Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

¿Whales Schmoozing with Scientists?

Humpback Whale: Courtesy of

Hello again science fans! Kumusta muli mga tagahanga ng agham! [Three out of every 100 people in the Bay Area speak Tagalog/Filipino at home.]


In 1967, Roger Payne and Scott McVay discovered that sounds made by male humpback whales were complex arrangements that lasted as long as 30 minutes before being repeated. Multiple males even sang in unison. From year to year some ‘phrases’ were replaced by new ones. ¿Language? More recently we’ve learned that brain anatomy suggests whales could be capable of language. Also, today’s whales have an unbroken oceanic existence dating tens of millions of years before our lineage diverged from that of chimpanzees. This 22 minute video presents the challenges and methods involved in ‘learning’ how to understand the language of whales. ¿And what would we say to them? Should we tell them the current locations of whaling ships from Japan, Iceland, and Norway? I just returned from cruising the waters around Japan for 13 days and saw not a single whale, dolphin, seal, or sea lion. (The Japanese sea lion went extinct in the 70’s.) Perhaps most marine mammals have learned to avoid those waters, but about 20,000 dolphins and pilot whales are still killed annually in Japanese waters and Japanese whaling ships hunt in the southern oceans.

The New York Declaration on Animal Consciousness” signed by 39 prominent scientists was made public on April 19. As of this writing, more than 180 additional scientists have added their signatures. In part, the declaration states: “[T]he empirical evidence indicates at least a realistic possibility of conscious experience in all vertebrates (including reptiles, amphibians, and fishes) and many invertebrates…” The importance of this declaration is made clear in its final sentence: “We should consider welfare risks and use the evidence to inform our responses to these risks.”


We are offering a coffee mug impersonating a 450ml laboratory beaker. Just send an email before noon Friday to david.almandsmith [at] with your guess of an integer between 0 and 1,000.  Last time, Louisa was the winner of a Mars Ingenuity Helicopter model with her guess of 274.


NPR’s Weekend Edition on May 28th discussed the potential benefits and harms of geo-engineering to control Earth’s temperature.  Startups are already using “Stratospheric Aerosol Injection” to put sulphur dioxide high in the atmosphere to reflect sunlight. There are no regulations to prevent geoengineering by people/corporations regardless of the risks. ¿What risks? It is entirely possible that Stratospheric Aerosol Injection could disrupt monsoons, leading to famines affecting billions. More research is essential before embarking on geoengineering.

While we are usually concerned with climate change causing the occasional catastrophe and the worry of the potential adverse ramifications of future climate change, there are indications that serious yet subtle negative effects are already upon us. The slightly elevated temperatures seen in much of the world are already leading to excess deaths, impaired cognitive performance, increased workplace injuries, and more local crime.

¿Joey poop? Researchers discovered that adding baby kangaroo feces to cattle feed reduces the amount of methane that cows burp up. Likewise with a variety of seaweed and a commercial product called Bovaer. You probably know why this is important: methane from cow burps significantly affects global warming.

China is expanding its solar and wind electrical generation with a project in the Kubuqi Desert. When completed, it will cover nearly 70 square kilometers and provide over 4 GW (gigawatts) of electricity. Because the solar panels provide shade and some dew runoff, erstwhile barren desert sand is supporting greenery.

Mukesh Abani and Gautam Adani are India’s richest men with a combined personal worth of $200 billion dollars. They run coal and oil conglomerates. They are also responsible for a stupendous growth of renewable energy in India. The Adani family’s Khavda Renewable Energy Park covers 500 square kilometers of ‘wasteland’ and when finished will provide 500 GW; enough electricity for 16 million homes. Similarly, the Abani conglomerate is investing heavily in renewable energy. For the present, however, both are damaging the environment with their coal mines, oil wells, and greenhouse gasses.

The Gallup Poll people asked Americans 18 and older about electric vehicles. Of the respondents, 4% currently own one; 12% are seriously considering purchasing one; 43% might consider one in the future; and 41% would not buy one. The largest determinant was party affiliation: 71% of Republicans would not buy one, where only 17% of Democrats would not buy one. This difference is also apparent in opinions of electric vehicles and climate change: 55% of Republicans think that the use of electric vehicles would not help address climate change while only 4% of Democrats see no benefit. This is yet another indication that information source preferences are largely determined by political party affiliation.

MY PICKS of the WEEK (Hint: save dates & times to your mobile phone)

The Realities of Climate & Energy 3:30pm Monday, Menlo Park

Creepy or Captivating: A Spider Scientist’s Perspective Livestream 5pm Tuesday

KQED Deep Look Film Night 6pm Wednesday, Estuary & Ocean Science Ctr, Tiburon

From Creationism to QAnon Livestream 7pm Thursday

Greenland’s Ice Sheet Dynamics Noon Friday, UC Santa Cruz

Family Nature Adventure 11am Saturday, Chabot Space & Science Ctr, Oakland, $

Solar Observing 2pm Sunday, Hauge Park, San José


¿Can you hold your breath for 10 seconds while walking? A Japanese study shows that approaching and passing a person infected with COVID presents a risk of you contracting the disease, but only for the first 10 seconds.

Cognitive impairment, a.k.a. brain fog, is a common symptom of people suffering from long COVID. Research now shows that these people may have a compromised blood brain barrier. This finding creates a strong incentive to find therapies to reverse that damage.


Boeing has been in the news recently with passenger jet incidents: a plug door blowing out; a cracked cockpit window; an engine failure in flight; a nose wheel falling off while taxiing; a wheel falling off in flight damaging a parked car; a computer glitch causing a sharp drop injuring 50 people; an inflight fuel leak; an exterior panel falling off mid flight; an inflatable slide falling out shortly after takeoff. All of this has happened in this calendar year. On Monday, Sunita Williams and Butch Wilmore will ride in a Boeing spacecraft to the International Space Station. We wish them a safe journey. On Thursday at 9:30pm, look for the ISS arising from SSW with its crew: Sunita, Butch, Oleg Kononenko, Nikolai Chub, Tracy C. Dyson, Mike Barratt, Matthew Dominick, Jeanette Epps, and Alexander Grebenkin.


Hubble View of a Desktop – xkcd What If? – Randall Monroe – 3 mins

Evidence- vs. Eminence- based Medicine – The Right Chemistry – Joe Schwarcz – 4 mins

Emperor Penguin Chicks Jump off 50 Foot Cliff – National Geographic – 5 mins

World’s Easiest DIY Electric ‘Train’ – Physics Girl – Dianna Cowern – 7 mins

The Fastest Growing Black Hole – Dr. Becky – Becky Smethurst – 11 mins

Black Holes – PBS Crash Course Astronomy – Phil Plait – 12 mins

Flame Travels an ‘Excitable Medium’ – Steve Mould – 13 mins

Gravity is not a force – Sabine Hossenfelder – 14 mins

Rushing Back to the Moon – PBS Space Time – Matt O’Dowd – 15 mins

If you missed celebrating el Cinco de Mayo, worry not because Thursday is Lost Sock Memorial Day.
Dave Almandsmith, Bay Area Skeptics

“The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”
Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948) Indian lawyer and political ethicist

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