Shamu performs at San Diego SeaWorld in 2009.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Frat Bros Break into SeaWorld

Steal ice cream, take selfies

Lots of frat boys live by the motto "go hard or go home," but those words usually apply to binge drinking and dangerous stunts, not activities that most elementary schoolers would enjoy. At 2 a.m. Thursday, five University of Houston frat brothers allegedly broke into SeaWorld San Antonio in search of ice cream and animals to take pictures with.

Their results were decidedly mixed. According to Huffington Post and San Antonio Express-News reports, the bros climbed a tree near a perimeter fence to enter the park. Once they got in, they embarked on a quest for ice cream. Somewhat surprisingly, the guys were successful, breaking into a storage container and stealing Dippin' Dots.

That's when things went awry. As the frat bros searched for animals to pose with, police arrived—they had been called by security guards who spotted the trespassers. Three of the intruders escaped, but authorities apprehended a 23-year-old and an 18-year old, subsequently charging them with criminal trespassing and theft under $500. Police have still not confirmed whether the students obtained the pictures they so fervently sought.

In a busy week for SeaWorld news, last night's kerfuffle isn't the only recent development for the network of 11 theme parks. The Wall Street Journal reports that yesterday afternoon, the company reported that fourth-quarter losses widened in 2013 due to operating costs and a drop in admission. Even for a year with record profits, this was somewhat expected; theme park attendance spikes in warmer months, meaning that such companies usually operate at a loss during the first and fourth quarters. Still, SeaWorld lost more at the end of 2013 than the end of 2012: $13.5 million versus $8.8 million.

What else has been going on with SeaWorld? For one, they continue to litigate with the U.S. Department of Labor regarding conduct of the investigator who scrutinized the company's practices following the 2010 killing of a trainer by an orca whale at an Orlando park.

Additionally, New York Daily News reports that Steve Irwin wasn't the only member of his family in the news this week. His 15-year-old daughter, Bindi, has come under fire for accepting the title of SeaWorld's "Youth Ambassador." Animal activists and even her own grandfather condemned her association with the company, alleging it'll tarnish her late father's name.


A school of manini graze on algae surrounding a coral reef in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.     Photo: USFWS — Pacific Region/Flickr

The Incredible Hawaiian Marine Ecosystem

Most species exclusive to region

The Northwestern Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) don't get a lot of attention. This collection of about 10 tiny land masses and atolls constitutes just a collective 3.1 square miles, but next time you're in Hawaii, consider striking out their way. You'll discover an unparalleled haven of biological diversity.

A new study published in the Bulletin of Marine Science claims that the coral reefs in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument (PMNM) might contain the highest percentage of fish species found nowhere else on Earth.

Scientists call these types of regional-exclusive species "endemic species." The Hawaiian Archipelago has long been known for its wealth of endemic species, both on land and in water, but the new study provides stats that suggest there are more of these species than previously thought.

In reefs located in shallow waters—less than 100 feet deep—21 percent of fish species are endemic. If you plunge to a depth between 100 and 300 feet, nearly 50 percent of the species will be unique to the Hawaiian Archipelago. Intrepid adventurers willing to go deeper than that will stumble across ecosystems where more than 90 percent of the species are endemic.

The islands, atolls, and underwater habitats that compose the NWHI are already the largest protected area in the United States. The new findings underscore the significance of that protection.

The fish species you'll find only in Hawaii include the Hawaiian squirrelfish, chocolate dip chromis, masked angelfish, and blueline butterflyfish.

So, scuba-diving and snorkeling hipsters: Are you ready to travel to the most unique marine ecosystem on the planet? We'll save a seat for you at the evening luau.


OutsideOnline News Avalanche

Crystal Mountain ski patrol started the avalanche with 40 lb. charge as a safety precaution     Photo: Courtesy of Stohke/Vimeo

Deadly Week of Avalanches

New video of Crystal Mountain slide

Another deadly wave of avalanches struck the western part of the country this week. A ski patrol-triggered avalanche wiped out a chairlift at Washington’s Crystal Mountain, where fortunately no one was hurt. However, two Montana avalanches and a slide in Utah each claimed a life.

Zach Junkermeier, an 18-year-old snowmobiler from Minnesota, was killed by a slide in southwestern Montana on Tuesday afternoon. Junkermeier was stuck on a slope attempting to start his snowmobile when another rider sparked an avalanche just above him. He was found nearly two hours later in the debris, which was reported to be 500 feet wide and 20 feet deep in some places.

A snowmobiler was also trapped and killed by an avalanche in northern Utah on Friday, March 8. He was riding through the Uinta Mountains near Whitney Reservoir when the slide occurred.

Another southwestern Montana avalanche killed a backcountry skier on Monday near the small town of Philipsburg. Peter Maxwell, 27, was with a group of six other skiers when he was trapped by the slide. The Granite County Sheriff's Office said that Maxwell likely started the slide on his own. The other skiers in the group were able to dig out Maxwell but were unable to revive him.

Also on Monday, ski patrollers deliberately initiated an avalanche that gathered more power and snow than expected, wiping out a chairlift at Crystal Mountain in Washington. Patrollers threw a 40-pound explosive on an unstable slope as a normal and common safety precaution. A new video (below) from Stohke was just released, which shows the devastation after the slide. 

Since December 26, 23 people have died in avalanches nationwide, according to reports from the Colorado Avalanche Information Center.


A baby gorilla (not shown) was born at the San Diego Zoo on Wednesday.     Photo: MarcoGovel/Getty Images

Gorilla Born Through C-Section

At San Diego Zoo

When the San Diego Zoo’s gorilla Imani went into labor Thursday, she was surrounded by more medical personnel than most human mothers get.

A veterinary surgeon and human neonatal specialists from UCSD Medical Center helped San Diego Zoo staff deliver the 4.6-pound baby gorilla, but the labor still wasn’t easy. Imani kept struggling, and ultimately the infant was born through cesarean section—a rarity for captive gorillas.

For now, the baby gorilla will remain in the veterinary hospital due to complications from the difficult birth.

In more baby animal news, the Taronga Zoo in Australia recently welcomed its newest star—a baby kangaroo so young she doesn’t have a name yet. The first Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo born at the zoo in more than 20 years, she’s a success for the global breeding program working to save the endangered species.

Although the kangaroo was born in September, she’s only now peeking out of her mother’s pouch. And she’s pretty adorable.


Albino redwood

An albino (mutant lacking chlorophyll) redwood in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, northern California.     Photo: WolfmanSF/Wikimedia

Rare Albino Redwood to Be Cut Down

Only 10 such trees exist in the world

There are only 10 albino redwoods in the world, and one of them is in danger of being cut down to make room for a commuter rail system.

As Reuters reports, a 52-foot albino chimera coast redwood in Cotati, California, stands 12 feet away from a planned stretch of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit line, which begins construction next month.

"To lose this tree would be an absolutely huge loss to science and the ability to study albinism in redwoods," arborist Tom Stapleton told Reuters.

Only about 200 of the white-needle evergreens are known to exist in the world, all of them in California. But far more rare are redwoods such as this tree, an albino chimera coast redwood with two sets of DNA that produce multicolored needles.

"They're often called the phantoms of the forest," albino coast redwood expert Sandy Lydon told Reuters. Northern California arborists are fighting city officials and the rail agency to make sure this phantom of the forest doesn't become an actual ghost.


Exposure to Takeout Increases Obesity

Travel a different route home today

Takeout food is convenient and delicious—especially if your favorite taco truck parks outside your office. But a new paper published on Thursday recommends packing a healthier lunch. Researchers found that people exposed to takeaway food near their homes or offices are more likely to be obese.

Data from 10,452 participants in the UK found that the people who were exposed to 49 or more fast food outlets near their house, office, or on the way to either ate about 40 grams of extra fat per week and had a higher body mass index, the Telegraph reports.

Results also showed that as obesity rates rise, so does the number of takeout spots near businesses. People in the study were exposed to 48 percent more takeaway outlets at work than at home. The average exposure combining home and work neighborhoods and commuting routes was 32 outlets.

Last time we checked, there were a few signs of spring (sunlight peeking through clouds of wintry despair, flowers poking up from fresh dirt). If you’re looking to improve your figure before the tanks and tees come out, maybe skip the burger joint on the way home from work.