Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Shark Week: I'm not mad, Discovery Channel. I'm disappointed.

Well, okay, I'm kind of mad.

It's time for me to finally admit that I can no longer stand behind Discovery Channel's Shark Week.

It hurts to say this. I used to look forward to-- and publicly announce my excitement for-- Shark Week every year. But it's no longer what I once loved about it.

Shark Week used to be a summer celebration of the awesome power and majesty of the shark. In earlier years, it was devoted to a mission I could get behind: reducing people's fear of sharks through education.

For the past few years, though... well, let's just say their mission has changed. Every single episode of Shark Week I've caught has been sensationalist, antagonizing, and, in some cases, completely fake. I haven't learned anything in years. I used to love Shark Week because they often showcased awesome new research being done with sharks and shared what we'd learned. But now, well. There's blood and danger music in every episode.

I love sharks. I have a healthy respect for them, I think they're amazing creatures and give them credit for my falling in love with the ocean. But they're easy villains, and sadly this has led to a lot of misinformation.

Take, for example, the shark attacks currently happening off the coast of North Carolina. We're up to 8 so far, as of this post, in the last 5 weeks. This actually isn't terribly unusual-- summer is in full swing, the beaches are full of people, which means the water is, too. What's different this year is the weather. A severe drought has made the ocean salinity super high close to shore, bringing in tons of schooling fish, which brings in the marine mammals, which brings in the sharks. And humans in wet suits, on boogie boards and surf boards and even just standing around are usually pretty indistinguishable from a sea lion. At least to a shark.

It's awful that so many injuries have occurred, but there is a logical reason for it. It's not like the sharks are out there maliciously plotting to chew on people, it's just a case of mistaken identity. But all I can think every time there's a new attack is how next year there will be a Discovery Channel fakeumentary on it during Shark Week, (yes, that's the same link for the second time: I really, really want you to read that article) probably titled something like "The Deadly Summer of the Shark" or "Bloody Carolina Summer" or "Megalodon Returns: Revenge of the 50-foot-Shark". I also have a feeling they'll mention it as often as they can.

Discovery Channel has an opportunity that borders on obligation each summer. They could easily help mitigate the fear that's coming out of these attacks by using their airtime to educate people about these animals and help them understand how to reduce their risks (i.e., stay out of the water when there has been a high incidence of attacks). Instead, people are calling for "dangerous" sharks to be killed, because resources like Shark Week have taught them that sharks are vicious and scary and it must be intentional and maybe even the same shark doing all of this. (Spoiler: killing "dangerous" sharks would mean killing them all).

Mostly, I'm bothered that Discovery spent so many years building their reputation as a reliable resource and then slowly shifted focus away from what they set out to do. People still believe what they see there because Discovery used to be right. Every year, I wait for the old Shark Week to come back. And every year, I'm disappointed.

So, Discovery, if you're listening, this is a plea from someone who loves sharks and the ocean and wants people to love them, too: please, please, please take back Shark Week. Forget about ratings and bring back what made Shark Week great: genuine, interesting content about sharks. Until you do, my endorsement, for whatever it's worth, has been pulled.

I hope you'll reconsider watching, too.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Exhausted


I feel like there have been a disproportionate amount of "real talk" blog posts on here the past year and a half, but, well, it's been a big, scary year and a half.

So here's another one.

I'm emotionally exhausted. Bone deep, dark side of the moon, trudging through my day exhausted. There's a lot going on you don't know about, and there's this Atlas-like weight I'm trying my best to foist off on any and everything else that I can, without much success.

The internet isn't helping.

Social media is both a blessing and a curse for many reasons. I love all the people I've met online who are now very real, and very dear, friends. Social media is where I get most of my news these days, where I connect with writers whose work I love, where I find new books to read. I learn a lot about myself and others there. But the same things that make it so great have also been leaving me with a sour taste in my mouth lately.

Every day, when I go online, I'm bombarded with hundreds of voices. We all yell into our own versions of the void, all clamoring to be relevant, to be heard. Except the more and more I look, the more and more I notice that the people who are being heard are doing so at some cost to others. Usually a criticism, sometimes snark, other times outright insults. They're choosing the negative because it gets them likes and favorites and retweets and reblogs and shares, which means they don't just show up in my feed once but often many, many times over the course of a few days.

Everywhere I look is more of what everyone is doing wrong, saying wrong, being wrong. And it's exhausting. I'm afraid to voice my opinion anymore, because I don't think I can handle any inevitable snarky confrontations without shutting down.

I cling like a baby animal to the positive influences in my feed. The folks who don't trudge into every pitchfork-grabbing opportunity guns (torches?) blazing, the ones who tweet about their day, or talk about their families, or post pictures of their cats. I like pictures of cats.

What I don't like, what I'm so unbelievably tired of, is the empty negativity. There is a lot of pain in this world, but that doesn't mean we have to use every chance we get to belittle others. There are a lot of things that need to change, but we can change them more effectively by teaching and leading than punishing. There are real people at the other ends of the words you say online. We all have a responsibility to one another, to be human, to respect one another, to remember that no one's opinion is absolute or more important than anyone else's. There are a lot of battles worth fighting, but pick them smartly. I wish I could tell you how. I'm still trying to figure it out myself.

What I do want to see, above all else (even pictures of cats), is people shining the light on those who deserve it, instead of chasing after those who may or may not have done something worthy of a witch hunt. Instead of laying into Author X for doing A, B, and C wrong, compliment and share that Author Y did them right. Instead of jumping on a bandwagon to harass someone, go write an email or a review to a writer whose book you liked. Instead of giving a mass murderer the infamy they crave, remember those their violence took from the world.

Of course, this only works if everyone agrees to it, and makes the effort to follow through. And it's unreasonable to expect everyone to focus on the positive all the time, and I know that. I'm not even asking for that. I just want to tip the balance the other way, because this pervasive, dominant negativity is rotting us all from the inside out.

I don't really have a conclusion except to say this blog post has been a really long explanation of why, for the sake of my currently-fragile emotional health, I'm taking the month of July off of Twitter at least, and perhaps everywhere else online too, and maybe for longer than that.

I'll still be around here and there to check in, maybe still occasionally post pictures of MY cats to pay it forward, but I won't be reading my feed much. If you talk to me directly, I'll still reply. When I come back, I hope to see more positivity, and lead by example myself, something I wish I had the emotional fortitude to do now. But, at least for July, I need a break.

Hopefully see you in August. Thanks, as always, for reading.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Zookeeper's Guide to Rebuilding Jurassic World

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

The disaster at Jurassic World this weekend left much of the zoological community in shock. The park will be closed for some time, according to initial reports of the damages and casualties, but in the likely event there is still demand for a new facility, I've compiled a small list of things the planners can hopefully do to increase survival rates.

Avoid bringing relatives to work

Family causes stress, which causes distraction, which causes inattention to detail, which leads to accidents.

Check GPS tags to verify animal locations BEFORE entering dangerous enclosures 

Thermal cameras and other technology can easily malfunction. Create escalation protocol and be prepared to follow through before sending staff into animal areas.

Don't keep corporate secrets that are vital to husbandry and enclosure maintenance 

A genetically-engineered animal may take on unexpected traits, but a thorough understanding of its genetic makeup will help prepare for most scenarios.

Ensure there is enough shelter for guests in the event of a catastrophic failure 

Know your facility's maximum attendance and be prepared to provide cover for that number of people. Guests should be aware of what constitutes shelter, and seek the first available location that removes them from danger.

Have failsafes for your failsafes 

What would you do if the electro-shock implants were removed from your animals? There should always be a backup plan, and in the case of genetically-engineered mega-predators, the backup plan should be nuclear.

Make sure all staff are properly trained on security protocol and know to double-check all latches and locks

A door or gate doesn't do much good if someone leaves it open.

Use positive reinforcement animal training programs to promote trust and foster positive relationships with staff

You never know when the bond you've forged with your animals will come in handy. It might even save lives.

Never feed collection animals live prey

Feeding live prey encourages hunting instincts to surface and gives animals a target to practice on. Especially when working with long-extinct reptilians, this can make their behavior unpredictable and increase the likelihood that their next target will be human.

Hiring former Marines and other ex-military personnel will give you a staff with built-in gumption and know how in a disaster 

It doesn't hurt if they're charismatic and good looking, either.

Make sure all potentially sleazy personnel have taken Monologuing 101

Any staff members who might actually be working against the restoration of order in a disaster should be dispatched immediately. They can be targeted by their use of monologues, which attracts predators.

And finally:

Never forget the other resources at your disposal

It might sound like fighting fire with fire, but sometimes the best solution for a predator problem is more predators.


I know the likelihood of anyone at Masarani or InGen seeing this advice is slim. But if they do, and it saves even one life, my work here is done.

Go here to support the disaster relief efforts for the Jurassic World survivors.



Jurassic World; or: OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG

SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS

Yesterday, Husband and I left Infant with his grandparents and took off to see a movie in the theater for the first time since Guardians of the Galaxy last year. Fitting, since both movies had the same star. You'd think we were huge Chris Pratt fans, which we totally are, but that part was actually just pure coincidence. 

I'm certain I was That Guy(Girl) in the theater to the people around us. I spent the whole two hours gasping and laughing and fist-pumping and clapping. I know I married the right man because he was right there with me the whole time. 

You guys. I literally cannot remember the last time I was that into a movie. (Pirates of the Caribbean, maybe)? Suffice to say, it's been a WHILE. 

Jurassic World did not disappoint. I was so, so scared it would. 4th movies have a history of suffering, badly, and I was inwardly terrified I would walk out of the theater yesterday with a sick feeling in my gut from disappointment. 

Nope. I was grinning, like an idiot, for at least an hour. I haven't done that for a movie in a long time, either. 

All the shout-outs to zoo culture in general and at least one to my zoo in particular were hilarious, endearing, and surprising. 

Chris Pratt trains his velociraptors pretty much exactly the same way I train my horse, cues and all. Amazing. 

The nods to the previous Jurassic Park films were numerous and nostalgia-inducing. The opening for potential future films was subtle but clear. 

And the monsters. 

My beloved velociraptors: everything I wanted and more. A cameo from our good friend the T-Rex from the first movie. The mosasaur was pretty good, too, and quite the awesome nod to my marine park days. The pteranodons might've been the scariest ones in the movie, though. And the new dino, the Indominus Rex? Chilling. 

It was tense. It was funny. It was beautiful. I cried, several times. 

It had a few faults. But I loved it so much I'm overlooking them. 

It's pretty much a guarantee that we'll see it again, and it's also pretty much a guarantee that I will subsequently purchase any and all Jurassic World merchandise as it becomes available. I'm hooked, guys. I have a new favorite movie. Take my tiny contribution to your millions of dollars opening weekend and bleed me dry. 

I am yours, Jurassic World. 

Everything is Jurassic World, and Jurassic World is everything. 




Friday, June 12, 2015

Countdown to Jurassic World: JURASSIC WORLD!!!!

It's here! It's here! It's here!

I'm not! I'm not! I'm not!

No, really... I'm already feeling tense and ragey about the possibility of spoilers, so I'm leaving the internet til Saturday, when I have the chance to see the movie.

See, the thing is... Well. You remember the Indiana Jones movie that Doesn't Exist?

(I liked it, when I saw it in theaters).

(I liked it, until I started hearing other people talk about how much they didn't like it).

(I still haven't seen Age of Ultron because people keep saying they thought it was meh, and with Infant in the picture it's REALLY hard to see movies).

It turns out I'm a fairly impressionable person. I want to form my own opinion on Jurassic World, without any influence going in. I've been waiting for this movie for almost fifteen years. I'm prepared for it to suffer, but I really, really hope it's awesome.

And if it's awesome to me, but not everyone else, that's okay. I'll still like it.

If it's not awesome to me, that's okay, too. I just don't want anyone else's voice in my head when I see it.

So that, crazy kids, is why I'm sitting here with my hands over my ears going "LA LA LA LA LA LA NOT LISTENING LA LA LA LA LA LA LA" until Saturday.

(I hope it's awesome. I hope, I hope, I hope).




Friday, June 5, 2015

Countdown to Jurassic World: Jurassic Park III

I'll be honest, I barely remember this movie. I vaguely remember something about someone stealing velociraptor eggs, and a kid in an old ... plane? truck? train? thing. Pterodactyls. That awful Motorola ringtone. A dino I thought was an allosaurus for most of the movie.

I do remember that it didn't quite have the magic of the first two. I tend to forget it exists. JP 1 and 2 have both been huge influences on my life, but JP 3 was, well, forgettable. 

So this weekend should be interesting, because it will be almost like I'm seeing it for the first time!! I get to be wildly meh about it all over again!

The plan right now is to live-tweet JP 3 on Saturday, 6/6. I just don't know what time, as I'm on call for a late shift at work. If I get called in, it will be a weird time, like mid-day. If I don't, it will be another weird time, like mid-afternoon, because I need to write in the evening. 

All I want for Christmas in June is for Jurassic World to be unforgettable. 


Friday, May 29, 2015

Countdown to Jurassic World: The Lost ... er, ... World

Last week, I shared why Jurassic Park is so special to me. This week, I'll be live-tweeting the second movie, The Lost World.

I remember going to see The Lost World in the theater, too, though not nearly as vividly as Jurassic Park. What do I remember?

Well, there are a few things, but the first that always comes to mind is the gymnast vs. velociraptor battle scene.

I remember this specifically because I thought it was ridiculous. You know, in a movie about dinosaurs living free on an uninhabited Costa Rican island and then getting shipped to the mainland and running loose in San Diego, THAT part stretched my suspension of disbelief.

The Lost World seems to catch a lot of flak, suffering either from Sequel Syndrome or Assumed Sequel Syndrome, I'm not really sure which. I can't be an impartial judge because I still think The Lost World was AWESOME, and a fantastic follow-up to Jurassic Park. It genuinely excited me because I thought it meant the franchise was viable, that it was bigger than the second-movie slump, and that we could expect Great Things from then on.

And then, well...

That's next week's topic.

I also love The Lost World now as an adult because a lot of what happens in this movie is super relevant to the work I do with wild animals. Like Jurassic Park, it has plenty of casual social commentary. And then, of course, there's the thrill of watching your (then) city get destroyed by a T-Rex on the big screen.

I'll be live-tweeting The Lost World tomorrow, 5/30 at 6:30 PM PST, still using the hashtag #JPLT. Join in, if only because it's really hard to snark alone.