Thursday, July 24, 2008

cassowaries and sharks

Copyright (c) 2006 Wendee Holtcamp
My adorable kids under a ginormous staghorn fern in the rainforest in the center of Australia's Fraser Island, the world's largest sand island - and a World Heritage Site.

I'm starting to get excited about my upcoming trip to Australia! I leave August 5th for a couple days in L.A. and then on to Australia. I am going to spend a few days in Mission Beach and talk to people who are working on cassowary conservation. Cassowaries are an endangered bird that lives in the rainforests. They are relatives of emus and ostriches, and really cool. And there's only around 900 left in the wild! The recent Cyclones that have struck the Australian coast have wreaked havoc on their habitat, and many people started feeling sorry for them and started leaving fruit out to feed them. Well that turned out to not be such a good idea... it led to a lot more car strikes and dead birds. So feeding cassowaries was recently made illegal. There's a rehabilitation center led by the Australian Rainforest Foundation that works with injured birds, and I'm trying to also meet with some biologists studying the birds.

I first learned about cassowaries when I was at the School for Field Studies (SFS) Center for Rainforest Studies in Fall of 1990 as a college student, and was fascinated that they're the only bird that can "scarify" certain rainforest seeds. Many seeds must pass through the gut of an animal to germinate, but some rainforest trees have fruits with seeds so large that only the cassowary can eat them. There are not any large mammals in Australia and the cassowary is the biggest animal there! So if it goes extinct, many rainforest species may go extinct also.

Speaking of SFS, remember how I went back to the Center when I had a couple extra days at the tail end of the first trip in April, after the shark blog work, and I gave a talk to the current students? Part of this "Visiting Alumni" program was that I also write a short article about the visit and my career for their Alumni newsletter, and you can read it here, Wendee Finlay Holtcamp: Return to Warrawee.

Also mark your calendars, the documentary that was being filmed during my shark blog work, Mysteries of the Shark Coast (formerly called Expedition Shark) airs in the U.S. during Thursday of Shark Week which is July 31st at 9pm EST, and that is 8pm my time (Central)! We're having a viewing party!! Unless I got cut out, I may be in the documentary background as the "shark nurse" handing biologist Richard Fitzpatrick tools as he surgically inserts the radio transmitters into the whitetip reef sharks at Osprey Reef.

Last year during the 20th anniversary, Discovery Channel got a lot of grief because they focused so much on shark attacks. This year they changed their tune and focus much more on conservation and the ways we humans have attacked sharks!

(Image Copyright (c) 2008 John Rumney)

Last but not least, check out the new Sharkrunners Game Season 2: Australia - the Great Barrier Reef, which I wrote the "facts" for... it is all based on the actual data Richard et al collected on real sharks, their movements are tracked from the transmitters that were put in while I was at Osprey Reef! (they put some in at other times too, but... still! Cool!)

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