Marine Mammal Deaths At SeaWorld

On Sunday the San Antonio Express News published a terrific, but immensely sad, story by Richard about the deaths of orcas, dolphins, and other mammals at the SeaWorld parks.  What’s Killing the Orcas at SeaWorld? takes a careful look at the statistics of creatures dying at SeaWorld and quotes trainers, SeaWorld employees, research studies, and animal rights activists in an effort to address the care of marine mammals in captivity and whether they are more likely to die than members of their species in the wild.

Infections seem to be a huge problem for marine mammals in captivity.  Richard’s story reviewed reports that SeaWorld filed with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and calculated that almost 150 orcas, dolphins, sea lions, and beluga whales have died of infections at SeaWorld since 1986, and five dolphins, whales, and sea lions have died of various infections — such as fungal infections, bacterial infections, and inflammation of the brain — since May 2014.

wild-orca-alaska_siThe big point of contention is whether living in captivity contributes to those deaths, as animal rights advocates contend, or whether the creatures at Sea World are no more prone to infections than members of the species living in the wild.  As Richard’s article reports, that’s tough to assess, because there aren’t many reliable studies of the lives of these mammals in their native habitat.  Animal rights advocates argue that creatures that have evolved over millennia to range widely over large areas of ocean, hunt their own food, and form relationships in the wild simply aren’t suited to captivity.  The advocates believe the orcas become stressed (and show it by breaking their teeth chewing on concrete and metal) and the stress makes them more prone to infection.  Richard’s article quotes some former SeaWorld trainers who talk about the constant medication that some of the mammals have received.  And while we don’t know the prevalence of infection deaths in the wild, we do know this — orcas, dolphins, and sea lions have somehow survived and thrived in our oceans for centuries without have to be heavily medicated by human beings.

I should note that SeaWorld has criticized Richard’s story, saying on its blog:  “The article is unfairly critical of SeaWorld and misleads readers with incomplete sets of facts that are presented in a biased way.”  I respectfully disagree.  I think the piece is a fair treatment of an important issue that employs the tools of great investigative journalism, like review of public records, getting quotes from people on both sides of the story and experts, and then trying to piece things together.  The reality is that the death of the marine mammals in the care of SeaWorld is just an uncomfortable topic for SeaWorld.

I’ve never cared much for zoos or places like SeaWorld.  I feel sorry for the animals that are caged, and I think it reflects poorly on us that we keep creatures that are meant to be in the wild penned up for our entertainment.  It’s particularly appalling that we confine marine mammals that show clear signs of intelligence, like orcas, and then have to dope them up to try to keep them alive.  Richard’s story just heightens that view.

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For The Love Of Eggs

There’s an egg shortage in America!  As Richard reported in an article in the San Antonio Express-News a few days ago, the large Texas supermarket chain H-E-B is limiting customers to three cartons of eggs to deal with a shortage caused by the avian flu.  Yesterday the Washington Post carried an article with the scary headline “Egg rationing in America has officially begun.”

Egg rationing?  Yikes!  Chicken Little might say the sky is falling!

But really, can we call limiting consumers to three cartons of eggs “rationing”?  Technically, it’s an accurate use of the word, because H-E-B is limiting the quantity people can purchase.  But you tend to associate rationing with much more stringent limits on supply — like getting one pair of shoes for the entirety of World War II.  Telling people they can only buy 36 eggs during one visit to the grocery store doesn’t really seem impose limits that will affect many people.  Other than kids intent on mischief on a Friday night and the members of the Duggar clan, how many people buy more than 36 eggs at one time, anyway?

I like eggs.  When you think about it, they’re one of the more versatile foods we consume.  They’re great on their own — I like mine over easy or scrambled — but they’re also essential for baking.  And they are a great source of protein.

But I’m a patriotic guy who wants to do what is best for the U.S. of A.  If we’re strapped for eggs, I want to help.  I’m willing to sacrifice.  So I hereby agree that I will voluntarily limit my purchases to less than 36 eggs until this “temporary egg shortage” is over.  And because egg prices are already skyrocketing because the invisible hand is reacting to the shortage, my patriotic gesture incidentally will probably save me a few bucks, too.

Business Blogger

Richard has started his new job at the San Antonio Express-News, and one of the first things he’s done is restart the blog “Shop Talk,” which will collect news about developments in the retail sector in San Antonio.  His first post on the blog is here.

A lot of newspaper work these days is in the social media sphere, on blogs, Twitter feeds, and other outlets that I can’t even begin to identify.  The reality is that many young people are getting their news electronically, and social media also allows news to be published immediately, rather than waiting until next morning’s newspaper.

The retail area, too, is one that is interesting to most people.  Many of us worked in retail at some point in our lives — as a server in a restaurant, as a cashier at the grocery store, or as a sales clerk at a clothing outlet — and virtually everyone shops at retail stores.  As a result of our significant exposure to retail shops, some questions are just intrinsically interesting, like — how much does shoplifting cost stores, and what are the costs, in reputation and potential liability, in pursuing an aggressive no-tolerance policy?  Are all employers requiring applicants to take drug tests and no-smoking pledges these days?  And is it true that clothing manufacturers, recognizing that Americans are becoming portly, have increased the sizes of clothing, so that what is now marked a 32 waist would have been a 34 waist three years ago?

If you’re interested in retail trends, the Shop Talk blog is worth following — as is Richard’s Twitter feed.

Just Call Him Tex

Richard’s last day at the Florida Times-Union was Friday.  He’s left Jacksonville and, as we speak, is driving across the southern rim of the United States, skirting the Gulf of Mexico.  After a stop in New Orleans to visit a friend he’ll make his way to San Antonio, Texas, where he will be starting a job with the San Antonio Express-News.

Richard enjoyed his job at the Times-Union and gained some great experience there — but the opportunity presented at the Express-News was just too good to pass up.  The career of a young journalist tends to be an itinerant one, where moves from one paper to another are common.  Already Richard has worked for four dailies, in Chicago, Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, and San Antonio.  And his move back to San Antonio is a return trip, because he worked there several years ago as an intern.  Richard’s experience shows the value of internships, because the Express-News staff remembered him from his intern days and sought him out for this new position.

So it’s so long to Jacksonville, and hello again to hot and bustling San Antonio, where Richard will be doing special business reporting and investigative reporting.

Richard On The Business Beat

Only his second day on the job, and already Richard has a clip under his belt.

It’s an interesting piece about Gander Mountain, the outdoor and firearms retailer, opening a big new store in the San Antonio area, and more broadly about the increasing demand for guns and ammo in San Antonio and across the country.  I knew that many Americans are arming themselves to the hilt and packing heat as they walk the streets thanks to concealed carry laws, but I had no idea that female-only shooting clubs were a new trend.

The San Antonio Express-News has a very user-friendly website if you want to keep track of Richard’s work on the business beat this summer.  Well done, Richard!

New Job In A New City

Today Richard starts a summer position with the San Antonio Express-News.  It’s a new job, in a new city.  We’ll be thinking of him today, and wishing him well.

We’ve all started new jobs in a new city.  It’s exhilarating, charged with adrenalin . . . and a bit scary.  You’re starting from the ground up.  The most basic elements of daily existence — What’s the best way to get to work?  What radio stations are good?  Where should I shop for groceries?  — are brand spanking new and completely unsettled.

You’re dealing with a new workplace, with its own special rhythms.  You’ve got a new boss, a new desk, and new co-workers, with new rules and expectations and policies.  You don’t know anyone and you don’t have an existing social network to fall back on.  But that can be a good thing, too, forcing you to be a bit more outgoing and interactive.

So you start on your first day, with your social antenna quivering and your energy level cranked up to 11.  You soak up information about your new workplace and your new city like a thirsty sponge.  Then you make friends, and you start to learn interesting things about your new city, and figure out where to hang out, where to eat a good meal, and (in Richard’s case, at least) where to jog.  After a few weeks you’re settled in, and when friends and family visit you can show them around like a quasi-native.

It’s a hugely exciting time.  Good luck, Richard!