January 13, 2014

    Photo: Wikimedia Commons

SeaWorld Expects Record Profit

Amid "Blackfish" controversy, SeaWorld anticipates $1.46 billion for 2013

SeaWorld has battled bad publicity since the release of CNN’s controversial documentary Blackfish early last year. And you'd think after Willie Nelson and other celebrities spoke out against the theme park giant, that the company's numbers would be hurting. But the opposite happened: SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. announced Monday it expects the company's 2013 revenue to be a record $1.46 billion when it officially reports fourth-quarter earnings in March.

Attendance is also at a record-breaking high; of the company's 11 theme parks, the three in Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio combined had the best turn out in the October-through-December quarter.

"We are very pleased with our fourth-quarter performance, particularly for the SeaWorld-branded parks in Orlando and San Diego, which helped us to achieve record revenue for the year," SeaWorld President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Atchison said in a prepared statement.

Given the success of the early earnings preview, SeaWorld hopes to challenge those who believe the company has been stunted by backlash from the documentary, and maintains that the film is inaccurate and misleading.

Read more about the controversy in "The Killer in the Pool," the story behind the Blackfish documentary.





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Mackey and one of his dogs.     Photo: Tom Fowlks

Mackey’s Hard Times Continue

More setbacks for the Iditarod legend

When I went to Fairbanks to visit Lance Mackey last winter, I knew I was meeting one of dog-sled racing’s greatest champions on the downslide of his success. Even so, the relentlessly optimistic Mackey was feeling good about his chances at a comeback.

It didn’t happen, and since then Mackey has endured more than his share of setbacks. Zorro, the beloved long-time anchor of his kennel, died in June. Last week came news that Mackey himself was back in the hospital, a place he knows all too well. Radiation from the cancer treatments that saved Mackey’s life back in 2001 had caused most of his teeth to fall out and severely weakened his jawbone, but now he had to undergo surgery to remove the last two teeth he had. He was also two-thirds of the way through a series of 30 hyperbaric-oxygen treatments that could strengthen his jawbone enough to support artificial teeth.

Mackey has health insurance, but it apparently doesn’t cover oral surgery. He recently told a reporter for the Alaska Dispatch that he wasn’t sure how he would pay the $30,000 in bills for this and subsequent treatments. Musher Kirsten Ballard quickly set up a fund-raising website, and fans of Mackey have already contributed more than a third of the total. “Why am I doing it?” Ballard said to the Dispatch. “Because Lance won’t ask and because I care.”

Read more about Lance Mackey and his quest to keep on mushing.

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    Photo: Getty Images/Ingram Publishing

Caffeine Enhances Memory

Pour yourself another cup.

That morning cup of coffee or lunchtime soda might serve a purpose beyond giving you a jolt of energy. According to a new study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, caffeine enhances memory.

Participants in the study took placebos or 200-milligram caffeine tablets—the same amount of the chemical found in a strong cup of coffee—after studying images. The next day, those who took the caffeine remembered the images better, indicating an improvement in a type of cognition known as pattern separation. The study emphasized the effects of consuming the caffeine after, rather than before, studying.

The John Hopkins findings come hot on the heels of a study by researchers at the University of Birmingham, which concluded that moderate coffee consumption does not cause dehydration.

Now that your coffee habit is scientifically sanctioned, check out this nifty grinder for backcountry brewing.

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Another skier has died at Whitefish Mountain Resort after he fell into a tree well Saturday.     Photo: Andre Charland/Flickr

Skier Dies in Tree Well

Third related death at resort

A 54-year-old man who was skiing with his son at Whitefish Mountain Resort died Saturday after he fell into a tree well.  

The son, realizing he was alone when he got to the bottom of the run, hiked up the mountain to look for his father, the Missoulian reported. When he retraced the route, he found his father’s skis sticking out from the area of loose snow surrounding a tree's trunk.  

This is the third such death at the Montana resort since 2010, when a German exchange student fell into one of the voids while skiing on a groomed run. The student’s family filed suit against the ski area and their son's host family earlier this month. In 2011, a snowboarder took a fatal fall into a tree well at the resort.

According to a snow safety organization, most tree-well fatalities happen when a rider becomes immobilized in the snow and suffocates.   

“The number one problem with a tree well hazard is that people just discount it,” say Paul Baugher, ski patrol director at Crystal Mountain. “You think, ‘Oh, that’s funny. Someone upside down in a tree well with skis sticking out.’ But this is a serious situation." 

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Will killing one black rhino for 350k help save the rest?     Photo: Johan Swanepoel/Thinkstock

Killing One Rhino to Save the Rest

$350,000 hunting permit auctioned off in the name of conservation

The Dallas Safari Club successfully auctioned off a permit to kill a Namibian black rhino this weekend. The permit sold for $350,000, which will reportedly be used in the name of conservation. The idea is simple: Kill one black rhino to save the rest.

The Dallas Safari Club has worked closely with the Namibian government to track two or three geriatric male rhinos, which do not contribute to reproduction, as the targets for the hunt. All $350,000 from the auctioned permit will be given to the Namibian government, specially earmarked for conservation efforts.

"This is the best way to have the biggest impact on increasing the black rhino population," explains Ben Carter, executive director of the Dallas Safari Club. 

Black rhinos are considered a "critically endangered species" by wildlife groups around the world, according to reports from CNN. Some 5,000 black rhinos are estimated to exist, with 1,700 of those being in Namibia. Recently, the conservation-minded Namibian government has been issuing up to three black rhino permits annually to raise conservation money domestically. This will be the first sold outside the country.

The hunt has sparked uproar from the wildlife conservation community. "They need to be protected, not sold to the highest bidder," said Jeffrey Flocken of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Inarguably, the biggest threat to the black rhinos is the poachers who sell the horns on the black market for up to $60,000 per kilogram. 

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The skull of Paranthropus boisei.     Photo: Bjorn Christian Torrissen/Wikimedia

The 'Nutcracker Man' Diet

Paleolithic ancestors ate tiger nuts.

An Oxford University study published last Wednesday concluded that Paranthropus boisei, an early hominin living alongside the direct ancestors of modern humans, survived on a diet previously thought to be inconceivable.

For 50 years, anthropologists debated how this extinct, strong-jawed relative of humans, called "Nutcracker Man," found enough nutrients to support its large brain as it roamed East Africa between 2.4 million and 1.4 million years ago. Fresh analysis indicates that tiger nuts (edible grass bulbs high in minerals, vitamins, and fatty acids) constituted 80 percent of its diet. A side-order of worms and grasshoppers likely composed the remainder.

The study's author, Gabriele Macho, studied modern-day baboons in Kenya to draw her conclusions because baboons share many similarities with Nutcracker Man. Both baboons and the ancient human relative share similar environments and have similar wear on their teeth

"I believe that the theory—that 'Nutcracker Man' lived on large amounts of tiger nuts—helps settle the debate about what our early human ancestors ate," Macho said in a statement. "This is why these hominins were able to survive for around one million years because they could successfully forage—even through periods of climatic change."

Macho estimated that Nutcracker Man took nearly three hours to consume 2,000 calories. In contrast, Molly Schuyler ate 72 ounces of steak in less than three minutes on Friday. Look how far we've evolved:


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A curious gray whale.     Photo: James Michael Dorsey

Whale Gatherings Baffle Scientists

Record numbers off the California coast

Gray whales are a common sight along the California coast, but now their numbers are spiking to unprecedented levels, and scientists have no idea why. Three hundred sixty-eight whales were spotted off the coast in December, up from just 182 in the same month last year.

"It could have to do with currents, it could have to do with temperature or salinity," Gray Whale Census Project Director Alisa Schulman-Janiger told CBS News. "It doesn't have to do with food because they don't eat on south- or north-bound migration."

Whale-watching outfitters are overjoyed at the sudden spike in gray whale populations. "We've seen more whales than I have ever seen in my 20 years or so of being a captain," said Dan Salas of Captain Dave's Dolphin & Whale Watching Safari. Owner Dave Anderson reported as many 75 whale encounters in December, up from 21 last year.

Researchers say that they've seen an increase in the number of calves traveling in the pods and believe that could mean good things for the once-endangered species. "It could very well mean that more are coming down because they're pregnant and ready to give birth, and others are coming down ready to get pregnant for the next year," said Schulman-Janiger.

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