Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Sharkwater - Stop Shark Finning

What is Shark Finning?

  • Shark finning refers to the removal and retention of shark fins and the discard at sea of the carcass. The shark is most often still alive when it is tossed back into the water. Unable to swim, the shark slowly sinks toward the bottom where it is eaten alive by other fish.

  • Shark specialists estimate that 100 million sharks are killed for their fins, annually.
The above quotes are taken from the website of Sharkwater, a documentary  that was aired yesterday on Danish television. I sat down watching it not really knowing what to expect, but were soon shocked and outraged by what I saw.

Sharkwater is a documentary by the Canadian filmmaker Rob Stewart who is driven by a lifelong fascination with sharks. Stewart uses the first part of the documentary to debunk the reputation of sharks as bloodthirsty, man-eating monsters and documents how few fatal incidents sharks are actually involved in (or as Wikipedia puts it: "when the facts are examined it can be seen that a shark attack is one of the rarest ways for humans to die. On average, there are a minuscule 5 fatal shark attacks per year worldwide"). Stewart also argues how sharks as apex predators have had a vital influence on the evolution of the seas; sharks have been around for more than 400 million years, before the times of the dinosaurs. Then the documentary segue into a sinister account of how a horrendous number of sharks are killed each year, bringing many species to the brink of extinction. Only a minor part of the shark, the fins, is actually used, reminding me of the cruel mindless waste of the wholesale slaughter of the North American bison (nothing to do with Lophophora, I know, but I felt it important to help spreading the word about this disaster).

A whale shark fin on display outside of a shark fin restaurant, with shark fin soup preparation in the background. Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Rob Stewart
A whale shark fin on display outside of a shark fin restaurant, with shark fin soup preparation in the background. Bangkok, Thailand. Photo by Rob Stewart

It seems like the movie (A whale shark had its fins cut off while still alive, then left to die) couldn't be embedded - you can watch it at
A whale shark had its fins cut off while still alive, then left to die

Shark fin is a popular delicacy in Asia - especially China, where it is typically served in shark fin soup at weddings, business dinners, etc. Shark fins are big business, allegedly a bowl of shark fin soup can fetch up to $120! Consequently sharks are killed in the millions (as mentioned above some experts estimate 100 million sharks are killed each year), diminishing the populations alarmingly fast - some to the point of extinction. On top of that the sharks are killed in an extremely cruel way, the fins are usually sliced off as the shark is still alive and the finless body is dumped back into the ocean left to a slow death.

Concerned voices are also raised regarding how the ecosystems of the ocean will be affected by removing massive numbers of top-level predators. The IUCN Shark Specialist Group Finning Statement says: "shark finning [...] threatens many shark stocks, the stability of marine ecosystems, sustainable traditional fisheries, food security and socioeconomically important recreational fisheries" and concludes that "a ban on shark finning is justified throughout the world’s oceans and high seas".

Not to mention the tremendous waste: the IUCN Information Paper on Shark Finning states that "The most widely used fin:carcass ratio was developed by the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in the early 1990s. NMFS adopted a ratio of 5% fin weight to 95% dressed (gutted and beheaded) carcass weight based on samples of sharks dressed at sea under commercial fishing conditions in the Northwest Atlantic, and using the ratio appropriate for species with the largest fins", meaning that less than 5% of the killed animal is actually used.

Dusky shark attacking school of sardines in South Africa. Photo by Peter Lamberti
Dusky shark attacking school of sardines in South Africa. Photo by Peter Lamberti

The screening of Sharkwater was followed by an analysis by a shark biologist from my old university. Asked if Sharkwater should be considered a sober or exaggerated "eco documentary" she replied that the situation as described by Rob Stewart is very much for real - millions of sharks are killed each year for their fins and many species will become extinct if action is not taken now!

It's sad to see how these magnificent creatures have gone from predator to prey, and how despite surviving the earth's history of mass extinctions, they could easily be wiped out within a few years due to human greed.

The stupidity and shortsightedness of mankind can be dumbfounding.

Sharkwater - The Truth Will Surface
IUCN Information Paper on Shark Finning
IUCN Shark Specialist Group Finning Statement
The photos are taken from the Sharkwater Press Kit

Scalloped hammerhead shark, Cocos Island, Costa Rica. Photo by Rob Stewart
Scalloped hammerhead shark, Cocos Island, Costa Rica. Photo by Rob Stewart

Friday, May 14, 2010

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey - DVD

The History Channel has released its feature-length documentary Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey on DVD. The documentary is written by Peter von Puttkamer and botanist Wade Davis and follows Davis as he reconstructs the travels and discoveries of his renowned mentor and fellow botanist Richard Evans Schultes, the father of modern ethnobotany. Or as von Puttkamer puts it:
Plant Explorer Richard Evans Schultes was a real life Indiana Jones whose discoveries of hallucinogenic plants laid the foundation for the psychedelic sixties. Now in this two hour History Channel TV Special, his former student Wade Davis, follows in his footsteps to experience the discoveries that Schultes brought to the western world. Shot around the planet, from Canada to the Amazon, we experience rarely seen native hallucinogenic ceremonies and find out the true events leading up to the Psychedelic Sixties. Featuring author/adventurer Wade Davis (“Serpent and the Rainbow”), Dr. Andrew Weil, the Grateful Dead’s Bob Weir and many others, this program tells the story of the discovery of peyote, magic mushrooms and beyond: one man’s little known quest to classify the Plants of the Gods. Richard Evans Schultes revolutionized science and spawned another revolution he never imagined.

I haven’t watched the documentary yet but can’t quite see how LSD relates directly to Richard Evans Schultes. Of course he worked with Albert Hofmann, the discoverer of LSD, on several occasions but to the best of my knowledge all of Schultes’ work were based on botany and dealt with botanical compounds (some of which have properties similar to LSD, granted). I hope this angle is not “forced” upon the documentary in an attempt to draw in more viewers (I’m imagining arguments like “botany? arrrr that’s too boring - let’s throw in some LSD” ;-) ... but I guess I better watch the documentary before jumping to conclusions ;-) I’m also wondering about the wording: “the discovery of peyote” - peyote (Lophophora williamsii) use is documented back to prehistoric times so it doesn’t really make sense to award the honor of “discovering” peyote to anyone.

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey is available from Amazon.

Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey
Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey

The History Channel.
IMDb on Peyote to LSD: A Psychedelic Odyssey.
The images used in this post are taken from here and here.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Britton and Rose - The Cactaceae

Britton and Rose: Lophophora

In the period from 1919 to 1923 the Carnegie Institution of Washington, D.C. published the monograph The Cactaceae - Descriptions and Illustrations of Plants of the Cactus Family. This four-volume work, written by Nathaniel Lord Britton and Joseph Nelson Rose, set new standards in cactus botany with meticulous diagnoses based on greenhouse and herbaria studies and years of field work. The four volumes are illustrated by photographs, drawings and color plates with the delicate artwork of Mary Eaton.

In the beginning of the 20th century, cactus taxonomy was a chaos with few but huge genera (in 1903 Schumann recognized about 800 species, which he grouped under 20 very heterogeneous genera). Rose and Britton fragmented this antiquated system of “collective genera” into many, more refined genera (The Cactaceae describes 1255 species under 124 genera). As a rule, the genera were founded on characters of flowers and fruit, combined with vegetative characters and geographical distribution.

The only edition of The Cactaceae - Descriptions and Illustrations of Plants of the Cactus Family available to the general public has for years been the black and white reprint from Dover Publications, but now the original first edition with color plates is being made available in digital form. At the time of writing volume 1 through 3 can be downloaded from Au Cactus Francophone along with other interesting material that are rarely seen by cactophiles (the Britton and Rose files are also available from the Carnegie Institution). The Cactaceae is a classic – go get it!

The two plates depicting Lophophora are included below.

Britton and Rose, The Cactaceae, Volume III, Plate X
The Cactaceae, Volume III, Plate X

Britton and Rose, The Cactaceae, Volume III, Plate IX
The Cactaceae, Volume III, Plate IX

A. Berger (1924), “Book Reviews: The Cactaceae. Descriptions and Illustrations of Plants of the Cactus Family”, Botanical Gazette, Vol. 77, No. 4, pp. 454-458.

As of March 2, 2007 all four volumes of The Cactaceae are available from Au Cactus Francophone.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The New Cactus Lexicon: A Review

The New Cactus LexiconThe New Cactus Lexicon
David Hunt, Nigel Taylor, Graham Charles
dh books, 2006
ISBN 0 9538134 4 4

After a lengthy gestation period, the New Cactus Lexicon was published this summer. For ease of handling it’s divided into two volumes – the text volume is a concise alphabetical catalogue of cactus genera, species and subspecies accepted or proposed in the current standard literature on cacti, while the atlas volume contains more than 2500 illustrations covering nearly all of the species and subspecies recognized in the text, sometimes with two or more images.

Atlas volume
With its 526 pages of illustrations this volume is a stunning visual masterpiece, and the most comprehensive pictorial record of cacti ever published (the slightly blurred quality of the examples is entirely due to my reproduction).

Illustrations of Lophophora speciesThe aim of the atlas volume is to illustrate all of the recognized species, with an emphasis on using photographs of plants in habitat at a specified locality or in cultivation from a known source, whenever possible.

The entries in the atlas are not grouped alphabetically but rather ‘like with like’, making it easier for the user to compare related species or identify unnamed plants.

Text volume
The text volume comprises 373 pages and is a no-frills dictionary of the currently recognized genera, species and subspecies of cacti. It does not include any chapters of general information about the family, its history, morphology, ethnobotany, cultivation and so on – so don’t expect an encyclopedic work like Anderson’s The Cactus Family or Benson’s Cacti of the United States and Canada.

David Hunt is a known lumper and some of the main genera changes (Parodia now includes the former Notocactus, Echinopsis including Lobivia and Trichocereus etc.) have already been the cause of much debate (maybe that’s the reason for Hunt quoting Bill Bryson for having said “Taxonomy is sometimes described as a science and sometimes as an art, but really it’s a battleground” ;-).

Illustrations of Acharagma speciesStill, there has been room for some splitting , e.g. the division of Opuntia has added 12 genera, Lophophora fricii is now recognized as a valid species, Acharagma is not submerged in Escobaria, etc.

Whether you agree with Hunt’s classification or not, the New Cactus Lexicon is an excellent reference and certainly will become the reference book for years to come. As already mentioned the atlas volume is in a league of its own with excellent illustrations of the majority of the recognized cacti species and subspecies.

You can find more information on the New Cactus Lexicon in this post.

The book can be acquired directly from dh books or from specialized bookstores like Rainbow Gardens Bookshop or Keith’s Plant Books.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The genus Lophophora – Kaktusy Special 2, 2005: A Review

I just received the new Kaktusy Special monograph on Lophophora. It comprehensively describes the distribution, characteristics and classification of the genus. In an attempt to resolve some of the taxonomic confusion surrounding Lophophora the authors propose a division of the genus into two sections and a change of rank.

lophophora kaktusy special 2 2005Based on factors like chemical composition, habitats, incompatibility of the species, rib numbers and morphology, etc, a division of the genus into the two sections Lophophora and Diffusae is proposed.

Section Lophophora comprises the various forms of the species L. williamsii including the type species (hence the autonym for the section).

Section Diffusae includes the three species related to L. diffusa, i.e. L. diffusa itself, L. fricii, and L. koehresii (aka L. diffusa v. koehresii, aka L. viridescens).

The authors argue convincingly for the taxonomic revision but it would have been interesting if the revision was supported by DNA sequencing results (like Butterworth et al. who confirmed that L. diffusa and L. williamsii are indeed distinct species).

The description for each species includes a detailed distribution map showing the range of the species. The booklet is packed with excellent habitat photos showing the plants natural growth forms (actually some of the very best habitat photos I’ve seen are included in this work – see examples below).

lophophora williamsii and diffusa habitat photos
Left – Lophophora williamsii, Sierra de la Paila, Coahuila
Right – Lophophora diffusa, Peña Miller, Queretaro

The booklet is rounded of with a few notes on the cultivation of Lophophora.

The genus Lophophora is a comprehensive and long needed review of the genus. As mentioned it would have been great with DNA sequencing results supporting the change of rank for L. fricii and L. koehresii. Also an index and a list of literature references would have been helpful. That being said, The genus Lophophora must be recommended to anyone interested in these fascinating plants.

The booklet is written by Jaroslav Bohata, Vojtĕch Myšák, and Jaroslav Šnicer; it comprises 48 pages, contains 89 color photos, 3 black and white photos, and 6 drawings. It is available from the Society of Czech and Slovak Cactus and Succulent Growers. Apart from the English edition I believe German and Czech editions are published as well.

Update - March 21, 2006
I have to mention the review of the Genus Lophophora published in the latest edition of CactusWorld (the journal of the British Cactus and Succulent Society). According to the reviewer this work “boldly goes where no taxonomist has gone before” in the attempt at clarifying the systematics of Lophophora ;-)

All Time Most Popular Posts