SeaWorld could be in trouble because of “Granny,” the world’s oldest known living orca. The 103-year-old whale (also known as J2) was recently spotted off Canada’s western coast with her pod — her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But while the Granny sighting is thrilling for us, it’s problematic for SeaWorld.
First of all, SeaWorld has claimed that “no one knows for sure how long killer whales live,” when simple figures or even living and thriving examples — like Granny — can give us a pretty good idea. The Whale and Dolphin Conservation project estimates that whales born in captivity only live to 4.5 years old, on average; many of SeaWorld’s orcas die before they reach their 20s. Perhaps because of their reduced lifespans, the whales are forced to breed continuously and at perilously young ages, which could also diminish their overall health.
Another key aspect of an orca’s life — which is missing in captivity — is the ability to swim up to 100 miles per day. When Granny was spotted earlier this week, she had just finished an 800-mile trek from northern California along with her pod. According to animal welfare advocates, long-distance swimming is integral to orcas’ psychological health and well-being; SeaWorld, however, has gone on record claiming that orcas do not need to swim hundreds of miles regularly, ostensibly to defend the parks’ cruel practice of keeping massive, powerful orcas confined to cramped tanks.
Since Granny was first spotted (as early as the 1930s), she’s believed to have mothered two calves, who in turn have had calves of their own. (One of her grandchildren, Canuck, reportedly died at the age of 4 after being captured and held at SeaWorld). As her pod has grown, Granny has kept up with them — without being separated through human intervention — and traveled astonishing distances with her pod annually. Orcas at SeaWorld are routinely separated from their pods, which has been known to cause huge mental and emotional strain and can prevent calves from developing normally.
Granny doesn’t simply represent an impressive feat of nature; she embodies what’s wrong with SeaWorld by being a living example of what’s right in the wild. While it’s true that most wild orcas don’t live as long as Granny has, their lifespans are still dramatically longer than those of SeaWorld’s whales (the NOAA estimates that wild female orcas, like Granny, live an average of 50 to 60 years). Their lives are also filled with much more swimming, exploration, variety and bonding with family — in other words, their lives are likely filled with much more joy.
The time for Americans to clean out some fridge space before Thanksgiving may have come a little early this year. Butterball, the US’s top maker of Thanksgiving turkeys, is having some problems delivering the bigger birds to stores around the country.
The company told retailers that their orders for fresh turkeys 16 pounds (7.3 kg) and bigger have been cut by 50%, according to a press release from Big Y, a grocery chain in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Butterball, which produces around 20% of the US’s turkeys and 1.3 billion pounds of turkey meat a year, has confirmed in a emailed statement that “there may be limited availability on some larger sizes of fresh turkeys” and that the shortage is nationwide.
This is a big worry because 16 pounds is the average weight of turkeys eaten at Thanksgiving, which 88% of US households celebrate, according to EatTurkey.com, an industry site. According to Butterball’s handy calculator, a 16-pound turkey would feed a dinner party of six adults and six children.
Mind you, that doesn’t mean there’ll be no big turkeys to be had. It’s only fresh turkeys from Butterball that are affected; the company sells frozen ones too, and there are several other manufacturers who will be only too delighted to fill the gap. But what might be more reason for panic than a turkey shortage is what’s causing it.
“We experienced a decline in weight gains on some of our farms causing a limited availability of large, fresh turkeys,” said Butterball’s statement. Translation: Its turkeys aren’t growing as fast as they used to.
This is odd because the industry has cranked out steadily heavier turkeys with each passing year. In 2011, the average turkey weighed some 57% more than in 1965, according to the US Department of Agriculture. And though it’s the most popular size, a 16-pound turkey isn’t even that big. The birds raised for processing average 28 pounds.
Odder still, though, is that Butterball, the US’s turkey-farming powerhouse, isn’t sure why its birds stay svelter than usual—or isn’t yet saying. “While we are continuing to evaluate all potential causes, we are working to remedy the issue,” says the company.
Imagine there was a time when bottled water didn’t exist in our catalog of popular commodities. Perhaps the trend started in 1976 when the chic French sparkling water, Perrier made its introduction. There it was seductively bottled in its emerald green glass amongst the era of disco and the spectacle of excesses… who could resist right?! What could be more decadent than to package, sell and consume what most consider (in the western world) a common human right easily supplied through a home faucet! It’s absurd that the cost of designer water is at a “280,000% markup” to your tap water and it’s reaching record heights in consumption.
Prescott Fire Chief Dan Fraijo said that the 19 firefighters were a part of the city’s fire department. The crew killed in the blaze had worked other wildfires in recent weeks in New Mexico and Arizona.
“By the time they got there, it was moving very quickly,” he said.
He added that the firefighters had to deploy the emergency shelters when “something drastic” occurred.
“One of the last fail safe methods that a firefighter can do under those conditions is literally to dig as much as they can down and cover themselves with a protective … foil-type fire-resistant material — with the desire, the hope at least, is that the fire will burn over the top of them and they can survive it,” Fraijo said.
“Under certain conditions there’s usually only sometimes a 50 per cent chance that they survive,” he said. “It’s an extreme measure that’s taken under the absolute worst conditions.”
THE NIGHT AFTER I leave the Mill Fire, the hotshots begin a controlled burn on the north side of the canyon. But then the winds pick up: 15-mile-per-hour gusts start blowing downhill, threatening to carry the flames onto the canyon’s southern slopes. By this point, the fire is at 25,000 acres.
Cowell and Eric Rice, one of Cowell’s two foremen, leave the crew to scout a corner of the canyon where the winds are particularly volatile. Above, a helicopter launches napalm-filled pellets into the brushy draw between the road and the main fire, an attempt to coax a fuel burnout before the winds get stronger. Ten engines are parked on the road, ready to hose down any sparks that blow across the stream into the southern side of the canyon.
That’s when things go haywire. Around 7:30 P.M., a gust sends the fire down toward the line, blowing burning leaves over the engine crews. Some land on the exposed necks of firefighters, sizzling in their sweat. Others float into the dry chamise thickets at the base of the canyon’s southern slopes. A strap of fire begins running up from the creek bed.
Cowell grabs his radio and barks to Moschetti, the other foreman, “Get ’em up, Brad. We’re going after the west flank.” The spot fire runs from bushes to gray pines: one, two, four acres. In the creek bed, the crew members are boot deep in the stream’s tepid water, waiting for three guys from an engine crew to drag a hose up the cut bank that separates them from the flames.
Rojas and a swamper scramble up the cut bank and, with another hotshot crew, use chainsaws to bore a three-foot-wide hole in the brush—just big enough to drag a hose through. The engine crew follows behind, shooting a beam of water over Rojas and into the 15-foot flames roaring ahead. It’s steep, 45 degrees in places, and covered with stones the size of a baby’s head. Rojas yells “Rock!” when he knocks them loose; they come tumbling down the mountain at the other hotshots, who are widening the break.
Alicia Miller brings up the rear, using a rake to sweep away the leaves lodged in the scree. Between her and Cowell, who’s up front with Rojas and the sawyers, some 40 hotshots and engine-crew members are working on the line at a frantic pace.
At 11 P.M., the crew hooks over the top of the spot and starts building line down the eastern flank and back toward the creek. Rojas is mowing through the brush when a flare-up sends a wash of embers overhead. Behind him, Cowell yells, “RTO! RTO!” It stands for reverse tool order, which basically means get the hell out. The crews power through the brush to the top of the spot, where they pause to catch their breath.
Burning mountains surround them, and Cowell has to make a decision. They either gamble and try to put out the spot fire by building a firebreak directly on its eastern edge, or they back off and take the line up to the ridge top. Option two is safer, but it gives the fire a chance to gain momentum. Cowell sends Rice downhill to scout. The foreman climbs a tree, sees emergency lights flashing 500 feet below, and hears another hotshot crew’s saws screaming in the night. The fire looks manageable. “We can do this,” Rice radios to Cowell.
“Tirso, you’re on,” Cowell says to Rojas, who fires up his saw and starts building line downhill. Not long after midnight they finish. The spot’s contained, and the Mill Fire won’t grow another acre.
Three years on from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which devastated the Gulf Coast of the US, the residents of Grand Isle, Louisiana, are still living with the effects of the disaster.