This will be our first of three summer talks partnering with the Exploratorium Bay Observatory Gallery. Please note the time and directions. Please also call or email ahead to let them know if you are coming (see reservations and directions at the bottom)

Exploring SF’s Natural Springs & Creeks
Guest Speaker: Joel Pomerantz
7pm Wednesday, July 15th, 2015 (doors after 6pm)
FREE at the Exploratorium Bay Observatory Gallery (see directions at the bottom for details)
and please let them know if you are coming.

Bernal Seeps

Which is more likely in San Francisco: wading through a creek or through traffic? Under the right circumstances, either is possible to do. Sometimes, when atmospheric rivers slam the region, we can do both at once, as street gutters fill to capacity. But San Franciscan residents have few if any natural creek experiences. Compare that to the creek-dependent lives of the people that lived here for thousands of years before urban development and you might start to wonder.
Bring your curiosity and wonder for this discussion-oriented presentation by Joel Pomerantz, an independent researcher and publisher of the Seep City water explorations map. He will give tips on reading the landscape in search of water, and tell you where some of our beautiful (if small) springs are.
You can read some of the recent media coverage on wired.com or order a map on his website seepcity.org.
Reservations can be made at reserve@exploratorium.edu or 415-528-4444 option 5.
Please let the Gallery know if you are coming.
The lecture will be at the Exploratorium Bay Observatory Gallery at the back of the museum. The special event entrance is through the gate on the outside of building, past the main entrance (as depicted in the map). Someone should be out front helping guide (the museum itself will not be open). Please visit the Exploratorium website for directions to the museum.

Lauren Rust spoke with us on June 30th at Green Apple Books. She came to talk to us about her work at the Marine Mammal Center, the research they do, and the animals they attempt (and don’t attempt) to rescue.

The Center covers 600 miles of California Coast from Mendocino down to around San Luis Obispo. They care for around 500 animals/year. They might stay up to six months, but usually an animal’s stay is a few weeks to 3 months. 50% are released and 50% end up dying or being euthanized, a few end up in zoos (healthy animals that otherwise can’t be released, for instance if they were blind). They have a big pool for cetacean’s like dolphin’s but usually they serve as triage pass them on to others for longer care.

Their most common animals are California Sea Lions, Harbor Seals, and Elephant Seals. Guadalupe and Northern Fur Seals, and Stellar Sea Lions are less common to the Center.

The number of animals they have taken care of over the years has grown since their start in 1975. Their peak year thus far was in 2009 when their new facility coincided with an outbreak. 2015 is close to those numbers and will likely surpass it.

The reason for that is the large numbers of starving young sea lions washing up on California shores. The reason for this influx is water temperature — a patch of warm water known as “the blob” that has been bobbing off the coast of California since 2013 and is now hugging it. The effect of that water has been to inhibit upwelling, which means less phytoplankton, which means less zooplankton, which means less fish, which means… problems for sea lions.

California Sea Lions have taken the biggest hit because of a number of reasons. Although they range the whole western coast of the U.S. down along Mexico, they give birth in only a limited number of rookeries the furthest north being the Channel Islands.

77% of breeding females give birth each year to a pup (they are polygnous with one male to many females) and gestate for 9 months. The mother spends the first few days ashore with their ~7kg babies but then start to make foraging trips, finding their pups by vocalization when they return to shore. The mother nurses them for 6-11 months. It’s not easy being a seal mom!

What happens with this is that the warm water, having kept the fish away, keeps the mother further and further away from her pups. Eventually the pups take to the water, seeking food, and then wash up malnourished onto mainland shores (the vast bulk unsuprisingly were in Santa Barbara). This started happening in Dec of this year — in a normal year a pup would have been nursed through May. Researchers on the Channel islands have seen lower birth rates and mothers having a harder time catching food.

600 pups have been admitted, given fish milkshakes as well as subcutaneous fluids with suppliments and anti-parasites (sea lions typically have parasites they have picked up from fish, so they try not to treat them too much). Eventually they are worked up to food, and one of their conditions of release is that they eat free food.

One lesson learned this year given the numbers of malnourished patients, not giving the pups too much — spaing it out or just giving less. It sometimes takes the pups a while to figure out what to do with fish. They’ll drag a fish on a line to simulate swimming (most the of the fish is frozen), or sometimes drop a live fish in to simulate.

Once they’ve gained weight, have clean bloodwork, and eat alongside others, they get a flipper tag and are released (sea lion pups are usually taken south, seals are relased near chimney rock on Point Reyes — never on a public beach — and elephant seals where there are rookeries).

Elephant Seals and Harbor Seals tend to be much younger patients, from premies to a few days old, and require a bit more attention and time at fish school (the california sea lions often have some experience with fish in the wild).

Other reasons for the mass strandings this year have been considered, radiation, ocean health, contaminants, and other human interactions, but other marine mammal species have not been equally affected and the big problem has been with pups. Elephant Seals and Harbor Seals have different life cycles, both with much shorter periods to nurse.

Malnutrition is what brings most patients into the Center, the next leading cause of strandings is Domic Acid Toxicity. This is cause by the algae of red tides, which is eaten by fish, and then by sea lions. Its effects in sea lions are memory loss, brain damage, reproductive failure, and seizures similar to epilepsy. Sea lions will shake, and wave their heads and flippers, eyes shaking. They can be confused and aggressive in this situation.

These animals are treate with anit-seizure medications for about 10 days. Cronic cases with brain damage are euthanized.

Lauren’s main job is not care but research, so she spends a lot of time to necropsies. This research supports over 40 projects from different scientists each with their own set of criteria: age, sex, death, time of death. They might send on eyes, kidneys, lymph nodes, cells, skin for genetics, teeth for knowing age (teeth have rings — something they are validating against known tagged animas), or parasites to one researcher or another. Skeletons go to the California Academy of Sciences.

One of things the Center has been studying is one of the leading causes of death in adults… carcinoma. 18% of the adults admitted die from this, mostly females. Since 1998 they’ve putting together samples of dead females with cancer, and females without, with a goal of 300 each (they are at 130), with a goal of learning more. Herpes virus seems to be a corallary, but they are hoping to have a better understanding of its causes.

They do also do research on live animals — but only opportunistically — by taking samples in the course of routine care, getting a little bit of extra blood, urine, and hair for things like mercury samples, and doing nasal and rectal swabs. All released animals get a tag, and they occassionally place satellite tags but these are expensive.

One goal of the research is to have create the MMHMAP: marine mammal health monitoring and analysis. Mappng causes of death in marine mammals and cetaceans and correlating that with ocean health (like temperature and the like).

Another bit of research they participate in is whale strandings. This is the California Academy of Science’s bailiwick, but with large whales they often need all hands on deck to help do necropsies. About 25 or so strand per year with around 5 being larger whales. This year has seen a slight uptick (a couple of humpbacks, a grey, one entangled killer whale, and a rare sperm whale in pacifica, one of two whales there this year), but there seems to be no common thread other than there being more animals offshore.

The necropsies look for cause of death: broken bones, hemmoragging in the muscle. Age can sometimes be gleaned from the wax in the earbone, but it is not always accessible or easy to read. Most deaths are either some sort of traume or disease, but larger number are unknown. The good news is that this research has already informed boat operation — reduced vessel speed and changed vessel lanes.

And that’s the goal of all this research — to make things better for marine mammals. The Center’s particular research comes back to treat future patients, so even patients who don’t make it play a part.

You can learn more about the Marine Mammal Center’s work, or even help take care of them (a lot of the work is done by the hands of volunteers) visiting http://www.marinemammalcenter.org

Kapalakiko: Hawaiian Migrant Workers in 19th-Century San Francisco
Guest Speaker: Gregory Rosenthal
4pm October 19th, 2015
FREE San Francisco Main Public Library, Civic Center 

At least one thousand Hawaiians lived and worked in California in the mid-nineteenth century. As itinerant seamen and fur hunters they touched Alta and Baja California shores; as cowhide skinners, sea otter scalpers, agriculturalists and Catholic converts, they lived and worked in the Channel Islands and in Mexican ranching towns; as stevedores, boatmen, and day laborers they peopled the port city of Yerba Buena; and, during and after the Gold Rush, as miners, fishermen, boardinghouse keepers, opium farmers, factory workers, beggars, and vagabonds, they lived amongst others in Sacramento, San Francisco, and in the Central Valley. In the course of research at the Huntington Library, the California Historical Society, the Bancroft Library, and throughout Hawaiʻi, I have uncovered a multitude of stories of Native Hawaiian migrant workers in nineteenth-century California. In this talk, I will discuss Hawaiian migrants to California and their experiences of life and labor in early San Francisco, from the city’s sleepy beginnings as Yerba Buena in the 1830s and 1840s to the aftermath of the Gold Rush in the 1860s and 1870s. During this era, Hawaiians were a crucial part of San Francisco’s story of cosmopolitan growth and urban transformation.

Gregory Rosenthal is Assistant Professor of Public History at Roanoke College. His current book project is a history of Native Hawaiian migrant labor in the nineteenth-century global capitalist economy. He has published in Environmental History, World History Bulletin, Perspectives on History, and Solutions. His website is http://gregoryrosenthal.com/

Kieth Hansen joined us April 29th, 2015 at Green Apple Books. The first of our series’ “wandering era.”

Kieth Hansen has been hooked on birds since he was a kid, when his brother ran into to grab him, and showed him a Cedar Waxwing in the woods of Maryland. Not long after, his family moved to Fresno, where the Sierra Nevada became his backyard, and he went deep into birding, and on to do a 3 week stint on the Farallones with PRBO in 1974 as the youngest person to be allowed on the islands. Since then his birding has taken him all over the world.

He also came from an artistic family, and those two interests were have been tied together since his senior year of high school. His first book was a coloring book about birds of the Sierra, followed by a 4 year project to produce illustrations for “Discovering Sierra Birds” co-authored by my Ted Beedy and Steve Granholm.

His most recent project has been one 14 years in the making — 1400 paintings of 320 species each with their different plumages based on sex, age, seasonality — called “Birds of the Sierra Nevada: Their Natural History, Status and Distribution” with co-authors Ted Beedy and Ed Pandolfino.”

Originally it was planned as one book, but the field guide + life history became too much. The life history book has been published first with example images from the field guide illustrations.

To paint one illustration takes about 2 months from a blank canvas, a slow process of building up the picture of the bird, starting with pencil, measuring out and couting the feathers; wetting the bird and starting with a neutral tint for shadow, then adding color, sheer washes over each other, drawing more while the paint drys, then back to paint; paying attention to the translucency of feathers as they overlap; the full colored bird building up slowly but surely; the final touches in place with colored pencil.

A lot of these images are made up, not directly from a photo or illustration, but trying to get the bird in the perfect pose: pulling from his own years of observation, videos he has taken, specimens, other books, and photos. Consulting with his many birding friends and experts in the birding world to make sure he has gotten it right. This is his 13th book, and for the most part he can block birds out without too much work, it’s the details that take the time and effort. Although he enjoys it, he does not draw as much as he would like in the field.

His love of birds is clear from the beauty of his final exquisite images, and he takes inspiration from his trips out in the field (he showed a great video of birds in the Sierra’s) and also in his backyard in Bolinas. His studio has proved itself an excellent little observatory as well.

His images are fairly small — but this is mostly a factor that he has had to draw so many, and that they will actually be even smaller in the book. He has been pleased to see how well they can be blown up though. One of the most important factors in getting the birds right is their weight and center of gravity — how they carry themselves, and their relation of their legs to the body.

We still illustrate bird guides he says, because they can be drawn in a neutral space, the same generic conditions and lighting to make them easier to compare, and it is easier to highlight and show features. A photo guide has the disadvantage of having a background and the varied lighting, and varied conditions. With an illustration it is easier to show the details and variations that matter.

I hope that he keeps illustrating birds for many years to come. His studio in downtown Bolinas is well worth a visit (he related a funny story about why he has so many hummingbird feeders). He also leads tours through a company called Sacred Monkey. More information can be found on his website at http://keithhansen.com/

Marine Mammal Science:
A Review of Collaborative Research at The Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito

Guest Speaker: Lauren Rust
7:30pm, Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

FREE at Green Apple Books on the Park,
1231 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA

The Marine Mammal Center has been rescuing and rehabilitating marine mammals in northern California for 40 years. In addition to rescue and rehabilitation, The Marine Mammal Center conducts cutting edge science research through collaborations all over the world. The Center was the first to discover domoic acid in California sea lions and continues to research why cancer is so prevalent in this sentinel species. Lauren Rust, a research biologist with the Center, will go more in-depth about the extensive research projects at the Center and how this research is being applied to the current sea lion crisis.

Lauren Rust has been in the marine mammal field for over 12 years on both coasts. She’s currently a research biologist at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito. Lauren manages the research department which involves conducting necropsies (animal autopsies) on patients that die at the center as well as large whales on the beach, collaborating with researchers nationwide and helping the veterinary staff care for the sick and injured animals waiting for release. She hails from South Carolina but moved to the Bay area with her family 5 years ago.

Sea Lions
The Semi-Secret Lives of SF’s Ravens

Guest Speaker: Adrian Cotter 7:30pm, Wednesday, May 27th, 2015 FREE at Green Apple Books on the Park, 1231 9th Ave, San Francisco, CA

People often describe ravens in San Francisco as ubiquitous – ubiquitous enough to be generally ignored. Adrian has been following them around they city for about 5 years now, finding their nests in all sorts of odd places, and observing their lives from nest to juvenile flocks. These  intelligent birds are fun to watch, but there increasing numbers might also spell trouble for other species.

Joel Pomerantz (my partner in this lecture business) talked to us on March 19th, 2015 about his research into the flood of 1862. At first he did not find a whole lot, until he stumbled across the term “freshet”. That opened up a whole new line of research — which led to this wonderful and somewhat unconventional lecture — a “choose your own lecture” adventure: offering a list of topics on which he could speak.

Lithograph with frame K Street A Rosenfeld, SF

He did give some background to start. The term “atmospheric river” is a relatively new one. I hadn’t heard of it myself until I heard a lecture on drought last fall, but it popped up in the news a lot at the start of our winter storm cycle (the threat of which caused more chaos than the actual event this year). These rivers in the sky are actually the delivery mechanism for a lot of moisture from the the equator to landmasses. The moisture isn’t necessarily even visible from space only recently have microwave satellites been able to track them.

One of these rivers pushes up toward the northwest, and under certain circumstances, storms in Alaska (the results of other atmospheric rivers) push these rivers further south into California. The total water in these systems can be huge (10 to 20 Mississippi’s worth), and what fell in California in 1862 was exacerbated by a drought in the prior year, and a hard freeze that followed. What measurements we had: San Francisco saw 24”-37” of rain in January alone (19-20 is the average for the year). In gold country there was 108” in a month.

All this wrought terrible destruction, pretty much every mill, ferry, and bridge were washed out (many many deaths happened with people trying to cross rivers), tens of thousands of dead cattle washed up on beaches, low lying farms inundated, Sacramento flooded.

Newspaper accounts of the time (akin to the blogs of today) had all sorts of accounts of how terrible it was. Every day people thought it could not get worse, and each day it did. A Southern Californian woman recounted how in a 6 week stretch there was not time to dry even a handkerchief.

Given the prior year’s drought, sediment got picked up from the ground rather than the water being absorbed — and given also the blasting going on for mining, a tremendous amount of soil and rock was moved and polished by the high fast moving water.  Water covered 30’ high telegraph poles in some places and steamships were able to go anywhere.

The freeze that followed didn’t stop it. The freeze was a deep one down to sea level, but it didn’t stop the water from moving and ice tsunamis formed — ice piling upon ice, pushing up onto land crushing whatever might be in its path.

San Francisco Bay clocked no flood tides for over a week, raised as it was by 7’, and the water was fresh enough that steam ships didn’t have to trek to their usual freshwater streams to get water.

The effects did not happen all in one go either. Drought followed in 1863 and 600k more cattle died, pretty much the last of the stock that came from the original Spanish settlements. Michael Barber of UC Davis thinks that this is when native grasslands were supplanted, when new cattle was brought in directly from the east. Tree squirrels may have also taken their place at this time — so many ground squirrels were killed into the floods.

The greatest source of information about the floods comes from Sacramento. Governor Leland Stanford was inaugurated on Jan 10th, 1862 and was said to have had to row to the ceremony. Business had to be carried out on the 2nd floor of Sacramento, and 1000s of miners came down from the hills looking for a way back to San Francisco. A fair number of people turned their backs on California altogether.

The story quickly made its way into stories and song: Bret Harte’s Luck of Roaring Camp (the story was very successful, the author himself helped rescue people during the floods), a musician Max Zorer who named his songs after the flood (The California Flood Mazurka Dance), and a minstrel song published in 1863 called Down By the River Lived a Maiden, by H. S. Thompson, about a woman who drowns while chasing her ducks away from the river, which later was the inspiration for a song you are all familiar with Oh My Darlin’ Clementine. Joel gave a fabulous rendition of the original — an “old timey” sounding tune, with its amusing but ultimately sad lyrics (sadly my recording of this event failed entirely).

Down by the river lived a maiden

Joel had us speculate on why this disaster faded into the background, beyond the terminology, until recently there was little to be found on the subject. There is some level of time passing — we would not expect much of a history of Hurricane Sandy in 150 years perhaps, except that we are now building on the places that were designed as flood plains in the 1850s. His hypothesis is that it might be the flood control administrators who did not want to talk about it — the storm was of such a magnitude that it is unlikely we could build to it. It’s only recently that people have begun to think about a response (on such effort referred to as the Ark Storm). 16 million people live in areas which were underwater in 1862.

How long ‘til the next one? It is really impossible to say. There have been 2-5 storms of this magnitude in the last 2000 years (measuring from sediment layers taken from lakes). Ultimately, it is up to us citizens to remember, research, pass on, and act on this kind of knowledge.

At the end of the lecture, I am sure that Joel could have gone on much longer. Keep an eye on http://thinkwalks.org for updates and future talks on his flood research.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,134 other followers