Monday, January 30, 2012

Film review: "The Grey" nominated for the International Wolf Center’s 2012 Scat Award

Note: From time to time, we will invite guest bloggers to post on Wild Bytes. Nancy Jo Tubbs, International Wolf Center board chair, recently watched The Grey and has written this movie review.

"The Grey" nominated for the 2012 Scat Award
The Grey is a monster movie-dark, depressing, and as accurate a portrayal of wolf behavior as King Kong was about gorillas.

The Center is not only nominating The Grey for its first ever Scat Award in the Scare Tactics and Silly Information categories, it’s encouraging blog readers to respond and add to the list of incidents of misinformation we found in the film.

Some movie critics have appreciated the action flick that opened January 27 for its grit or panned it for its schmaltzy man-bonding moments and ambiguous ending. Pro-wolf folks seem to dislike this movie the same way herpetologists probably reacted to Snakes on a Plane and marine biologists hated Jaws. Wolf organizations offended by the portrayal of the wolf as a relentless human-hunting machine are encouraging a boycott and slamming actor Liam Neeson for playing the main character, wolf hunter John Ottway. The International Wolf Center likes to take an educational approach, even to movies.

The overriding problem with The Grey is that the wolves are portrayed as “man-killers,” when the incidence of wolves killing humans in North America is so rare as to garner huge headlines. Two cases have been documented—a 2005 killing by wolves in Saskatchewan and a 2010 death near Chignik Lake, Alaska.

A wolf trapper who provided four wolf carcasses to the production was quoted in British Columbia’s online news source, The Province, as saying about his own meetings with wolves in the wild, “I think they’ve always been curious, you know: What am I doing? I never really felt threatened by them. I’ve seen them watching me from, I don’t know, 75 feet away and then as soon as you look at them they take off.”

Much of the misinformation about wolves in the film comes from the dialogue. Ottway, is guiding seven reprobate oil riggers, survivors of a plane crash, out of the Alaskan wilderness while fighting off a pack wolves that kill the men, one by one. He’s a professional hunter who sounds like an expert, but spouts nonsense, like when he says that wolves have a territory of about 300 square miles and hunt in only about 30 of them. “Fact check: Wolves hunt throughout their territory, and in Alaska that can vary from 300 to 1,000 square miles.

If that sounds nitpicky, consider that central to the plot is Ottway’s pronouncement in this winter saga that the wolves (and now the men) are worried that the humans might encroach on the wolves’ den and would be killed as intruders. Fact check: Wolves den only in the spring in order to bear and raise their pups, and then only for 8-10 weeks. By fall, the pack is on the move.

Most laughable is the assertion by Ottway that the alpha of the pack sent an omega in to attack one of the men gathered around a fire. Fact check: While anthropomorphizing—attributing human characteristics to non-human things or animals—can be fun, it’s rarely true. Low-ranking wolf or not, it wouldn’t have attacked on any other wolf’s “instructions.”

Further, even the terms “alpha” and “omega” in regards to wolves are outdated. Those in the know now refer to the pack as a “family social unit.” The parents are the “breeding pair,” The others in the pack are pups, or yearlings if they are offspring from the prior year, and might be referred to as “subordinate males or females.”

Under the just plain “silly” category is the ludicrous depiction of seven weakened crash survivors outrunning a pack of wolves in knee-deep snow.  Wolves’ feet are especially adapted to run over difficult terrain, such as snow. Given the fact that they can reach speeds of up to 38 mph., our intrepid survivors had a better chance of being rescued by Santa Claus.

We might also note what is missing from the film: Evidence of the wolf’s prey species. These huge, healthy wolves must have been feeding on caribou, deer or moose, but until we see carcasses at the very end, the movie leads us to believe that the humans in the picture are their only possible source of food.

This movie’s wolves are over-sized, hyper-relentless, emitting howls and deep bass growls at appropriately dramatic moments, cued by the director and amplified by the best surround-sound system Hollywood could afford—sans Jurassic Park. But that’s what makes this movie a horror flick and sets a bead of sweat sliding down the back of the viewers’ neck. These are King Kong wolves, Godzilla wolves—not the real deal.

A film review by Brad Wieners in Outside magazine put it well when he said, “We’re talking hand-to-hand combat with animatronic wolves that behave less like canines than like frenzied barracuda.”

In fact, The Grey used sophisticated puppetry and computer-generated images for its wolf scenes. The only animal that looks real and portrays the kind of wolf behavior one is likely to experience is a wolf seen trotting off in the distance.

Movie-goers who like to be scared out of their socks in the theater probably won’t pick up on the wacky wolf information being conveyed, but here at the Center we hope that later they’ll learn enough about real wolf behavior so they’re not scared to take a walk in the winter woods.

What is the Scat Award?
New in 2012, the Center will name the movies, advertisements and other promotional media that represent the best of the worst witless, whoppers of wolf hooey. Stay tuned this time next year when Oscar season rolls around to hear how The Grey fared in this Scat Award competition of misdirected, misbegotten, mischievous misrepresentation.

How much misinformation can you find in The Grey?
Help us with The Grey fact check. We hope you will comment here to educate others about the misinformation you found when watching the movie. You can use the Center’s Web site to learn about the real wolf and add to your arsenal of wolf facts about wolves in Alaska and around the world. Go to

 —By Nancy Jo Tubbs

USS Monitor 150th Launch Anniversary

USS Monitor (1862) Line engraving published in Harper's Weekly, September 1862, page 433, depicting the launching of the ship at the Continental Iron Works, Greenpoint, New York, on 30 January 1862.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the USS Monitor’s launch from the Continental Iron Works, Greenpoint, New York. The USS Monitor was the first ironclad warship commissioned by the US Navy and on March 9, 1862 fought the Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia at Hampton Roads, Virginia, only a day after Virginia had ravaged the Union fleet blockading the James River. Less than nine months later, the now-famous Monitor was under tow, heading south to Beaufort, North Carolina, when, in heavy seas, the vessel sank, taking sixteen of its crew with it.

John D. Broadwater, author of USS Monitor: A Historic Ship Completes Its Final Voyage, (Texas A&M Press, March) was the manager of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary, where he directed seven major expeditions to the remains of the Civil War ironclad warship. Not until 1973 was the inverted hulk located, and in 1995, partial recovery of the wreck began under the auspices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in partnership with the US Navy. The story of the subsequent protection and management of the historic resource, and the raising of major hull components including the gun turret, add another layer of history to the Monitor’s fascinating story.

Kelsey Lawrence

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Mordecai Lee on the Reorganization of Federal Government

On January 21, 2012 the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Journal Centennial picked up the Texas A&M University Press author Mordecai Lee’s Op-Ed on President Obama’s recent plan for reorganizing the federal government.

“As a professor of public administration, I wholeheartedly support efforts to make the bureaucracy more efficient. But as a professor of public administration history, I am apprehensive that the president is making some fatal first steps.” –Lee

Over the past hundred years, every president from Taft to Johnson has proposed reorganization of the executive branch, and Lee believes that if President Obama were to study up on these histories, he could learn two valuable lessons. One, the president needs supporters in Congress to push for his bill, despite the opposition of parochial committee chairs and the external support of a civic constituency to neutralize the frantic lobbying of special interest groups and two, the president needs to make clear that the main purpose of reorganization is not to cut costs (efficiency), but to improve public administration (effectiveness).

Lee who holds a Ph.D. from Syracuse University, is a professor of governmental affairs at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. Previously, he served as a state senator as well as legislative assistant to a U.S. Congressman and is the author of Institutionalizing Congress and the Presidency: The U.S. Bureau of Efficiency, 1916–1933 and Nixon's Super-Secretaries: The Last Grand Presidential Reorganization Effort (Texas A&M University Press).

The Watergate scandal of 1973 claimed many casualties, political and otherwise. Along with many personal reputations and careers, President Richard Nixon’s bold attempt to achieve a sweeping reorganization of the domestic portion of the executive branch was also pulled into the vortex. Lee asserts that Nixon’s reorganization effort represents a significant event in the evolution of the managerial presidency and public administration, Nixon’s Super-Secretaries presents the most comprehensive historical narrative to date concerning this reorganization attempt. The author has utilized previously untapped original and primary sources to provide unprecedented detail on the inner workings, intentions, and ultimate demise of Nixon’s ambitious plan to reorganize the sprawling federal bureaucracy.
Lee’s complete Op-Ed can be found in following link.

The Titanic Centennial and James P. Delgado's "Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine"

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the infamous RMS Titanic sinking. On April 15, 1912 over 1,500 people, passengers and crew members, died tragically as the Titanic plunged to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean after colliding with an unseen iceberg.

The New York Times recently highlighted recurring interest in the site. Cruise ships still sail to the precise spot in the Atlantic where the ship went down.
The down side to these fascinating excursions? The site is becoming littered.

“It could get real crowded out there,” said James P. Delgado, director of maritime heritage at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Despite the legitimacy of wide public interest, he added, “there are some things that shouldn’t happen,” like dumping trash and leaving behind equipment.”

Delgado heads the NOAA division responsible for monitoring the Titanic site. He is also author of the forthcoming book, The Misadventures of a Civil War Submarine (Texas A&M University Press, March). In 2001 while vacationing on Panama’s Pacific coast, the maritime archaeologist came upon the hulk of a mysterious iron vessel. Locals did not know where it had come from. Some said it was the remains of a sunken Japanese “suicide” submarine from World War II. Others said it was a poison-laden “craft of death” responsible for the pearl beds decades before.
Upon investigating the hulk further, Delgado discovered it was the remains of one of the first successful deep-diving submersibles, built in 1864 by Julius H. Kroehl. The invention ultimately led to Kroehl’s demise.

Carl Jung and A Dangerous Method

In November of 2011 the movie A Dangerous Method starring Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender was released. The screenplay was adapted by Academy Award-winning writer Christopher Hampton from his 2002 stage play The Talking Cure, which was based on the 1993 non-fiction book by John Kerr, A Most Dangerous Method: the story of Jung, Freud, and Sabina Spielrein. The movie takes place in 1904 and details the deteriorating relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Carl Jung (Fassbender), a disciple of Sigmund Freud (Mortensen), is using Freudian techniques to treat Russian-Jewish psychiatric patient Sabina Spielrein (Keira Knightley) at Burghölzli Mental Hospital. But the deeper Jung's relationship with Spielrein grows, the further the psychiatrist and his highly respected mentor drift apart. As Jung struggles to help his patient overcome some pressing paternal issues, disturbed patient Otto Gross (Vincent Cassel) sets out to test the boundaries of the doctor's professional resolve.
-Jason Buchanan

Although the movie is a fictitious representation, the lives and studies of Freud and Jung are still continuously explored and studied today. If you are interested in Carl Jung or Jungian theory, check out the book Finding Jung: Frank N. McMillan Jr., a Life in Quest of the Lion (Texas A&M University Press, March) by Frank N. McMillan III ─ the personal story of McMillan Jr.’s life-long quest for meaning. McMillan, a country boy steeped in the traditional culture of rural Texas , began reading Carl Jung’s Collected Works upon hearing impressionist artist Forrest Bess’s description of Jung as a master psychologist, soul doctor, and healer. McMillan went on to establish the world’s first professorship to study the field of Jungian Psychology.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Wilderness Survival

If you would like to explore the natural world more than you already do, want to share nature with children or if you are an avid adventurer, this post is for you. All this talk about spending time outside in the last few posts has got me thinking….

It was a cold winter night, our fifteen month old was finally asleep and my husband, Peter, and I sat down on the couch to watch a film that we had had on our list for quite some time, 127 hours. The movie is based on a true story about a young man who went out into the wild for some exploration, as he had many times in the past, and literally got stuck in a life threatening situation.

Peter and I sat there with jaws wide open as this young man got his hand wedged between a rock and the wall of a canyon. He tried what he could to release himself... he pulled desperately at his arm, he tried to lift the rock and he chipped away at the rock with his knife. At one point, I looked over at Peter and his eyes were huge, he was holding his breath and he was pulling nervously at his bottom lip. He was stressed and the story had nothing to do with him. Or did it?

To complicate matters, the movie’s character had not told anyone where he was going or when he should be expected back home. He was literally stuck between a rock and a hard place with no hope of rescue. The “moral of the story” message to me was: Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to return.

Both Peter and I are both comfortable in the outdoors and enjoy escaping into the greenery of the woods when we have free time. However, we have also caught ourselves in situations, that because of circumstances outside our control, we ended up relying on someone that we told about our plan and location for the day. These situations can happen to anyone no matter his or her skill or comfort level in the natural world. We all need reminders.

Regardless of how busy life gets or how light we want to pack our bags–there are some survival axioms that should not be compromised:

1. Always tell someone your plan (where you are going, what you will be doing and when that person should expect you back).

2. Travel with someone.

3. Wear appropriate clothing (for the weather, terrain and activity).

4. Pack for both adequacy and potential mishaps such as getting lost or colder than usual weather (map and compass/GPS, extra clothing, warm layer, rain jacket/trash bag, first aid kit, water and purification system, non-perishable food, pocket knife, waterproof matches, space blanket, mirror (signaling), flashlight or headlamp, whistle, sunscreen/glasses/hat and bug spray).

5. Know the area where you are going and check the weather before leaving for the trip.

6. If you get lost, stay calm and stay put.

These considerations sparked an excellent discussion at home the other night, in which Peter reminded me how important it is to practice. Practicing survival techniques may help you stay calm in an emergency situation. For example, pack what you believe you would need for a variety of survival situations, hit up a nearby park and allow yourself to get comfortable with survival skills before you are faced with a backcountry situation.

What would you add to our list based on your life experiences?


Eager to learn more? Check out:

Books: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer and Lost in the Wild by Cary J. Griffith.

The film: 127 hours (This movie does have some graphic scenes and may not be fit for young audiences. Please use discretion.).

Websites: National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), Wilderness Medical Associates (WMA) and Nature Skills.

The YouTube video: “How to Make an Alcohol Stove – Step by Step” (This video has great directions. The music is used as a filler and is not necessary. Feel free to listen without sound if desired.).

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kids in the Woods: What do You Think?

There are few experiences I enjoy more than introducing young people to the natural world.  Whether it is a city park or a wilderness area, seeing a kid’s eyes light up with discovery is a tremendous joy.  Since I began leading others into the woods nearly twenty years ago, I have engaged in an internal struggle and a good-natured debate with colleagues:  Is it more important to teach students scientifically accurate information, or to let them explore and hypothesize, even if they might reach the wrong conclusion?

It obviously isn’t a true either/or choice, but on nearly every occasion I have led young people outside, this dilemma has popped up at some point.  Here’s one example:  Last winter my wife and I took our kids—ages three and seven at the time—out to look for animal tracks in the fresh fallen snow.  It was a wonderful night, clear, cold and windy.  We each had our own headlamp, and we walked a ski trail by our house.  We saw tracks of all kinds; hare, squirrel, fox and vole.  Near the end of the walk we even saw a wolf print. Our daughter in particular was extremely excited about the trip.

At one point she stopped and said, “Dad! Dad! Come here.  I found a great one.”  Looking down, there was a really interesting pattern in the snow, a number of little depressions, scattered around a small area.  She took great care in pointing to each of the depressions and then said she thought it was a squirrel.  So I had a choice.

I could either tell her that she was wrong, and that the depressions were caused by snow being blown off the branches above, or I could support her inquisitiveness and allow her to believe the tracks were created by a squirrel.  As I have done literally hundreds of times before, I said “Awesome find!  Those might have been made by squirrels, let’s go find some more.”  For the next 20 minutes I was pulled from one spot to another with squeals of delight as she found more “squirrel” tracks.

Now maybe I should have corrected her and given her the accurate explanation.  She and many of the students I have worked with over the years might have been better served by that approach.  But here’s why I didn’t do it.  I hope she has decades of outdoor exploration and learning ahead of her.  At some point she will figure out what really causes those patterns in the snow.  I hope she will learn to accurately interpret and label most things she comes across outside.

But in my work, the traits I most often hope to instill are the thrill of discovery and the willingness to draw conclusions based on the available information.  If students are quickly corrected and given the “right” answer as they explore the natural world, they will be missing out on the sense of wonder and the independence that many of us feel in natural surroundings.  They may begin to believe the outdoors are just another classroom setting where the stakes are high and the room for error is small.  They may be less willing to take positive risks in learning environments inside and out, and that is something none of us can afford.  I think I will continue to give accurate information, but support the eager learning attitude, even when it might lead to an overpopulation of “squirrels.”

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


From the shores of Hawaii to the coast of Texas, America’s beaches constantly serve as the recreational hubs of our vacations. Sunbathing, surfing, sand volleyball, and swimming are only a few of the activities that inch their way into our vacationing day dreams and serve as relief from the drone of the nine-to-five job. But what happens when we begin to take advantage of the beauty of the shore and let carelessness creep in? A recent article by the Texas General Land Office in Galveston’s The Daily News explains that today the composition of the trash being found on Texas beaches is no longer trash from ocean-going vessels but is instead the trash left behind by beach-goers.

The good news for beach lovers is that it is not too late to do something to protect our beaches. On January 13, 2012 at 10:00 am Adopt-A-Beach is holding a Marine Debris Summit at Moody Gardens Convention Center in Galveston. Adopt-A-Beach is an organization that strives to raise public awareness, educate citizens about the sources of debris, and to generate public support for state, national, and international action to clean up coastal waters.

“Panel discussions will be on topics such as how to reduce the trash that comes with people driving on the beach — a protected Texas tradition — as well as how to stop the rising tide of dirty diapers, among other things.” The Daily News

World-renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle, chair of the Advisory Board for Texas A&M University’s Harte Research Institute and Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society, will be the keynote speaker.
Earle has also contributed to several Texas A&M University Press books including, Coral Reefs of the Southern Gulf of Mexico and Texas Coral Reefs.

If you are interested in the Gulf Coast beaches please check out our book Sea-Level Change in the Gulf of Mexico by Richard A. Davis Jr. Sponsored by the Texas A&M University Harte Research Institute, this book is a must-read for Gulf Coast scientists, naturalists, and residents.

Kelsey Lawrence

Monday, January 9, 2012

How did I get here?

If you were to ask me 10 years ago what I thought my life would be like, I would have presented you with a snapshot of a life that is nothing like what I am living today.

My love for the outdoors and wildlife competed strongly with my passion for horses when deciding a career path, but a fresh 18 year-old doesn’t always know what will make them happy in the long run. I ended up choosing the path that led to agriculture rather than wildlife.

I will spare you the details of the series of events 11 years ago that launched my new fate. That is perhaps for another blog post. At the end of that year, I found myself a low-paid, over-qualified, living-with-my-dad, can’t-find-work-in-my-field member of society. While working at one of my two, unfulfilling part-time jobs I realized that I had had enough.

So, naturally, I decided to explore my passion for wildlife and set out searching for graduate programs studying forest carnivores. Email after email went out as I studied for the GRE. One day, I received a reply from a professor specializing in wolves. My hopes fell when I read that his waiting list for taking graduate students was two years long. I thought, “Is this normal? What is so special about wolves?”

He recomended an internship position he had an opening for live-trapping whitetail deer and tracking wolves as a way to gain experience and increase my marketability in the grad program search. It sounded like good advice, as I had little field experience related to wildlife. With my hopes falling daily, I wanted to see if this new path was worth thousands of additional dollars spent on schooling.

Turns out, my new internship supervisor, Dr. L. David Mech (pronounced Meech), was pretty well known. My Dad even owned one of his books. Confidence in my choice swelled and my preparations for moving to Ely for the winter began with excitement. I would settle for wolves if it meant I could then move on to my true love, pine martens.

Ten years later, reflecting on my experience as a field technician intern for Dr. Mech (winter 2002, fall 2002) and an education internship (Jan-June 2003) at the International Wolf Center, I can’t imagine my life any other way.

Internships changed my life. As a mid-twenty-something college graduate 10 years ago, I had been pessimistic that I would find any affordable way to change my career. The short duration of the position meant if the job wasn’t a good fit, I wasn’t stuck. Couple that with the incredible amount of information I absorbed, internships satisfied my need to branch out and explore what really fit for me. The pay was sufficient to cover student loan payments, food and the occasional social outing.

All too often, I feel that adults get stuck in a rut once they find a job that they can tolerate which pays the bills and then some. My message to people in that place is to take a chance. Internships are an opportunity to dip your toes into a new career path and possibly find something that is fulfilling and motivates you to learn more. At the very least, you may discover a new skill or passion, make new friends and have a new life experience to build on.

Here are a few suggestions to get you started thinking about if an internship is right for you:

Wildlife and Fisheries Internships Job Board

MN State Parks Internships/Seasonal Work

Wolf Education Internships