Tuesday, September 18, 2012

A Day at the Aquarium

Last Saturday I went to the New England Aquarium, which happens to be one of my favorite neighborhood destinations. Needless to say, I was armed with my new super-zoom buddy. Turns out the aquarium's central attraction, the Giant Ocean Tank, is "undergoing a top-to-bottom, 21st-century transformation." The penguins and several of their buddies are therefore on vacation. I am certainly looking forward to the makeover, which is due for completion in summer 2013! Meanwhile here are some shots, mostly of swimmers in near-perpetual motion, set in the aquarium's low-light ambience. I'm still getting used to the camera's manual mode (and clearly remain far from my target). So please do bear with me!
"Jelly jam": Japanese sea nettles on a collision course

Monday, September 10, 2012

So Long, and Thanks for All the Inner Fish

Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body, a book with a rather curious title, traces our shared lineage with other organisms going back hundreds of years to our aquatic ancestors. Its author, Neil Shubin was a member of the team that, in 2006, discovered the purported missing link between fish and terrestrial tetrapods. It was a paleontological breakthrough that fascinated academics and laypersons alike (links: Nature and New York Times). The 375 million year old fossilized animal, excavated from the Canadian Arctic exposures, was named Tiktaalik, or "large freshwater fish" in the Inuktitut language. As a paleontologist who taught anatomy to university students, Shubin has written this wonderful book which helps us understand anatomy in light of our shared descent with the rest of the animal kingdom. According to him:
The best road maps to human bodies lie in the bodies of other animals. The simplest way to teach students the nerves in the human head is to show them the state of affairs in sharks. The easiest road map to their limbs lies in fish. Reptiles are a real help with the structure of the brain. The reason is that the bodies of these creatures are often simpler versions of ours. 
Book review: Your Inner Fish by Neil Shubin

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Wildlife Safari

I have been looking for an excuse to revisit the San Diego Zoo Safari Park for a while. My renewed interest in this place was spurred by the knowledge of it being home to the only two surviving Northern White Rhinos in the world (a species I got particularly attached to after reading Douglas Adams' book Last Chance to See and watching the follow-up BBC documentary shot 20 years after the book). My PowerShot SX40 HS, which has been sitting practically unused since purchase, gave me that excuse I needed to make this long overdue visit finally happen. The SX40 is a high-end, super-zoom point-and-shoot. Most of my captures are of either distant or moving targets. 
African lion at Lion Camp enjoying his siesta

Monday, September 03, 2012

Of Megafauna And Men

During the Pleistocene epoch, colossal relatives of many familiar present-day creatures roamed the earth. Some of these formidable megafauna species vanished abruptly (in what paleontologists like to call blitzkriegs) while some faded out gradually. Once and Future Giants: What Ice Age Extinctions Tell Us About the Fate of Earth's Largest Animals by Sharon Levy is a safari through the Pleistocene and the (ongoing) Holocene epochs acquainting us with behemoths then and now. In the author's own words:
This book tells the story of the megafauna and us. It is a tale of human coexistence and clashes with giant animals, past and present, and our responsibility toward them in the future.
Just as the struggles of surviving megafauna offer clues about how and why their lost cousins perished, Pleistocene extinctions offer lessons that can be critical for the conservation of megafauna living today. 

Book review: Once and Future Giants by Sharon Levy