• picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

October 15, 2004

Air Date: October 15, 2004



Green Omissions

View the page for this story

The presidential debates are over, but the post-debate wrap-ups are still going on in many communities. Some groups are satisfied with the coverage their issues received, while others could have stood to hear more. But there was little to be heard from either candidate about one domestic issue: the environment. Host Steve Curwood talks with Robert Borasage, co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future, and to Washington correspondent Jeff Young, about the political ramifications from this omission. (12:30)

Weighing in on Gas Drilling in Colorado / Ingrid Lobet

View the page for this story

Gas for home heating and electrical power has greatly expanded across the west under the Bush adminstration. It's controversial, but has it changed any votes in the swing state Colorado? Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet reports. (12:00)

Detecting Deception

View the page for this story

Honesty may be the best policy, but according to one psychologist, most of us are pretty easy to fool. Host Steve Curwood talks with Maureen O’Sullivan about her surveys of some 13,000 people, and about the thirty individuals who were able to spot a lie with 100 percent accuracy. (06:00)

Flipper’s Follies

View the page for this story

Millions of visitors flock each year to water parks to see showcase dolphins and whales flaunt their aqua stuff. But visitors may not know what goes on underneath the surface of these marine parks. Many of these animals live in unhealthy and sometimes dangerous conditions, with little or no management or oversight. Host Steve Curwood talks with senior writer Sally Kestin of the Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, about the business of sea stars. We’ll be joined later by Ted Griffin, one of the first killer whale collectors in the business, whose main claim to fame is bringing in the most famous of sea stars, Shamu. (15:30)

This week's EarthEar selection
listen / download

Show Credits and Funders

Show Transcript

HOST: Steve CurwoodGUESTS: Robert Borosage, Maureen O’Sullivan, Sally Kestin, Ted GriffinREPORTER: Jeff Young, Ingrid LobetNOTE: Jennifer Chu


CURWOOD: From NPR, this is Living on Earth.


CURWOOD: I’m Steve Curwood. In the tight race for the White House, almost anything could tip the balance. And one factor in western states might well be drilling for natural gas. In the solidly Republican reaches of Colorado, there is growing discomfort about the toll on the environment that the Bush administration’s drilling program is taking.

BRACKEN: I don't know what the future will look like in the next four years under the Kerry administration if he’s elected -- and Edwards. But I do know what it will look like under the Bush administration, which is why I will not vote for him again.

CURWOOD: But while many in the region don’t like the environmental impact of drilling, they don’t think it will determine how they will cast their votes.

WALLS: I guess the war in Iraq is the biggest issue. And I feel I need to support what's happening over there just for the morale purposes.

CURWOOD: Drilling for gas—and votes—out west. This week on Living on Earth. Stick around.


ANNOUNCER: Support for Living on Earth comes from the National Science Foundation and Stonyfield Farm.

Back to top


Green Omissions

CURWOOD: From the Jennifer and Ted Stanley Studios in Somerville, Massachusetts, this is Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood.

During the series of three presidential debates, incumbent George Bush and challenger John Kerry covered a wide variety of issues. In the final debate, health care, education and jobs in America were the big-hitters as the president and Senator Kerry sparred over their respective plans for domestic policy. But some analysts would say that one major domestic issue was largely missing from the debate lineup. Only the slightest mention of the environment was made during the final hour and a half exchange.

Joining me now is Robert Borosage. As co-director of the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign for America’s Future, he’s lobbied both candidates to include labor issues and the environment on their platforms. Also, from Capitol Hill is our Washington correspondent Jeff Young. Hello to both of you.



CURWOOD: I want to turn first to you, Mr. Borosage. What’s the message that you take away from this – that in the last public debate of these two presidential candidates, neither one of them brought up the environment as a domestic issue? I mean, Senator Kerry did refer to the environment generically as part of his explanation of how his faith drives him. He said faith is why he fights to clean up the environment and protect the earth. But that’s hardly a policy or a plan.

BOROSAGE: Yes, I think they were driven by the questions, and the questioner, Bob Schiefer, decided not to ask a question about energy. I think that was a huge missed opportunity and really a disservice, because this is a fundamental question, obviously, that we have to turn our attention to as a nation. We’ve got young men and women dying in Iraq guarding pipelines, and in Uzbekistan and in Columbia. We’ve got gas prices up 33 percent. We’ve got the concern about catastrophic climate change which is, right now, a real danger, as we’re increasingly seeing. And we have a policy in Washington that’s really been asleep at the wheel, and so this would have been a question that a lot of Americans have a real stake in.

CURWOOD: Bob Borosage, yes, moderator Bob Schiefer didn’t bring it up. But is the media, in general, ignoring the environment as an issue worthy of presidential debate and discussion?

BOROSAGE: Well, I think that the media pays less attention to this issue than all of us would like. On the other hand, that’s been true of most domestic issues through this campaign. This campaign has been so remarkably focused on Iraq and the war on terrorism, which, of course, has been the president’s strategy, that it’s only with this debate that we began to look at domestic issues at all. And so, it’s not just the environment that’s gotten ignored. We’ve had very little attention to health care, to jobs, to wages, to retirement security. The whole range of domestic issues, which are very high on Americans’ agenda, has really gotten drowned out by the din of exchanges around the war in Iraq. I do think it’s interesting that it came up in Missouri when the people were in charge, and we did have the only exchange on it in response to a question in Missouri.

CURWOOD: But, as you point out, in the second debate, one Missouri resident asked the president how he would rate himself as an environmentalist. And here’s how he responded:

BUSH: I guess you’d say I’m a good steward of the land. The quality of the air is cleaner since I’ve been the president. Fewer water complaints since I’ve been the president. More land being restored since I’ve been the president. Thank you for your question.

CURWOOD: So, Jeff Young, I want to turn to you now. First of all, what’s the truth here? Is the air really cleaner since President Bush first took office four years ago?

YOUNG: Well, yeah. By most standards, by most measures, the air is cleaner, but the presidents’ critics would point out that that has little to do with any action that he’s taken during his administration, because there’s a significant lag between any policy action and any measurable difference in the air quality. So, the real question becomes how might air quality change down the road due to what the president is doing now. And that’s where the real debate is, and we heard a little bit of that in Missouri in the second presidential debate.

The president pointed out two actions: first one right off the top of his head was the off-road diesel rule, which is a good one for him to bring up because this is generally regarded as a very positive action. It regulates emissions from things like construction equipment, and one of those rare moments where the Bush administration gets applause from the environmental community. Bush also touted his Clear Skies Initiative. That’s pretty much gone nowhere in Congress because it is highly controversial, and Kerry pounced on that.

KERRY: Now when it comes to the issue of the environment, this is one of the worst administrations in modern history. The Clear Skies bill that he just talked about--it’s one of those Orwellian names you pull out of the sky, slap it on to something – like No Child Left Behind, but you leave millions of children behind. Here they’re leaving the skies and the environment behind. If they just left the Clean Air Act all alone the way it is today, no change, the air would be cleaner than it is if you pass the Clear Skies Act. We’re going backwards. In fact, his environmental enforcement chief air quality person at the EPA resigned in protest over what they’re doing to what are called the New Source performance standards for air quality.

YOUNG: Kerry makes reference there to Eric Schaeffer, one of several high-ranking career staffers who have left the EPA during the Bush administration. Eric Schaeffer now heads an environmental group, and it’s a group that has pointed out in an analysis of Clear Skies that just fully enforcing the Clean Air Act’s New Source Review standards for older power plants would do more to reduce air pollution than would the president’s Clear Skies proposals.

So, on policy points I’d say Kerry won this exchange. But when you step away from policy and you talk just pure politics, I think Bush actually fared better. Because if you think about the phrases, listen closely to the phrases that the president used there, he uses terms like “good steward of the land,” “common sense.” He called his Healthy Forests program “reasonable policy.” These are all good framing terms that resonate well with the public. So I think Bush did well on rhetoric.

CURWOOD: Now, let me turn to the question of the Kyoto Protocol. I find it interesting to note that it was mentioned both in the first and second debates – that is the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, the international agreement. But global warming itself, actually, didn’t seem to be really discussed. Instead, it was used to score points on other issues. For example, Senator Kerry brought it up twice in the first debate as an example of the president turning his back on the international community; and then again, in the second debate, to imply that the president distorts or ignores science in making policy.

KERRY: They pulled out of the global warming, declared it dead, didn’t even accept the science. I’m going to be a president who believes in science.

CURWOOD: And then in response, President Bush shifts the focus towards the economy and frames the Kyoto, the global warming treaty, as a threat to U.S. jobs.

BUSH: Well, had we joined the Kyoto treaty, which I guess he’s referring to, it would have cost America a lot of jobs. It’s one of these deals where in order to be popular in the halls of Europe you sign a treaty.

CURWOOD: So, Jeff Young, what kind of play are these issues getting on the campaign trail?

YOUNG: Well I think that it’s clear that in that instance Kyoto here is – we’re not really talking about Kyoto. We’re talking about Kyoto as a symbol to score some points on whether we should be more engaged in the international arena or whether we should be more concerned about jobs back home, or these sort of things.

Now, Kyoto has been getting a little bit of play out there as the candidates go around the country. Vice President Cheney recently gave a sit-down interview to a chain of small newspapers in the Midwest, I think, and talked at length about the Kyoto accords. Again, putting the focus on Kyoto as a – and any action on global warming – that would harm jobs. Basically framed it in the same economic sense that the president did there.

President Bush, when traveling to the Southwest in Arizona and New Mexico, talked up his Healthy Forests plan. This is very controversial, and environmental groups are still very negative on Healthy Forests, but the Bush administration thinks it’s going to resonate well with the voters in the Southwest who are putting up with forest fires and want some action. And the president says, “here’s action.”

Energy issues, though, I think are getting some pretty good attention out there. Kerry, in New Mexico recently, took Bush to task for a local issue in New Mexico: that is, the federal plan to drill in an environmentally-sensitive area known as the Otero Mesa, drilling for oil and gas. But then he also took a couple of jabs at Bush on oil prices. You’ve got oil prices at about $53 a barrel. And he tied rising oil prices to some of what he called “miscalculations” in the war in Iraq, and also to the Bush administration’s general favoritism towards energy companies. Kerry called the Bush energy plan one that, quote, “warms the hearts of their powerful friends and leaves you out in the cold.”

I’m wondering, Mr. Borosage, what do you think of this particular line of attack – using the $2-plus price at the gas pump to address energy issues?

BOROSAGE: Well, there’s no question there’s been a failure in this administration about energy issues. And I think the gas prices at the pump concentrate peoples’ minds on what’s going on, and make it an issue in the campaign that you can get a handle on. And I think it’s a very effective line of attack because it’s something that people understand about Bush. They understand that he is very close to oil producers, and that’s where he comes from, he and Cheney, and that’s how they put together their energy plan. So I think it’s a very credible and effective line of attack for Kerry politically.

I think the other thing that’s worth commenting on is when the president links Kyoto or any action on global warming with the loss of jobs, what he’s describing is a real failure of leadership. There is absolutely no reason why the transition to a more sustainable energy base – to renewable energy, to more efficient buildings, to more efficient transit – that should be a massive jobs generator. You invest in renewables, you capture the markets of the future. You create more efficient buildings, you rebuild our built environment and create construction jobs. It’s a huge jobs generator. And to dismiss it, which is, of course, a poll-driven position – as well global warming, these environmentalists don’t know anything about jobs, they’re going to cost everybody jobs – is really describing the president’s own failure of leadership, I believe.

CURWOOD: But, wait a second here, I mean you can make this criticism of the president but what about Senator Kerry who seems to have the beliefs that you’re talking about here but isn’t making these points with the American public? Not debating the president, not confronting him on this?

BOROSAGE: Well, he has on the stump when he lays out his energy plan – talks about it creating 500,000 jobs, and that it can be a source of new industry here in America, and new invention and part of the dynamism of our economy rather than a wet blanket on the economy. And I think the contrast is there when he talks about the issue.

CURWOOD: But why not use this to make the point that he really can create jobs? He says he’s going to stop job loss, for example, Kerry does. But when he has, what, 20, 30, 40 million Americans more watching these debates, why not turn to the camera and tell America, look, one of the ways that we can have more jobs – and they’ll be at home – is with changing our energy mix which will help our national security.

BOROSAGE: If I were he I would have done that. I think it would have been a compelling statement of a contrast in leadership with the president, and very effective out there. And I do think, you know, from everything we’ve done in terms of polling and focus groups, Americans get this. They understand if you invest in this stuff you can create jobs here and they’re excited about the prospects. And so I do think it’s a missed opportunity for the senator.

CURWOOD: Robert Borosage is co-director of the Campaign for America’s Future. Jeff Young is our Washington correspondent. Thank you both for taking this time.

BOROSAGE: Pleasure.

YOUNG: You’re welcome, Steve.


CURWOOD: Just ahead: how drilling for natural gas in the west may be pushing some voters across party lines. Keep listening to Living on Earth.

[MUSIC: Charlie Musselwhite “Durant Station” CONNECTIONS 2 – A COMPILATION OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA MUSICIANS (Jackalope – 2004)]

Back to top


Weighing in on Gas Drilling in Colorado

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Colorado is suddenly in the undecided column. Though it’s gone Republican in eight of the last ten presidential elections, the latest polls find George W. Bush and John Kerry in a dead heat. Since President Bush took office, gas drilling has gone up dramatically in the Rocky Mountain west. Increased demand, record-high prices, new drilling techniques, and the opening up of more public land by the administration are the reasons why.

If you drive at night in western Colorado, where the Rockies slope into the land of painted mesas, you see the glowing towers of drilling rigs. It means more people are finding the energy business has arrived right in their backyards. With the end of the campaign season in sight, Living on Earth's Ingrid Lobet rang doorbells in one gas-rich Republican area of the state to see if this controversial industry is swaying anyone’s vote.


TENNISON: This is one of my little things I do is I raise fish


LOBET: Bill Tennison swings a can full of pellets into the trout pond at his resort ranch in Somerset, Colorado. Looking up, there's a green and yellow sweep of pine and aspen. Looking down, muscular fish thrash in the water.


TENNISON: You can see how healthy they are. The small ones are four pounds and they go up to around six pounds.


LOBET: Inside his high-ceilinged living room, Tennison tells how the gas boom nearly arrived at his resort this year when the federal Bureau of Land Management decided to auction off drilling rights to land adjoining his property.

TENNISON: The main thing is it included this enormous wetland, a river property, that is a home to eagles, deer, elk, bear, turkey. Every kind of animal you can imagine live here, and sportsmen come. They fish, they hike, they photograph, I mean it's just an outdoor recreation paradise. Well, that was proposed for drilling.

LOBET: Tennison is a financial advisor and voted for George Bush in 2000. He calls himself "late to the game" on environmental questions. But when he perceived a threat to the place he loves, he took out ads in the local paper, organized a letter campaign, even helped form a Colorado chapter of Republicans for Environmental Protection. And he hired an attorney.

TENNISON: If nothing else worked, we were going to buy the lease, to keep it from being drilled. Well, that's a little radical that you have to spend a great amount of money to protect yourself against your own government. That's insanity.

LOBET: In an unusual outcome, the government decided not to auction the land – for now. But it's all gotten Tennison thinking about his fuel-chugging house, 4-wheel-drive truck and off-road vehicles. He'd like to see more government incentives for non-fossil fuels and he wishes his truck could be a hybrid.

TENNISON: We just cannot continue to say let’s drill and drill and drill faster and faster and faster and just turn everything into a drilling field. That’s nuts.

LOBET: Tennison blames government policy for allowing drilling on sensitive lands. So how will he vote?

TENNISON: I think this election has an even bigger issue. When you're at war, you have to have a wartime president. I feel comfortable that President Bush is a wartime president.

An aerial view of gas wells near Rifle, Colorado. (Photo: Ingrid Lobet)

LOBET: An hour and a half northwest, in Garfield County, there are already 2,600 gas wells, each on a one to four acre patch of scraped earth, some with cylindrical tanks, the wells connected by roads on top and pipelines below. Out in this country wells are close together because the gas is trapped in fine, tight sands. The effect is that a rural landscape of ranches and ranchettes is becoming industrial.


LOBET: Horticulturist Diane Light has been living here for seven years in what was a quiet creek valley.

LIGHT: When we first moved here, there was two, maybe three wells within sight and now you can see they’re just everywhere. It used to be so peaceful. There’d be two or three cars going down the road a day, and now it’s 24 hour a day traffic constantly. Over there, they've been spewing gas fumes out of that one for two weeks now. It smells terrible out here about 50 percent of the time.

LOBET: Light knew that someone else held the mineral rights to the gas under her home when she bought it. But she says she was assured that development had already topped out and no more was permitted. I asked her what she's thinking about this election.

LIGHT: I didn't vote in the last one, but I registered to vote in this one.

LOBET: Did this industry have anything to do with your decision to vote this time around?

LIGHT: Oh, absolutely.

LOBET: And of George Bush she says:

LIGHT: He seems to be more of "we need to fuel America with gas” rather than looking at any other options. And I don't care for that. I'm going to vote for John Kerry.


LOBET: Knowing where to direct discontent over drilling can be complicated. Sometimes gas is on federal land and it's the government that leases to gas companies. But in Diane Light's case, the land around her is private and it's an old-time rancher who owns the rights. That rancher is 87-year-old Marvel Couey, who lives just a few minutes away, up above on the grassy mesa.


LOBET: Marvel Couey says she still runs cattle on some of the 7,000 acres that were her great-grandparents'. But she says even though she owns the gas rights, she has little say over gas operations.

COUEY: It's been a horror. It's turned my ranch into a gas company. If they want to put a well right here, I can possibly get them to put it just a little bit aways, but that usually isn't the case.

LOBET: How can that be, if she controls the gas rights?

COUEY: Because a long time ago, be maybe like 50, 60 years ago, my husband signed a lease for them to put a well every 360 acres—way spaced out. And that went on for years and years and years and nobody touched it. And everybody forgot all about it. Until suddenly some little ol’ company slipped in here, and before we knew what was happening we were in this big mess.

LOBET: Couey says the lawyers at that time didn't understand the industry and drafted poor contracts. This rancher is a lifelong Republican. She calls John Kerry "that other one.” But she doesn't much care for President Bush either.

COUEY: Bush is not…he don't care whether they take down our forests or not. As far as he's concerned, they can cut our forests up, too. I don't know who I'm going to vote for.


LOBET: There's one vote George Bush has lost over gas drilling in western Colorado. That's real estate agent and paralegal Lisa Bracken's.

EnCana, one of North America’s largest oil and gas producers, plans to start drilling for gas on the Roan Plateau in Western Colorado. (Photo: Ingrid Lobet)

BRACKEN: 2000, I voted for President Bush. He's the kind of guy that I could see at the post office and bs with for 30 minutes.

LOBET: But a lot has changed for Bracken since then. We stand near a gas well in the town of Silt, a well that earlier this year leaked gas laced with the carcinogen benzene into the creek near her house. She worries about her drinking water and she worries about what she sees as the interruption of the landscape.

BRACKEN: This spring when they were putting the pipelines in, the elk were coming down out of the high country like they do every year – this is an ancient migratory route. And we had a herd come down. They calved right where the Schwarz well is. And they encountered the heavy equipment, they didn't know what to do with the pipeline ditch, there’s a huge, huge excavated area where they were laying the pipeline in. And they were just madly running across the road, getting hung up in the fencing and they were panicked. To see this happen to a place that is so near and dear, it's just very, very, very disturbing.

LOBET: Of her vote this year, Bracken says:

Residents complain of fumes and noise from truck traffic on rural roads. (Photo: Ingrid Lobet)

BRACKEN: I don't know what the future will look like in the next four years under the Kerry administration if he’s elected – and Edwards. But I do know what it will look like under the Bush administration. Which is why I will not vote for him again.


LOBET: It's clear that George Bush is losing some votes in areas directly affected by gas. But as you drive into town, the negative aspects of the industry recede and benefits come into view. Gas activity brings businesses that pay into town coffers: a new Walmart, a Lowe's,

WOMAN: Hi, thanks for choosing Starbucks. What can I get started for you today?

LOBET: Even a drive-through Starbucks. Hotels are full of gas rig workers. Rural counties get a payment for each gas company employee, called a severance tax.

[AMBIENT STORE SOUND, MAN SAYS: I'm like an almanac, if I cut my hay, it’s going to rain…]

LOBET: In a hardware and hunting outfitter in the town of Silt, electrician and Gulf War veteran Sam Walls says he’s noticed the industry growing here.

WALLS: Yeah, I've noticed it. It's starting to affect a lot of people, I’ve noticed, yes. Encroaching on people's property is what I’m noticing most, where it’s almost like they have no privacy you know, and it’s just getting too close to residentials. Ground water seems to be an issue now. And me living on the north side of the river now it’s talking about coming this way. And that kind of scares me a little bit cause I do have a well, so…

LOBET: But something else weighs more heavily for Walls.

WALLS: I guess the war in Iraq is the biggest issue. Me being a veteran myself, and being in the first Desert Storm, you know the first war, I feel that I need to support what's happening over there just for the morale purposes.

LOBET: So Sam Walls is voting for George Bush.


LOBET: It's Oktoberfest in Grand Junction, the biggest city and, therefore, voting center in western Colorado. People here are increasingly aware of the extent of gas activity nearby, and for some it's a high priority. Susan Mars is an advisor with Platinum Mortgage.

MARS: I've noticed that it's making our beautiful state ugly. (LAUGHS)

LOBET: And how will she vote?

MARS: I really haven't decided. Definitely not Bush. (LAUGHS)

LOBET: But her view seems to be the minority. Her colleague, John Mariz, voted for Bush in the last election. He shares her concerns but may reach a different conclusion.

MARIZ: Well I'm a veteran myself, so I support the troops but I guess I'm kind of tired of seeing our guys over there getting killed on a day to day basis. At this point, I'm undecided, really I am.

LOBET: Nearby, Kelly McClellan has antenna on her head and is dressed in purple and green, your classic outer space person colors.

MCCLELLAN: Well, oil drilling, I'd like to see doing more of that so we can support ourselves rather than going overseas. Natural gas, I'm in favor of it because it’s cheaper prices for the people. Votin' for our man George!

LOBET: A man who gave his name as Gil also voted for George Bush last time.

GIL: I know we need some development, but I don't like to see it that concentrated.

LOBET: But it won't affect how he votes.

GIL: I agree with the president's stand on what he stands for. I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Republican.


LOBET: In our unscientific survey, then, there's growing discontent with the physical effects of intense gas drilling, especially closest to it. Further away, in town, you find more people who see the industry's benefits, and who are casting their votes for George Bush on security and war. But the issue won't go away with the election, and officials at the federal level may increasingly find a constituency to reckon with.

For Living on Earth, I'm Ingrid Lobet.

[MUSIC: Alex de Grassi “Saint James Infirmary” CONNECTIONS 2 – A COMPILATION OF NORTHERN CALIFORNIA MUSICIANS (Jackalope – 2004)]

Related link:
Map of Gas Wells in Central Garfield County [PDF]">

Back to top


Detecting Deception

CURWOOD: Honesty may be the best policy, but according to one psychologist who’s studied the science of deception for more than 20 years, most of us are fairly easy to fool. Only about one percent of the population can spot a lie nearly all the time, says psychologist Maureen O’Sullivan.

She discovered nearly 30 of these rare individuals—whom she calls “wizards” because of their uncanny insight—during surveys of some 13,000 people over the past ten years. She writes about how she found these truth-detectors in a forthcoming book: “The Detection of Deception”, due out this fall from Cambridge University Press. Maureen O’Sullivan joins us now from San Francisco. Hello.


CURWOOD: Now, you have identified what you call “wizards” – people who are pretty expert at understanding when somebody is lying to them, if they can see them. That is, these are folks who must literally spot a liar. Do I have that correct?

O’SULLIVAN: Yes, although some of them pay more attention to the kind of words the liars use, and how they say those words. But we did find them by having them watch videotaped interviews of people both lying and telling the truth.

CURWOOD: Now of the people who became your “wizards” at detecting lying, what, if anything, do they have common?

O’SULLIVAN: I think that the one thing that’s the same about all of them is that they’re highly motivated to be good at understanding others, and they’re highly motivated to understand what’s going on with other people. For some of them, for like a small group, like about a third of them, it’s based on childhood need to do so. They either had an alcoholic parent, they had an odd living situation. And so they developed an acute emotional sensitivity early in childhood.

Another group is a group in mid-life. And this is unusual, because most expertise develops early in one’s career. But some of these wizards said that mid-career they just kind of decided they wanted to be really good at what they were doing – whether it was interviewing, you know, witnesses, or interrogating people for business contracts – that they really wanted to get good at it. And they made a concerted effort to really improve their skills in this area.

CURWOOD: Now in your research you found that people who we would think should be pretty good at ferreting out liars – police officers, FBI agents, lawyers, therapists – often they do little better than chance in your testing.

O’SULLIVAN: I know, isn’t that shocking?

CURWOOD: So, just what is it that your wizards do to catch someone who’s telling a whopper? That police and therapists don’t know to do?

O’SULLIVAN: I think that when we see somebody we tend to make an instantaneous judgement about them, and generally those are pretty good decisions. The problem is once we make those decisions it’s really hard for us to change our mind. The wizards, however, are not like that. They are able to switch off from those first impressions they make. The other thing that they have, most of them, is an acute sensitivity to non-verbal clues. They can see things that would escape the attention of most of us, including micro-momentary facial expressions. So they see more, they remember it better, and they’re able to evaluate what it is they’ve seen.

CURWOOD: Okay, tell me about this micro-momentary behavior.

O’SULLIVAN: If a strongly felt emotion happens it is very difficult for all of us – for most of us – to suppress it completely. And so what you will see is leakage of part of the facial expression. Either a little bit in one part of the face – like a tightening of the lips in anger, or the furrowing of the brow in distress. Or what can happen is you’ll have a full-flown facial expression that is just on the face for less than a second; it can be on for a fifteenth of a second, a thirtieth of a second. And the wizards are able to see these very, very quick facial expressions.

CURWOOD: So a basic kit to improve our lie-detection ability – though we’ll never be the superstars perhaps of your wizards – but just to do a little bit better than average, can you give me just a few basic rules here to follow?

O’SULLIVAN: Yes. You want to pay attention to what a person’s baseline behavior is, and you want to look for changes from that baseline.

CURWOOD: What do you mean by that?

O’SULLIVAN: Well, like if somebody is somebody – they wave their hands around all the time, all of a sudden they stop waving their hands. Why? It doesn’t mean they’re lying, but something has changed for them. If somebody is highly articulate, all of sudden they’re stumbling for words. So at the point where their behavior changes, that’s the point that one would want to examine further to see whether or not they’re telling the truth or something else has happened that’s of interest.

CURWOOD: Okay. Now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty here.


CURWOOD: We need your help. It’s the political season. So who – what do we need to know? There’s the politician on our television screen, he or she is making these claims, making these representations –


CURWOOD: How can we tell if our candidate for office is telling us the truth?

O’SULLIVAN: That’s very difficult because there are natural performers who just do not leak any kind of clues. And I think politicians, salesmen of various sorts, are like this. What you do is you pump yourself up to believe what it is you’re saying at the moment that you’re saying it. And so these – many politicians, particularly successful ones, can convince themselves that what they are saying they really mean it at the time they’re saying it. So I think it’s very difficult. I think you have to pay attention to the track record of the people and look at what they actually did say and what they actually did do. That a lot of the nonverbal behavior that we talk about, most politicians would be better trained and wouldn’t ordinarily show many of these clues.

CURWOOD: Well, Maureen O’Sullivan is a professor of psychology at the University of San Francisco, also has a clinical appointment at the University of California at San Francisco Medical School. Thank you so much for taking this time with me today.

O’SULLIVAN: Not at all, thank you very much.


CURWOOD: Just ahead: why some of the folks who put on dolphin and whale shows may not want you to take a look behind the scenes. Stay tuned to Living on Earth.

ANNOUNCER: Support for NPR comes from NPR stations, and: Ford, presenting the Escape hybrid, whose full hybrid technology allows it to run on gas or electric power. Full hybrid technology details at ford vehicles dot com. The Noyce Foundation, dedicated to improving math and science instruction from kindergarten through grade 12; The Annenberg Fund for excellence in communications and education; and, The Kellogg Foundation, helping people help themselves by investing in individuals, their families, and their communities. On the web at w-k-k-f dot org. This is NPR -- National Public Radio.


Back to top


Flipper’s Follies

CURWOOD: It’s Living on Earth. I’m Steve Curwood. Sea stars are the dolphins, whales and sea lions that jump and juggle their way into the hearts of audiences year after year. They bring in the big bucks for water parks as marquee attractions, and millions of visitors flock to places like Sea World to get a little splash of marine magic. But behind the aquatic curtain, these creatures may have less than glamorous living conditions – some even downright dangerous.

Sally Kestin has extensively investigated the lucrative marine park business, and the treatment of its prized performers. She’s the senior writer at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and has written a multi-part series on abuses in the industry. Sally, welcome to Living on Earth.

KESTIN: Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here.

CURWOOD: Sally, I want to ask you, how did you get into the story about the treatment of marine mammals in captivity?

KESTIN: Last summer, a local anti-captivity activist had called the newspaper wanting us to take a look at a death of a young orphan dolphin. This was a dolphin that had stranded on the beaches near Cape Canaveral and had been named Rocketman appropriately by his rescuers. The federal government had decided that Rocketman, it was only a few weeks old at the time which is too young to be returned to the wild, so they sent him, as they often do in those cases, to a marine park, and they chose a facility in the Florida Keys. But he didn’t do well, he died about a month later after the move from some sort of infection. So we had the federal records on this dolphin and, in reviewing them, we were intrigued by what we saw…. some of the reasons that the government had turned down other Florida marine parks to take in Rocketman.

CURWOOD: For example?

KESTIN: One of them had a herpes outbreak among its dolphins. Another one had some problems with a recent inspection. They had inexperienced staff and some questionable veterinary care. Another one had a history of losing dolphin calves, and the list just went on and on. And the conditions that we were reading about there just didn’t seem to match this idyllic picture you get when you go to a marine park. So we decided to take a closer look.

CURWOOD: Now you’ve catalogued the causes of death for many marine mammals kept in aquaria. I’m wondering if you could list some of these and tell us just how common they might be?

KESTIN: We looked..of course, as one scientist for the industry told us, all living things die, and we discovered that the National Marine Fishery Service has been keeping an inventory of all marine mammals in captivity for more than 30 years. So the government had collected all of this information on births, and deaths, and moves, and why marine mammals died, and how old they were, and we found about one in five of the nearly 4,000 deaths in this federal inventory, one in five of those animals had died from either human contact or possibly preventable causes.

The causes of death would be stress, ulcers, animals died from too much chlorine in their tank, from jumping into an empty pool during a cleaning. Lots of incidents of marine mammals swallowing keychains, sunglasses, metal, things that people toss into the tanks not thinking twice, and the dolphin eats it and dies.

When not performing, Presley spends time floating at the surface of his tank at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium. Visitors who asked in February what was wrong with him were told he was fine. (Photo: South Florida Sun-Sentinel photo by Angel Valentin)

CURWOOD: What about the laws protecting these animals and the enforcement of them? How well does the government, the federal and state governments, how well do they do in enforcing the laws that are on the books to protect marine mammals in captivity?

KESTIN: Well, that’s one of the things that struck us when we first started looking at this. There’s just been a gradual weakening of the regulations. And back in 1994, the industry successfully lobbied Congress to essentially weaken regulations. They used to have to submit necropsy reports to the government when an animal dies, they no longer have to do that. They used to have to get an export permit when they wanted to trade or sell an animal out of the country, they no longer have to do that. And they got inspections moved from the Marine Fishery Service to the USDA, which really doesn’t have the expertise. So we found that the inspections are cursory and minimal. When they do find violations, there’s a tremendous amount of leeway given to marine parks.

CURWOOD: Are there any particular cases, Sally, that you can tell me about that really struck you as egregious?

KESTIN: There was one case out in Hawaii that happened over the course of the last couple of years. The inspector had gone out to a place called Sea Life Park, and had noted that they did not have a local vet nearby to attend to emergencies or even provide routine care. And the inspector had cited them for this inadequate veterinary care, and gave them a deadline to correct it. Over the next 15 months, the inspector went back out four more times, and kept noting that they still had not complied with this deadline, still didn’t have sufficient veterinary care. She even wrote in her notes that she had discussed the gravity of the situation with senior management at the park because they had an older population of marine mammals, and some of them with some fairly serious medical conditions.

And then, last fall, the inspector went back out because a pregnant dolphin at the park had been in labor for three days, never completely expelled her calf, and at no time during those three days of labor did she receive any veterinary care. The dolphin continued to weaken and eventually died, as did her calf. And so that sort of struck us as here’s an example where they knew about a potentially serious violation, and it ended up in resulting in the death of two animals.

CURWOOD: And what has happened to that park since then?

KESTIN: The USDA is investigating, and that’s all they’ll tell us, so I don’t know if they have taken any action, it doesn’t appear that they have yet. It did become obvious to us that when they do crack down on these parks, it is a process that takes months, if not years.

CURWOOD: How do you think parks can improve their conditions and the treatment of these animals? And I’m wondering if there’s a particular park out there, or a number of parks that you think are doing it right?

KESTIN: The first part of your question on how they can improve, I think there are certain things that they have learned and have gotten better at. I don’t understand why in this day in age, after so many advances, you would continue to see facilities that just can’t seem to get the chlorine right, the chlorine balance in their water, and we certainly found that. We found a dolphin at Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Clearwater, Florida that had problems with water quality and chlorine for a couple of years, and their dolphins were suffering eye irritations and their skin was peeling.

There also doesn’t seem to be much of an excuse to allow people to have access, that close of an access to the animals where they can lose keychains and sunglasses into the water. It seems like the parks could put some barriers between the visitors just to prevent those sorts of things. So there are some basic things that I think could be done. Sea World is certainly held up by the industry and by Sea World as sort of the leader in the industry in terms of animal care and breeding, they’ve had success at breeding, I think they’ve now bred close to 20 killer whales since 1985 and more than 100 or so dolphins. So everyone seems to turn to them for advice on and help in breeding.

CURWOOD: You say that marine mammals are big business. Who profits from these sea stars, and what’s a killer whale worth today?

KESTIN: A killer whale is insured for up to $5 million dollars. There’s a killer whale here at the Miami Seaquarium that has a life insurance policy for a million dollars, and that’s on the low end because she’s been alone and has no proven breeding record. So, younger killer whales are worth up to $5.5 million dollars, we found. Bottlenose dolphins are worth anywhere from $100,000 to $400,000. We’ve heard offers of $400,000 for a dolphin calf in Mexico. Sea World paid $130,000 a piece for several dolphins from Marineland a couple of years ago. So the animals have become extremely valuable, and you can certainly make a lot of money in this business.

In the U.S., admission to marine parks now costs up to $130 per person. And they promote these extras that you can swim with the dolphins, or you can become a dolphin trainer for a day for $650; you can send someone to dolphin therapy sessions for $2,000 a week. On the revenue side, we calculated that a single dolphin in a swim with the dolphins program brings in about a million dollars a year.

CURWOOD: Sally Kestin is the senior writer for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. Sally, thanks for taking this time with me today.

KESTIN: You’re welcome.

CURWOOD: I want to turn now to Ted Griffin, who was one of the early whale collectors who profited from the sea star business. He’s the man who brought Shamu the killer whale to national attention, and he’s founder of the Seattle Aquarium in Washington. Ted, welcome to Living on Earth.

GRIFFIN: Well, thank you.

CURWOOD: So, how did you get into the business of whale and dolphin collecting?

GRIFFIN: Well I started with a long history of skin diving and being in the water and very familiar with boats. When I built the Seattle Aquarium in 1962, during the Seattle World’s Fair, I had planned to get a killer whale and I was going to capture one within a few weeks. Of course, it was four years later before I actually got my whale. But I used to go out routinely, chase around after them, try to jump out of the boat and get a rope around ‘em, drop a net over ‘em – I did all kinds of things. Most people thought I was crazy, but to me it was just getting in the water with a whale.

CURWOOD: Your whale collecting, though, did get off to a pretty high-profile start, because you’re the one, in fact, to thank for bringing Shamu to international attention. Just how did you rope in this – perhaps it’s the most famous killer whale in Sea World’s history?

GRIFFIN: Shamu came into Puget Sound in November with a pod of eight or ten whales. And this was the fist time I’d ever attempted a capture. I got in my little runabout and followed the whales, and I saw a fishing boat in the channel and I stopped and I said “would you like to help me catch a whale?” And the captain kind of laughed at me and said “nah” and said “good luck, boys.” So I went on down the channel and another fishing boat and I said “would you like to help me catch a whale?” And he said “well, what do you guys pay?” And my partner Don Goldsberry and I had a bunch of cash in our pockets, so we waved money at ‘em and they smiled and they said “okay, we’ll go.”

So, next thing I know, the fishing boat that I talked to first was following along behind us, and so we went over and said “well, we’ve already hired this other boat.” And he said “well, we’ll just come along.” So here we are in Henderson Bay, which is near Tacoma, Washington, and the whales are kind of lollygaging around the shore. And all of a sudden, Don Goldsberry’s on the lead boat and he says “run, run!” So the engine starts up and the net flies off the stern. Well, the whales see that and very quickly turn around and go back the other way. But this other boat, he has come up behind the whales, and he starts from the back end of the net and goes the other way. And pretty soon I’ve got a three-quarter of a mile round circle around those whales. I couldn’t believe it. That’s how we succeeded.

CURWOOD: Now I understand that Shamu’s mother died in this process?

GRIFFIN: She did. The way I initially captured whales was to follow the pod and if the pod were submerged I couldn’t see them. So I went to the Fish and Wildlife Service and borrowed a shoulder-firing harpoon rifle. And with a long string attached I was able to attach a buoy to the end of that, and by harpooning the shoulder of a whale I could then watch the buoy. And when the buoy got into the water that I thought was suitable for setting the nets, then we could set around the buoy and, hopefully, catch the whales. That’s how it happened.

Unfortunately, Shamu’s mother was the one that I harpooned. I believe it was the mother, I don’t know that for a fact. And the female, as I fired from the helicopter, she rolled – which is quite unusual – and the harpoon entered her lung and she died shortly thereafter.

CURWOOD: Oh my God. How’d you feel?

GRIFFIN: Terrible. I mean, it was the first whale I’d ever actually had alongside the boat, and here it is dying. My partner and I are trying to tie it up and suspend it above water and get ropes under the pectoral fins. This was a procedure that they’d used for years to fire these cylinders with information into the whales. And then when they actually kill a whale and cut it up for blubber, the little cylinders tell where the whale was initially spotted, and how big it was at the time, that kind of information. So I had assumed because of that information that this was not a serious problem. In any event, the whale died. And my partner and I are just enormously upset about it, but there’s nothing we can do.

CURWOOD: From your experience as a founder of an aquarium, as a former whale collector, what’s your assessment of the quality of the marine parks these days?

Visitors have little trouble believing that dolphins like this one at Gulf World in Panama City Beach enjoy playing and performing for humans. (Photo: South Florida Sun-Sentinel photo by Angel Valentin)

GRIFFIN: Well I’m not aware of all of the parks that have whales, but in any given situation you will find people who are short of money, and short of knowledge, and are not taking appropriate care of their animals. I mean, that’s just the way it is. On other cases, you will find marine parks that put an enormous amount of money into it and do the very best they can.

Now, there are people who would object simply because the whales are in captivity in a marine park, and that’s enough. They say that no matter how good a care you take care of them it’s not swimming in the wild. So, all I can do is stand on what I have done, and I would do it again. I wanted to know the whale, I wanted to befriend the whale, I wanted one in captivity so that I could have it as a companion, I wanted to train whales to go out into the ocean and come back, I wanted to domesticate the animal, and I still do.

CURWOOD: Ted Griffin is the founder of Seattle Aquarium and a former whale collector. Ted, thanks for speaking with me today.

GRIFFIN: You bet. Thanks a lot for talking to me, Steve.


Related link:
South Florida Sun-Sentinel series on the Marine Parks industry

Back to top


CURWOOD: Next week, on Living on Earth - Tequila is king of Mexico’s liquors. But its poor cousin, mezcal, is gaining popularity on the international market and creating a sustainable business for local growers of the agave plant.

MALE: The basic character of mezcal is its wild sense, its non-domesticated character. It’s part of the personality of mezcal, to be diverse. So that, in a sense, has a lot of nice echoes between biological diversity and also the diversity of taste. The bet is that the market will value this, that we have wild mezcal drinkers that value this.


CURWOOD: Here’s looking at you, kid. It’s the rise of mezcal, next time on Living on Earth. And remember you can hear us anytime and get the stories behind the news by going to Living on Earth dot org. That’s Living on Earth dot O-R-G.


CURWOOD: We take you now to the home of one of the stars of the sea.


CURWOOD: Off the coast of Alaska, Les Gilbert recorded this group of walrus whose large air sacs used for deep diving are thought to produce these unique sounds.

[EARTH EAR: “Maui Hawaii” WHY DO WHALES AND CHILDREN SING? (Earthear – 1999)]

CURWOOD: Living on Earth is produced for the World Media Foundation by Chris Ballman, Christopher Bolick, Eileen Bolinsky, Jennifer Chu and Susan Shepherd - with help from Carl Lindemann, James Curwood and Kelley Cronin.

Our interns are Jennie Cecil Moore, Jenn Goodman and Steve Gregory. Special thanks to Ernie Silver. Our technical director is Paul Wabrek. Alison Dean composed our themes. Al Avery runs our website. You can find is at living on earth dot o-r-g. Environmental sound art courtesy of earthear. I’m Steve Curwood. Thanks for listening.

ANNOUNCER: Funding for Living on Earth comes form the National Science Foundation, supporting coverage of emerging science; and Stonyfield Farm. Organic yogurt and more. Women of inspiration speak at the Stonyfield Strong Women programs taking place in Boston, New York and Washington, D.C. Details at Stonyfield.com.

ANNOUNCER: This is NPR, National Public Radio.


Living on Earth wants to hear from you!

Living on Earth
62 Calef Highway, Suite 212
Lee, NH 03861
Telephone: 617-287-4121
E-mail: comments@loe.org

Newsletter [Click here]

Donate to Living on Earth!
Living on Earth is an independent media program and relies entirely on contributions from listeners and institutions supporting public service. Please donate now to preserve an independent environmental voice.

Living on Earth offers a weekly delivery of the show's rundown to your mailbox. Sign up for our newsletter today!

Sailors For The Sea: Be the change you want to sea.

Creating positive outcomes for future generations.

Innovating to make the world a better, more sustainable place to live. Listen to the race to 9 billion

The Grantham Foundation for the Protection of the Environment: Committed to protecting and improving the health of the global environment.

Contribute to Living on Earth and receive, as our gift to you, an archival print of one of Mark Seth Lender's extraordinary wildlife photographs. Follow the link to see Mark's current collection of photographs.

Buy a signed copy of Mark Seth Lender's book Smeagull the Seagull & support Living on Earth