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Tuesday, April 28, A.D. 2009
Collective Decisions

There is a fascinating article by Susan Milius in Science News about collective decision making among social animals such as bees and ants —“Swarm Savvy.” It explains how certain species make collective decisions based on a large enough quorum of group members that favor a particular option.

For example, when a colony of bees needs to find another location, scouts seek out various possibilities and then return to the colony to relay their findings. They recruit additional scouts to examine the same locations, and the enthusiasm of an individual scout to attract fellow surveyors to a particular location determines how many other scouts will explore her discovered place. When these various expeditions report back to the colony, the largest contingent determines the next colony location.

The article covers various experiments with ants, as well, noting that ants tend to make poorer decisions in crisis situations when an immediate decision is required. Researchers have also worked with vertebrates. Even fish, we find out, put trust in the argumentum ad populum. Ten thousand Frenchmen can be wrong, but it is a far better idea to trust ten fish than one.

Milius’ story indulges a bit in comparing the collective decision making process of social animals to that of human beings. What she does not mention, however, is that, unlike the rest of the animal kingdom, men tend to have a multitude of competing motives and ends that inform—and often corrupt—their deliberations.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, April 28, Anno Domini 2009
Thursday, April 16, A.D. 2009
Moko the Dolphin

Here is another story wherein a dolphin assists animals of another species—this time, two pygmy sperm whales. You can watch the video on National Georgraphic“Hero Dolphin Saves Whales.” Here is the B.B.C. news story, “NZ dolphin rescues beached whales.”

Again, why would dolphins bother? Perhaps, we are not the only species that concerns itself with other life forms for their own good.

Yes, dolphins are very good.

Posted by Joseph on Thursday, April 16, Anno Domini 2009
Tuesday, April 14, A.D. 2009
Flipper contra the Dread Pirate Asad

I have never really understood the current fascination with pirates. Jack Sparrow and the other fictions of Hollywood aside, pirates have always been the enemy of civilization. They have always raped, pillaged, murdered, and sold captured people into slavery. From ancient times unto today, piracy is the way of the vicious. In other words, pirates are bad.

Dolphins, however, deserve the wonder of their human admirers. From the Greeks to the Californians, men have noted how splendidly remarkable these creatures are. They are intelligent, social, curious, and oddly helpful to human beings time and time again. Throughout the ages, people have recounted tales of dolphins’ assisting humans in crisis. I question the veracity of these stories, but I have read and watched several contemporary news accounts that follow the same pattern. This past Christmas, I saw a segment on Animal Planet about a surfer whose life was saved from a great white shark by dolphins. The surfer and numerous witnesses from nearby boats and the shore confirm the same story. I wonder why dolphins would bother. Of course, they are still wild animals, and there are other news accounts of dolphins’ biting stupid divers and tourists. Nonetheless, dolphins are pretty cool. In other words, dolphins are good.

So, we have pirates and dolphins; enter Chinese sailors. China View features a bizarre story about a multitude of dolphins that blocked Somali pirates from some Chinese merchant ships, thereby sparing the traders from the African savages—“Thousands of dolphins block Somali pirates.” I won’t bother passing judgment on the Chi Coms, but even the dolphins know that pirates are worse than Communists (or the industrialist pawns of plutocratic oligarchs who rule in the name of Mao). I therefore defer to Delphinidae wisdom.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, April 14, Anno Domini 2009
Monday, April 13, A.D. 2009
Learn Bird Songs

If you are a birder or if you simply wish to understand a bit more what your senses encounter outside, you may enjoy Learn Bird Songs. As the title says, the site teaches you to recognize the peculiar sounds of various American song birds.

Often, we tune out much of the stimuli around us, including bird songs. We may notice the sound of birds, but we do not differentiate among the multitude of their songs. If you start to pay attention to the songs, you will learn to hear patterns that identify the little performer. This is very useful for noticing species that rarely descend from the tree canopies.

So, open your eyes and your ears, and enjoy the rich diversity of life available for your enjoyment just beyond your door.

Posted by Joseph on Monday, April 13, Anno Domini 2009
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