Today I finished the first draft of Shipwrecked on Dry Land! So that’s why I haven’t been writing here much; I’ve been buckling down to work on the documentary itself.
Meanwhile, here’s a story I just did for the Oakland Standard, which is a project from the Oakland Museum of California. It’s about Drawbridge, a ghost town that’s sinking into the San Francisco Bay.
The Farallon Islands have been crawling with house mice for years. They may have stowed away on boats and ridden out to the islands as early as the 1800s. Mice can be annoying or — if they’re your pets — cute, but in the Farallones they’re causing problems on a life-and-death scale.
“People on the island talk about how the ground moves because there’s so many mice,” explains Brad Keitt, the Director of Conservation for Island Conservation. The non-native mice attract burrowing owls, which would normally stop by the island for a meal, then head out. But the mouse bounty has caused them to extend their stay. And when the mouse population falls in the winter, the owls switch to eating birds, including the ashy storm-petrel, an endangered species that only nests on islands off the coast of California.
I wrote this for KQED’s news blog, News Fix, so read the rest there.
But before you go, let me take a moment to link to two excellent blogs by people who actually get to spend time on the islands (the Farallons are closed to the public): Los Farallones and Farallon Photo a Day.
The California Report had a good story this afternoon about SETI losing funding. It comes complete with references and sound from the movie Contact. SETI is based in Mountain View, CA, and its Allen Telescope Array, which it co-manages with Cal is up near Lassen. But the Allen Array has been shut off as of last month because of state and federal budget cuts.
I’d never thought much about the search for alien life–I kind of categorized it with UFOs and Area 51–until reading Remarkable Creatures by Sean B. Carroll. It’s about the scientists who discovered evolution and human origins and the adventures they took to make those discoveries, from Darwin to Svante Pääbo. I love that book!
I hope I won’t give anything away by quoting from the part that changed my mind about extraterrestrial life.
…it is worth asking, now that we have a solid grasp of evolution and our origins, are there other open questions of a similar magnitude to those that have occupied the last 150 years?
I submit that the outstanding issue, and perhaps the greatest mystery of mysteries and question of questions, is the ultimate matter of origins–the origin of life in the universe and on Earth.
Are there other worlds that could carry life?
I don’t know if this is a very mainstream opinion. I assume it’s not, based on there not being, for instance, many university departments dedicated to it. But for now, the search for the answer to the question, “Are there other worlds that could carry life?” has been made more difficult with the “hibernation” of SETI’s Allen Telescope Array.
Earlier this week I got to interview Peter and Rosemary Grant, the biologists who have spent the last 39 years studying Darwin’s finches on the Galapagos Islands. On the tiny island of Daphne Major, they’ve watched evolution in action.
Daphne Major by Flickr user sataylor pix.
One of the things I asked them was what the island sounds like. Here’s their answer.
I love the New York Times‘ Scientist at Work blog, which hosts reports from scientists in far flung parts of the world. Chris Filardi of the American Museum of Natural History just wrapped up a series of posts about evolution on the Solomon Islands, and there’s a slide show from the trip up on the site now.
This is from the introduction to the slide show.
For biologists, islands have always been illuminating places. In part, this reflects both the relative simplicity of island ecosystems and also the richly unique, and sometimes bizarre, turns that life takes on islands – think parrots behaving like big rodents, massive dragonlike lizards and miniature hippos, giant flightless dodo birds and tiny ground-foraging bats.
It’s so cool to read about work like this as it’s happening, on the ground. The scientific adventure is definitely my favorite genre.