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Cops: Tape Shows Father, Son Shooting Bear, ‘Shrieking’ Cubs

The Free Press WV

On Esther Island in Alaska, a motion-detecting camera was set up in a bear den as part of a joint three-year study between the US Forest Service and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. What that camera captured has now led to felony and misdemeanor charges against a Palmer father and son, who authorities say shot dead a sow black bear and her two just-born cubs, then tried to cover it up once they saw the mother bear was collared, the Anchorage Daily News reports. Per court documents, Andrew Renner, 41, and Owen Renner, 18, were charged after video clips showed them skiing past the bear den on April 14, when the sow caught their eye. Per an Alaska State Troopers dispatch, Owen Renner then shot at the mother bear twice, and when the baby bears started “shrieking,“ Andrew Renner shot and killed them.

Additional clips are allegedly said to show the Renners skinning and butchering the sow for meat, discussing getting the collar off her, and Owen Renner declaring, “They’ll never be able to link it to us.“ The men are also reportedly seen coming back to the site two days later to pick up empty shells and retrieve the cubs’ bodies. Troopers say later that month, Andrew Renner brought the bear skin and collar to ADF&G in Palmer and said he, not his son, had shot the sow, and that once he saw she had teats, he looked for but didn’t see any cubs. It’s illegal in Alaska, except at certain sites, to take cubs or sows with cubs. Andrew Renner now faces felony charges of tampering with evidence, as well as unsworn falsification and contributing to the delinquency of a minor (Owen Renner was only 17 in April). The men also face misdemeanor charges, including unlawful take of a sow with cubs and the cubs themselves.

‘I Can’t Believe’ She Is Still Carrying Her Dead Calf

The Free Press WV

Scientists have been unable to determine how an endangered orca calf died because—as of Wednesday, 16 days later—its mother still won’t let it go. “I am sobbing ... absolutely shocked and heartbroken,“ researcher Deborah Giles tells the Seattle Times. “I can’t believe she is still carrying her calf around.“ Concerns have been mounting about the health of the mother, known as J35, but they appear to have now hit a grave level. According to Giles, J35 almost certainly isn’t getting the nutrition necessary to regain strength lost during the gestation period (17 months on average) and her subsequent period of mourning, even if family members are “foraging for and sharing fish with her.“

Recent sightings of J35’s pod off Washington’s Olympic Peninsula brought additional concerns: An ailing 3.5-year-old female orca with the potential to reproduce was seen swimming with her mother but is emaciated and lethargic, and may have only days to live, reports the Victoria Times-Colonist. Per CTV News, US and Canadian officials are working on a plan to save J50, one of 75 orcas in the southern resident population, who may have an infection. Using a pole or dart to administer an injection of antibiotics is “our best course,“ an NOAA Fisheries scientist tells the Times-Colonist, though CTV describes concerns about disturbing pod members.

Yellowstone Tourist Filmed While Taunting Bison

Video taken inside Yellowstone National Park shows a person taunting a wild bison that was attempting to mind its own business along a busy roadway. Per KRTV, the incident unfolded in the Hayden Valley area of Wyoming, where a passerby recorded as a person who appeared to be a tourist directly engaged the 1,000-plus pound beast. The bison first tried to just ignore the person. However, when the taunts continued and the tourist got closer, the animal charged. At that point, witness Lindsey Jones’ moved her camera away. “Oh God, no, no, I can’t watch,“ she said. Lucky for everyone, the tourist managed to move away before being gored. “Meanwhile in Yellowstone National Park… #dontdrinkandbuffalo,“ Jones wrote after posting the video to Facebook. Park officials say the rules, for the safety of both animals and people, are clear: stay away from the wildlife.

Grieving orca highlights plight of endangered whales

The Free Press WV

Whale researchers are keeping close watch on an endangered orca that has spent the past week keeping her dead calf afloat in Pacific Northwest waters, a display that has struck an emotional chord around the world and highlighted the plight of the declining population that has not seen a successful birth since 2015.

Researchers have observed the 20-year-old whale known as J35 pushing her dead young along and propping it up while swimming for miles in the waters of Washington state and British Columbia. The calf died June 24 shortly after it was born. Its mother was seen Tuesday night still clinging to the dead calf off British Columbia’s Gulf Islands, said Jenny Atkinson, executive director of the Whale Museum on San Juan Island.

Experts say the orca and other family members traveling with her are grieving or mourning. And while it isn’t uncommon for whales and dolphins mourn their young, they say, it’s unusual that it has been going on for so long.

“There’s evidence that cetaceans such as dolphin and whales are often attending to dead bodies. Sometimes, it’s because of curiosity or exploration and not necessarily emotion. Other mother dolphins and whales have kept their calves buoyant,” said Barbara King, professor emerita of anthropology at the College of William and Mary and author of “How Animals Grieve.”

“What’s different about J35 is her persistence,” she said, but then asked: “How resilient can she be? How long can she keep this up? Is she eating? Is she taking care of herself?”

The orca and her closely knit pod of whales have been observed taking turns carrying the dead calf, Atkinson said. A crew with the museum’s Soundwatch boater education program has been spending about 11 hours each day tracking J-35, also called Tahlequah, and making sure boaters give the whales distance.

Researchers have collected poop samples from the group of whales that includes the grieving mother. They are preparing to try and recover the dead calf to understand more about why it died.

Meanwhile, the images of the whale balancing the dead orca have captivated the public and garnered global attention.

“There’s an optic that’s more powerful than any other statistic. It’s a picture of what we can assume is a heartbroken mother who herself is necessary and precious to this population,” said Jason Colby, professor of environmental history at the University of Victoria and author of “Orca: How We Came to Know and Love the Ocean’s Greatest Predator.”

Not long ago, killer whales were shot at and later captured live for marine parks, but “now we’re seeing the extraordinary spectacle that is exactly the opposite — the emotional public outpouring and sharing in this mother’s grief,” he said.

The distinctive black-and-white orcas have struggled since they were listed as an endangered species in the U.S. and Canada over a decade ago. They’re not getting enough of the large, fatty Chinook salmon that make up their main diet. They also face overlapping threats from toxic contamination and noise and disturbances from boats that can interfere with their ability to forage or communicate.

Female orcas have been having pregnancy problems because of nutritional stress linked to lack of salmon. A multiyear study last year by University of Washington and other researchers found that two-thirds of the orcas’ pregnancies failed between 2007 and 2014.

The dead calf was the first in three years among the fish-eating southern resident killer whales that typically spend spring to fall in the inland waters of Washington state and British Columbia.

There are now only 75 whales, the lowest number in three decades, and researchers are worried about the fate of another 4-year-old female orca known as J-50 that looks thin and emaciated.

The orcas are distinct from other killer whales because they eat salmon, mostly Chinook salmon, which are also declining, rather than marine mammals. Individual whales are identified by unique markings or variations in their fin shapes, and each whale is given a number and name.

Traveling together in matrilineal groups, the orcas at times can be seen breaching around Puget Sound, even against the backdrop of the downtown Seattle skyline.

Deborah Giles, a scientist with the University of Washington’s Center for Conservation Biology, has observed the grieving mother whale in recent days. At times the whale dives into the water to retrieve her calf when it sinks, retrieves it and pushes the calf back to the surface.

“Sometimes she’s on her own with that calf, but a lot of time, she’s with her mom and her son and another relative. Her family has been right by her,” Giles said.

Giles said she worries for the mother, who must expend a lot of energy to keep the dead calf afloat.

King, the author, said one reason the story is touching such an emotional chord for people around the world is because it’s a poignant example of a mother’s behavior with her dead calf that’s unusual and it’s tied to the decline of her population.

“She’s a thinking, feeling animal,” King said, “but also in my mind becoming a symbol of what we’re doing wrong.”

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