Category Archives: Environment

Climbing Mt. Shasta: A Journey After Spinal Fusion Surgery

-Emily Fraysse

My eyes opened at the sound.

The nurses dressed in all white with hairnets and facemasks were clinking the industrial set of tools around on a steel patter to my right. I drifted off again as I felt a sting of the IV slide into my right arm.

My eyes opened at another sound.

My father’s alarm had gone off. It was three o’clock in the morning and I had just been dreaming a flashback to the spinal fusion surgery I had undergone around two years before.

Sliding on my down coat and slipping on my booties, I heaved myself out of the comfort of my royal blue tent and out into the cold, deserted ice. I could see my father had already begun boiling the water for tea and my younger sister, Madeline, still fast asleep in her sheltered cocoon.

With a full moon over head, the view was stupendous. It was still the dark hours of the morning, but with the full moon, the shadows of the luscious pines and the sparkle of the snow was clearly visible. Looking up at the slope of Mt. Shasta, a lit ant trail of climbers were already making their way up to the looming ridge above.

A bowl of oatmeal later and I was snapping my crampons onto my boots and heaving my thirty-pound pack on my semi-sore back. My back has been an issue for many years due to a duel with scoliosis. I spent the winter break of my senior year of high school getting a spinal fusion (two titanium rods fused to my spine to prevent the curve from gaining distance). The surgery, thankfully, worked, and a mere two years later I was climbing again. I had climbed before my surgery, but just a few times here and there with my father and sister.

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One step. Stop. Breathe. Another step. Stop. Breathe.

And that’s how it went for the next eight hours uphill. Any faster and the climber would find themselves exhausted after only three hours, unable to scale the 14,179 foot California mountain.

This was my battle. Battling my body, my mind, my mountain.

One step. Stop. Breathe. Another step. Stop. Breathe.

I couldn’t necessarily feel the rods, but I knew they were there. It had taken me about six months after the surgery until I was fully healed, and even then I was still not allowed to go on rollercoasters or partake in any other potentially dangerous activities for an entire year. Luckily, a mountaineering backpack sits on your hips, thus lessening the pressure on your spine.

I pushed my body and my mind, step by step. It wasn’t enough to cause injury, but I wanted to push myself to see how far I really could go. The first doctor I went to when I had first found out that I had scoliosis said that there was nothing I could do for it—not even surgery would help. But I took the plunge: a scarily deep plunge that has left me with a giant scar going all the way down my back. I wanted to prove to myself and to him that I could do it.

And I did.

The Best of Oregon Camping

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-Rache’ll Brown

In the past two decades I’ve had my fair share of bug bites, sun burns, Big Foot sightings, and campfire stories. I’ve caught fish, made s’mores, polar-beared, and had my tent tipped. Some of my best childhood memories were spent in the great outdoors, and as an Oregonian born and raised, I have spent most of my time in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. Students and locals alike should experience a night or two in Oregon’s natural beauty, and these are a few places that I think are worth a visit.

Moonshine Park

Growing up on the Central Oregon Coast, an appearance of the sun meant a trip to Moonshine, not the beach. A mere fifteen dollars grants campers an overnight stay at Lincoln County’s most popular park. Plus: the people-watching is prime on a nice day.

Paulina Lake

Central Oregon is so beautiful, and although the weather can get excruciatingly hot for this coastal girl, Bend and La Pine are some of my favorite spots in Oregon. For fourteen dollars, campers can be right next to the lake, which means fishing and rock skipping.

Coldwater Cove

I am terrified of lakes and deep bodies of water, mainly because I have no idea what lies beneath the surface. At Coldwater Cove, this isn’t an issue.  For eighteen dollars per night, campers can hang out in my favorite body of water, Clear Lake.

Yukwah Campground

Twenty dollars per night for a camping plot, but the timeless memories come free. This camping ground located outside of Sweet Home, OR is one of my favorite. It’s right across from the South Santiam River and is encased by beautiful Douglas Firs. This spot is the epitome of the Pacific Northwest.

Link Creek Campground

For sixteen dollars a night campers can experience one of my favorite places in Oregon: Suttle Lake. The first time I drove through the Santiam Pass and saw this lake I was blown away, and getting up close and personal with it was breathtaking. It truly is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.

The Cove Palisades State Park

Growing up, lake stories didn’t count unless they took place on Billy Chinook. At twenty dollars per night campers get to experience the lake and the beautiful red cliffs surrounding it. The best part is the diverse range of outdoor activities: hiking, swimming, fishing, and sunbathing are some options that can please all.

Popcorned: "Arrested Development" Developments

arrested-development-season-4

-Casey Klekas

In less than a week the new season of Arrested Development will be on the nation’s Instant Queue. In case you haven’t been re-watching every episode like me, here’s where we left off:

Michael, George Michael, and a hidden George Sr., are on their way to the model house in Cabo. Lucille was driving the Queen Mary along with Tobias, G.O.B, the captive investors, and the hot se—er, sailors. Forty-year-old Lindsay is not a Bluth (she was almost a Sitwell!). Buster is in the water with a loose seal. Maeby is meeting with executives trying to sell the family’s life story as a TV series, which is denied, “But maybe a movie!”

So, where are we headed? Well, in case you missed it, they’ve released a trailer for season four, and it has revealed a few delicious nuggets to chew on until May 26th.

George Michael goes to school at UC Irvine, hinted on a pennant during Michael’s intrusion on his son’s dorm room, where he finds George Michael and his cousin Maeby continuing their hidden affair. Recall, at the end of season three Michael told his son that he and his cousin were not indeed blood relatives, but still family. We will have to wait to see more of Les Cousins Dangereux.

It’s hot at the airport where Michael asks the cab driver if he knows of a “good place to live,” because he’s “looking for a new start.” The sign says Sky Harbor, an airport in Phoenix, Arizona, which suggests that it is cut from episode one of season four, titled The Flight of the Phoenix. Michael burns his hand on the taxi’s door handle, not unlike the Cornballer from season one. In another scene, Michael appears to be buying a new car. Later, Michael stands in front of a new housing development managed by “The Michael Bluth Company,” which is stalked by a vulture, “Not a great sign.”

Lindsay has short hair in one scene, then long hair in another, where Tobias suggests getting her to that acting class. Tobias later sees the sign he’s been waiting for: a model Hollywood Sign saying “Hooray for Tobias.”

Maeby has grown into a fine young woman. At one point in the trailer she is startled by an ostrich inside the Balboa Apartments.

Michael approaches Kitty, who still holds some grudges from when Michael threatened her, then tried to blow her up with a boat. Hopefully she has a man in her life.

We see G.O.B. with his characteristic charm trying to pick up a woman at a bar. He also has some new magic act that looks like it might have “Roman Slave” as its title.

Lucille is dragged away by the police at a seafood restaurant, possibly Senor Tadpole’s, threatening Buster with abandonment. Buster is fitted with a shiny new hook. In one scene, he reveals that he has not outgrown his love for juice.

Well, that’s all I could gather from the trailer. Again, the new season will be released all at once this Sunday, May 26th. Thank heavens it is also Memorial Day weekend, and thank heavens for the auto-play feature at the end of every Netflix episode.

Image from http://www.redcarpetnewstv.com.

1.21 Gigawatts: Seahorse Armor Inspires Robotic Engineering

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-Sarah Keartes

Seahorses don’t exactly radiate toughness, but recent studies show that the bone structure of these delicate fish might be the key to unlocking a breakthrough in robotic armor. Iron Man á la seahorse?

First of all, yes, seahorses are in fact fish. Their genus name, “Hippocampus,” stems from the ancient Greek hippos meaning “horse,” and kampo meaning “sea monster.”

These tiny “sea monsters” (the largest reaching eight inches in length) face a multitude of challenges in open water, the most problematic being that they are poor swimmers. The fifty-four known species of seahorses must spend their days clinging to kelp, sea-grass, and coral so as not to be carried away by strong currents while feeding on crustaceans—something they must do constantly as their digestive tracts are extremely short.

What do the engineers at University of California San Diego (UCSD) Jacobs School of Engineering want with a teensy-tiny poor-swimming eating machine? The treasure is in the tail.

Seahorses use their prehensile (grasping) tails as anchors, holding them in place while they feed. The tails have to be strong enough to protect them, but flexible enough to wrap around rocks and move with the tide.

“The tail is the seahorse’s lifeline,” Michael Porter, a Ph.D. student in materials science said in an interview.

The typical tail is made up of thirty-six bony segments. Because most of their predators (including crabs, rays, turtles, and seabirds) capture seahorses by crushing them, the Jacobs team wanted to see if the bone segments  act as protective armor.

In order to study the bones’ structure more clearly, the team used a chemical process to strip them of their minerals and proteins. Amazingly, seahorse tail-bones contain a lower-than-most percentage of hard minerals (15 percent lower than cow bone). When we think of shielding materials, we often assume the stronger the better. But just like foam or other porous materials, the tail bones actually absorb energy during impact.

“The connective tissue between the tail’s bony plates and the tail muscles bore most of the load from the displacement,” the team said.

Each segment of the tail is composed of four L-shaped corner plates which are connected by small joints that allow the bone plates to glide and pivot freely over one another without being damaged. The structure is reminiscent of the Hoberman Sphere toys we all know and love.

 

“[In our tests] the tail could be compressed by nearly 50 percent of its original width before permanent damage occurred…even when the tail was compressed by as much as 60 percent the seahorse’s spinal column was protected from permanent damage,” the team found.

If the team is successful in recreating this structure, imagine the applications of armored plating that could withstand that kind of pressure.

The Jacobs team plans to use 3D printers to create artificial bony plates lined with polymer muscles, which will help them to better understand how to apply these structures to their robotics.

“The final goal is to build a robotic arm that would be a unique hybrid between hard and soft robotic devices. A flexible, yet robust robotic gripper could be used for medical devices, underwater exploration and unmanned bomb detection and detonation,” they said.

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Image by Jacobs School of Engineering.

Don't Worry Be Healthy: Spring Has Sprung – Contracting Spring Fever

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-Marissa Tomko

Someone just gave me a really weird look at a stoplight because I was screaming Luke Bryan at the top of my lungs in the car. Alone. It was the greatest moment of my life because it was sunny, warm, and beautiful, and I just wanted the whole world to share in that with me. I can’t help it though because I have come down with a severe case of spring fever!

Here in the rainy northwest, even the smallest bit of sunshine is a game changer. It takes over social media sites and brings students outdoors to bask in its rays. Classes are suddenly less full because everyone is out taking a “mental health day,” also known as a “lets go ride our bikes by the river” day. Fun in the sun takes priority, and no one seems to have an issue with their procrastinated assignments or unkempt houses. Everything is happy!

Even though the sun might be considered a novelty around here, there might be more to the fact that it makes us feel happy. According to the Huffington Post, a severe case of spring fever might be scientifically explicable. Unlike in the wintertime when we produce more melatonin and therefore sleep more, spring sunshine means less melatonin, causing you to feel more awake.

The rays don’t only mean less melatonin but also more serotonin, the chemical your body produces to put you in a better mood. I don’t know about you, but for me, being in a better mood means I’m more restless and more prone to celebrating the good weather as opposed to working in spite of it.

Word to all you fellow spring-fever-prone people out there though: just because the rain is gone does not mean that your responsibilities are too! Even though the memories you make on a beautiful day are important, so are your grades. Playing hard doesn’t come without working hard. Happy spring!

1.21 Gigawatts: Giant Snails do Demo in Florida

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-Sarah Keartes

South Florida residents have begun a battle with public danger in the form of . . . snails. Giant Snails, to be exact. Precisely when the thousands of Giant African Land Snails invaded the Sunshine State is unknown, but the new neighbors are posing real problems for the local flora, fauna, and—architecture?

Not only do these snails grow to approximately eight inches in length and consume more than five hundred species of plants, but they can also eat through plaster and stucco, which provides the calcium needed for shell restoration.

Unknown to most, snails feed using a radulae, tiny (or in this case, not-so-tiny), toothy organs. No chewing necessary—the teeth on a radula (which can number in the thousands) are used to tear, grate, and grind, and are replaced as they wear down. Some species of snail also produce an acidic secretion to break down calcium sources like the shells of other mollusks.

 

Florida certainly has a knack for accumulating visitors. In fact, about one thousand people move there every day. Why Florida? Perhaps it is the promise of low taxes, competitive school districts, and affordable housing—perhaps it is the allure of the beach. For Florida’s most recent set of squatters, it is most certainly the weather.

Native to east Africa, the giant snails thrive in warm climates, and have already settled their brigade of mobile homes in Barbados, the Hawaiian Islands, and India.

What have the southerners done to combat the hungry home-wreckers? Enter the snail-hunters. The Agricultural Department of Miami-Dade County has a staff of fifty dedicated to nothing but slimey search-and-destroy.

“Nearly one thousand snails per week are being rounded up” using a bate made with iron phosphate, Denise Feiber, a spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, told BBC.

Is the mollusk mass-murder really necessary? This question has caused some conflict among the locals.

“They’re huge, they move around, they look like they’re looking at you … communicating with you, and people enjoy them for that,” Feiber said. “…But they don’t realize the devastation they can create if they are released into the environment where they don’t have any natural enemies.”

A fertile Land Snail can lay up to 1,200 eggs per year, and can live up to nine years. One snail becomes over 10,000 before it bites..no wait…grinds the dust? It’s certainly a problem that needs solving, but I can’t help but cringe at the thought of sending 117,000 (and counting) of them to an oozy grave.

This isn’t the first exotic invasion Florida has had to face. A recent invasion of Burmese pythons sparked “The Python Challenge.” Sponsored by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the challenge presented locals with the opportunity to “competitively harvest” Burmese pythons. In other words? After paying the $25 entry fee, and signing the extensive waiver, locals plunged into Florida waters to wrangle and kill the exotic snakes—hoping to nab the $1,500 grand prize.

Sure, we’re thinking up creative ways to deal with new “pests,” but the underlying problem behind these exotic “invasions” lies within our own exotic pet trade, which makes up a multi-billion dollar black market industry in the U.S. alone.

The US Department of Agriculture has already confiscated illegal Giant African Land Snails from commercial pet stores, schools and private breeders Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio, and Michigan.

As officials continue to round up the sunshine-snails, the fate of the far-from-home mollusks and closer-to-home drywall remains to be seen.

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1.21 Gigawatts: Glowing Plants – Lighting the Path into the Future?

Glowing Plants

-Sarah Keartes

Just two weeks ago, in what they call “the first step in creating sustainable natural lighting” a team of Stanford scientists headed by Antony Evans, a Singularity University alumnus, launched the “Glowing Plant” project—the first ever synthetic biology proposal to hit kickstarter.

Inspired by fireflies and aquatic bioluminescence (think Life of Pi), the project aims to create glowing plants that could eventually replace electric or gas lighting. What’s incredible is that all of the technology required to jump-start the plant production already exists.

“What is innovative and exciting about this project is not so much new application of  technology—it is that these three guys [in a DIY science lab] are bringing synthetic biology into the mainstream,” Lisa Smolenska PhD Molecular Plant Virology told Flux.

“They are taking an idea and bringing it to the public—and the public is listening and playing their part in scientific development for their future. That is what’s cool about it,” she said.

“Glowing Plants” (GP) builds on research dating back to 1986. The process started with isolating and sequencing the Luciferase-luciferin gene, which codes for an enzyme that allows organisms like fireflies and bioluminescent bacteria to glow.

Now sequenced, the genetic information can be manipulated using software like “Genome Compiler” to make it more readable by the plant’s cells. The newly designed plant friendly code is “printed”—after  it is synthesized to the correct length, lasers are used to cut out and throw away any  codes  that do not perfectly match the design.  This new DNA will eventually be introduced into the plant using a Gene Gun. Initially, transforming the plant will be done using the Agrobacterium method:

“Our printed DNA will be inserted into a special type of bacteria which can insert its DNA into the plant. Flowers of the plant are then dipped into a solution containing the transformed bacteria. The bacteria injects our DNA into the cell nucleus of the flowers which pass it onto their seeds,” the team explains.

Gene Guns, computer programs making DNA—and printing copies? If this is all starting to scramble your brain, fear not. Think of it this way: Genome Compiler, which was founded by GP team member Omri Amirav-Drory, works by viewing biological genetic code much like binary computer code (made of ones and zeroes). The program is able to “design, debug, and compile” the code to make it readable by chromosomes and genomes (the software)  that run in living cells (the hardware).

“Living things are just another form of information technology,” they explain. “We can design living things the same way we can design computer code.”

Using similar techniques, the University of Cambridge 2010 iGem team was able to create modified E. Coli bacteria which produced enough light to read by, and in several colors. Their creation, cleverly dubbed “E. Glowli” set the benchmark for synthetic bioluminescence, one which GP hopes to eventually meet.

“It’s certainly feasible…can you make something that is brighter than what is occurring in nature? That is the grand challenge—for now the challenge is making something beautiful,” Harvard University Professor of Genetics George Church said in an interview.

By choosing to launch their project on kickstarter, the GP team is getting the public involved.

Through funding platforms like these “scientists can practice science without having to go to large, highly competitive funding bodies or corporations, and highly technical projects now have visibility to the general public,” Smolenska said.

The project soared past its initial $65,000 goal, and has now raised over $190,000 pledged by 3342 curious supporters (myself among them). The funds raised will be used to print DNA—a process that costs a minimum of twenty-five cents per base pair. Sounds cheap enough, right? Keep in mind that the sequences used for the project are approximately 10,000 base pairs long, and multiple sequences will be printed for testing.

Pledges of forty dollars or more are being rewarded with a batch of GP seeds, which will be sent out in late 2014.

Luciferase is not a pesticide or known toxin, and the GP team is taking precautions to ensure this project is “as safe as we can get.” Still, as with all genetic modification (GM) centered projects, some debate has risen regarding the ethical implications and ecological risks of introducing these plants—as what could happen remains unknown.

The Glowing Plants project has roots in the past and eyes on the future—building on what was started by those before them, and turning to those around them. Nanos gigantum humeris insidentes:  Dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants.

“What you’ll be getting is more than a glowing plant…the glowing plant is a symbol of the future, a symbol of sustainability, a symbol to inspire others to create new living things,” Evans said.

Want to grow your own glow? Watch the Kickstarter video!

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Image by Jay Salamandras.

1.21 Gigawatts: Sci-Tube – Five Videos That Will Blow Your Mind

-Sarah Keartes

#1 Crying in Orbit?

 

In his recent mid-orbit vlog entry, Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Chris Hadfield demonstrates the physics of crying in space.

“Your eyes will definitely cry . . . but the big difference is, tears don’t fall, so grab a hanky,” Hadfield said. It is earth’s gravitational force that causes our tears to fall. In a micro-gravitational environment, tears collected in the eye are unable to flow downward. Instead they pool together, forming a “ball” of water which will sit on the eye until it reaches a larch enough size and will break free and float around.

Even more interesting is that space tears can actually sting your eyes. The reason behind this is unknown, but NASA has long studied the effects of space travel on human vision, which include flattening of the back of the eyeball, changes in the retina and optic nerve, and problems with both near and distance vision.

#2 The Prince Rupert’s Drop: Unbreakable Exploding Glass

 

Do not be afraid of this video’s seven-minute playing time. Stop what you are doing and tune in to this incredible high-speed video. Correction: high-speed video of explosions. Correction: high-speed video of exploding glass—that you can’t break with a hammer. What?

Destin of “Smarter Every Day” (with a bit of help from Orbix Hot Glass in Fort Payne, Alabama) explores the physics behind the Prince Rupert’s Drop. The drop, also known as “Prince Rupert’s Balls” or “Dutch Tears,” is a tadpole-shaped glass object that is created when molten glass is dripped into water to cool.

The resulting structure possesses mind-boggling physical properties: the head of the drop can be bashed and beaten to the heart’s content without breaking, but even the slightest nick to the glass tail causes a large release of stored potential energy resulting in microscopic fractures from tail to head. In other words? Boom goes the dynamite.

#3 00-Robots? University of Pennsylvania Quatrotors Go “Bond”

 

The James Bond theme has been covered thousands of times on Youtube, but to my knowledge, it has only been covered once by a fleet of autonomous flying robots.

Birthed from U. Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences GRASP lab, the tiny robots, dubbed “Nano Quadrotors,” can be programed with a series of points that must be reached at a precise time. Amazingly, the direct path is chosen by the bots, which are able to pick up the locations of fleet members using infrared technology.

GRASPLAB members are working with scientists to improve their robots by mimicking the swarming behaviors of birds, fish and insects—the Quadrotors operate not as a swarm, but much like a flock.

#4 The World’s Cutest Frog

 

Forget cats. This tiny, slimy squeak-toy which looks more like a character from Pokémon than an earthly creature, is the Namaqua Rain Frog (Breviceps namaquensis), and it may be the cutest thing I have ever seen.

Unlike many of its amphibious relatives, the frog, filmed here by nature photographer Dean Boshoff, is a desert resident. Native to the Namaqualand coast of South Africa (and adjacent sandy inland areas), the Namaqua Rain Frog is a burrowing species which surfaces only when ample rainfall brings a plethora of insects to feed on.

Should that blood-curdling, utterly terrifying, well, “peep” not do the trick; the frog will inflate itself to its full girth when threatened.

#5 “4D” Printing: Transformers Anyone?

 

SJET, LLC is a research-based practice founded by architect, designer, and computer scientist Skylar Tibbits. Combining tools from architecture, design, fabrication, computer science, and robotics, SJET focuses on creating self-assembling structures using “4D”printing technology. In other words, they are working to build things that build themselves without external guidance.

“What we’re saying here is, you design something, you print it, it evolves…it’s like naturally embedding smartness into the materials,” Tibbits told Wired in an interview.

How does it work? Each piece of the structure is molecularly altered—embedded with patterns of elements that attract each other through negative and positive interactions when the correct amount of energy is added (here through shaking). Tibbits and SJET see the application of this technology in the creation of large scale smart structures in extreme environments such as space and the ocean.

“The self-assembled structures of the future won’t just be large; they will also be smart. Every brick, beam, and bolt may one day compute and store digital information about the building, environment, and construction to aid assembly,” Tibbits said.

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Oregon's Whale Watchdog

Carrie Newell beneath the Gray Whale head at the Whale, Sea Life, & Shark Museum in Depoe Bay, Oregon. (Image courtesy of Carrie Newell/The Whale, Sea Life, & Shark Museum)

-by Bryan Kalbrosky

On a clear day, the waters are clean and cerulean, the sky is unblemished, and the bright sun airs across the entire coast of the Pacific Northwest. Scenes like this not only help make the Oregon Coast one of the top travel destinations in the region but one of the most captivating places in the country to spend time during the spring and summer.

Perhaps one of the most compelling features that the Oregon Coast offers from late March until mid-June is the presence of nearly eighteen thousand whales passing through on their twelve-thousand-mile journey from Mexico toward the Arctic Ocean in Alaska.

It is here in Depoe Bay, the whale watching capital of the Oregon Coast, that marine biologist Carrie Newell makes her home and career.

Whale Research EcoExcursions, Newell’s company, was founded independently in 2005 after Newell hoped to seek a proactive initiative to fund her own research. She began the company following inadequate support from Oregon State University, where she was teaching at the time. Newell, a licensed captain, is also a published author and a professor of marine biology at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon.

With a six-person capacity on her ex-coastguard boat (also known as an inflatable Zodiac boat best popularized by the Cousteau team), Newell and her dog, Kida, glide through the waves of Depoe Bay in search for one of the Summer Resident Gray whales. When the residents are in season, Newell advertises a 95 percent success rate for spotting at least one whale on her countless journeys after nearly every weekend for twenty years.

While there may be dangers on a potentially rocky ride, Newell holds a diverse and varied background in both marine biology and volcanology. With more than twenty years of experience on the water, Newell has absorbed a sense of respect for the ocean. Passengers often compliment her remarkable ease with which she travels.

“I want them to be educated. I want them to feel safe. I want them to come back knowing more than they did when they left,” says Newell. She also provides jackets, hats, and blankets to any patron on the six-person journeys aboard her twenty-six-foot long boat. “You do whatever you can to make sure they’re happy.”

Even though most whales are known to stay half a mile off-shore, every hour, up to thirty whales are known to pass through when they are in season. By Oregon state law, Newell and her boat are required to stay at least one hundred yards from the whales. If the whales come toward the boat, however, the passengers may freely interact with the animals.

Each whale can grow up to forty-five feet and can weigh as much as seventy thousand pounds when fully developed. While these whales were removed from the endangered species list in 1994, the experience of spotting a whale with Newell is often considered to be a life highlight by reviewers.

“I teach [my customers] that these whales are individuals and that we have to save them because it’s not just a whale—it’s a whale with a name and with a history,” Newell says.

She claims to understand the personality of these whales even with just a half a dozen encounters. Some of her favorite whales include “Scarback” (who was hit with an exploding harpoon in the mid-1980s), and “Blanco” (also known as the “white whale male gigolo”). Her all-time favorite consistent sighting is “Eagle Eye” (whom she first encountered nearly fifteen years ago), an easily identifiable and beautiful whale she has come across every year since she first named him. After so many sightings, Newell eventually named her boat after him.

Newell’s research includes measures such as discovering a whale’s gender, if they have any calves, what their condition and feeding areas are like, what the water temperature is, and a thorough analysis of the specimens found from plankton nets.

Thanks to her vast experience and research ethic, she was one of few selected to work with both Oregon Field Guide and Ocean Future Society on PBS Features with the Cousteau team. Here, she focused her work and research on proving the feeding habits of Summer Gray whales.

“Diving with the Cousteau team and just being able to talk to them and learn about their experiences was probably one of the high points of my whole life,” Newell says.

In the 2004 PBS Feature, Newell proved that gray whales actually feed on mysid shrimp while they are in Depoe Bay, and not their usual diet of amphipods. After this discovery, her fame within the scientific community began to skyrocket.

Much of the new information Newell discovers has been applied to the museum exhibitions that she now operates on the Oregon Coast. She can often be found here on the weekends managing the Whale, Sea Life & Shark Museum in Depoe Bay.

“It’s privately funded out my own pocket,” says Newell, who hopes to share her knowledge and infamous lifelong collections with people beyond her classroom. “I’m teaching an overload at the college now to help pay for the museum.”

Recently at the Whale, Sea Life & Shark Museum in Depoe Bay, Newell has installed a blowing gray whale that sprays real water and makes a sound at the push of a button. She is also working on the new bird room, with bird specimens and replica of a mother and child western gull.

As someone who paved a career to match her interests, Newell advises those struggling to find their passion to listen to to what their gut is telling them.

“It took me years to go after what I wanted to do,” Newell says. “Go with what your heart tells you is right. Get your foot in the door and keep your focus on what you want to do.”

1.21 Gigawatts: Do U(O) Know? Shark Finning

“1.21 Gigawatts” is a weekly science column covering local and national science news, as well as wildlife and conservation. Sarah Keartes is an ocean-obsessed junior studying journalism and marine biology. For more science mind candy, follow this Attenborough wannabe on Twitter.

-Sarah Keartes

Throughout the first week of the term, the hustle and bustle surrounding the campus book store resembles that of a Savannah watering hole. Buzzing about the perimeter is a diverse blend of organisms: “Jazzed Jenny,” a hyperactive creature who has had her fill of early morning caffeine; “Barely-There Billy,” moseying his way to class against all primal instinct; and “Miserable Madison,” low on much-needed resources after purchasing this round of textbooks.

There I sat lurking—a self-proclaimed nature nerd armed with a whiteboard waiting to prey on the minds of spring students, posing the question “Do you know what shark finning is?”

Around forty students took the bait and ventured a guess. While many of them penned their responses with confidence and conviction, not a single one answered correctly.

“Shark finning is riding sharks like Manny the shark guy,” one student wrote.

The incorrect responses continued, with students most commonly defining shark finning as “shark fishing,” “cutting off a shark’s [dorsal] fin,” and “making shark into soup.” Close, but no cigar. Let’s start with the soup.

Shark fin or “chì” soup has long been served as a symbol of wealth and class in Chinese culture. The simple soup which is comprised of pricey meat from the shark’s fins, along with a few traditional ingredients, boasts price tags of more than $100 per bowl. While the majority of fin meat sold in world markets does supply demand for chì soup ingredients, not all fins for sale in markets are the result of “finning.”

Shark finning does not just mean removing shark fins, nor is it synonymous with shark fishing. The term actually refers to the practice of removing the fins from a shark while the animal is still alive and aboard the shipping vessel. Once removed, the shark is dumped overboard to bleed to death. Lovely.

Why dump the sharks? Shark fin meat is vastly more valuable than the meat from the animal’s body, so by dumping sharks overboard, fishermen are able to use smaller boats and retrieve more fins at less cost to the industry. This gruesome practice is wildly unsustainable as large populations can be overfished rapidly by small fishing operations.

Shark finning has become one of the hottest topics on the marine conservation scene, sparking heated debates and nabbing the attention of many activists and politicians. But like our sample of students, many conservationists, bloggers, and shark supporters misconstrue the term.

Who cares? Shark fishing is “bad.” If the issue is brought to the forefront, why does it matter?

In order to better understand this, let’s take a trip to yester-year. Since the dreaded “duh-nuh…duh-nuh” theme song first made its appearance in Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, sharks have stared in more than forty horror films. This rise to stardom helped secure our finned-foes as one of the media’s most menacing monsters.

As technology and continued research allow us to become more environmentally aware, we’ve jumped to the other side. We watch “Shark Week” by the millions, we eat up Planet Earth and soak up David Attenborough’s narration, we are going green, we post, we forward, we petition, we tweet—we are part of the solution, right?

This is where we run into problems. Just like shark-slasher films polarized the way we looked at sharks, the gruesome practice of finning featured in blog posts, tweets, articles, and online petitions with little explanation of alternative fishing methods agitates the battle between fishing communities and conservationists, devaluing the work of those searching for a more sustainable solution.

This has become a prominent issue for shark biologists like David Shiffman.

“Increasing the level of confusion and misconception that’s already out there only makes things worse for the oceans, and demonizing responsible fishing practices can undo decades of progress made by those who do understand the issues,” Shiffman said.

Think you now know which sharks have been “finned?” Take the Quiz!

Top image by Nicholas WangIllustration by Lily Nelson.