Backcasts archive: Through April 13, 2007

Blog calendar: April 13 | April 12 | April 11 | April 10 | April 9

posted April 13, 2007

Rare rabbits are like dinner bells to predators in Washington. Go figure

We've got to think it's back to the drawing board for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife after only a half-dozen of the endangered pygmy rabbits it returned to the wild last month have evaded salivating predators in central Washington.

Twenty of the rabbits were released amid much hoopla and national interest March 13 in the Sagebrush Flat Wildlife Area north of Ephrata, Wash., according to the Associated Press.

However, most of the animals have been devoured, state officials said. To that, we say: Bunnies, be Ephrata, very Ephrata.

These adorable little guys eat sagebrush and are the only rabbits in the United States that dig their own burrows … but apparently not fast enough.

However, biologists aren't giving up on them, yet.

"We're taking it week by week. This is valuable learning time," state pygmy rabbit coordinator David Hays said.

Here at Backcasts we're presuming that "valuable learning time" doesn't include the time it takes to figure out these rabbits, which are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, would quickly fall prey to coyotes, hawks and owls. No, these folks must have known that.

In fact, Hays said the rapid decline in population does not doom the multimillion dollar project to return the near-extinct rabbit to its natural environment, the AP reports. More rabbits will be released in the area, and experts are looking for ways to reduce predation.

Ways to reduce predation, huh? Is it just me or is anyone else thinking that releasing them probably won't reduce predation much?


posted April 12, 2007

Zoo vet's arm reattached after crocodile attack

The forearm of a zoo veterinarian in Taiwan was reattached today thanks to a quick-thinking coworker, who retrieved the severed limb from the maw of a 440-pound Nile crocodile after shooting the reptile in the neck.

The Associated Press reports the croc bit off Chang Po-yu's forearm yesterday at the Shaoshan Zoo in the southern city of Kaohsiung. The vet was attempting to retrieve a tranquilizer dart from the reptile's hide, zoo officials said.

The Liberty Times newspaper said Chang failed to notice the crocodile was not fully anesthetized when he stuck his arm through an iron rail to medicate it.

As Chang was rushed to the hospital a fellow zoo worker shot two bullets at the crocodile's neck to retrieve the arm, said Chen Po-tsun, a zoo official.

At this point there seems to be good news for both victims: Chang has his forearm back where it belongs, while the 17-year-old croc doesn't appear to be any worse for wear, according to the AP.

"The crocodile was unharmed as we didn't find any bullet holes on its hide," Chen said. "It probably was shocked and opened its mouth to let go of the limb."

The reptile is one of a pair of Nile crocodiles kept by the Kaohsiung zoo. The species is listed as endangered and is rapidly disappearing from its native African habitat.

Chen said the zoo purchased the crocodile from a local resident who had kept it as a pet.

No word on whether all the former pet owner's limbs are intact.


posted April 11, 2007

Write a caption for a fisherman who has gone over to the dark side and now adores sea lions

OK, folks, it appears we have a convert. A diehard sea lion hater has gone to the other side, completely and irreversibly (at least until his warm, fuzzy feeling wears off).

Grant Hartman, 45, long-time manager of Baja Anglers charter-fishing operation out of Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, certainly won't make a lot of friends with anglers who hear of his revelation, but it looks like he made one in a marine mammal. And that's all that matters to him.

The bottom line is, Hartman all of a sudden adores the pesky pinnipeds, as you can see by the image he submitted to Backcasts. We'll let him explain himself in a minute, but first we want you to help us out by writing a caption for the photo.

Name: (City and State):

Submit your photo cutline here:

Here are two early returns on the caption request:

John Geiger (Marietta, Ga.): Hard to believe, but what you are seeing is true! A circus sea loin actually balanced a man on his nose to the delight of young circus-goers Thursday at the Bronx Zoo. At the end of the act, the sea lion, named Spunky, regurgitated a single sardine for the red-faced primate.

James (Chattanooga, Tenn.): The things some people will do for a wet kiss.

Jeff (Schenectady, N.Y.): The more I drink, the cuter she gets!

Alex (Columbus, Ohio): Wow, Grant has been striking out at the bars a lot lately, but I didn't think it would come to this.

Springfield, Mo.: Sea lion shares his lunch with a new friend.

Bud De Santis (Spring Lake, N.J.): Yo seal! Give me back that salmon.

Meanwhile, here is Hartman's full disclosure on the sea lion situation that he wrote for his fishing report:

The fun news for this week is that I made a new friend. Actually, I have been at war with this species for years, as it is the biggest fish pirate on the planet. Sea lions have plagued sportfishermen for years and I, for one, hated them.

The thing is, as soon as you would hook up, they would come up out of the depths and steal your fish, every time! It is impossible to keep them away. They would eat your catch before you could get them in the boat and not leave until they are satisfied. I hated to have them around the boats. I would get so angry. I always wished for a weapon of some sort to keep them away and stop them from robbing our hard-earned fish.

Then life takes another sneaky turn; it sent me an ambassador that has changed me and opened my eyes a little.

I really don't know what to call him, this sea lion. I met him a few days ago. He looks to be older and has a clouded eye. He is huge! I mean big, but moves with the grace of a ballet dancer.

It happened like this. After a day's fishing, my guys were filleting some sierra mackerels and dropping the carcasses overboard for a sea lion to eat. I thought this was the coolest thing, but I hadn't seen anything, yet.

Alex (one of my captains) hand feeds him a large sierra mackerel. I thought I would take a try and just give the big guy a mackerel. He came up and took the fish out of my hands and ate it in three gulps. I had some caballitos (which are about an 8-inch baitfish) in the livewell. I thought, what the heck, I would give it a try.

I held the bait steady about a foot off the water and the sea lion came up calmly and took the bait out of my hand; wow, this big fella was gentile. I then grabbed a big dead sardine and again he softly came up and took the bait out of my hand. This went on for about an hour.

He would let me touch his whiskers and softly glide my hand over the top of his head. It was then that I knew I had made a new friend. I decided to trust him and took a dead three-inch sardine out of the baitwell and put the tail in my mouth and leaned over the dock. He came up so slowly closed his eyes and took the bait delicately right out of my mouth. He had even softly brushed his lips and whiskers up against my face and lips.

This wild marine mammal that I had cursed so many times in my life touched me in a way that I could never really explain in words. This gentle soul found a way to break my hard exterior and make me look at him in a new way.

I will never look at sea lions the same again. Every fish they take from my line will be a gift of sharing from me.

I do hope that he stays around, and I will continue to be his friend. A gentile touch and a few fish from my catch is the least I can do for a friend.

It all sounds a little fishy to us, Grant — make that way too fishy — but here's to wishing all the very best to you and your lovely lion, just the same.


posted April 10, 2007

It's quite plain something a little as a mouse can cause big plane delays

Good news, Bill Exner, we think we've found the mouse that stole your teeth.

You might remember a couple of weeks ago we blogged the Maine man was being taunted by a mouse that had escaped with his lower dentures. Exner's false teeth were later discovered after a saw and crowbar were put to a wall in his bedroom where the rodent was last spotted.

His choppers were found, but the mouse evaded the pursuer.

The mischievous mouse, or perhaps one of his clever cousins, appears to have been located — after stowing away on a Boeing 777 and causing a delay of more than four hours to a Vietnam Airlines flight that was set to leave Hanoi for Tokyo.

In all honesty, that little, four-legged freak is probably still in Exner's Waterville abode, watching while he sleeps and waiting to strike again. No teeth are safe from Speedy Gonzales. ¡Ándale! ¡Ándale! ¡Arriba! ¡Arriba!

As for the international hitchhiker, Reuters reports a passenger spotted the white mouse on the aircraft, which had arrived in Hanoi from the central Vietnam city of Danang at 10 p.m. Saturday and was scheduled to continue to Japan.

"Technicians were sent to seek and kill the mouse on the Boeing, and this task lasted for over four hours," according to one report in the online newspaper VietnamNet.

The account and others in state-run newspapers suggested the passengers went to a hotel and luggage was removed during the search for the mouse, according to Reuters.

The rodent was found early Sunday, and the aircraft took off at 4 a.m.

Vietnam Airlines employees said they suspected a passenger brought the mouse onto the plane and it escaped.

No word on whether the runaway mouse was sporting any extra molars or incisors.


posted April 9, 2007

Bummer for the Alaska sea otter is a blessing for ancient hunting practices

That a sheath of sea ice has prevented Alaska Peninsula sea otters from a bounty of clams or sea urchins and forced the marine mammals onto the tundra in search of food is one of those bad news-good news deals we see so often in animal kingdom.

The bad news is that the chance of survival for the threatened Alaska otters, which range from the Aleutian Islands to Cook Inlet, drops significantly once they are forced onto land, according to the Associated Press.

Their numbers have dropped more than 50 percent in the past 20 years to about 48,000 animals, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates. Similar freeze-outs have been documented since the early 1970s.

Awkward and slow travelers on terra firma, they waddle and slide on their bellies for miles while pulling with front paws and dragging flipperlike hind feet. Near Port Heiden, Alaska, they have been attacked by dogs, killed for pelts and have died of malnourishment, the AP reports.

The good news is that the ancient hunting practices of the native Alutiiq people are being preserved in Port Heiden, where at least 17 sea otters have been skinned to make hats, gloves and blankets.

If the otters are going to die anyhow, at least those in the Alutiiq village (population 79), situated some 400 miles southwest of Anchorage, can benefit by keeping a tradition alive.

The Marine Mammal Protection Act allows Alaska's native people to kill sea otters for food or handicrafts; otherwise, the 1972 law forbids hunting or harassing the animals.

Mark Kosbruk, fire chief for the Alutiiq village, said he's sad for the starving animals but glad hunting customs, like sharing the meat and hides with elders, are being maintained.

"We don't hunt for ourselves," Kosbruk said. "We hunt for people who can no longer hunt for themselves."

Andrew Lind, 27, a commercial fisherman who moved to Port Heiden a few years ago, killed his first otters last month.

Lind is giving all of his otters away, most to elders. He gave the first to his mother and the next to his grandmother, who was planning to make fur hats for children and grandchildren.

"She was very happy and thankful," he said.

And that makes us happy and thankful that hunting can mean so much to people.

Hunting for a platform? Romney may have to look elsewhere

We like that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has been taken to task for claiming to be a lifelong hunter even though he never purchased a license.

"I think it was a major mistake," said campaign rival Mike Huckabee, a former Arkansas governor. "It would be like me saying I've been a lifelong golfer because I played putt-putt when I was 9 years old and I rode in a golf cart a couple of times."

"I think American people are looking for authenticity," Huckabee added. "Match their record with their rhetoric."

Romney, a former governor of Massachusetts, was dogged last week about his hunting activities after he remarked at a campaign stop that he has been a hunter nearly all his life, according to the Associated Press.

The next day, in response to an Associated Press inquiry, his campaign said Romney had gone hunting just twice — once as a teenager in Idaho and last year with GOP donors in Georgia. Officials in the four states where Romney has lived also told the AP he never took out a license.

Romney explained later his staff was wrong and that he had hunted rabbits and other small animals for many years, mainly in Utah. Hunting certain small game there does not require a license.

We certainly don't mind when Republican presidential candidates get beat up in the press, but we take particular umbrage when said candidates take our sacred tradition of hunting for granted.

Alaska rockfish aged to perfection; how much older do they get?

We still can't get over the age and size of the shortraker rockfish that was hauled out of the Bering Sea last month by a commercial fishing boat.

At 44 inches and 60 pounds, the big mama was estimated to 90 to 115 years old based on the growth rings in its ear bone, according to the Associated Press.

It's year of birth could have been in 1892. Quick, who was President back then?

That estimate is toward the upper end of the known age limit for shortraker rockfish, said Paul Spencer of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. Other estimates put the fish's maximum age at 157 years, Spencer said.

The contents of the rockfish's stomach were examined and scientists took tissue samples to measure her reproductive potential. "The belly was large," Spencer said. "The ovaries were full of developing embryos."

Scientists said the specimen is not the biggest on record. A 47-inch shortraker rockfish has been recorded, according to the book "Fishes of Alaska."

P.S.: I didn't know (notice I refrained from writing, I didn't know either) who was our prez in 1892, so I had to Google it. It was, of course, Benjamin Harrison, and I think "Little Ben" would have been proud to know some not-so-little fish from his day would still be finning around 115 years after his administration.

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    About the author: Brett Pauly spent nearly six years editing and publishing ESPNOutdoors.com before moving on to produce the ESPN.com Sports Travel site.

    He is a national award-winning writer and editor with 14 years of experience in the newspaper trade. The Evergreen State of Washington is where he makes his home. Click here to email him.

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