When We Talk About Animals is a series of in-depth conversations with leading thinkers about the big questions animals raise about what it means to be human. Supported by the Law, Ethics & Animals Program at Yale Law School, Yale University’s Human Nature Lab, and the Yale Broadcast Studio.
Ep. 44 – Rick McIntyre on the stories of Yellowstone’s greatest wolves
In 1995, the U.S. government took unprecedented actions to restore the wolf population of Yellowstone National Park, which it had brutally destroyed seventy years prior. More than thirty wolves from multiple packs were captured in Canada, transported to the park, and released in a grand experiment that would become the most successful wildlife reintroduction effort in history. Our guest, the legendary wolf expert Rick McIntyre, has dedicated his life to those wolves. For the past 26 years, he has observed the park’s wolves nearly every single day, accumulating more than 100,000 sightings. After retiring from the park service, McIntyre – who still watches the wolves daily – penned a gripping series of biographies of Yellowstone’s greatest wolf leaders: Wolf 08, one of the first reintroduced wolves who grew from a runt into a powerful pack leader; his adopted and brave son, Wolf 21, known for his long and successful reign as king of the park’s Druid Peak pack, his deep devotion to his mate, and his unusual benevolence to his defeated rivals; and 21’s nephew, Wolf 302, who started life as an irresponsible Casanova who stole food from pups and slept during battles, but transformed his character and died as a heroic father. In this episode, McIntyre describes the wolves’ unique personalities, the packs’ dynastic dramas, and the exuberant joy that he’s seen through his spotting scope, and explains why federal action is urgently needed to protect these wolves, who are at risk of being massacred once again due to draconian new state laws.
Ep. 43 – Cynthia Barnett on our world of seashells
From tiniest cowries to giant clams, seashells have gripped human imaginations since time immemorial. In her magnificent new book, The Sound of the Sea, journalist Cynthia Barnett tells the epic history of humanity’s interactions with shells and the soft-bodied animals who make them. These stories of how we have treasured, traded, plundered, and coveted shells reveal much about who we are and who we’ve been, both good and bad. Barnett’s deep research ranges from the awe-inspiring “great cities of shell” of the Calusa people in Florida, to the use of cowrie shells as currency in the Atlantic slave trade, to the decimation of mollusk populations due to climate change and over-harvesting. In this episode, we speak with Barnett about what she describes as our “world of shell,” what shells can tell us about our past, how they have shaped our present, and how the future of shells and their animal makers is tied to our own.
Ep. 42 – Edie Widder on the ocean’s spectacular light
Most of us land-lubbers assume that light-making among ocean creatures is an exotic and rare phenomenon. But that’s wrong. The majority of animals in the ocean, which means the majority of animals on the planet, are capable of making light. From top to bottom, the ocean is teeming with unforgettably beautiful and extraordinarily diverse light shows made by animals that we’re only beginning to understand, from deep-sea shrimp that distract predators by spewing glowing mucus to squids that backlight their body tissue in flickering patterns that seem to coordinate group hunting. In this episode, we speak with Dr. Edie Widder, a renowned deep sea explorer and world authority on marine bioluminescence, about ocean animals’ language of light, her startling beautiful experiences in the deep, how dim our understanding of much of the ocean still is, and why investing in ocean exploration is key to ocean protection.
Ep. 41 – Ecologist Hugh Warwick on Loving Your Hedgehogs
Hedgehogs, despite being consistently voted the most beloved mammal in the United Kingdom, have suffered great population losses as industrial agriculture and other human impacts destroy their hedgerow habitats. Our latest guest, Hugh Warwick, has studied, celebrated, written about, and fought to protect hedgehogs for more than 30 years, leading a groundswell of local and individual action to protect the small animal. We spoke with Warwick about his role as the spokesperson for the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, his writings on the impact of manmade lines on the ability of wild animals to thrive, and the environmental importance of loving your hedgehog.
Ep. 40 – Michelle Nijhuis on the history of the wildlife conservation movement
In “Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction,” science journalist Michelle Nijhuis chronicles the history of the wildlife conservation movement through the stories of the extraordinary people — both legendary experts and passionate amateurs — who shaped its evolution and expanding ambitions. Nijhuis introduces us to the Swedish scientists who devised the system of naming and grouping species that endures today, the rebel taxidermist who led the fight to save the American bison from extinction, the New York City socialite who demanded that the Audubon Society stop ignoring the gunning down of game birds by sportsmen, and more. These inspiring, dogged, and often flawed characters transformed both the ecological communities and ideas that we inherited. In this episode, we speak with Nijhuis about what we can learn from the stories of conservationists and their efforts to protect the wild animals that they loved, and the possibilities within a more equitable, inclusive fight to defend life.
Ep. 39 – Bernie Krause on saving the music of the wild
In 1968, Dr. Bernie Krause was leading a booming music career. A prodigiously talented musician and early master of the electronic synthesizer, Krause was busy working with artists like the Doors and the Beach Boys and performing iconic effects for blockbuster films. Then Warner Brothers commissioned him to create an album incorporating the sounds of wild habitats, so he headed into Muir Woods with his recording equipment. What he heard changed his life and triggered a fifty-year odyssey.
Then and there, Krause decided that he wanted spend the rest of his life recording and archiving the music of wild animals and wild places. He quit Hollywood and began traveling the world. The soundscapes he recorded were full of epiphanies about the origin of our own culture and music, about the profound connectedness of creatures, and about the unseen tolls of human activity. Previous wildlife recordings isolated the calls of individual creatures, but Krause recorded habitats as a whole. He soon proposed a new theory of ecosystem functioning: that each species produces unique acoustic signatures, partitioning and occupying sonic niches such that the singing of all of the creatures in a healthy ecosystem can be heard, organized like players in an orchestra.
Today, Krause’s astonishing archive contains sounds made by more than 15,000 species. It is, as The New Yorker aptly put it, “an auditory Library of Alexandria for everything non-human.” Fifty percent of the recorded habitats no longer exist due to habitat destruction, climate change, and human din. We spoke with Krause about the beauty of and perils facing wild music, the extraordinary science of soundscape ecology, and how sound impacts the welfare of animals. The music in this episode is from Wild Sanctuary (www.wildsanctuary.com).
The conversations on When We Talk About Animals often appear esoteric at first, but end up revealing themselves as central to considerations of what it means to be alive and enmeshed in a web of life, laws, and technology on this planet. These are the questions we should wrestle with daily.
Truly an excellent podcast! It's incredibly well done with conversations and topics that satisfy the mind.
Love this podcast
Fascinating discussions about topics that matter