Julia Whitty

Julia Whitty

Environmental Correspondent

Julia is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction (Deep Blue Home, The Fragile Edge, A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga), and a former documentary filmmaker. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

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Julia is a writer and former documentary filmmaker and the author of The Fragile Edge: Diving & Other Adventures in the South Pacific, winner of a PEN USA Literary Award, the John Burroughs Medal, the Kiriyama Prize, the Northern California Books Awards, and finalist for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, and Deep Blue Home: An Intimate Ecology of Our Wild Ocean. Her short story collection A Tortoise for the Queen of Tonga won an O. Henry and was a finalist for the PEN Hemingway Award. She also blogs at Deep Blue Home.

Image-of-the-Week: Weather Change

| Fri Jan. 20, 2012 1:50 PM EST

 Northern hemisphere jet stream over Canada: NASA

Northern hemisphere jet stream over Canada: NASA

The big weather shift that's dumped record snow on Seattle, record floods on Oregon, busted open the storm door in California, and is now barreling across the country with wintery weather was jump-started by a weakening in the positive phase of the Arctic Oscillation (AO) that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. A near-record-strong positive AO for December through mid-January, combined with a La Niña, kept the jet stream jammed up over Canada and Alaska. The AO's now at about normal... though the polar jet is entrained far enough north that no major snow storms are expected to hit the US for the rest of January—except for the beleaguered Pacific Northwest. Meanwhile this winter continues the alarming warming trend of the 21st century. Jeff Masters at WunderBlog writes: "It's likely the lack of storms will make January 2012 one of the top five driest January months on record. This month is also likely to be a top-ten warmest January, but won't be able to challenge January of 2006 for the top spot. That January was an incredible 8.5°F above average in the contiguous US, and so far, we are running about 4-5°F above average."


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SOPA Visualized

| Wed Jan. 18, 2012 3:26 PM EST

There's a great MoJo explainer by Siddhartha Mahanta and Nick Baumann up today on the SOPA blackout. This video is a good enhancer. 


A big part of some of the bigger-than-average gains (see Kate Sheppard's Keystone piece today) against environmental folly of late are thanks to a truly free and unhindered internet. Also worth a look: our slideshow of major websites that went dark on Wednesday in protest of SOPA.

Ouch! Orangutans Eat Slow Lorises.

| Tue Jan. 17, 2012 3:48 PM EST

A new paper in the American Journal of Primatology reports on new instances of adult female Sumatran orangutans eating slow lorises.

From the paper:

We report 3 rare cases of meat-eating of slow lorises, Nycticebus coucang, by 1 Sumatran orangutan mother–infant dyad in Ketambe, Indonesia, to examine how orangutans find slow lorises and share meat.

In the video below, you can see a female after she knocked a slow loris out of a tree and bit it on the head (probably to avoid getting bitten herself since lorises have poisonous saliva), then carried it back to eat in the tree and try not to share it with her infant.

As  Madeleine Hardus at the University of Amsterdam et al report:

The mother often rejected meat sharing requests and only the infant initiated meat sharing.



Unlike chimpanzees, who hunt when fruit and their energy are abundant, the authors of this paper found orangs hunt only when fruit is scarce.

Slow loris captures occurred only during low ripe fruit availability, suggesting that meat may represent a filler fallback food for orangutans.

The authors also found that orangutans eat their meat more than twice as slowly as chimpanzees. Does this signify anything for human evolution?

Using orangutan data as a model, time spent chewing per day would not require an excessive amount of time for our social ancestors (australopithecines and hominids), as long as meat represented no more than a quarter of their diet.

Still, it's way better to tickle your slow loris than eat it, even slowly.



Image-of-the-Week: Wandering Albatross

| Fri Jan. 13, 2012 3:48 PM EST

Credit: AntarcticBoy via Flickr.Credit: AntarcticBoy via Flickr.

The wandering albatross, that enormous glider of the southern oceans with the longest wings of any bird (some individuals exceed 11.5 feet/3.5 meters wingspans), needs strong winds to stay aloft. During periods of little or no wind they're forced to roost on the water. Now a new paper in Science reports how a warming climate is fueling faster average winds over the southwestern Indian Ocean, and this has enabled albatrosses there to fly faster and cover more water in less time. Consequently breeding males and females spend less time at sea and spell their partner more frequently at the nest (in 1970 nest reliefs happened on average every 12.4 days, by 2008 every 9.7 days). Better-fed parents meant more eggs hatched successfully (in 1970 ~66 percent of eggs hatched, by 2008 ~77 percent). Plus adult birds now lose less weight during the breeding season, weighing an average of 2.2 pounds/1 kilogram heavier than a couple of decades ago. Perhaps this positive response to climate change will help offset ongoing population declines from birds drowning in longline fisheries.

A Meditation on Elderly Animals

| Thu Jan. 12, 2012 5:23 PM EST


Elderly Animals: Photographs by Isa Leshko from Mark & Angela Walley on Vimeo.

It's always interesting to me how provocative is the subject of elderly animals. I've met animal lovers vehemently opposed to what they feel is the cruelty of keeping old friends alive. Others believe continuing their care is the apex of human compassion.

I find Mark and Angela Walley's short film on Isa Leshko's photos a beautiful meditation on aging and love... And you?

You can see more of Isa's images at her website.

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