Sunday, February 28, 2010

Skiing the Swiss Alps in Villars

Sacre bleu, the Swiss Alps are amazing. As a mountain guy, I'm hard to impress, but Villars was truly impressive. The views were jaw-dropping, amazing, spectacular, then some. The skiing was great. And we did the whole thing without being inside of a car for one moment all day. We took a train all the way into the heart of the skiing area.

From Gland, near Nyon, we trained through Lausanne and past Montreaux and the views got more and more exciting. Here's the view looking up the Rhone Valley from the train somewhere between Lausanne and Montreaux (above left). Just of hint of what's still to come.

At Bex (right), we exited the big train, watched by some craggy peaks, and walked a few steps to le petit rouge train that winds up through picturesque villages and into snow country.

The views were amazing, including the impressive Dents du Midi (left) which seemed to keep watching us the entire day. We can see them (barely) from our appartment in Gland, we could see them from the train, and we could see them from the ski slopes. This view is from the place where we vowed to move to Villars and spend at least a year living in and exploring these mountains and valleys.

We took the telecabine up from Villars, and our little skiers (left) got ready for their first day skiing in the Swiss Alps.

Here's the view (right) from the top of the Grand Chamossaire, at 2120 meters (about 7000 feet). We spent most of the day riding up and down the Grand Chamossaire.

And if that view isn't grand enough, here's another view from the Grand Chamossaire (left). There was a full 360 degree panorama of spectacular snowy peaks, something that even a person from the Northwestern US, land of the North Cascades and Olympic Mountains, would find impressive.

I can hardly wait to see more of this fabulous place I'm lucky enough to call home. I need to get back to some other highlights, like the unbelievable Jungfraujoch cog train that tunnels through the Eiger up to 3,454 meters (11,332 ft), the highest elevation train station in Europe.

UK better than US?

We're finally going to resolve whether it's color or colour? Maybe debate the usage of "guy" and "bloke?"

Nothing so exciting, instead it's the UK vs. US contest in who can create the world's largest marine protected area.

The US is currently in the lead with the great conservation president George Bush's Marianas Trench Marine National Monument and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument that includes areas around Kingman Reef, Palmyra Atoll, Howland Island, Baker Island, Jarvis Islands, Johnston Atoll, and Wake Island.

The UK is considering a marine protected area in the Chagos Archipelago in the Indian Ocean (photo above right).

Check back later for the final score...

Friday, February 26, 2010

killer whale kills trainer

There's no polite way to talk about the killer whale trainer killed by a killer whale in Florida this week. The orca pulled the trainer underwater twice and the result was the trainer drowned.

Already, some people are saying that this proves orcas shouldn't be kept in captivity and other such things. It was a tragic accident, with unknown causes, and the not-too-unlikely outcome of doing animal shows featuring people and very, very large and powerful aquatic animals.

Much more fun is the story making the rounds about actress Jennifer Garner and the dolphin that found some pleasure rubbing on her feet. Oh my. Marine mammals in the news.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

End of a bad era

Bye-bye Hummer, Humvee or whatever you want to call it. General Motors will end production of Hummers for consumers.

Originally popular thanks to macho military fantasies of civilians, the Hummer has since become a symbol of unsustainable consumption and resource use.

In the ultimate chimeric transformation, Hummers were even made into hybrids, but such attempts to dress up a pig still result in nothing more than a pig with some lipstick.

Bye-bye Hummer, and may you go quickly.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tigers vs. white sharks?

Who would win? No, not a cage match, in the contest of who's more endangered.

In this year of the tiger, it's time to put the ocean's tigers (white sharks) in the spotlight too.

Most people think tigers are rare, what if I told you that there are more tigers in the world than great white sharks?

Some fisheries scientists now think there are fewer great white sharks than the 3200 tigers left in the wild.

Maybe it's time to elevate the concern for great white sharks, from their current "vulnerable" status to the "endangered" or "critically endangered" status awarded to tigers by the IUCN.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Is pole and line tuna really better?

Where are you getting your tuna?

There's a lot of buzz around tuna caught with a pole and line. Greenpeace says it's more sustainable than tuna caught using a purse seine or longline. The Seafood Choices Alliance offers some support for this fishing method in Afishianado, saying "development of well-managed pole and line tuna fisheries can represent a win-win situation."

Now entering the debate--the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation with a new report on a sustainability concern with pole and line fishing. The concern? It takes a lot of bait to catch all that tuna on hooks. What's the conclusion of the study? Catching all the baitfish could be a major sustainability problem. Agritrade raises some practical concerns, wondering how to convert all the boats, gear, and skills.

Like a lot of debates, there's probably truth on both sides. Pole and line tuna fisheries have some strong advantages, but it's probably not feasible to replace all tuna fisheries with new pole and line fishing. Unless we're going to cut way back on tuna catching and eating, we probably can't switch to all pole and line.

And then there's the governance problem. Tuna are pelagic fish, ranging across oceans. If there's overfishing in a region or for a particular species of tuna, then pole and line fishing is catching unsustainable tuna just like everyone else. Unless we fix the broken tuna governance bodies and end overfishing, there's no way to catch truly sustainable tuna with a pole and line or anything else.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Eiglefin, haddock, and sustainability

It's time to start sorting through the seafood in my new home country, Switzerland. It's not a simple job.

Here is the eiglefin from my local Migros supermarché (right). At 28 swiss francs per kilogram (about 13 dollars per pound), it's a bit expensive, but most meat and fish is expensive here in Switzerland. That's challenge number one, I'm not going to be able to eat as much seafood as I did in the Seattle area, where seafood is king. Ouch.

So what about this eiglefin (french for haddock), is it sustainable? I'm an expert on this stuff, and I have to admit to being a bit stymied. After looking at a lot of information, all I can say is "mille millions de mille sabords de tonnerre de Brest." Roughly translated, that's "shut up and eat your fish."

I looked at some seafood guides, and it's frustrating to say that there's not full agreement. Different lists have fish caught with different methods in different places. To sort through the lists precisely, I need to know where it's from and how it was caught, and Migros only gives me part of the information. And even if I had full info, the lists don't always agree on what's sustainable. What am I going to do?

If I google Migros and seafood, I find this useful page on Migros seafood policies. It's informative and it encourages me to rely on Migros rather than try to figure out every detail on my own. Hmmm.... I think I like this. My life is being made easier by the WWF Switzerland Seafood Group, which includes Migros as a partner. Note: it doesn't say every fish is sustainable, but it does say that Migros is making the transition to sustainable seafood.

Now it's back to my french lessons, which at the moment consists of reading Tintin comics with the help of a dictionary. I'll be great at talking about L'ile Noire. What I really want to know is where can I get one of these awesome subs?

Oh yeah, and next I actually get to eat that yummy looking eiglefin, I can't wait...

Friday, February 19, 2010

Surfing Greenland

Sandy beaches, nice waves, and warm water in's Greenland.

That's right, warm subtropical water is coming to Greenland, thanks to changing ocean circulation. This is one of the real bugaboos of climate change, way scarier for me than mild stuff like pestilence, disease, and Al Gore saying "I told you so." If ocean currents shift, we could see big changes fast, and we won't like them.

Oh wait...the subtropical water raging through Sermilik Fjord turns out to be only 4C, that's 39F. Warm for Greenland, but still as cold as your refrigerator. Not exactly most people's picture of a nice day at the beach. Of course, blogfish thinks it's a nice day at the beach, like the day I swam West Port Madison and found a flock of pteropods on leg 23 of Swim Around Bainbridge. But that's another story.

Now for some real ice surfing, since I teased you, check out the totally nutzoid video below of surfing on waves formed by glaciers calving. Whoa. » Glacier Wave Surfing: Making the Most of an Opportunity? Pro Surfers Ride Melting Glacier Tsunami in Alaska from on Vimeo.

You gotta ask yourself, where would I find this stuff if it wasn't for blogfish.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Is this an acceptable conservation video?

Check out this tiger video from WWF. It was filmed in Indonesia, and has some critics outraged. Personally I don't have a problem with what they did.

Is that a tiger?! from WWF on Vimeo.

Go here if you want to see it in it's original habitat, and go here if you want to add your reaction.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Eels in deep trouble

What's long, skinny, and endangered? No, it's not Michael Jackson

Europe's eels are in deep trouble, and that situation is getting some ink now that Dutch fishermen are joining eels in the decline.

Eels are fascinating creatures, and unfortunately their complex lifecycle makes them perhaps uniquely vulnerable to overfishing, habitat damage, and other human-caused ills afflicting fish. (That's right, eels are fish).

Eels live most of their lives in rivers, but then the adults swim out to sea and spawn mysteriously in places people can't find. Baby eels drift in the ocean for nearly a year and then return to rivers as tiny and nearly invisible "glass eels" that are an expensive delicacy when eaten whole and sometimes while still alive (right).

Dutch fishery managers are responding to the plight of the European eel, thanks perhaps to eel protection campaigns by WWF and others. Fishermen wish for a different type of recovery plan, one that leaves them free to fish, of course.

Eel politics are not new, eel riots date back to the 1800s when fishermen battled police trying to break up a type of eel tug-of-war according to the New York Times. Hmmm...eels seem to invite strange behavior in people. Maybe there is a Michael Jackson connection.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Lake Geneva ice

It's been cold here in the lower Jura, and we found some amazing shoreline ice along Lac Léman (Lake Geneva in English).

The ice builds up on the railing at the Gland town beach near home, with waves splashing water onto the sub-freezing rail. It's been below 0 C for over a week, and the ice is getting sort of thick.

Now what do you suppose a 5 year old boy might do with an icicle? Yes, an ice saber (right).

Ultra-chill fish

Zen and the art of being a fish reaches new heights with the filming of a live oarfish in the deep ocean. I mean, the oarfish isn't new, but us knowing is new.

Big, strange, and extremely chill, watch this oarfish demonstrate the economy of motion typical of the deep sea. Even when approached by a blazing light unlike anything found in the deep ocean, the oarfish moves only by undulating its dorsal fin.

The photo above shows you how big an oarfish can get, now click the link above for video of Mr. Chill while underwater.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Carrying cheese to Gruyere

Snacking on gruyere cheese, just as I arrived in Gruyères was truly like carrying coals to Newcastle. They already had a few cheeses on hand (left, in the cave at La Maison du Gruyère).

I came to see the magnificent Chateau Gruyères (castle in English), and to see the home of the famous gruyere cheese, my favorite cheese in the whole world. And the story also has a few fantastic marine creatures as well.

There have been quite a few blogfish adventures in Europe in the last few weeks, but I'm sorry to report that work and a crashed hard drive have kept me almost entirely offline. Hope to fix that soon.

Limping along on a non-home base computer will have to do, because Gruyères was too good to keep to myself.

First, the castle, seen from a distance here (right) in an unbelievably spectacular setting.

I did manage to find some ocean life to keep the blogfish fans interested, like this pensive salmon (left) in a 150+ year old painting in the castle, perhaps the last of his kind to make it this far, who seems to be wondering when his kin will once again ascend to this Alpine region.

Then there were the two mermaids, one unique beast with stag antlers hanging from a wall (left), and the other one, a more delicate creature I found quivering on a shoreline (right), pictured here just before I got her back into the icy water. I hope she made it.

The castle dates from the 13th century and was truly impressive, with huge towers, cobbled floors, and the type of things that delight a 5 year old boy.

The town was charming as well (left), with the surprising addition of the HR Giger museum, honoring the local artist who won an Oscar for his work on the film "Alien." Here's an example of the delightful women in the town (right). Maybe this is real stuff, since there's a painting in the castle depicting the women of the town driving out attackers during a medieval battle (left).

Moving on to the gruyere cheese factory might have been anticlimactic if it wasn't the home of my very most favorite cheese. It was a bit of a tourist-trap kind of place, but the cheesemaking show was still fascinating, the cheese cave was truly impressive, and the cheese....ah, the cheese. It was every bit as wonderful as I had hoped, and I was dreaming high. Gruyere cheese is even better here, and it's one thing that cheaper than in the US (not much is cheaper, most things cost quite a bit more).

If you love cheese, castles, mermaids, and scary women, then Gruyères is THE place to visit.