The penguins of Patagonia

By Midge Raymond,

So often when people think of penguins, they picture the icy landscape of Antarctica. Yet only four of seventeen penguin species come ashore in Antarctica — while all live in the Southern Hemisphere, most do their breeding in non-icy places, from the little penguins of Australia to the tropical Galápagos penguins, to the Magellanic penguins of Argentina.

One of the most breathtaking places to see penguins is in the Chubut Province of Argentina, which features the largest Magellanic colony in the world, with more than 200,000 breeding pairs of penguins. These penguins come ashore at Punta Tombo every autumn to build nests, meet or reunite with their mates, and raise their chicks.

Studying and protecting these birds is important for so many reasons — for one, the more we know about penguins, the more we know about the state of our oceans, and the better job we can do taking care of the planet and all its wildlife.

Check out this video to see the gorgeous Magellanic penguins (and their chicks!) of Punta Tombo — and visit the Center for Ecosystem Sentinels to learn more and to support its conservation work. And of course, if you want to visit this colony and see it up close and personal, join me and Adventures by the Book in Argentina in October of 2018!

 



The yeti crab and other Antarctic discoveries

By Midge Raymond,

I loved this moment in Ann Patchett’s novel Run in which a young girl, upon learning that new species of fish are still being discovered, says, “I thought it was done.”

Among the many amazing things about our planet is that species are still being discovered. And this is part of what made immersing myself in all things Antarctic so much fun while writing My Last Continent. So much is still being discovered there.

I can relate to Patchett’s young character — “It unnerved her, the thought that things weren’t settled, that life itself hadn’t been completely pinned down to a corkboard and labeled” — but on the other hand, there’s also a comfort about it, the idea that our planet contains so much more than we know (and that perhaps, despite all that we humans are doing to it, it might be able to save itself from us in the end).

One of the fun things I discovered while doing revisions for My Last Continent was the yeti crab, which thrives in the hot thermal waters under Antarctica and was described for the first time by scientists when I was in this revision phase of my novel. The yeti crab wasn’t the only discovery: scientists also described a seven-pronged starfish and a mysterious pale octopus among a community of other previously undiscovered life forms on the ocean floor near Antarctica.

I decided to work this hairy new yeti crab into the novel (I couldn’t resist), and even though the book is published and the research is over, I love keeping track of what goes on in Antarctica (50-million-year-old fossilized sperm is yet another recent discovery, as well as the fact that penguins feast on jellyfish). Due to its inaccessibility, Antarctica is most travelers’ last continent, the final frontier. And yet when it comes to science, in many ways, it’s a brand-new world.

 



Win a signed copy of MY LAST CONTINENT!

By Midge Raymond,

Enter to win a signed paperback copy of MY LAST CONTINENT on Goodreads! The giveaway is open until October 2. 2017.

 

Goodreads Book Giveaway

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond

My Last Continent

by Midge Raymond

Giveaway ends October 02, 2017.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

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The scandalous sex lives of penguins

By Midge Raymond,

My friend Judy sent me this article on the “scandalous” sex lives of penguins, which mentions many of the penguin stories we’ve heard over the years, from the two male chinstrap penguins who raised a baby chick, to a nasty fight between two Magellanic penguins competing for a female. And indeed, the love lives of penguins are really so similar to our own: there is love, there is marriage for life, there is the raising of children; there is also divorce and cheating and all sorts of other drama.

The article references the observations from a scientist more than hundred years ago, buried because it was so scandalous at the time: George Murray Levick documented acts among penguins including necrophilia and group sex. Back in the early 1900s, editors cut the graphic descriptions of penguins’ behavior from Levick’s published work. As the article notes:

It took until 2012 for ornithologists at London’s Natural History Museum to finally dig up Levick’s “Sexual Habits of the Adelie Penguin”—by which point scientific inquiry had matured enough that they were able to publish it.

Of course, it should come as no surprise that penguins (or any animals) have such varied sex lives, or that their love lives mirror our own in so many ways. Humans often forget that we, too, are animals. We all just want to find love and share our nests with that special penguin, or person … and maybe raise a chick or two.



Should we stay home to save the oceans?

By Midge Raymond,

“Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?” Elizabeth Bishop asks in her poem “Questions of Travel”—the same question I asked myself upon learning, when I was in the Galapagos Islands last year, that more than 200,000 tourists visit this small archipelago every year. These islands, virtually undiscovered until the sixteenth century, are now bursting at the seams.

For all who venture to the Galapagos, it’s the trip of a lifetime—yet it’s also resource-intensive: I had taken 10 flights in 8 days to reach a place that is among our world’s most affected by climate change. And right now another travel season is wrapping up  in Antarctica, another remote and increasingly popular travel destination. Antarctica, which 20 years ago saw fewer than 10,000 tourists, will likely have counted upwards of 40,000 this season, more than 90 percent of whom travel on ships.

According to the World Tourism Organization, international travel increased in 2015 for the sixth year in a row, to a record 1.2 billion tourists, with 1.8 billion forecast for 2030. Only a week after a long-awaited marine protected area was established in Antarctica, the United States elected a president who has called climate change a hoax and seems intent on dismantling the EPA. Can the planet’s most vulnerable places handle much more? Perhaps it’s time we ask ourselves whether should do our part for the planet and leave a few of our bucket-list destinations in the bucket.

Instead of traveling to Antarctica—which can be as extreme financially as it is environmentally—perhaps we can get glimpses in other ways. Web-based citizen science programs like Zooniverse offer virtual experiences—a chance to count penguins and identify individual humpback whales in Antarctica, in addition to myriad other adventures. From our computers, we can “travel” the world, see incredible sights and creatures, and contribute to ongoing research efforts.

And even if we do travel to these fragile environments, we can help the oceans by playing a role in conservation and research. The website iGalapagos.org depends on travelers’ photos of the elusive and endangered Galapagos penguins to further their research toward protecting this species. And those of us who love the oceans can reconsider the role of seafood in our diets, as nearly 90 percent of the oceans’ stocks are extinct or depleted.

Not all travel is inherently bad, of course, and if you’re like me and you can far more easily give up seafood than a trip, how we travel can make a big difference in minimizing the impact of our presence—by choosing green hotels, using public transportation, buying local. Even the little things, like packing a reusable water bottle and shopping bag to minimize plastic, help a lot. Those traveling on ships can check out Friends of the Earth’s Cruise Ship Report Card before booking a trip (in its latest report, in 2014, no major cruise line earned a grade higher than a C; most grades were Ds and Fs).

Sometimes it takes visiting a place to fall in love with it and become inspired to help save it—and this may well justify our carbon footprints in the end. Which brings me back to the question: Should we stay home? There is no easy answer. But those of us who have the luxury of asking the question might consider that, for the sake of the planet, the oceans, and for future generations, the road less traveled—or not traveled at all—does make all the difference.



Bookstore Geek: West Grove Collective

By Midge Raymond,

I was delighted to have West Grove Collective as the official bookseller for my book event at the Women’s Museum of California this past summer.

womens museum My Last Continent

I remember the West Grove Collective from its days as The Grove, when I went to many open mic nights. Today the store has evolved into so much more: Anne Mery, who manages West Grove Collective, has partnered with vendors who carefully curate the merchandise they offer, including books and artwork, clothing and jewelry, furniture and home accessories, and the music offerings of SoundShip San Diego.

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Anne’s gift for curating was on display at the Women’s Museum event, where she paired My Last Continent with other books on the Antarctic, the poles, the oceans, and other sea adventures — as well as a penguin wine opener.

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The next time you’re in San Diego, be sure to visit South Park to spend some time in West Grove Collective…for books, events, and so much more.



Is long-term peace possible in Antarctica?

By Midge Raymond,

Among the most amazing things about Antarctica — and there are so many — is that it is a place of peace. And this refers not only to its quiet, unspoiled beauty but to its lack of human activity for any purposes other than good.

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No one owns or governs Antarctica. It is one of the few places in the world that has never seen war — or any military activity, for that matter. It is a place whose only permanent inhabitants are wild animals (penguins, seabirds, seals, and whales among them) and whose human inhabitants are scientists and those who support their work.

The Antarctic Treaty, entered into force in 1961, stipulates that the continent be used for peaceful and scientific purposes only. Currently, mining, drilling, and any military activity is banned on the continent. Yet with the treaty up for review in 2048, there is concern that this may change.

China is stepping up its presence in Antarctica, with four research stations, a new air squadron, and plans to build another station, raising concerns about its intentions in Antarctica for exploiting natural resources, which include fish, oil, minerals, and perhaps even diamonds. As this article notes, “Beijing has made it ‘loud and clear to domestic audiences’ that these natural resources are its main interest in the region.” China is already fishing for krill, as are South Korea and Russia, countries that also have their eyes on securing their stakes on the continent. And the Japanese have long conducted illegal whaling hunts in the Southern Ocean under the guise of research.

Currently in Hobart, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is meeting in hopes of establishing a marine protected areas in the Antarctic’s Southern Ocean. Russia is the one nation that, after blocking conservation attempts five times in the past, delegates hope will come on board this year. If CCAMLR can establish the three marine protected areas it hopes to this year (in the Weddell Sea, the Ross Sea, and East Antarctica), this will limit commercial fishing and help protect the entire ecosystem.

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Antarctica is one of the few places on earth where animals can roam without any human predators, and where everyone works together for the common good. Unfortunately, the continent cannot fully escape what goes on in the rest of the world — the entire region is suffering the effects of climate change, and the Antarctic peninsula is among the fastest-warming places on earth — but right now, Antarctica the only place on earth where peace reigns. And we need to make sure it stays this way forever.

 



The dangers of polar travel

By Midge Raymond,

As the ice melts in the Arctic, tour companies are taking advantage of the ability to bring tourists to the region like never before. As I noted in this article for The Daily Beast, “despite all our technological advances, a ship is only as safe as her captain—and the capricious nature of ice and polar weather means even an experienced captain isn’t immune from human error.”

And due to these new opportunities, tour companies like the one that owns the luxury cruise ship Crystal Serenity, are taking advantage. Yet when it comes to polar cruises, bigger is most certainly not better. This article in The Guardian (titled “A new Titanic?”) made the point very clearly: “If something were to go wrong it would be very, very bad.”

And another article, in the Telegraph (titled “The world’s most dangerous cruise?”) reported: “In 2010 it took a Canadian icebreaker 40 hours to evacuate just 120 passengers from the 330ft Clipper Adventurer when it ran aground on an underwater cliff. At times, Serenity will be 1,000 miles and at least 11 hours’ response time from coast guard assistance.”

In other words, this cruise was extremely risky — and while its voyage was successful, the risks will increase if this type of tourism becomes a trend.

In the last 15 years, cruise-ship tourism in Norway has grown from 200,000 to almost 700,000 visitors. Canada’s fleet of passenger vessels was 11 in 2005 and rose to 40 in 2015. Iceland’s foreign tourists have more than tripled since the year 2000, to nearly a million visitors a year—about three times Iceland’s population. And in Antarctica, the number of visitors this season is expected to be upwards of 40,000—more than double what it was in 2004.

Can the planet’s most vulnerable places handle much more tourism?

As the Antarctic tour season begins next month, the concerns are similar to those of cruises in the Arctic; it’s an unpredictable place where there are not enough resources to rescue large numbers of passengers and crew were something to happen. Last year, a small tourist vessel was damaged by ice and, while all on board were safe, the company had to cancel its next voyage. It’s worth noting that this happened in the South Shetland Islands, which is pretty far north on an Antarctic cruise; in other words, ice is unpredictable even farther north and can wreak havoc on ships anytime and anywhere.

While Antarctic travel is considered safe (unlike these new uncharted voyages in the Arctic; as this Guardian article notes, “even before the Crystal Serenity began planning its voyage, the coast guard and local communities were raising concerns that the Arctic was not ready for the sharp rise in traffic through the Bering Strait”), all travelers should carefully vet their tour operators, most of which follow the guidelines of IAATO, and choose a company with vast experience in ice-filled waters. The Southern Ocean is highly unpredictable, and an experienced captain, crew, and staff makes all the difference — not only for the safety of passengers but for wildlife as well.

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Seattle: See you tonight at Elliott Bay!

By Midge Raymond,

I was so privileged to have read at Elliott Bay Book Company years ago, when Forgetting English was published, in its former location in Pioneer Square.

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Elliott Bay’s new Capitol Hill location is different in appearance, yet the spirit of this incredible store and its dedicated booksellers remains. I look forward to seeing you all tonight at 7 p.m.!



Join me at Powell’s tonight

By Midge Raymond,

I’m so looking forward to being at Powell’s City of Books in Portland at 7:30 tonight!

Thanks to the amazing Kat von Cupcake, I’m traveling with these sweet cookies, enjoying a lovely sugar high, and so this evening promises to be one of high energy.

See you soon, Portland!

 

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Join me at Bloomsbury Books tonight!

By Midge Raymond,

I’m so excited for my hometown book event in Ashland tonight at 7 p.m. at the lovely Bloomsbury Books.

It’s great fun to see My Last Continent in such good company here at the store … and with the temperatures reaching for 90+ degrees today, I’m looking forward to an evening of ice and penguins and all things Antarctic!

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Happy World Penguin Day

By Midge Raymond,

Today is World Penguin Day!

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Not that we need an excuse to celebrate these magnificent birds … but it’s still fun to see them getting a little extra attention.

After all, they need the exposure: penguins are facing threats from multiple fronts, from climate change to overfishing. I love this post from One Green Planet, which offers five ways you can help penguins.

To discover the very latest in what’s new with Magellanic and Galapagos penguins, visit the Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels. And if you follow Penguin Sentinels on Facebook, you’ll be treated to wonderful penguin videos.

And to learn about the researchers who count penguins at the bottom of the world, check out The Penguin Counters, a documentary about these dedicated researchers and the species they study in Antarctica.

And, finally … stay tuned for My Last Continent, coming on June 21 from Scribner! In this novel, you’ll meet four species of penguins: three Antarctic species, and the Magellanic penguins of Patagonia. Check out the book club kit for a little more info, and join my mailing list for news and updates on the book.

Happy World Penguin Day!

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Can birds love?

By Midge Raymond,

I loved this article about pigeons, in which author Brandon Keim writes about an avian romance blooming in his Brooklyn neighborhood. This excellent essay reminded me of a pair of pigeons that attempted to roost and raise babies in the eaves of my own back porch a few years ago (which inspired a short story, “Nesting”). My husband and I loved watching them build their nest, and we shooed away the neighborhood cats who kept harassing them, hoping the birds would stay —yet their attempt to start a family was unsuccessful, and they left us.

It never occurred to us not to see these two pigeons as a pair in love—but then, we’re strange that way, at least according to some people. This is among the reasons I so enjoyed Keim’s essay, in which he writes, “Perhaps love is not what defines us as human but is something we happen to share with other species, including the humble pigeon.”

I’m a writer, not a scientist, so it’s not unpardonable for me to anthropomorphize in my fiction—but what’s remarkable is how many scientists are now talking and writing about animal consciousness in such books as Animal Wise, How Animals Grieve, and Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel.

As both a writer and small-press publisher, I love hearing from animals in well-written fiction, too. Among our Ashland Creek Press titles is Gwyn Hyman Rubio’s Love and Ordinary Creatures; steeped in extensive research, this novel tells the haunting story of a parrot who, stuck in captivity without a mate, bonds with his human caregiver—a beautiful and heart-rending story of unrequited love.

Sometimes, as Keim’s article points out, “love’s ultimate measure is the presence of its converse, grief.” Keim offers several examples from the world of birds, and many of us have likely seen it ourselves among other animals—for example, when one of our pets loses a sibling. I felt as though I witnessed penguin love firsthand, while in Patagonia for a Magellanic penguin census, when I saw paired-up birds lying together in the sun or huddled together in their burrows.

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It’s easy to say that we humans are simply projecting, that our own capacity for love makes us believe we’re seeing this in other creatures. But even if this is true, is it such a bad thing? Keim writes, “Ubiquitous and unappreciated, typically ignored or regarded as dirty, annoying pests, pigeons mean something else to me now…Each one is a reminder that love is all around us.”

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And the more of us who can see love in the creatures around us, the better we’ll all become at protecting them and the habitats they live in.

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Penguin Awareness Day

By Midge Raymond,

January 20 is Penguin Awareness Day. Why celebrate a day of penguin awareness, you may be wondering — and how?

Penguin Awareness Day

There are 17 species of penguins throughout the world, and penguin awareness is important because these incredible birds face increasing threats every day, worldwide, from pollution to overfishing to climate change. Click here to learn about the most pressing threats to penguins and how you can help.

Another way to help penguins is through citizen science — visit Penguin Watch, and you can take part in ongoing Antarctic penguin research. You can help researchers by annotating images, without ever leaving your desk (though these amazing photos will make you feel as though you’ve traveled around the world).

Check out the Penguin Sentinels organization, a collaboration between the University of Washington, Global Penguin Society, Province of Chubut, and the La Regina family of Punta Tombo, Argentina, and is dedicated to research, conservation, and education. In addition to working at the Punta Tombo colony for more than 30 years, this group also does great work in the Galápagos Islands.

Learn about another penguin program at The Penguin Counters, which follows researchers on their Antarctic penguin-counting journeys.

And, if you’re crazy about penguins, check out the book Penguins: Natural History and Conservation, which offers an in-depth look at all 17 species of penguins and the challenges they face…and help ensure they’re around for generations to come.

And, a million thanks to Scribner for this delightful image of an Adelie penguin with MY LAST CONTINENT (which is about two penguin researchers working in Antarctica).

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Adélie penguins are “iconic symbol of climate change”

By Midge Raymond,

This video, with gorgeous images of Adélie penguins and their chicks on the Antarctic peninsula, is one of the best calls to action I’ve seen for a planet in peril due to climate change.

 

 

Excerpted from James McClintock’s Lost Antarctica and narrated by Harrison Ford (member of the E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Foundation (EOWBF) Board of Advisors), this brief video shows how the amazing Adélie penguin is being threatened by real-time environmental changes.

 

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Over the last six decades, scientists have observed an average increase of 2 degrees Fahrenheit per decade in the Antarctic peninsula. These warming temperatures lead to increasing humidity, which leads to unseasonable snow. This video shows Adélies trying to keep their eggs incubated despite being buried in snow.

What sort of a world will future generations of Antarctic scientists find when they come to this remarkable place? When they gaze over this landscape, will they be reminded how this place, this peninsula, these ecosystems, served as a wake-up call…?

Climate change isn’t an abstract, faraway notion. It’s happening before our eyes, chick by chick.

Learn more, and help, by visiting such organizations as Oceanites and the Center for Penguins as Ocean Sentinels, which look at our changing planet through the animals that are showing us the effects of climate change.