Last week I got derailed by an article I received about abuses in some primate research laboratories around the country. Three days of searching the Internet, watching horrendous videos and slogging through the morass of information related to abusive animal research left me disheartened and downright exhausted.
I’ve mulled over how to write about this, and have decided I won’t. The whole question of using animals for research is extremely complicated and fraught with controversy. There are animal rights groups and advocates out there working to right this terrible wrong. As an example, the investigations discussed in the article I cited above were brought about by pressure from such groups.
For me, if there is to be animal research, the solution to the problem of cruelty lies in ethical and moral behavior, in our recognition of our connection to all living beings, and in our capacity for empathy and compassion.
In a future post I will write about laboratory animal caregivers who are compassionate and caring, sometimes to their own detriment.
2018 theme: End Plastic Pollution
Here’s an article about eliminating single use plastic containers.
There is a battle going on at Midway’s Sand Island. It’s different from the great military battle of the Second World War. And, this one may not be winnable.
It’s a battle against an unpredictable enemy, one with unlimited reinforcements, which replenishes itself when cleared away, and which attacks from several fronts.
The enemy in this modern day war is plastic, and it comes to the island from the ocean, some of it simply washing up onto the shore.
Plastic bags and plastic bottle caps. Cigarette lighters. Plastic food packaging. Candy wrappers. Tooth brushes. Tossed into the sea from cruise ships. Dumped into streams and rivers, offering a direct route to the sea.
Some face washes and body scrubs, even tooth pastes, contain tiny dots of plastic called microbeads that are able to pass through water system filters. Before the law banning their use was passed in 2016, three hundred million tons of microbeads of plastic had been washed annually into waterways in the United States. They may be banned, but they are still floating around out there in the ocean.
Another, and inadvertent, source of plastic on the island is the Laysan albatross parent returning to feed his young chick. The albatross cannot know, but when he flies out to sea in search of food, there is a good chance that the highly nutritious liquefied oil he will carry back to feed his chick will be laced with some object – or multiple objects – of plastic that he ingested with his meal of squid or fish eggs.
What the albatross also cannot know is that he will pass the plastic on to his baby.
Examination of the boluses expelled by Laysan chicks to clear out undigested food prior to fledging has revealed the existence of plastic objects that were inserted during feeding.
According to EPA marine debris expert, Anne Marie Cook, an estimated ten thousand pounds of plastic debris is brought onto the island in this feeding manner.
Sometimes the plastic will cause no harm. But sometimes the chick will become ill. Many die. Anywhere you see a big pile of plastic, but nothing else, that’s where an albatross has died, Dave Wolfe, the deputy manager of the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge told author Carl Safina.
So you might ask why they don’t just pick it all up. Plastic is ubiquitous on Midway, Wolfe explained to Safina. If I picked up every bit of plastic I found on Midway, I would not do anything else. Even then, a new crop of it would appear with the next high tide.
As a solution, plans for cleaning up the ocean have been put forward. But none of the ideas could be implemented in any practical manner. No surprise there. I imagine it would be like trying to scrub an elephant with a toothbrush.
It also seems to miss the point. The ocean didn’t pollute itself with plastic. It wasn’t just an isolated spill. Oops. Let’s clean this mess up and go on our way.
People did this, and people are going to have to become involved in the solution.
As Aldo Leopold suggested, this is an ecologic ethical issue that will take a complete reversal of attitudes, from viewing the ocean as a source of entertainment and amusement to understanding that the sea and all its life are essential to our health and wellbeing. It will entail our giving up our exploitative behaviors.
(You can read Leopold’s concept of an ecologic ethic in my post of December 20, 2017.)
According to Leopold, an ecologic ethic, by encompassing all of life, is a limitation on freedom of action in the struggle for existence.
Can we limit our freedom of action? This film by Chris Johnson asks the same question:
On December 7, 1941, after engaging in the attack on Pearl Harbor, two Japanese destroyers sailed thirteen hundred miles to the tiny atoll of Midway and bombarded the U.S. military outpost there. Within two months Midway would be attacked three more times. And four months after that, in a battle that lasted four days, the Americans would defeat the Japanese in the Battle of Midway, considered one of the most decisive naval battles of the Second World War.
During the six months this was going on, midst the noise, the death, and the destruction, added to that, the hostility of personnel who found them a menace to military operations, the millions of Laysan albatross who call Midway their home were going about their usual December to June business: finding their mates, building nests, laying and incubating eggs, fledging.
I try to imagine this colony of birds co-existing with military personnel and equipment. I wonder how they were able to keep their cool. I wonder how they were not overtaken by fear and confusion. How they were able to carry on with their lives, in all the chaos.
You cannot detonate the devotion out of an albatross, wrote Hob Osterlund in her book Holy Mōlī [Hawaiian for albatross).
Devotion is what albatross are about.
They are devoted to their birthplace.
When they are ready to be on their own, fledglings teach themselves to fly, then soar out to sea. They will travel four years, never setting down on land. When it’s time to begin an adult life, with no landmarks to guide them, they fly home to where they were born, and will continue to do so throughout their lives.
You wonder how they do it, how can they fly for years without touchdown. The albatross is an aerodynamic expert. When flying, he remains in constant, seemingly effortless motion. He exploits the wind’s energy, catching its waves with his flexible wings that span eleven or twelve feet. The adult albatross can fly fifty thousand miles in a year, reaching speeds of fifty miles per hour. During his lifetime, an albatross might travel three million miles.
Albatross parents are devoted to their young.
They take turns incubating the one egg the female will produce. They co-parent. They take turns searching for food, sometimes having to travel four thousand miles over a period of two weeks. They share the feeding of the young chick. They preen their young. Nuzzle him. Even before the chick begins pipping, the parents will talk to it inside the egg.
Osterlund, who has spent many years observing and documenting albatross behavior, describes albatross as talkative. Parents speak to their egg. Chicks peep while chipping away inside their eggs. Mates murmur. Courting birds whinny. Adults shriek. They are always talking to another bird. Sometimes they talk to themselves.
Osterlund observed one youngster – named Onipa’a – talking to an umbrella she had dug up from among layers of pine needles and twigs. When she fledged and came back four years later, she returned to the umbrella, even though it had become buried once again, and even though she had to dig it out.
Albatross are devoted to their mates.
Though the adults will leave each other and fly out to sea after completing the parenting of their chick, when they return home two years later, they will seek each other out from among all the returning birds and begin the breeding process once again. Albatross couples normally produce one chick every two years.
It is commonly believed that Albatross mate for life, and some couples do stay together for many years.
Osterlund’s book is full of stories where this is not exactly so, however. For example, she tells about two couples who switched mates, about two females sharing a nest, both with fertile eggs, males absent from the scene.
It made me wonder what mate for life really means to an albatross, she wrote. Maybe it means passing on excellent genes. Maybe it means a rock solid commitment for the survival of the kids. Maybe it means a rollicking reunion dance once a year. Maybe it means being punctual with meals. Maybe it means an occasional divorce, dalliance, or team-switch.
…..If we must classify others, why not create categories for qualities vital to our continued existence on this planet…….like willingness to work hard, like authenticity and compassion, like unflinching devotion to the welfare of children and animals?