Of honeybees and killer whales, Part 2

A honeybee and a killer whale walk into a bar … and nothing happens. Why? because honeybees and killer whales don’t attack humans under normal circumstances. And while I knew this about honeybees (having done extensive reading on beekeeping over the years in hope of someday managing my own hive), I didn’t know this about killer whales. Last week, however, proved to be a real eye-opener. A few days prior to Paul Dangel’s presentation on honeybees, I was lucky enough to attend an advanced screening for an upcoming documentary called Blackfish:

Poster for the film Blackfish
Click to be taken to the film’s website and view the trailer

The film’s title is a translation of a Native American word for the creature. The film is scheduled to be released in the U.S. July 26 – so don’t worry, you didn’t miss it. But how did I score two tickets to an advanced screening? Surprisingly, it had nothing to do with my “other life” teaching critical writing and film.

photo of elephant herd
Warning: elephant digression coming!

People who know me know that I have a sweet spot in my heart for elephants. Some have even referred to my affection as an “obsession” (can’t a girl get a tattoo without being accused of being obsessed?). Because of my fondness for elephants, I do not support the use of animals in circuses. When I read that Ringling Brothers would be coming to Philadelphia in early 2013, I knew I had to do something. Even in an era when it seems like you can find anything via the internet, you can’t just Google “join circus protest” and find a sign-up sheet. But then I thought – anyone who believes that elephants do not belong in zoos must feel twice as strongly about elephants in circuses. Right?

See, back in 2006, the Philadelphia Zoo announced that it would be closing its elephant exhibit and sending its elephants elsewhere. This happened in part because one of the four elephants, Dulary, had been injured in a fight with another elephant. A group called Friends of Philly Zoo Elephants campaigned to have the elephants moved to a sanctuary. Dulary now resides at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. And while I “check in” on Dulary via the sanctuary’s newsletter and super-cool “Elecams,” I never forgot the fact that there were people here in Philadelphia dedicated to elephants. With this in mind, I began reading old news stories about the zoo protests, searching for the names of individuals or groups involved, emailing, “Um, hi, if you get this, and are protesting the circus, I want to join,” and hoping that someone was still monitoring websites years after the elephants left Philadelphia. To make a long digression short, it worked! So from my concern about elephants, I found a group of people passionately dedicated to animal welfare. Lab testing? Puppy mills? You name it, they’re on it. And it was from my connection to these kind folk that I was able to get a sneak peak at an amazing documentary.

Right about now you’re thinking, “What a tease! this post has nothing to do with honeybees or killer whales!” That’s right, it doesn’t. I’m writing about Blackfish for an online journal and don’t want to plagiarize myself in advance (does that even make sense?). So stay tuned for a link to that article – Kris and Josh, don’t worry, the pixel post is almost finished, I just haven’t shot a post-pixel photo – and Happy 4th of July!

Of honeybees and killer whales …

Is it just me, or are we in the midst of a serious but unacknowledged almond-butter shortage? A quick Google search suggests that I am not alone in my concerns – and that many of us just happen to shop at Trader Joe’s. As you know from my previous posts, I am often very hungry, and nuts and nut butters constitute some of my favorite go-to snacks –¬†so easy, so delicious, so filling! So you can imagine how frustrating and confusing it’s been to encounter blank shelves or rows and rows of peanut butter where the almond butter used to sit at several local grocery stores. At first I attributed it to the Great Nut Butter Recall of 2012. But as winter turned to spring with nary a jar in sight, minor concern shifted towards paranoia. Over the past several years I have been reading about declining honeybee populations and was fairly convinced that worker bees just weren’t able to keep up with the recent demand for all things almond. Luckily, a neighborhood coffee shop just so happened to be holding an event called The Life of Honeybees. Local beekeeper Paul Dangel gave a terrific lecture on the history of human-honeybee relations and brought some of his golden-hued product. During the presentation, Paul revealed a very disturbing statistic: one third of commercial honeybee colonies in the U.S. didn’t survive the winter. One third! The consequences of this are so disturbing that I’m including a link to a recent article¬†about this problem (just click on the image):

Honeybee gathering nectar from a flower
Source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:European_honey_bee_extracts_nectar.jpg

Over the weekend I stopped back at Trader Joe’s only to discover almond butter back on the shelves. They had half a shelf of creamy and crunchy raw almond butter. Since I’m mildly allergic to raw nuts, I thought I’d take the opportunity to investigate the almond butter mystery. Sure enough, the person I asked told me that there was a shortage. Stores are only allowed to order a single case at a time, and the jars fly off the shelves as soon as they appear. “Tell me, please, is it the honeybees?” I asked. Interestingly enough, the employee told me that the almond butter shortage was actually due to contamination at a facility that produces nut butters for many many brands. Strangely (although maybe not surprisingly), if you search “almond butter shortage” online, you will find a range of explanations (and tremendous collective angst). And this got me wondering, could honeybee colony collapse this past winter really be responsible for an almond butter shortage right here, right now? Probably not, since almond trees that flowered over the spring won’t be harvested until this fall – so we are either seeing the result of a prior honeybee crisis and/or production contamination like the man at Trader Joe’s told me. But the loss of one third of all commercial honeybee colonies over the winter does herald a shortage in almonds, berries, avocados, and other good things in the coming years. So if you are like me, maybe it’s time to start experimenting with “alternative nut butters” – and think about starting a neighborhood hive!

to be continued (killer whales coming) …