situation,” Christiansen said. “Being the film-whores we are, we said ‘sure.’”

The details of the recreation are somewhat proprietary, Christiansen said. But that’s how the dramatic battle of the shark and the octopus came to be a National Geographic story.

Today, with the recent remodel of the aquarium, octopuses have their own space. With divers in the tanks several times a day, they could feed the octopuses enough so the animals wouldn’t go after fish, Christiansen said. Still no decisions have been made to put octopuses back in the big tank.