Sunday, January 31, 2010

The ethics of eating an endangered species, an analysis of sea turtles in PNG

My good friend Mr David 'Sharkman' Shiffman recently had a turtle burger somewhere in the Cayman Islands of Central America and blogged about it and all of a sudden somebody's food became the debate of the day with people arguing their cases on many different grounds, from sustainability, to the possibility of turtle meat becoming a new menu of choice and even animal rights. While I try to keep an open mind when reading the comments other readers of that blog had, I could not help going past the point where a reader made a comment about "the ethics of eating an endangered species" and specifically chose PNG to elaborate on her comment by stating "For example, in communities in PNG the following needs to be taken into account:
  1. Often the capture and slaughter methods are extremely cruel
  2. Reduction in calorific expenditure - if you go fishing and come across a turtle you might only spend an hour fishing
  3. Differing perceptions of what a turtle is and why it is important
  4. Who can and does catch turtles (sometimes only certain males in certain families)
  5. Variety in diet...."

I do not want to bore you by stating my arguments for each of the 5 points the reader raised, however, I will comment on the methods and let you decide whether it is cruel or not. 15 of Papua New Guinea's 20 provinces are either surrounded by the sea or have the sea included in their Provinical boundaries. This means about 70% of PNGs population is made up of people who live off the sea. Like many developing countries and other small island nations in the world today, our culture and tradation are still highly respected today. Having said that, the sea turtle like many other marine/aquatic animals is highly respected in the PNG society. For example, the people of the Sepik respect crocodiles so much they carve images of the animal into their canoes and bodies as a mark of respect to the animal, the people of Kontu in the West New Britain Province of PNG believe the sharks are a reincarnation of thier ancestors and they call the sharks to them and slaughter them instead of going out shark fishing and finally there are the people of Manus who like many others believe there is a special connection with their past in sea turtles. Because of the special respect and association these people have with these animals, the slaughtering of these animals is only limited to special occassions and when the need arises, the hunters do their best to use the most effective means available to minimise suffering to the animals.

Sea turtles in PNG are hunted in two main ways, first is through the use of a harpoon where the hunter uses a spear with a hooked tip. The hunter aims for the shell or part of the animal that will not cause it much pain and spears it. Upon impact, the tip breaks off and and the spear falls away. The hooked tip is connected to a buoy on the surface by a line so people on the surface can follow the turtle around and then pull it up to the surface. If the hunters are not satisfied, the turtle is set free. The second way is to dive into the water with the turtle and grab it by its front flippers and then press down on the lower part of the back shell so the turtle swims to the surface instead of diving down.

Now it can be argued that the slaughtering method is cruel but quite frankly, sea turtles are very hard to kill, they can not be srtangled and many societies forbid bleeding the animal. So, the best way is to throw it into a fire, turtles die easily when the temperature rises above a certain limit. When a turtle is slaughtered, every single part of it is put to use and only the contents of the alimentary canal are thrown away.

These methods may be very primitive but the hunters do have the choice of deciding whether to keep the animal or release it and if they release it, the animal is healthy enough to recover and survive. In both cases the animal is not hurt much and has a greater chance of surviving compared to modern fishing methods that require large drift nets covering a large expanse of the sea causing many turtles to become entangled in them. Most of these animals die by drownung and the few that make it through eventually die of exhaustion. The dead animals are often classified as bycatch and thrown overboard, a total waste of a beautiful animal, unlike in PNG where every single part of a caught turtle is put to use with the only waste being the contents of the digestive tract.

Finally, the people of PNG do to some exetent practice a little sustainability in their practice of turtle hunting. Although, this may not be word for word a direct text-book copy of what western societiey defines as being humane and sustainable to these animals, that was, is and will always be simply how things are done in PNG.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Map of Highlands Highway out of date

Please note that the map of the highlands highway passing through the Township of Goroka is out dated. I am not saying it is wrong but just that the image shown here is that of the old highlands highway going through Seigu, formerly known as the "Old Bena Road."

The new highway turns left about a mile from the top left end of the air port and runs into the town running alongside the length of the air port all the way to its end before continuing on to the coast.

Also, if the road map was rotated 40 degrees to the south at Kifamu Mission then it would almost be consistent with the current road map. This would also see the feeder road branching from the main highway fall around where the Chuave back road is, running out from "Red Corner" in Goroka and running all the way around Ungai and back into the Highlands highway again at Chuave.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Contributions of the HeLa cell line to Science

Culturing of the HeLa cells led to the development of the Polio vaccine, our understanding of cancer and many viruses. Scientists even used them to understand the effects of the atomic bomb on human cells and also to study the effects of zero gravity on human cells.

In modern day science, the same cell line was involved in many research leading to cloning, gene mapping and invitro fertilization.

in reference to: Henrietta Lacks - Everything on Henrietta Lacks (information, latest news, articles,...) (view on Google Sidewiki)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Cold Stunned Turtles

I just want to add that the recent cold weather experienced around coastal North Carolina has caused many turtles to be cold stunned. I found it so interesting to note that the cold weather could have such an impact on these animals. Last information I got was that these cold stunned turtles were being kept at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) building next to the Marine Lab. #scio10

in reference to: Atlantic Sea Turtles: Field Trip Earth (view on Google Sidewiki)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

'Y' men

Are men as primitive as most women think? New research has shown otherwise. According to an online article form the journal Nature this may not be so. Research has shown that the Y chromosome - the thing that makes a man male - is evolving far faster than the rest of the human genetic code.

According to a study comparing the Y chromosomes from humans and chimpanzees, our nearest living relatives, there is about a 30 per cent difference between the two which began some 6 million years ago, which is fairly recent when evolution is concerned.

This makes the Y chromosome the most rapidly evolving of all human chromosomes as stated by the articles co-author, Dr David Page who is also the director of the prestigious Whitehead Institute in Cambridge and a professor of Biology at MIT.

So what exactly would be the reason for such a rapid evolution? According to Page, there are two possible reasons, the first being that since the Y chromosome does not belong to a pair, when there is a mutation, there is no matching chromosome to recombine and essentially cover up the change. This is not so for women because they have 2 - X chromosomes and X chromosomes do not have this situation.

Another reason has to do with mating although this was suggested after careful observation of female chimps on heat. Female chimps on heat tend to mate more frequently and with many partners. This places an evolutionary pressure on the male to produce the most and best sperm to propagate his genes.

There is no apparent reason for this evolution in the male specie as yet but research is going on to better understand the Y chromosome of the male specie.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Another Giant into the Pots

Speaking of disappearing ocean giants and the need to educate people in densely populated areas, this 233 kilogram tuna was just sold for as hefty 16.3 million yen at the worlds largest fish market in Japan. That's $177,000 American Dollar's for a single fish!

But that's not all, Japan is the worlds largest sea-food consumer, consuming 80 per cent of the Atlantic and Pacific bluefins caught, a whole lot of sushi indeed.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Sad Ending to Rare Giant of the Deep

A big catch by mackerel fishermen off the city of Donsol, Philippines yet, a terrible end to another great of the ocean. One we might never get to fully appreciate before there is none left.

Pictured here is a rare mega-mouth shark. According to the WWF-Philippines, this is only the 41st one to be recorded since its discovery in 1976 off Oahu, Hawaii. Updated records as of July 9th, 2009 showed a total of 47 megamouth sharks either sighted or caught.

This is a creature so rare it has not been listed as an endangered species, however as simply 'data deficient' by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

This 4 meter long, 500 kilogram beast met its fate in the fishing nets of local fishermen in March 2009. Whats interesting to note about the location where this beautiful but rare creature was caught is that it is part of the 'Coral Triangle' which spans Indonesia, Mayalsia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Island and East Timor, this is said to be the home of the richest concentration of marine life in the world.
Sadly, the area this Coral Triangle spans covers some of the most densely populated and least developed places in the world today. The problem now is, how do we educate these people about the importance of these disappearing creatures? and for local fishermen like these, how do we compensate for the loss of their catch?......