Of Orcas and Species

By Rob and Maria

If you’ve been following the wildlife news circuit, you probably were quite intrigued by the story that broke earlier this week about the “type D” orcas, sometimes also referred to as the New Zealand killer whales, found in the Southern Ocean! These whales (well, dolphins, technically) are much smaller than other known killer whales; they have shorter, more rounded heads; their fins are pointier; and their classic killer whale eye patches are distinctively small. A handful of these unusual individuals were first observed in New Zealand in 1955, but they had not been definitively spotted since then. Of course, marine biology fans are abuzz—are they a whole separate species than the killer whales we all are familiar with? Time will tell. NOAA biologists (including a married couple team—we can appreciate a good nerd love story) are hard at work to unravel the mystery of these mysterious killer whales. Continue reading

The Science of Wanderlust

By Maria

Ever catch yourself staring out the window, perhaps at 2:15 on a Tuesday, only to realize you’re not really looking at the trees and traffic outside? Perhaps you’re really looking at the ruins of an old Irish castle, hauntingly beautiful in its age and surrounded by rolling green hills. Or perhaps you’re exploring the streets of a small Hungarian village—not understanding a single word around, but overjoyed by the new experience of cobblestone under your feet and the inviting smells from bakeries and little restaurants. Or maybe you’re lounging in a chair under a palm tree, toes in the sand, and watching the brilliant turquoise of ocean water gently roll up the beach and back.

If any of this rings a proverbial bell, you, my friend, might have wanderlust. Especially if this desire to travel and explore is intense, and you’re willing to work with whatever budget you have, the tourism industry would define you as a wanderluster. Continue reading

For the Love of Pandas

By Maria

Next week, on August 22nd, a very special little guy named Bei Bei will have his first birthday. Bei Bei is a giant panda, Ailuropoda melanoleuca, who lives at the National Zoo, as do his parents Tian Tian and Mei Xiang and his sister Bao Bao. In honor of his upcoming birthday, can we just take a moment to appreciate some panda?


She’s laying down to eat. How can you not admire that? (BaoBao, I think.)

Last summer, I traveled with a friend to Washington, D.C., to see pandas at the National Zoo. I remember pulling into the parking lot, almost crying because I was so excited that I was about to see a panda for the first time in my life. And when I finally got to see one… Continue reading

Budding Urban Naturalists

By Rob

During the past few weeks I’ve gotten to go on a few outdoor adventures with my wife.  She’s truly the perfect adventure partner, always up for getting dirty or sweaty, equally enjoying chasing some bird down a trail to snap a picture or making a coffee stop.  And she knows quite a bit about what we’re looking at while outdoors (Maria: he’s being sweet).


Coffee…the most important part of going outdoors

I’ve always found many positive things in the outdoors, solace when getting over a heart-ache, adventure while orienteering, quiet conversations while fishing with my family, and the chance to push my physical limits when biking and running.  A new aspect I’ve recently started adding is that of an aspiring naturalist.

Continue reading

From a Conservation Educator…

I don’t think I can remember my first trip to a zoo. My family visited the Columbus Zoo often when I was little, and the numerous visits have blurred together over the years and decades. What never blurred, though, was my love for the animals I saw on each visit. I remember parking myself at the gorilla exhibit over and over, and the awe never diminished. I had read all about these animals in the library books I regularly hoarded, but to see them live, in front me…to realize how powerful and how intelligent they were…to see how the silverback Mumba interacted with his family, sometimes playing with the young ones or chastising them when they got a little too goofy for his breakfast time preference…to see how curious they could even be about us humans…what a beautiful thing. Even as a child, I wanted to show the whole world how precious these creatures were. As I grew older, that passion to inspire love increased especially as I learned more about their decline in the wild and its implications. Continue reading

Conservation and Honeymoons, Part II

Ladies and gentlemen, the moment you’ve been waiting for! The second half of our honeymoon adventures, and this time with a guest author–My Adventure Buddy 🙂

I asked him to write whatever he wanted about the last part of our trip, and he did not disappoint. One of his favorite parts of our trip was a visit to a coastal scrub dunes natural area. It was a habitat type we were both completely unfamiliar with. Barely the distance of a few football fields away was the ocean, yet the low, scrubby plants of the dunes made the area feel almost like an Arizona dessert. The smell of saltwater was replaced with something…greener? Heavier? Maybe it was just that the open surroundings made the heat so much more oppressive that you thought you could feel the density of sunlight, even so that it tricked your nose. Whatever it was it was, the scrub dunes left quite an impression on both of us.



Rob: So, what do I remember of the scrub dunes?

It was hot. I remember thinking that I wouldn’t want to tackle a desert expedition without gallons and gallons of water (Lawrence was a crazy, crazy man). The sun seems hotter down there than PA. And more focused, like we’re underneath a young kid trying to burn ants with his dad’s magnifying glass.


But I don’t mean to give the impression I didn’t like it. I truly did. There’s just this different theme to the air and the light in a hot, dry place. It’s a graver, more serious feeling. You’re still very excited to explore each movement in the brush (after all, there are fewer shadows, all the secrets are in the open for you to find), but perhaps there’s an ancient instinct telling your muscles not to hurry like you do when entering a cool, northern forest where you vault over fallen logs and scamper up hills. Instead, here, surrounded by sand and bristled, thorned scrub plants, ancient genetic material cautions you to move slower, conserve your energy and moisture. It’s a beauty you experience slower.


If the interrogating sun exposes the secrets on the ground, the sand is the stenographer – meticulously recording all movement gracing its surface. At first, we missed these records, we tromped over them (leaving our own for the next visitor) as we inspected flowers or looked up silhouettes of birds. Soon enough, we glanced down (perhaps from a pointed rock in a flip-flop) and found raccoon prints in the mud, sinewy grooves we mistook for snakes until we spotted tiny feet from a lizard on either side. We found what we think are rabbit prints. These always cross the trail at the shortest intersection.


It was a great trip. I mean that too. I truly enjoyed it, not just in the “we-went-to-the-beach-and-had-fun” kind of way. It was so much fund, never a boring day at Palm Beach. And my new traveling partner…my new wife…and I found that we are both such nerds. Our visit to the zoo lasted nearly six hours as we moved at the speed of sloth from exhibit to exhibit, taking in all that we could. In fact, we got to meet a sloth! (Maria: thanks so much to Erin at the Palm Beach Zoo!)


Many highlights to this trip. In fact, so many fun or special moments, if everything was a highlight, are there any highlights?


Of Honeymoons and Conservation, Part I

I already knew that I had picked an awesome Life Adventure Buddy (aka husband), but I think our honeymoon added an extra layer of confirmation to that idea. Rob and I didn’t plan any sort of theme when we decided on Palm Beach, Florida; we just wanted to do fun things in the area. And for both of us, “fun things” ended up meaning trips to natural parks, wildlife centers, a zoo, and beach, beach, beach! It’s pretty fantastic when you share quirky interests 🙂 Since we had a great time on our trip, and I’m eager to relive the sun and the sand, I figured I’d share some of our journey along with the conservation tidbits we picked up.


The first day of our trip, we spent a day (of course) at the beach where I was reminded of the vast awesomeness of the ocean. I know all the geographical facts (Europe is that way, Africa is that way), but when you stand on the shore and realize just how tiny you are—it’s hard to explain, but the majesty of the ocean just feels like anything is possible, that limits don’t exist. If I could fly, I would soar as far out into the blue as I could and revel in the utter freedom. If I could sail my own ship directly above the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, I would sing every song I know, as loudly as I want, and never have to stop or bother with that whole being “in tune” business. And who knows…with thousands of square miles of the open sea, maybe there really are elusive dragons or a ship of femme fatale pirates still searching for treasure out there—all just waiting to be immortalized in the pages of fantasy. Besides my dreamy side, the oceanic perspective was a mindbender in a spiritual or philosophical sense as well: if God is all-powerful and the universe is infinite, how can I not even comprehend the bigness of some saltwater? Not even a drop in a proverbial bucket of planets, stars, and hosts of galaxies? Yet here it is…so open that I can see no end. Mind boggling.




Of course, the other strange thing to wrap my mind around is how my seemingly insignificant self can impact something so great. Many of us are aware of our oceans’ troubles (rising sea levels, rising temperatures, non-point source pollution, etc), but I always want to remind folks that we really can make a difference! Even if you’re landlocked, the simplest things like recycling, opting for reusable shopping bags, turning off lights and electronics when not in use, and minimizing pollutants that make it to the oceans via run-off and watersheds—all of that can make a tremendous positive impact for ocean conservation if we make a collective effort.


After a glorious day of splashing through waves and making sand art (I got pretty fancy), we visited a sea turtle rescue facility called Loggerhead Marinelife Center. On any given day, volunteers and staff are caring for loggerheads, greens, Kemps Ridleys, hawksbills, and even leatherbacks that have somehow run afoul of nature or humans. On the day we visited, one lucky loggerhead was about to be released after a thankfully mild experience with a fish hook and line! Other turtles (like Betty White, story below), had been at the facility for a few months while injuries or infections were carefully tended to by skilled vets.



Rob and I with Shertz, a loggerhead sea turtle who had been cold-stunned in Cape Cod and arrived at the center with a hole in her carapace (top shell). She’s progressing well and will hopefully be released soon!


A vet and volunteer performing routine check-up on Betty White


Betty White’s story



The center also kept track of sea turtle nesting on the beaches in the area. Since humans and artificial light sources can pose a huge problem to little hatchlings, volunteers try to make sure sea turtle babies are able to safely incubate, emerge, and seek out the ocean uninterrupted.




Turtles and the ocean are pretty darn cool, but the adventures didn’t stop there! Next, we visited Manatee Lagoon, a manatee education center sponsored by one of Florida’s energy companies. What I loved about this facility was its bluntness about threats to manatees, yet still the accessibility of the information. Boat strikes are a huge problem for manatees, and the material at Manatee Lagoon didn’t shy away from this. However, the information was still presented in a truthful yet gentle enough way for even children to learn to be responsible boaters as adults. Plus, the manatee life history information was presented from the standpoint of “Mia,” a cartoon manatee ready to share valuable information to families!




While at the lagoon…we were super lucky! Only one manatee passed by the facility all day, and it just happened to be during our short visit! I might have squealed a little bit…



The one manatee to pass by all day…so excited that we saw her/him!


Hey look! We got a picture with a manatee!

Well, we had a few more days of exciting, but I think I will leave you with a cliff-hanger. What did we see next?? I guess you’ll have to come back to check 🙂


Peace, love, and manatees!