The 2018 MCS “Great British Beach Clean” – My Experience

As those who follow me on Instagram will already know, on Sunday 16th September, I took part in my first (official) charity organised beach clean – the 2018 “Great British Beach Clean”, and it was awesome! For the last 25 years, thousands of volunteers have gathered at locations around the country for a weekend event of litter picking, which the charity Marine Conservation Society credits as being the biggest in the whole of the UK.

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Found five cotton buds in a row here!

It was my first time taking part in an official event, and I have to say the day was extremely well organised. The team of 30 or so volunteers was made up of an entirely different group of people: Some old, some parents with young children, students, and quite a few fans of Blue Planet (Proving the power of mainstream TV). Ultimately whatever reason they had for being there, our goal was all the same: To rid our 100m stretch of beach, in a lively Somerset seaside town, of as much litter as possible. Turns out that’s a lot easier said than done!

 

Continue reading “The 2018 MCS “Great British Beach Clean” – My Experience”

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Natures Dedicated Mums

Moving on from my last post regarding Tahlequah, the orca who carried her deceased newborn calf through the waters of the Pacific Northwest coast for 17 days, I wanted to keep my next post relevant but a bit more on the positive side.

Killer whales are known to be great mums. After a 17 month gestation period, they give birth to a calf that is about 8.5 ft long and weighs around 120 to 160kg. Calves are typically weaned at around 1 or 2 years old and rely on their family pod to teach them vital communication, hunting, and survival skills. Resident killer whale calves will stay with their pod permanently, meaning mother and child stay together for life.

But what other creatures go above and beyond to care for their young?

Here are six other incredible animal mothers, who prove that the mother-baby bond isn’t strictly human.

Orangutans

Orangutans have the longest infant development period of all great apes. For the first two years of their life, they are completely dependent on mum. At this stage, they make the transition from hanging onto mum’s chest to riding on her back and dabble in eating soft foods – pre-chewed by mum. Of course.

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Bornean orangutan

At around 3 to 7 years of age orangutan infants begin to gain their independence, in this space of time they will be fully weaned, begin to climb, and search for their own food. They may also start experimenting with nest building, choosing to no longer share with mum but often staying in the same tree.

Despite this new found self-sufficiency, orangutan infants will remain close to their mothers for many more years to come – they will eat, sleep and travel together until the infant is around 10 years old. Female orangutans are known to visit their mothers until they are around 15 or 16 years of age.

The bond between mother and baby orangutans is one of the strongest and most beautiful in the animal kingdom.

Kangaroos

After a gestation period of around just 34 days, baby kangaroos are born extremely underdeveloped. At birth, the young joey is only about 2cm long and weighs less than a gram! It immediately crawls through its mother’s fur and into the safety of her pouch, where it will suckle solidly for 2 months. At around 6 months of age, the joey will leave the pouch for the first time, returning regularly to feed.

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Grey kangaroo

Red kangaroos will leave the comfort of mums pouch at around 8 months but will continue to suckle until around 11 or 12 months of age. Grey kangaroos, on the other hand, don’t leave until they are 11 months and can continue to suckle until they are 18 months old. That’s one patient mum!

Did you know? Female kangaroos are able to suckle two young at the same time – one in the pouch and one outside, as well as having another egg ready for implantation.

Alligators

Mother alligators usually lay between 3550 eggs in a nest of vegetation. During incubation, the mother alligator will actively stay near the nest and protect it from predators – that includes humans. After a 65 day incubation, the baby alligators will start calling to mum from inside the eggs, these high pitched squeaks let her know it is time to remove the nesting material. After all the hatchlings have emerged from the nest, their mother will carry them gently in her mouth to the safety of the water. The young will rest on her back as she swims and call to her when they feel threatened.

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Alligator

Although these reptiles have a ferocious reputation, they are in fact very attentive. The young will stay close to mum for around a year, but they can remain together as a pod for up to three years.

Great hornbills

Great hornbills are one of the largest members of the hornbill family. Despite having a 60inch wingspan and a weight of 2.15kg to 4kg, they choose to build their nests inside a large, hollow tree trunk. The breeding pair will work together to seal the opening of the hole shut – with a plaster made from faeces, chewed wood, mud and bark, and the female will remain trapped inside while she lays the eggs, incubates them, and cares for them once they hatch. The male will bring food to the female through a small slit left in the mud “door” that is just half an inch wide, large enough to pass food to mum and chicks, but narrow enough to prevent predators getting in the nest.

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Great hornbill

A clutch usually consists of one or two eggs that the mother will incubate for around 40 days. After the chicks have hatched the male may make up to 70 feeding trips a day, bringing everything from geckos, insects and berries to frogs and slugs.

For the different species of hornbill confinement for the chicks ranges from 50 to 90 days, by that time the mother has already broken out and resealed the door, in turn keeping the chicks safer for longer.

Elephants

Elephants are the largest living and biggest-brained mammal on the planet, so it’s no surprise they have the longest gestation period of any mammal too – 18 to 22 months to be precise.

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African elephant

For the first 3 to 5 years of an elephant calves life, they are totally reliant on their mother. In this time they will be taught many life lessons, such as how to use their trunk properly for feeding, drinking and bathing. This “baby stage” lasts from birth to around 5 to 10 years of age, once the calf has been weaned off mum’s milk completely.

Like us, adulthood for elephants starts at around 18 years old. Most male elephants will now leave the main herd, while the females will remain and assist each other with nursing and caring for the new calves.

And an honourable mention goes to the…

Strawberry poison dart frog

At only one inch long the strawberry poison dart frog is an alluring creature. Not only are they smart – their bright red and black/blue colouration acts as a warning to predators that they are extremely toxic, but they are also incredibly hardworking.

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Strawberry poison dart frog

Strawberry poison dart frogs mate during any time of the year, with the females laying between 3 and 5 eggs on a leaf. The breeding pair returns every day and the male will moisten the eggs by transporting water from his cloaca (effectively urinating on them). After 10 days the eggs hatch the mother frog will transport them on her back to the axil of the Bromeliad plant – depositing one tadpole per plant. Afterwards, the mother will come to each tadpole every few days and lay up to 5 unfertilized eggs for them to eat.

After 43 52 days the tadpoles will begin to undergo metamorphosis. Pretty amazing, huh?

What’s your favourite animal mum? Let me know in the comments below!

Tahlequah – The Orca in Mourning

It’s not unusual for certain species to display signs of grief – giraffes, chimps, dolphins, gorillas, crows. Elephants, for example, return to the body of a dead companion multiple times over. Time and time again, research has shown that they are able to demonstrate a level of empathy that many only thought possible in humans.

Females have been shown to comfort calves by touching and cradling them with their trunks. When an individual has fallen over or becomes stuck, other elephants have been known to assist so they can continue moving as one. Amazingly some have even been known to remove foreign objects, such as spears and veterinary darts from others bodies.

Like elephants, killer whales are emotionally complex beings. Their brains are extremely developed – the second biggest among all ocean mammals, and their capability of understanding means they are able to learn local dialects, teach each other specialised methods of hunting, and pass down unique behaviours through generations.

– A GREAT LOSS –

The story J-35, or Tahlequah, has triggered a ripple of grief that has been felt around the world. Since July 24th and as of August 3rd, the 20 year old orca has been carrying her dead calf through the water of the Pacific Northwest coast.  Tahlequah is a member of an endangered pod of Southern resident killer whales, her calf who died just 30 minutes after birth, was born near the San Juan islands. While it is not uncommon for orcas and dolphins to grieve the loss of a family member for sometimes as long as a week, experts believe this is the longest period of mourning on record for an orca.

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Tahlequah carrying her calf’s body. Photograph credit: Michael Weiss, Center of Whale Research.

The grieving mother who has been refusing to let go of the calf has been carrying the infant by pushing it with her snout, even diving under to retrieve it should it slide off, or by carrying it with one fin. When Tahlequah has grown tired, other members of the pod have come forward to carry the calf for her.

Rightly so, experts are growing concerned for Tahlequah’s wellbeing.

Combined with their extended family K and L pods, they inhabit a huge territory that includes Seattle, Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia. With only 75 members of the Southern resident orca clan, every birth matters and time is rapidly running out. The J-pod has not had a successful birth in three years. Ken Balcomb of Center for Whale Research believes it may be as soon as five years: “We’ve got at most 5 more years of reproductive life in this population to make it happen” He continues by warning “If we don’t do it in those 5 years it isn’t going to happen.” 

– NOT ENOUGH TO GO AROUND –

Ken also blames the lack of food source for the doomed pregnancies – wild salmon, particularly Chinook, found throughout Washington state and British Columbia acts as a primary food supply for the endangered population of orca. Unfortunately, but hardly surprising, Chinook salmon are also endangered.

The lack of regular and healthy (these fish have been found with prozac, nicotine and cocaine in their system) could explain the demise of another unfortunate member of the J-pod. J-50 or Scarlet, a 4 year old orca female is literally starving to death. A white patch has been spotted on the back of her head, near her blowhole, and experts are panicking it could be an infection. The poor whale is so emaciated, the back of her cranium is visible.

The federal government is hatching a plan in an attempt to save Scarlet, this will include feeding live Chinook dosed with medicine, while biologists are planning a health assessment for her, which will gauge her activity and breathing levels. Brad Hanson of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle said Scarlet has lost as much as 20% of her bodyweight: “There are a lot of ifs, whether or not she will even take the fish.” He then added “Her survival could only be a few days. She has continued to decline.” 

– MORE HUMAN THAN HUMANS –

Some have been questioning if Tahlequah is really mourning, but I ask what else could she possibly be doing? Most wouldn’t doubt if a dog felt pain or grief, or happiness and joy, so why doubt something as intelligent, sensitive, curious and amazingly complex as a killer whale.

The fate of Tahlequah and Scarlet at the moment remains unclear. From a conservation point of view, it’s disastrous that an endangered pod has lost another calf and potentially another orca or two. At 20, Tahlequah is of breeding age and her ability to reproduce again is critical.

From my point of view, I hope Tahlequah’s heartbreak hasn’t been for nothing. I hope that we are able to turn our empathy into actions and our grief into solutions. Ultimately, I pray that through her suffering, she is able to eventually find peace.

Please consider adopting one of the Southern resident orcas – proceeds from orca adoptions support ongoing education, research, and public outreach on behalf of the Southern Resident clan: https://whalemuseum.org/collections/adopt-an-orca

Alternatively, a one-off donation that will greatly benefit the Southern Resident community can be made here https://whalemuseum.org/products/make-a-donation or here:  https://www.whaleresearch.com/supportcwr

I want to hear your opinions on this story, let me know your thoughts in the comments: