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Wesley the Owl – Stacey O’Brien


Wesley the Owl

The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl

Stacey O’Brien

Genre: Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: August 19, 2008

Publisher: Atria Books


On Valentine's Day 1985, biologist Stacey O'Brien first met a four-day-old baby barn owl — a fateful encounter that would turn into an astonishing 19-year saga. With nerve damage in one wing, the owlet's ability to fly was forever compromised, and he had no hope of surviving on his own in the wild. O'Brien, a young assistant in the owl laboratory at Caltech, was immediately smitten, promising to care for the helpless owlet and give him a permanent home. Wesley the Owl is the funny, poignant story of their dramatic two decades together. With both a tender heart and a scientist's eye, O'Brien studied Wesley's strange habits intensively and first-hand — and provided a mice-only diet that required her to buy the rodents in bulk (28,000 over the owl's lifetime). As Wesley grew, she snapped photos of him at every stage like any proud parent, recording his life from a helpless ball of fuzz to a playful, clumsy adolescent to a gorgeous, gold-and-white, macho adult owl with a heart-shaped face and an outsize personality that belied his 18-inch stature. Stacey and Wesley's bond deepened as she discovered Wesley's individual personality, subtle emotions, and playful nature that could also turn fiercely loyal and protective — though she could have done without Wesley's driving away her would-be human suitors! O'Brien also brings us inside the prestigious research community, a kind of scientific Hogwarts where resident owls sometimes flew freely from office to office and eccentric, brilliant scientists were extraordinarily committed to studying and helping animals; all of them were changed by the animal they loved. As O'Brien gets close to Wesley, she makes important discoveries about owl behavior, intelligence, and communication, coining the term "The Way of the Owl" to describe his inclinations: he did not tolerate lies, held her to her promises, and provided unconditional love, though he was not beyond an occasional sulk. When O'Brien develops her own life-threatening illness, the biologist who saved the life of a helpless baby bird is herself rescued from death by the insistent love and courage of this wild animal. Enhanced by wonderful photos, Wesley the Owl is a thoroughly engaging, heartwarming, often funny story of a complex, emotional, non-human being capable of reason, play, and, most important, love and loyalty. It is sure to be cherished by animal lovers everywhere.

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Wesley the Owl – Stacey O’Brien

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Oil spills break fishes’ hearts

Oil spills break fishes’ hearts


This Valentine’s Day, BP should dedicate some hearts to fish that were exposed to its Deepwater Horizon spill — new research suggests that the spill may have broken theirs.

Scientists investigating the aftermath of the 2010 oil spill have discovered that even very low concentrations of crude in seawater interfered with the normal pumping of tuna hearts. After exposing captured yellowfin and bluefin to BP oil-spill samples, the researchers detected irregular heartbeats, which can lead to fatal cardiac arrest.

Because a wide range of animals have similar heart designs, the researchers are warning that species from turtles to dolphins could also be affected. Even exposed humans could be at risk.

“The ability of a heart cell to beat depends on its capacity to move essential ions like potassium and calcium into and out of the cells quickly,” said Stanford University researcher Barbara Block, coauthor of a study published Friday in the journal Science. “We have discovered that crude oil interferes with this vital signaling process essential for our heart cells to function properly.”

Check out these graphs from the paper. The top one shows the normal and consistent pumping of 20 healthy tuna heart cells. The bottom one shows arrhythmia in 20 heart cells exposed to BP’s spilled oil.


Click to embiggen.

Stanford, NOAA scientists discover mechanism of crude oil heart toxicity, Stanford University
Crude Oil Impairs Cardiac Excitation-Contraction Coupling in Fish, Science

John Upton is a science fan and green news boffin who tweets, posts articles to Facebook, and blogs about ecology. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants: johnupton@gmail.com.

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Oil spills break fishes’ hearts

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