During recess in grade school, I used to tie a sweater around my waist for a tail, use my pointer finger as a horn, and gallop around the playground, neighing and tossing about my mane. Yes, I was THAT girl who pretended she was a unicorn. I’ve since changed and fulfilled my interest in fantasy creatures by reading science fiction books and watching movies, but I don’t have to travel to the land of make-believe to learn about mysterious animals with impressive tusks. I just have to travel to the ice clogged inlets of Arctic Greenland, via this month's issue of Smithsonian Magazine. Little is known about these “unicorns of the sea”- biologist and narwhal specialist Kristin Laidre speculates that “we probably know a lot more about the brains of grasshoppers than we do about narwhals." Check out the fascinating article for a history of the narwhal, how Laidre (sometimes) successfully tags narwhals, and why any of this is important.
During my two week vacation in Australia, I noticed some easy ways Australians save energy every day. Wherever I went, from international airports to hotel rooms, snorkeling boats to youth hostels, I checked out two locations: the bathrooms and the wall sockets.
Before you write me off as some sort of nosy freak, let me explain. I did not encounter one bathroom in Australia that wasn’t outfitted with a dual flush toilet or a single wall socket that didn’t have a switch.
Dual flush toilets work just like their name implies: instead of just one disposal option, users can use a half flush for liquid drops and a full flush for a somewhat heavier deposit. While water conservation is extremely important where I was -- there is a severe drought in southeast Queensland -- these toilets are the standard all over the country. Using the appropriate amount of water during each bathroom visit adds up to real savings.
Australians also limit their use of precious resources with switches on their wall outlets. By turning off power at the wall, you can leave appliances plugged in without passively draining power.
But are these energy saving options available to us in the States? While I have yet to see or read anything about wall outlets with individual power switches, dual flush toilets are becoming more popular. You can buy new or if your finances (and green sensibilities) inhibit you from starting from scratch, you can purchase retrofit kits that transform your standard commode into a throne of sustainability.
Proving there are new ways to go green everyday, SPRANQ, a Dutch creative communications company, developed a new font designed to get the most mileage out of your cartridges, reducing the amount of ink used by up to 20%.
When blown up, you can see how Ecofont will save you ink -- it is full of tiny holes, like Swiss cheese or an erector set. The launch of Ecofont is just part of SPRANQ’s mission to get people thinking about environmental awareness. They advise the use of unbleached papers, plant based inks, even asking graphic designers to keep ink usage in mind during design.
You can download Ecofont for free. When used at 12pt or smaller, the holes are imperceivable. But something tells me that I’m going to be blowing it up and using Ecofont for my next wine and cheese cocktail hour invitations.
I didn’t think it was possible for bottle nose dolphins to get any cuter. Those smiles -- they are the golden retrievers of the sea! But then again, I’ve never seen an albino dolphin.
Pinky, the aptly named bubblegum-hued bottlenose dolphin, was recently spotted in a salt water estuary in Louisiana and is causing quite a stir. Tourists are flocking to Lake Calcasieu to catch a glimpse and snap a photo of Pinky, often seen near her gray mother. Though pink and not the typical white associated with albinism, Pinky’s eyes match her skin, tipping scientists off to her rare albino status.
With Pinky’s extreme popularity, senior biologist at Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Regina Asmutis-Silvia, reminds us all that we “should be careful, as with any dolphins, to respect it - observe from a distance, limit their time watching, don't chase or harass it.”
I don’t want to harass -- I just want to cuddle.
But humans aren’t the only creatures who can benefit from aquatic prosthetics. Winter, a bottlenose dolphin, was injured in a crab trap off the coast of Florida and lost her tail. Rescued by the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, her stump kept her from swimming well. And even though she learned how to swim without her tail -- a first for a dolphin in captivity -- aquarium staff worried that she would hurt her spine.
Enter modern science and Kevin Carroll.
Carroll has designed prosthetics for animals before but this was his first dolphin. And unlike human prosthetics, which are fitted in line with one bone, Winter’s tail was to be attached to her spine and made to move in multiple directions. The months of hard work paid off; when she was fitted with her 30 inch silicone tail, “she was a dolphin transformed.”
Here's another museums/oceans crossover event, this time with a popular Food Network star!
From Natural History's website:
March 20th and 21st
A Guide to Picking Wisely from the Sea: With Tastings, Discussions, and Luncheon
"Explore the connection between a healthy ocean and the seafood that we eat in this weekend celebrating ocean life. Learn about protecting and preserving our ocean and making informed choices about the fish we consume so that we can minimize our impact on the ocean environment. Enjoy delectable seafood dishes and meet some of this country’s top chefs, sustainable seafood experts, ocean scientists, and special guest Alton Brown. A healthy ocean depends on us, and our future health depends on its vitality. That’s what this weekend is all about. "
Um, see Alton Brown?! Yeah, I think so. Though I'm not a fan of his current haircut (Welch's commercials, no thank you), his scientific take on all things gastronomic appeals to both the nerd and eater in me.
It seems that oceans are the hot topic at Natural History! Another exhibit showcasing the beauty of our blue planet is up at my favorite Smithsonian museum.
In honor of the opening of Sant Ocean Hall last fall, Coastal America sponsored an art contest, asking tots and teens in the US and Mexico to submit ocean themed works of art. You can see the winners from the hundreds of entries and read their corresponding essays on the seven essential principles of ocean literacy.
Everywhere we turn these days, we are greeted with an onslaught of free or cheap reusable bags.
I admit- the design caught my eye long before the green benefits.
The Ovopur is such a beautifully designed water filter. Yes, that’s right- you could have this instead of a Brita.
From their website-
“We can all agree that water is an essential part of our lives. It is part of our world, part of our bodies. Yet nothing in our daily routine suggests its importance. In our modern society, water is taken for granted or hidden away.
OVOPUR© restores water to its central role in our lives.
AQUAOVO© pays tribute to water.
Environmentally friendly to the core, the OVOPUR© unit doesn’t consume any electricity, using gravity instead to filter and revitalize tapwater. Obtain crystal clear water quickly and easily.”
The long lasting filters (use about three a year) can be sent back to the company for a rebate on the replacement. Though there may be a bit more of a start up cost than buying bottled water, the cost over the year works out to 7 cents a liter. Compare that to the $2-3 for a single bottle of water. Even though I used to collect Fiji water bottles (seriously, so pretty) I think that saving all that plastic and investing in a gorgeous piece of water filtration just might be worth it.
- Image from Aquaovo: http://www.aquaovo.com/ovo_en.html
Back in June, Emily alerted you to a fantastic exhibit at Smithonian's National Museum of Natural History. If you haven't had a chance to go, you should include Nature's Best Photography: Ocean Views on your late summer itinerary!