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SBnature Blog

September 10
12:55 PM /

Max: His Life and Loves

The raptors are back! Nope, we’re not talking about dinosaurs from the Cretaceous resurrected by Hollywood, but about our favorite dinosaur descendants, the birds of prey who live in the mews on our Mission Creek Campus. That is, they lived there from 2011 to early fall of 2017, when construction workers got busy transforming the outdoor play space of our Museum Backyard and the birds moved to two generously donated temporary aviaries located in private spaces near the Museum. Now that the new and improved Backyard is almost up and running, the birds have finally come home. It’s been a stressful time for humans and birds alike—with the Thomas Fire and its aftermath delaying construction and prolonging the time the raptors spent in their temporary digs—so the sense of relief here is palpable as our beloved birds return.

These animals can’t survive on their own in the wild. For most of them, that’s due to health conditions like blindness or wing damage sustained during car accidents. Acclimated to life around humans, they do more than earn their keep by acting as ambassadors between the avian world and our own. They’re part of the outreach group Eyes in the Sky (EITS), a program of the Santa Barbara Audubon Society. Every year, the seven birds currently in EITS inspire and inform the schoolchildren they visit in classrooms and the Museum guests who visit the birds here. All this happens because of the dedicated EITS volunteers who care for the birds and act as their interpreters in the community.

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July 26
10:48 AM /

Thanks for the Memory: A Not-So-Brief History of the Transformed Halls

If the Museum was part of your childhood, chances are you’ve enshrined our halls in your memory. You may have wondered (or even worried about) whether it was possible to update the halls without losing the history that makes them so special. We wondered about that ourselves. Actually, we obsessed over it. When you visit, we think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that while much has changed, the historic character remains intact. We were able to honor our history because we understand and value it.

As an institution, we rely heavily on Librarian Terri Sheridan to preserve our memories. “Librarian?” you might be thinking, “What librarian?” Such a title implies the existence of a library, and relatively few visitors discover ours. Like Platform 9 ¾, it’s hiding right under your nose, but there’s no trick to entering; the magic is all inside.

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May 23
3:45 PM /

Science Pub: Exploring the Deep Sea Aboard the E/V Nautilus

The Stubby Squid: Does it have a face only a mother could love, or the face that launched a thousand ships? However its gaze may strike you personally, it launched at least one ship, namely, the E/V (exploration vessel) Nautilus. The Nautilus belongs to the Ocean Exploration Trust, and it’s the ship that brought the world this astounding face from the depths…and much more. If you’ve been living your life somewhere even more remote than the Mariana Trench, and you’ve never seen the Stubby Squid or heard of the Ocean Exploration Trust, you’ve still probably heard of its founder, Dr. Bob Ballard. He discovered the Titanic, remember? What’s more, he’s a UCSB alumnus, and thanks to him, our region is treated to recurring brushes with greatness vis-à-vis the deep sea.

Stubby Squid

The congenitally surprised-looking Stubby Squid, which is more like a cuttlefish than a squid, really, though cuttlefish, in turn, are more cuddly than fishy. Call it by its proper name: Rossia pacifica. Photo credit: Ocean Exploration Trust

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May 08
10:45 AM /

Museum Mysteries: The Disembodied Albatross

Why does Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology have a severed albatross head in its collection? That wasn’t one of our sleuth’s original research questions, but he answered it all the same. SBMNH Curator of Vertebrate Zoology Paul Collins encountered the surreal specimen while researching his book-in-development on the birds of the Channel Islands. It’s not the only mystery he’s solved over the course of that research, but it may be one of the strangest.

For the past forty years, Collins has compiled information about Channel Islands birds from specimens and field notes at institutions around the world. His sources stretch from 1843 to the present day, and include records of nearly 10,000 museum specimens and more than 150,000 observations of birds on the eight islands. The last book to cover the birds of all the islands was a slim volume published in 1917, so Collins’s book will fill a big gap in the field. Physically, the observation records fill a stack of binders 24 inches tall. In bird terms, that’s about the height of a Great Egret, those tall white birds you see in the wetlands around UCSB and the fallow fields of Goleta.

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April 27
5:00 PM /

Drought, Fire, and Flood: Climate Change and Our New Normal

“Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume.”
–Hope Jahren, Lab Girl

“Drought, Fire, and Flood: Climate Change and Our New Normal,” the community conversation held April 25 at the Granada Theatre (the space generously shared by the Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts), educated and motivated those who could devote their Wednesday evening to getting informed about local climate resilience. If you missed the event, read on for detailed coverage.

This event had its roots in the long drought and increasingly severe fires that scourged our state in recent years, which set the stage for devastating local flooding and debris flows in January. Following the death and destruction in Montecito, members of the SBMNH Board of Trustees suggested that the Museum host an event addressing the natural disasters. Museum President and CEO Luke Swetland reached out to Karl Hutterer, the Museum’s Director Emeritus, and Community Environmental Council (CEC) CEO/Executive Director Sigrid Wright. The CEC, a “think-and-do-tank,” has spent approximately the last half-century promoting solutions to environmental problems in the Santa Barbara area. In the last decade, it has specifically focused on promoting regional solutions to the challenges posed by climate change.

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April 11
12:00 PM /

Social Science: Sharing Specimens, Data, and Beers in Invertebrate Zoology

As a young visitor to the Museum, I never really looked behind the taxidermy. I never imagined that there were scientists behind the scenes, managing collections and pursuing their own research. It certainly never occurred to me that collections housed here in Santa Barbara would draw researchers from other institutions worldwide. This reflected not only my lack of knowledge about the Museum, but something I didn’t yet understand about science: that it’s conducted not by lone wolves, but by pack animals.

This might sound surprising, in light of what we all usually picture when we imagine a scientist. Even if we’re lucky enough to know some real scientists, we typically visualize someone whose expertise exceeds their social skills, someone who’d rather spend Friday nights alone in a lab than having a beer with friends. Shows like The Big Bang Theory derive their humor from this entrenched stereotype. What the stereotype gets right is the fact that scientists are typically passionate about what they do, and most of the time they’d rather be doing it than anything else. They’re in it for love, and not for the money, which you can confirm by asking any researcher what they earn.

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