Falling love with a lone wolf — via a GPS tracker

Great op-ed yesterday in the New York Times about how GPS data is helping bring us closer to other species.

In recent years, there has been much pontificating about how modern communications technologies are changing the way that we relate to other people. Less discussed is the way these advances are reshaping our relationships with other species. By using satellite and cellular tags to track free-ranging animals, biologists are providing us with intimate access to the daily lives of other species, drawing us closer to the world’s wild things and making us more invested in their welfare.

Over the past several decades, the use of wildlife tags has proliferated as the devices have become smaller and more powerful. Today’s tags are capable of collecting months’ or years’ worth of data on an animal’s location at a given moment, and can be used to track everything from tiny tropical orchid bees to blubbery, deep-diving elephant seals. The devices provide crucial information about populations — helping scientists uncover the migratory pathways of Arctic terns or the ocean currents that loggerhead sea turtles like to surf — as well as individuals. Is this particular predator a pack leader or a lone wolf?

Lots of fascinating ironies here, but it's worth mentioning again how usefully the Times has refashioned the op-ed column. So often it becomes strident argumentation along predictable lines, but it can be a prime opportunity for the thoughtful exploration of topics not topical enough to be considered news. 

Though actually, the story of OR-7, the first wolf known to have visited California in many years, did make news in both California and Oregon. Here's one of OR-7's cohorts, OR-10, via California's (renamed) Department of Fish and Wildlife. 

GrayWolf_OR-10_ODFW

Exactly as author Emily Anthes says, following an individual has helped us bond to the species. 

We may be able to ignore a nameless, faceless mass of threatened creatures, but fill in their personalities and back stories, and it becomes harder to look the other way as their habitats disappear or they are hunted to extinction. A famous animal can become an ambassador for its species, inspiring efforts to conserve the entire population. Indeed, after [Yellowstone] wolf 832F [was shot to] death, the National Wolfwatcher Coalition started a fund-raising campaign in her honor, donating the proceeds to wolf research and education programs.

Make it specific, as they say in writing, and in drama. The general? Eh. 

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  1. Matt Heberger

    Fascinating. Technology doesn’t need to be alienating and dehumanizing. This story is a an interesting counterpoint to an article in last December’s High Country News, “As it goes high-tech, wildlife biology loses its soul.”

    http://www.hcn.org/issues/44.21/as-it-goes-high-tech-wildlife-biology-loses-its-soul

    Instead of reflecting on the awe and wonder that comes with a better understanding of the natural world, the author harkens back to the bad old days. “In 1978 […] locating wolves at the time was a laborious and primitive process. I hiked trails with researchers, hands cupped to our mouths, doing our best to imitate wolf howls and hoping for a reply.”

    February 6, 2013 Reply

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