January 27, 2015

Miami Seaquarium has had Lolita for 44 years.     Photo: LEONARDO DASILVA/Flickr

Campaign to Free Orca Gains Momentum

Protestors demand release of whale captive for 44 years

Demonstrators have been rallying to free a killer whale named Lolita for more than a year now. This month, activists launched a campaign to add Lolita to a list of endangered whales off the Washington coast. The designation would enable a lawsuit to release her under the Endangered Species Act.

Lolita has lived for 44 years in a small enclosure at Miami Seaquarium. Animal rights activists have championed her cause for decades; the latest plan is to release her into a netted pen off Washington’s San Juan Islands, where she will train to rejoin a pod. Approximately 1,000 protestors gathered outside the venue earlier this month to demand her release.

“They’ll be able to communicate and begin reforming that bond that was broken 40 years ago,” Howard Garrett, director of the Orca Network, told Reuters.

The plight of captive orcas has gained attention since Lolita was the subject of a 2003 documentary, Lolita: Slave to Entertainment, and after the popular 2013 documentary Blackfish, about the 2010 killing of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau.

Lolita was captured off Seattle in 1970, when she was about 10 years old, and relocated to Miami Seaquarium, where she has been living in an 80-by-60-foot pen ever since. Officials at Seaquarium think that releasing Lolita could be fatal. “This is a nonreleasable animal,” curator Robert Rose told Reuters. If released, “she’s going to die, without question,” he said. In 2002, Keiko, the orca from the 1993 film Free Willy, died of pneumonia after failing to join a pod upon his release.


Xanterra has applied to trademark most businesses on the South Rim, including Phantom Ranch (pictured).     Photo: Grand Canyon National Park/Flickr

Law May Nullify National Park Trademarks

Historic names could belong to feds

Attempts by concessionaires to trademark several iconic National Park property names could be stymied by a section of the U.S. Code. The issue was called into question this week when news emerged that Xanterra Parks and Resorts, which operates lodges at the Grand Canyon, had applied to trademark its properties there.

Section 302106 of bill HR 1068 gives the National Park Service the right to “retain the name historically associated with the building or structure” if the building is deemed a landmark or worthy of the National Register of Historic Places.

Xanterra isn’t the only concessionaire sizing up its National Park holdings. Last summer, Delaware North, a contractor in Yosemite, placed a $51 million valuation on intellectual property it held in Yosemite, including trademarks on the Ahwahnee Hotel and Curry Village, according to National Parks Traveler. But given that parks like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon have many sites and districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places or as National Historic Landmarks, those trademarks could be rendered null and void.

Dan Jensen, president of Delaware North, told National Parks Traveler that he’d never heard of Section 302106, which was passed into law as part of HR 1068 in December. “I really don’t know what to make of it,” he said.

If trademarks were to be granted to Xanterra or another concessionaire, future park contractors that operated the hotels would have to pay whoever holds the rights to the iconic lodge names. The Park Service announced last week that it received at least two bids for the Yosemite contract and expects to name the winner this summer, according to National Parks Traveler.


Astronauts usually drink from plastic bags, but the new design allows for an open-cup experience.     Photo: NASA/Flickr

Antigravity Espresso Cup Released

Developed for sipping in space

After a year of work, Portland State researchers have developed a cup that will allow astronauts to successfully sip espresso (and other warm, frothy drinks) in low-gravity environments, according to the university.

The typical coffee mug does not work in such environments, so astronauts suck most liquids out of a plastic bag. Researchers started working on the open-top cup—an evolution of a low-gravity cup developed on the International Space Station in the 1990s—after Italy announced that it would send an espresso machine to the ISS later this year.

Researchers used mathematical models to determine the shape of the espresso cup, which looks a bit like a baby boot. The vessel’s geometric shapes and curves are designed to encourage the controlled movement of liquid.

Mark Weislogel, a professor of mechanical and materials engineering, said that the science used in the cup’s development has other fluidic system applications. “It’s a fast way to get a bunch of engineering and science data,” he told Wired. “Also it’s fun.”

The reusable cup, which is still in the testing stage, costs $500 to 3D-print in transparent plastic.

  Photo: Portland State University


"If you take me back to 1995, when doping was completely pervasive, I would probably do it again."     Photo: Adam Bowie/Flickr

Lance: "I Would Probably Do It Again"

Armstrong defends decision to start doping

Lance Armstrong told the BBC in an interview that he would probably dope again if faced with the same choices when he started cycling professionally in the mid-1990s. He added that since the sport has gotten cleaner, he didn’t think he would make the choice to dope if he were an up-and-comer today.

The 43-year-old Texan has been given a lifetime ban for doping during his record seven Tour de France victories. He’s been banned from virtually all sports, including noncompetitive charity rides and local swim meets.

Armstrong said he still feels like the winner of seven Tours de France (even though he was subsequently stripped of the titles) and expressed frustration that no replacement winners have been named. “I don’t think history is stupid. History rectifies a lot of things. … I feel like I won those Tours,” he said. (This isn’t the first time he’s expressed that sentiment: See our interview with him from last spring.)

He went on to express the hope that he could return to public life: “Selfishly, I would say, yeah, we’re getting close to that time,” he told the BBC. “Listen, of course I want to be out of time-out. What kid doesn’t?”

Armstrong did admit that while he considered the athletic implications of his doping to be unclear, the secrecy around it caused him to treat people poorly. “I would want to change the man that did those things. Maybe not the decision, but the way he acted,” he said.

The BBC will broadcast the full interview on Thursday night.


The two climbers who died in the attack lost control as they tried to accelerate their descents.     Photo: Umberto Salvagnin/Flickr

Bee Attack Kills Climbers in Brazil

2 die from insect swarm on mountainside

Last Saturday afternoon, a swarm of bees surprised a group of climbers who were rappelling down a 427-foot waterfall in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grand do Sul. The attack, which occurred in a heavily forested area, proved fatal for two of the climbers, who lost control when they tried to accelerate their descents. In addition to the two fatalities, at least three other climbers were seriously injured with bone fractures and multiple bee stings, according to Brazilian daily newspaper Folha de S. Paulo. “The bees appeared suddenly, in a huge swarm that came from the woods, and made us go down the cliff. They were already preparing to go down when we were attacked and everything went wrong,” Gomercindo Daniel Filho, a member of the climbing group, told Folha.

After the accident, two lightly injured members of the party hiked roughly seven miles to the town of Maquiné to seek help, but the difficult-to-access area meant that emergency helicopters didn’t appear on scene until Sunday morning.

Incidents of fatal bee attacks on climbers aren’t unheard of.