Friday, March 27, 2009

Boiling Mad: Crabs Feel Pain

I just saw this article this morning:

A favored method of preparing fresh crabs is to simply boil them alive. A longstanding related question: Do they feel pain?

Yes, researchers now say. Not only do crabs suffer pain, a new study found, but they retain a memory of it (assuming they aren't already dead on your dinner plate). The scientists say its time for new laws to consider the suffering of all crustaceans.

The study involved using wires to deliver shocks to the bellies of hermit crabs, which, being hermits, often take up residence in left-behind mollusc shells. The crabs that were shocked scampered out of their shells, "indicating that the experience is unpleasant for them," the scientists concluded; unshocked crabs stayed put.

Another test was run to see what would happen if a mild shock was delivered, one just below the threshold that would cause the crabs to leave home. These mildly shocked crabs, along with crabs that had not been shocked, were then offered a new home. The typical reaction: They'd go inspect the new shell. Significantly, those that had been shocked were more likely to pack up and move to the new residence compared to those that hadn't been shocked.

"There has been a long debate about whether crustaceans including crabs, prawns and lobsters feel pain," said study researcher Bob Elwood of Queen's University Belfast in the UK.

"We know from previous research that they can detect harmful stimuli and withdraw from the source of the stimuli but that could be a simple reflex without the inner 'feeling' of unpleasantness that we associate with pain," Elwood explained. "This research demonstrates that it is not a simple reflex but that crabs trade-off their need for a quality shell with the need to avoid the harmful stimulus."

The findings are detailed in the journal Animal Behaviour.

Interestingly, scientist don't fully understand pain in humans. It is felt when electrical signals are sent from nerve endings to your brain, which in turn can release painkillers called endorphins and generate physical and emotional reactions. The details remain unclear, which his why so many people suffer chronic pain with no relief.

At any rate, Elwood compared the results of the crab study to how you might react to a painful experience.

"Humans, for example, may hold on to a hot plate that contains food whereas they may drop an empty plate, showing that we take into account differing motivational requirements when responding to pain," he said. "Trade-offs of this type have not been previously demonstrated in crustaceans. The results are consistent with the idea of pain being experienced by these animals."

A Norwegian study in 2005 concluded lobsters react to boiling water or other pain stimuli, but that they don't have the emotional capacity to experience it as pain in the way higher animals do.

But a study by Elwood and colleagues in 2007 found prawns were irritated when their antennae were treated with acetic acid, and after a local anesthetic, they'd stop rubbing the antennae. He said this was evidence that they suffer pain, and that lobsters likely feel pain, too.

Elwood thinks its time for some crustacean empathy.

"Millions of crustacean are caught or reared in aquaculture for the food industry," he said. "There is no protection for these animals (with the possible exception of certain states in Australia) as the presumption is that they cannot experience pain. With vertebrates we are asked to err on the side of caution and I believe this is the approach to take with these crustaceans."

Robert Roy Britt is the Editorial Director of Imaginova. In this column, The Water Cooler, he looks at what people are talking about in the world of science and beyond.

Okay, I'm going to try and keep this one short. I've said it all before, and if you're paying attention then this is not new stuff, and if you're not paying attention, I won't expect you to start now. But here's the deal: we as humans have a tendency to think that animals are not intelligent, that they don't care as much as we do about living, they don't think, or feel, etc., and all because we simply don't understand them. Think about the hermit crabs in this article. I mean, what they're describing takes some kind of thought, right? Scientists think so at least.

So here's the bottom line: All living creatures should be treated with respect and compassion. All living creatures want the ability to live out their lives, just like you do. Just because you can't make heads or tails of an animal's behavior doesn't mean it's not well thought out by the animal. Just because we can't figure out the noises they make doesn't mean they don't have a language (case in point: crows are now known to have a complex language, even though all most of us hear is "caw caw caw"). The arrogance of humans has caused devastation to billions of animals, not to mention the planet itself. We need to be more respectful of our surroundings, and the creatures that share them with us. It's time, don't you think?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Stare

The interesting thing about this photo (to me, anyway) is that I didn't colorize her eyes. I simply upped the saturation (a lot) and this was the result. It's happened in several pics of her, but when you look at her in person, both of her eyes are the same color. A friend of mine suggested that this is due to the angle of light and how it reflects off each of the eyes. This may be the case.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Saturday, March 21, 2009


Clouds & Flowers

Some random pictures I've taken recently around the office...






Sunday, March 15, 2009

Saturday, March 14, 2009


I bought Growly about 19 years ago from the car dealership I worked at. Someone traded him in, and I tried to sell him, but each time I'd take someone out for a test drive, I'd like Growly a little bit more. Finally, I told all of the other salesmen not to sell him because I wanted to buy him but needed time to get the money together. Obviously, I did get him, and he's been an awesome car. Not everyone likes the Monte Carlo SS of the 80's, but I really do, and it's not at all uncommon for me to be asked if I want to sell it, as the crowd that does like these really likes these.

He's got about 300,000 miles on him, and I've replaced the motor and the transmission, as well as a ton of other little things. He still has a lot wrong with him, and he has a body full of battle scars, but I love him now as much as the day I bought him, maybe more.

Growly's been a good car. It'll be a sad day if I ever have to part ways with him.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Hard at rest

Kinser is the Matriarch of our cat family, and is roughly 12 years older than Trixie and Dusty. She's had a lot of obstacles in her life, and she and I have been through a lot together.

She had consistent medical problems until she was two, when it was discovered that she had a liver shunt (which means that due to some extra plumbing in her little body, her liver was being bypassed and wasn't able to do what it's supposed to do). To correct this she had to have a major operation at UC Davis, where they placed a ring around the extra "tube" to shut it off.

Personality-wise, Kinser has never been the same since this operation. I've always wondered what happened to her while she was there overnight, but she went there being a very social, loving little kitty who would approach anyone in our house and came back afraid of everyone, including me, and this was a cat who followed me around like a puppy up until then. It also seemed to affect her eyesight, and she would spend periods of time staring at walls. A few months after the operation, she got back to normal with me, but she's never warmed up to new people since, other than Tiff, who Kinser seemed to take to immediately, though I had warned Tiff that it might take weeks or months, or never.

Other than that, she's had two bladder stones (one was removed by surgery, the other she passed on her own, and she was in rough shape for it at the time). She had to have her spleen removed due to an unknown mass on it which couldn't be properly biopsied. Turned out to be nothing, but luckily humans and animals alike do just fine without our spleens, and the fear was that it was cancer. On top of these more serious things, she's had countless vet visits for mysterious ailments that never really showed up as anything in tests. Her vet file is very thick, and I call her my $12,000 cat, as I figure that's roughly what she's cost me in her lifetime beyond the normal pet expenses.

She's an awesome cat though, even when she's misbehaving. If I had to do it all over again, from choosing her at the Humane Society to paying for her surgeries, I wouldn't even hesitate.
She's brought immense happiness to my life over the years.

P.S. - I should add in the fact that Kinser has been one healthy little girl for quite some time now, and her days of frequent vet visits seem to be a thing of the past, much to the relief of both of us.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Problem: U.S. Army has too many soldiers

Now, the headline of this blog post may seem confusing because we've all heard about how the U.S. military has drastically loosened their standards as far as who they'll let in, softening up on IQ, physical condition and past criminal record. Their insistence that they need more troops seems in direct conflict with this article which I just saw, however:
Army fired 11 soldiers in Jan. as openly gay

By ANNE FLAHERTY, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON – The Army fired 11 soldiers in January for violating the military's policy that gay service members must keep their sexuality hidden, according to a Virginia congressman.

Democratic Rep. Jim Moran said he has requested monthly updates from the Pentagon on the impact of the policy until it is repealed. In a statement released on Thursday, Moran said the discharged soldiers included an intelligence collector, a military police officer, four infantry personnel, a health care specialist, a motor-transport operator and a water-treatment specialist.

"How many more good soldiers are we willing to lose due to a bad policy that makes us less safe and secure?" asked Moran, a member of the House panel that oversees military spending.

The Pentagon's "don't ask, don't tell" policy was instituted after President Bill Clinton tried to lift the ban on gay service members in 1993. It refers to the military practice of not asking recruits their sexual orientation. In turn, service members are banned from saying they are gay or bisexual, engaging in homosexual activity or trying to marry a member of the same sex.

The military discharged nearly 10,000 service members under the policy in a 10-year period, from 1997 to 2007. The number fired each year dropped sharply after the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, when forces were stretched thin. Whereas more than 1,200 were dismissed in 2000 and 2001 for violating the policy, about half as many — 627 — were fired in 2007.

The Pentagon has not released its 2008 figures.

The White House has said President Barack Obama has begun consulting with Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen on how to lift the ban. But the administration won't say how soon that might happen or whether a group of experts will be commissioned to study the issue in-depth, as some Democrats have suggested.

Likewise, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill support repealing the ban but have not promised to press the issue immediately.
Our country is at war, and our military is begging for more troops. So how much sense does it make to tell someone who is so supportive of you that they're willing to give their life for your cause that you don't want their help because they're gay?

This is nothing more than government-sanctioned bigotry and hatred at the expense of straight soldiers who are losing their lives overseas. Do you get that, military? Your refusal to accept gay soldiers into the military is killing your straight soldiers. In fact, in a way, the military is helping to ensure the survival of gay people by not allowing them to die in war. But that little bright spot is over-shadowed by the embarrassment of a society who still seeks to ostracize and demonize groups of people just for being "different" than them, even though those differences cause no actual harm to others.

When will we as a people finally learn to respect others who only seek to live out their lives peacefully? Sadly, not in my lifetime probably. Until we strive for compassion and tolerance, our future will continue to be filled with wars and hatred and violence.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Science proves it again

Study: Belligerent chimp proves animals make plans

By Malin Rising, Associated Press Writer – Mon Mar 9, 3:45 pm ET

STOCKHOLM – A canny chimpanzee who calmly collected a stash of rocks and then hurled them at zoo visitors in fits of rage has confirmed that apes can plan ahead just like humans, a Swedish study said Monday. Santino the chimpanzee's anti-social behavior stunned both visitors and keepers at the Furuvik Zoo but fascinated researchers because it was so carefully prepared.

According to a report in the journal Current Biology, the 31-year-old alpha male started building his weapons cache in the morning before the zoo opened, collecting rocks and knocking out disks from concrete boulders inside his enclosure. He waited until around midday before he unleashed a "hailstorm" of rocks against visitors, the study said.

"These observations convincingly show that our fellow apes do consider the future in a very complex way," said the author of the report, Lund University Ph.D. student Mathias Osvath. "It implies that they have a highly developed consciousness, including lifelike mental simulations of potential events."

Osvath's findings were based on his own observations of Santino and interviews with three senior caretakers who had followed the chimpanzee's behavior for 10 years at the zoo in Furuvik, about 93 miles (150 kilometers) north of Stockholm.

Seemingly at ease with his position as leader of the group, Santino didn't attack the other chimpanzees, Osvath told The Associated Press. The attacks were only directed at humans viewing the apes across the moat surrounding the island compound where they were held.

However, he rarely hit visitors because of his poor aim, and no one was seriously injured in the cases when he did, Osvath said.

The observations confirmed the result of a staged laboratory experiment reported in 2006 by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. In that case orangutans and bonobos were able to figure out which tool would work in an effort to retrieve grapes, and were able to remember to bring that tool along hours later.

"Every time you can combine experimental and observational data and you get a consistent result, that is very powerful," said an author of the 2006 study, Joseph Call. "This is an important observation."

He noted that individual differences are big among chimpanzees so the observation might not mean all chimpanzees are capable of the same planning.

"It could be that he is a genius, only more research will tell. On the other hand our research showed the same in orangutans and bonobos so he is not alone," Call said.

Osvath said the chimpanzee had also been observed tapping on concrete boulders in the park to identify weak parts and then knocking out a piece. If it was too big for throwing, he broke it into smaller pieces, before adding them to his arsenal.

"It is very special that he first realizes that he can make these and then plans on how to use them," Osvath said. "This is more complex than what has been showed before."

The fact that the ape stayed calm while preparing his weapons but used them when he was extremely agitated proves that the planning behavior was not based on an immediate emotional drive, Osvath said.

For a while, zoo keepers tried locking Santino up in the morning so he couldn't collect ammunition for his assaults, but he remained aggressive. They ultimately decided to castrate him in the autumn last year, but will have to wait until the summer to see if that helps. The chimpanzees are only kept outdoors between April and October and Santino's special behavior usually occurs in June and July.

"It is normal behavior for alpha males to want to influence their surroundings ... It is extremely frustrating for him that there are people out of his reach who are pointing at him and laughing," Osvath said. "It cannot be good to be so furious all the time."

In Connecticut last month, a 200-pound pet chimpanzee once seen in TV commercials mauled a woman trying to help its owner lure it inside and cornered a police officer in his cruiser before he shot and killed it, authorities said.

The owner has speculated that the chimp was trying to protect her and attacked the woman because she had changed her hairstyle, was driving a different car and was holding a stuffed toy in front of her face to get the chimp's attention.


On the Net:

So here we are again, being told how much like us primates are, yet without ever mentioning that maybe, just maybe, we should adjust our treatment of these intelligent beings. Quite the opposite actually, as instead of suggesting that maybe Santino was not at all happy in his captive surroundings and should be able to live out his days elsewhere, they castrated him - not even knowing if that will make a difference or not, mind you. Trial & error with physical mutilation, all so people can safely gawk at the unhappy chimp.

And I love how they sort of soften the impact by calling the chimp "belligerent" in the headline. Yes, the word is technically accurate in describing the behavior of Santino, but it's also a word we commonly reserve for out-of-line drunks. It seems to me like using the word belligerent to describe Santino right from the start somehow makes it less offensive that we've imprisoned him for so long.

The article pretty clearly suggests that living behind bars with no real freedoms is what's causing Santino's behavior, but the article doesn't actually say it directly, nor does it suggest that maybe zoos are not the best place for an intelligent, thoughtful being who is born with the same right to freedom that we are.

And maybe it's not for science to decide that... maybe their job is just to deliver the facts.

So here's where you come in. A while back, after reading a previous post of mine about animals, a friend of mine asked "Okay, so now what do I do about it?" That answer is not always easy, and often times the only answer is to write to your representatives in government, support animal-friendly organizations, etc. But in this case, the answer is a bit easier. You don't have to do anything. What you can do is to not do something. Do not go to the zoo.

We've been told over and over that zoos are necessary, that they're there for the good of the animals, and that it's the best way for kids to learn about animals. I disagree. How many of you learned what you know about animals from zoos? Sure, you can learn some stuff, but most of our personal knowledge of animals did not come from viewing them at zoos. What you can learn there is how various animals react to captivity. Read any paper on animal behavior in zoos, and you'll start to understand that the behaviors you see there are a result of the depression that sets in when an animal is denied it's freedom.

So much more can be learned by watching programs like Discovery Channel's 'Planet Earth' series, where you get to see (in HD) animals in their natural habitat. Quality footage of an elephant herd roaming through the wild is so much more breathtaking than seeing one or two elephants wasting away in a small enclosure in a city zoo.

The other argument for zoos is that many of the animals are rescued and are incapable of living in the wild. Okay, so you did good by rescuing the animal, and then you stuck it in a prison cell. There are sanctuaries for every type of animal, and many of these allow visitors to view the animals, but in a more natural setting, with so much more open space for the animals to roam and live their lives. Zoos are not good for animals, and are not the best way to teach humans about animals.

So I'm asking you please, consider these things the next time you think about going to the zoo. Zoos are a business, plain and simple, and as a business, they will defend their actions with well-crafted messages designed to bring in more customers. But the truth is plain to see. I used to love the zoo when I was younger, but at some point, you just can't help but notice that none of the animals seem at peace.

So please, don't patronize a business that brings so much misery to the lives of animals who could so easily have a much better life. It's really simple this time. Just don't go to the zoo. Please.

Monday, March 2, 2009


For some reason I really got into our cat's paws. At times, they look like tiny furry boots.