kinyuHistoire naturelle des dorades de la Chine, Edme Billardon-Sauvigny (1736 – 1812), gravées par F.N. Martinet accompagnée d’observations et d’anecdotes relatives aux usages, aux moeurs et au gouvernement de cet empire par m. de Sauvigny


“Because fishes inhabit vast, obscure habitats, science has only begun to explore below the surface of their private lives. They are not instinct-driven or machinelike. Their minds respond flexibly to different situations. They are not just things; they are sentient beings.”

In his new book, What A Fish Knows: The Inner Lives Of Our Underwater Cousins, Jonathan Balcombe presents evidence that fish have a conscious awareness that allows them to experience pain, recognize individual humans and have memory.
“Thanks to the breakthroughs in ethology, sociobiology, neurobiology and ecology, we can now better understand what the world looks like to fish,” Balcombe says.

“They are the product of over 400 million years of evolution so the perceptions and sensory abilities of fish” . . . whether strange to us or very familiar, are wonderfully developed.
“One is a sense of water pressure or movement in the water that’s very acute. Some fishes, including sharks, can detect electrical signals from other organisms.
Some can create electric organ discharges, and they use those as communication signals. They will change their own frequency if they’re swimming by another fish with a similar frequency, so they don’t jam and confuse each other. They also show deference by shutting off their EODs when they’re passing the fish who holds that territory.

At low tide, frillfin gobies hide in rocky tide pools. If danger lurks — a hungry octopus, say — the goby will jump to a neighboring tide pool, with remarkable accuracy. How do they avoid ending up stranded on the rocks?
A series of captive experiments dating from the 1940s found something remarkable. They memorize the tide pool layout while swimming over it at high tide. They can do it in one try, and remember it 40 days later. So much for a fish’s mythic three-second memory.

On reefs, collaborative hunting has developed an astonishing degree of sophistication. A grouper has been observed inviting a moray eel to join in a foray, communicating by a head-shaking gesture or a full body shimmy. The two fishes probably know each other, for individual recognition is the norm in fish societies.
If the grouper chases a fish into a reef crevice, it uses its body to point to the hidden prey until the slender eel goes after it; if the hapless quarry escapes to open water, the grouper is waiting.

In a study of striated surgeon-fishes collected from the Great Barrier Reef, researchers stressed their subjects by placing them, one at a time, for 30 minutes in a bucket with just enough water to cover them.
When given the chance, the frazzled surgeon-fishes repeatedly sidled up to a realistic mechanical model of a cleaner-fish that was rigged to deliver gentle strokes. Their stress levels — measured as cortisol taken by blood sample — plummeted.
One study showed individual recognition of human faces by fishes–so they probably do recognize individual divers–and they come up to be stroked.

If temporary confinement to a small bucket traumatizes a fish, think what it feels like to be caught. Every year, an estimated half trillion fishes are hauled up from their habitat.
They die by suffocation and crushing in order to provide food for us, our pets and livestock, and even for the fishes we farm. That, or we toss them back, usually dead or dying, as unwanted by-catch.

Some of the methods to catch fish for acquariums are pretty awful: Cyanide poisoning, which often kills many of the fishes being targeted– or ones not being targeted– and explosive devices are sometimes used.
And then you have the vicissitudes of transport, where they’re shipped over continents and the mortality rates are high.
So we are campaigning actively to try to discourage people from buying these fishes, because when you purchase a product, you tell the manufacturer to do it again, and we don’t really want that happening

The simplest way to help is to reduce our consumption of fish and to source what we do eat from suppliers that adhere to animal welfare standards.
As innovative research reveals new facets of the private lives of fishes, I’m hopeful that perceptions will change and we’ll show them more mercy.”


N.Y. Times 5/15/2016

Fresh Air 6/20/2016



rusk inJohn Ruskin (1819 – 1900)
Rocks in Unrest


Phoebe Sarah Marks  was born on 28 April 1854, in Hampshire, England. She was the third child of a Polish-Jewish watchmaker named Levi Marks, an immigrant from Tsarist Poland; and Alice Theresa Moss, a seamstress. Her father died in 1861, leaving Sarah’s mother with seven children and an eighth expected. Sarah took up some of the responsibility for caring for the younger children.
At the age of nine, Sarah was invited by her aunts, who ran a school in London, to live with her cousins and be educated with them.
In her teens she adopted the name “Hertha” after the heroine of a poem by Algernon Charles Swinburne that criticized organised religion.

By age 16, she was working as a governess, but  George Eliot supported Ayrton’s application to Girton College, Cambridge.
Eliot was writing her novel Daniel Deronda at the time. One of the novel’s characters, Mirah, was said to be based on Ayrton.
During her time at Cambridge, Ayrton constructed a sphygmomanometer, led the choral society, founded the Girton fire brigade, and, together with Charlotte Scott, formed a mathematical club. In 1880, Ayrton passed the Mathematical Tripos, but Cambridge did not grant her an academic degree because, at the time, Cambridge gave only certificates and not full degrees to women.

Upon her return to London, Ayrton earned money by teaching and embroidery, ran a club for working girls, and cared for her invalid sister.
She was also active in devising and solving mathematical problems, many of which were published in “Mathematical Questions and Their Solutions” from the Educational Times.
In 1884 Ayrton patented a line-divider, an engineering drawing instrument for dividing a line into any number of equal parts and for enlarging and reducing figures. Its primary use was likely for artists for enlarging and diminishing, but it was also useful to architects and engineers. From then until her death, Hertha registered 26 patents.

That year Ayrton began attending evening classes on electricity at Finsbury Technical College, delivered by Professor William Edward Ayrton, a pioneer in electrical engineering and physics, and a fellow of the Royal Society.
In 1899, she was the first woman ever to read her own paper before the Institution of Electrical Engineers. Her paper was entitled “The Hissing of the Electric Arc”. Shortly thereafter, Ayrton was elected the first female member; the next woman to be admitted to the IEE was in 1958.
She petitioned to present a paper before the Royal Society but was not allowed because of her sex, and “The Mechanism of the Electric Arc” was read by John Perry in her stead in 1901.
Ayrton was also the first woman to win a prize from the Society, the Hughes Medal, awarded to her in 1906 in honour of her research on the motion of ripples in sand and water and her work on the electric arc.

By the late nineteenth century, Ayrton’s work in the field of electrical engineering was recognised more widely. At the International Congress of Women held in London in 1899, she presided over the physical science section, and she spoke at the International Electrical Congress in Paris in 1900. Her success there led the British Association for the Advancement of Science to allow women to serve on general and sectional committees.

Ayrton’s interest in vortices in water and air inspired the Ayrton fan, used in the trenches in the First World War to dispel poison gas.
She helped found the International Federation of University Women in 1919 and the National Union of Scientific Workers in 1920.

Two years after her death in 1923, Ayrton’s lifelong friend Ottilie Hancock endowed the Hertha Ayrton Research Fellowship at Girton College, which continues today.


Altered Planet

wyeth 1 treeAndrew Newell Wyeth (1917 – 2009)
Detail, Snow Hill


by Robert Macfarlane

In 2003 the Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht  coined the term solastalgia to mean a “form of psychic or existential distress caused by environmental change”.

Albrecht was studying the effects of long-term drought and large-scale mining activity on communities in New South Wales, when he realised that no word existed to describe the unhappiness of people whose landscapes were being transformed about them by forces beyond their control.
He proposed his new term to describe this distinctive kind of homesickness.

Albrecht’s coinage is part of an emerging lexis for what we are increasingly calling the “Anthropocene”: the new epoch of geological time in which human activity is considered such a powerful influence on the environment, climate and ecology of the planet that it will leave a long-term signature in the strata record.
And what a signature it will be:
We have bored more than 31 million miles of holes in our search for oil.
We remove mountain tops to get at the coal they contain.
The oceans dance with billions of tiny plastic beads.
Weaponry tests have dispersed artificial radionuclides globally.
The burning of rainforests for monoculture production sends out killing smog-palls that settle into the sediment across entire countries.
We have become titanic geological agents, our legacy legible for millennia to come.

Plastics in particular are being taken as a key marker for the Anthropocene.
We currently produce around 100 million tonnes of plastic globally each year.
Because plastics are inert and difficult to degrade, some of this plastic material will find its way into the strata record. Among the future fossils of the Anthropocene, therefore, might be the trace forms not only of megafauna and nano-planktons, but also shampoo bottles and deodorant caps – the strata that contain them precisely dateable with reference to the product-design archives of multinationals.
What will survive of us is plastic – and lead-207, the stable isotope at the end of the uranium-235 decay chain.

Recent publications indicate that scientists will recommend the designation of the Anthropocene, and that the “stratigraphically optimal” temporal limit will be located somewhere in the mid-20th century.

This places the start of the Anthropocene simultaneous with the start of the nuclear age.
It also coincides with the so-called “Great Acceleration”, when massive increases occurred in population, carbon emissions, species invasions and extinctions, and when the production and discard of metals, concrete and plastics boomed.
Jason W Moore argues that the Anthropocene is not the geology of a species at all, but rather the geology of a system, capitalism – and as such should be rechristened the Capitalocene.

In 2010 Timothy Morton adopted the term hyperobject to denote some of the characteristic entities of the Anthropocene. Hyperobjects are “so massively distributed in time, space and dimensionality” that they defy our perception, let alone our comprehension.
Among the examples Morton gives of hyperobjects are climate change, mass species extinction and radioactive plutonium. “In one sense hyperobjects are abstractions,” he notes, “in another they are ferociously, catastrophically real.”

We are living through what is popularly known as the 6th great extinction

A third of all amphibian species are at risk of extinction.
A fifth of the globe’s 5,500 known mammals are classified as endangered, threatened or vulnerable.
The current extinction rate for birds may be faster than any recorded across the 150 million years of avian evolutionary history.
We exist in an ongoing biodiversity crisis – but register that crisis, if at all, as an ambient hum of guilt, easily faded out.

A remarkable artwork by the American writer and conservation biologist Julianne Lutz Warren is called “Hopes Echo”.
It concerns the huia, a bird of New Zealand that was made extinct in the early 20th century due to habitat destruction, introduced predators and overhunting for its black and ivory tail feathers.

The huia vanished before field-recording technologies existed, but a version of its song has survived by means of an eerie series of preservations: a sound fossil.
In order to lure the birds to their snares, the Maori people learned to mimic the huia song. This mimicked song was passed down between generations, a practice that continued even after the huia was gone. In 1954 a pakeha (a European New Zealander) called RAL Bateley made a recording of a Maori man, Henare Hamana, whistling his imitation of the huia’s call. Warren’s exhibit makes Bateley’s crackly recording available.
It is, as Warren puts it, “a soundtrack of the sacred voices of extinct birds echoing in that of a dead man echoing out of a machine echoing through the world today”.

Many of the new words we have had to invent are ugly coinages for an ugly epoch.
Taken in sum, they speak of our stuttering attempts to describe just what it is we have done.

excerpted from, Generation Anthropocene



Different Kinds of Air

A man, like  mouse, should have more than one avenue of escapeA man, like a mouse, should have more than one avenue of escape
Joris Hoefnagel (1542 – 1604)

                    Observations on Different Kinds of Air
. . . . I flatter myself that I have accidentally hit upon a method of restoring air which has been injured by the burning of candles, and that I have discovered at least one of the restoratives which nature employs for this purpose. It is vegetation. In what manner this process in nature operates, to produce so remarkable an effect, I do not pretend to have discovered; but a number of facts declare in favour of this hypothesis…
One might have imagined that, since common air is necessary to vegetable, as well as to animal life, both plants and animal had affected it in the same manner, and I own that I had that expectation, when I first put a sprig of mint into a glass-jar, standing inverted in a vessel of water; but when it had continued growing there for some months, I found that the air would neither extinguish a candle, nor was it at all inconvenient to a mouse, which I put into it.
…Accordingly, on the 17th of August 1771, I put a sprig of mint into a quantity of air, in which a wax candle had burned out, and found that, on the 27th of the same month, another candle burned perfectly well in it. This experiment I repeated, without least variation in the event, not less than eight or ten times in the remainder of the summer.
Joseph Priestley (24 March 1733 – 6 February 1804)

In 1771, about the time of the first stirrings of the industrial revolution and its appetite for fossil fuel, an English minister grasped key processes of the natural carbon cycle. In a series of ingenious experiments, Joseph Priestley found that flames and animals’ breath “injure” the air in a sealed jar, making it unwholesome to breathe. But a green sprig of mint, he found, could restore its goodness. Priestley could not name the gases responsible, but we know now that the fire and respiration used up oxygen and gave off carbon dioxide. The mint reversed both processes. Photosynthesis took up the carbon dioxide, converted it into plant tissue, and gave off oxygen as a by-product.

The world is just a bigger jar. Tens of billions of tons of carbon a year pass between land and the atmosphere: given off by living things as they breathe and decay and taken up by green plants, which produce oxygen. A similar traffic in carbon, between marine plants and animals, takes place within the waters of the ocean. And nearly a hundred billion tons of carbon diffuse back and forth between ocean and atmosphere.

In other words:
Alone in a sealed jar, a mouse would die from exhaled CO2. But as Priestley observed in 1771, adding a plant allows the mouse to thrive. In this proof of photosynthesis, the mint absorbed CO2, retained carbon for growth, and released oxygen


An Attempt

herbst lobster

Johann Friedrich Wilhelm Herbst (1743-1807) was a German naturalist and entomologist, and a theologian and chaplain for the Prussian army.

Versuch einer Naturgeschichte der Krabben und Krebse’ (An attempt at The Natural History of Crabs and Lobsters)
was possibly the first comprehensive work on the crustaceans and definitely included descriptions and illustrations of previously unknown species.
It was released in instalments between about 1782 and the mid-1790s. There were three volumes of text and an atlas consisting of more than sixty hand-coloured engravings. Various editions were issued, some coloured, some not, and some coloured later.

It is still regarded as a primary source in the field.

Preserved at Various Depths

sowerby shell

Copper plate engravings in black printing ink, hand colored with watercolor, with iron gall ink and graphite inscriptions, from
“Mineral conchology of Great Britain, or, Coloured figures and descriptions of those remains of testaceous animals, or shells which have been preserved at various times, and depths in the earth” by James Sowerby (1757 – 1822)

The Pilot Boat

Richard Dadd
“What’s the use of attempting the enlightenment? What a number of times the destroying angel has triumphed over the different nations of the earth – sucking them up & knocking them down”

Richard Dadd  (1 August 1817 – 7 January 1886)

Published in: on October 2, 2013 at 3:41 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , , , ,



Fragile Legacy

Portuguese Man-O'-War, Watercolor illustrations after John White, 1585-1593

Portuguese Man-O’-War, Watercolor illustrations after John White, 1585-1593


MAUNA LANI REEF, Hawaii — After a long, cold swim in the dark, we spotted it on the night reef with our dive lights: Octopus ornatus, the ornate octopus, a foot-long creature in an amber shade of orange with bright white spots and dashes along all its arms.

It sat stolidly in the light of the camera, 30 feet below the surface, unfazed by the attention. I reached out a finger and it touched me with its suctioned tentacles. When it scuttled in the other direction, I herded it between my cupped hands as it watched me attentively with searching golden eyes.

As if levitating, it smoothly lifted off and tried to jet over my head, but slowly enough that I could catch it gently in midair — like handling a large bird, albeit one with eight sticky tentacles. Holding it at eye level, I looked into its eyes. I felt connected, sort of an octopus whisperer.

Then a tentacle slapped the front of my mask. The octopus crawled up my arm and vanished into the night.

. . . We are on a quest to lure these elusive and delicate invertebrates in front of the camera lens.

Our inspiration springs from an unlikely source: a collection of 570 superbly wrought, anatomically perfect glass sculptures of marine creatures from the 19th century.

These delicate folds and strands of glass make up the Blaschka collection of glass invertebrates at Cornell

. . . Our quest is also to use the Blaschka collection as a time capsule, to take a snapshot of change.
How many of these creatures that were so common 150 years ago can still be found today?

The oceans are changing rapidly, with a 30 percent increase in acidity in the last 200 years, lethally stressful warming in many tropical seas, and significant coastal pollution and overfishing just about everywhere. If ever there was a time to compare the plentiful past with an ocean in jeopardy, that time would be now.

C. Drew Harvell is the associate director for environment at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell, and curator of the Cornell Collection of Blaschka Invertebrate Models.