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Hurricane Sandy and the Effect on Wildlife

Over the past week, Hurricane Sandy blasted through the East coast of the United States and made her way into Canada. Many people suffered extraordinary losses as their homes were destroyed or damaged by storm surges, flooding, and downed trees. Many lost (and continue to be without) power, leaving them without heat, warm showers, transportation, and fresh food.

Dead tree with broken branches

Here at Animal Fact Guide headquarters in New London, Connecticut, I looked out the window of my darkened house on Monday afternoon. The wind was shaking the building, and big branches cracked as they snapped off a tree and then thudded to the ground. I noticed a squirrel perched on one of the tree’s lower branches huddled against the trunk, bracing himself against the powerful gusts. I wondered if animals were as adversely affected by hurricanes as we were.

I think that with people’s complete dependence on their homes and technology for safety and for their way of life, hurricanes do have a more devastating effect on people. But hurricanes also deeply impact wildlife in several ways:

Wind Dislocation
While songbirds and woodland birds can usually ride out a storm by holding on to their perches, powerful winds from a hurricane can blow migrating birds hundreds of miles off course or push shore birds inland.

Downed tree branchesTree Loss
Downed trees can be devastating to species who rely on certain types of trees for food and shelter. Food sources are also lost as the seeds and fruits get blown off trees.

Storm Surges
Storm surges destroy seaside habitats. Nest sites can be washed away by rising tides. In certain cases, entire beaches can be washed away. (This happened here in New London when Hurricane Sandy washed away Osprey Beach.) The influx of seawater also disrupts the balance of salt in wetlands, causing harm to marsh grasses, crabs, fish hatchlings, and minnows. Furthermore, the flooding causes sediment and pollutants to enter waterways, which negatively impacts marine animals.

What You Can Do
During a hurricane, the best thing you can do is stay safe.  Listen to government officials and heed their advice. Evacuate your home before the storm if necessary and seek shelter in a safe location. Stay inside during the storm to keep safe from falling branches and flying debris. After the storm, avoid going near downed power lines.

In terms of helping wildlife, if you see any rare species or injured animals, report them to your local wildlife agency. You can also fill your bird feeders to help tired songbirds recover after the storm.

But in the grand scheme of things, the increasing frequency of storms like Sandy remind us of the effect global warming is having on our planet.  A warming planet means more extreme weather headed our way more frequently. It means more storms and more droughts. With that in mind, it’s important to renew our efforts to curb our carbon emissions on a personal level and appeal to our politicians to instate policies that will cut back on carbon emissions on a global scale.

Learn more about how hurricanes and wildlife:

Crocodile Expert Brady Barr

Dr. Brady Barr

Dr. Brady Barr speaking at the Garde Arts Center.

The editors of Animal Fact Guide had the pleasure of attending a talk this evening given by Dr. Brady Barr at the Garde Arts Center in New London, CT.  As a herpetologist with the National Geographic Society, Barr has experienced a multitude of close encounters with reptiles in the wild.

In one entertaining story,  Barr recounted an episode where his team was trying to measure the speed of Komodo dragons using a radar gun.  His role was to run around with strings of goat meat tied around his waist to entice the large reptiles to give chase.  And chase they did!  Barr was chased left and right by the dragons, who took turns wearing him out.  Finally, out of breath, Barr took refuge up high in a tree.  Komodo dragons can be extremely dangerous creatures as their mouths are filled with many strains of bacteria, making their bite very hazardous.

Although Barr works with many reptiles, including salamanders, geckos, turtles, and snakes, his main passion is with crocodilian species: crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gharials.

On many occasions, Barr has gotten up close and personal with crocodiles, often called upon to relocate “nuisance” animals.  Barr and his team have captured many crocodiles known to attack people and have relocated the animals to wildlife preserves and zoos.  By doing so, Barr saves the creatures from being exterminated by the locals.

Throughout his presentation, Barr stressed the importance of conservation, noting that many reptile species are at high risk of extinction.

To learn more about Barr and his adventures, watch Dangerous Encounters on Nat Geo WILD. You can also buy the Best of Dangerous Encounters with Brady Barr DVD from Amazon.

Wildlife Photographer Presents “Polar Obsession”

Polar Obsession by Paul NicklenNational Geographic wildlife photographer Paul Nicklen came to the Garde Arts Center in New London, CT on April 16th to talk about his experiences capturing images on the polar caps.  Animal Fact Guide editors P.A. Smith and Abi Cushman had the pleasure of attending.

Often Nicklen was exposed to harsh conditions while on expeditions, many times risking his life to attain his captivating images.  Yet Nicklen relayed these powerful stories while interjecting humorous remarks.  His anecdotes were hugely entertaining and inspiring.  He spoke of his up close encounter with an enormous female leopard seal who tried to feed him penguins.  At one point, the seal had placed a dead penguin on his head waiting for him to eat it, and he’d continued to take photos of her with the lifeless bird resting there, all the while tearing up with laughter. In the photo, you can see the penguin’s feet at the top of the frame.

Throughout his talk, Nicklen stressed the simple truth that man-made climate change is negatively affecting both polar regions.  The dramatic loss of the polar ice has an enormous impact on entire ecosystems.  It starts with the microorganisms that inhabit the multiyear ice (ice that builds up over several years).  These phytoplankton are eaten by zooplankton, and in turn they are consumed by fish. Next in the chain are larger animals such as whales and seals.  Without the ice, the phytoplankton cannot thrive, and the ripple continues throughout the chain.  Many of the animals towards the top of the chain, such as polar bears, also rely on ice for breeding and hunting.

In light of this sad situation, Nicklen urged the audience to get involved in conservation, to start a revolution and save these ecosystems.

To learn more about Nicklen’s work and view his amazing photographs, purchase his book Polar Obsession. It contains many of the stories behind his photos.

Garde Arts Center, New London, CT

Editor P.A. Smith in front of the Garde Arts Center in New London, where wildlife photographer Paul Nicklen spoke.

Inventor of Crittercam Presents “A Wild Point of View”

Greg Marshall: A Wild Point of View

Crittercam inventor Greg Marshall speaks about his invention at the Garde Arts Center in New London, CT.

Greg Marshall, the inventor of Crittercam (a compact camera/data collecting device that attaches to animals), came to New London, CT on March 19th to speak about his invention and the insight it has provided into animal behavior.  Animal Fact Guide editors P.A. Smith and Abi Cushman, who reviewed the Crittercam exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science last summer, had the opportunity to attend this fascinating presentation.

In his talk, entitled “A Wild Point of View,” Marshall described how he first came up with the idea of Crittercam. On one expedition, he noticed a suckerfish attached to the dorsal fin of a shark.  He noted that the shark appeared to behave in a way unaffected by the suckerfish, and from there, he made the connection that it was  possible to attach a camera in an unobtrusive manner as well.

Throughout the presentation, Marshall stressed the importance that the Crittercam not impact the animal.  This was essential not only for the well-being and safety of the animal but also because they wanted to be sure to collect true data about how animals actually behave in the wild. If the animals acted differently in response to having the device attached to them, the data they collected would be compromised.

The Crittercam, which has become more and more streamlined and compact  as years pass, collects more than just video imagery.  The device collects a wealth of data such as temperature, light levels, pressure, and audio.  This supporting information allows scientists to more fully comprehend what they see in the video footage.

Greg MarshallThis unique view into animal behavior has led to many new discoveries.  For example, they learned about the feeding patterns of several marine animals.  In the instance of king penguins, they found that the penguins would dive deep and look up towards the ice to spot the fish silhouetted by the light shining through.  In this way, they acted in a similar way to a hawk circling above land and swooping in to catch their prey, but in reverse.  In the instance of humpback whales, they discovered that the whales would dive deep, drive fish towards the surface,  blow bubbles around the school forming a “net” to herd them, and then use their fins to scare the fish into their open mouths.

Marshall delivered an excellent presentation, providing interesting and sometimes humorous anecdotes about his experiences in the field. If you have the opportunity to hear him speak in your area, we recommend you attend.

You can also view the Crittercam exhibition which is currently on display at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum in Chicago until April 11. From May 22 to January 5, 2011, you can see Crittercam at The Wildlife Experience in Parker, Colorado.

For more information, see National Geographic’s Crittercam website and National Geographic’s Crittercam event page.

New! Free Badger Bookplates

Free BookplateAnimal Fact Guide has added FREE printable bookplates to our Fun Stuff and Teacher Tools sections.  Kids can personalize the books in their home library, and teachers can designate their classroom books. Currently, we have a bookplate featuring a badger in colored and blank background versions.  Check back for more additions!

Bookplates print on 8.5″ x 11″ sheets divided into ten 4″ x 2″ labels (generally branded as shipping labels at the stationery store).

New Animal Article: Koala

Check out the latest article added to Animal Fact Guide:
Koala

Koala
Koalas have special adaptations that enable them to feast on eucalyptus leaves. Eucalyptus leaves are highly fibrous and poisonous to other animals. But koalas have bacteria in their stomachs that break down the fiber and toxic oils and allow them to absorb 25% of the nutrients.
Learn more about koalas »