December 29, 2013: Rescuing Crocs, Navy Seals in Zoos, Swimming with Great Whites, Blackfish and More

Tilikum the Orca swims in a tank for crowds. The unhappy orca has been linked to several human deaths, including one trainer at SeaWorld Orlando. Tilikum's complicated story is shared in the documentary "BLACKFISH".  (photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures)
Tilikum the Orca swims in a tank for crowds. The unhappy orca has been linked to several human deaths, including one trainer at SeaWorld. Tilikum’s complicated story is shared in the film, “BLACKFISH”. (photo courtesy Magnolia Pictures)

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

Please check listings near you to find the best way to listen to National Geographic Weekend on radio, or listen below!

Hour 1

– Professional kayaking guide Hendri Coetzee was attacked by a large man-eating crocodile while kayaking from Lake Victoria into Democratic Republic of the Congo, while exploring the region’s white water. He was last seen by partners Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic. Two years later, he Australian croc expert and National Geographic explorer Matt Wright went back to the Lukuga River to search for the offending reptile, and any of his other friends. He tells Boyd about his trip and the unique circumstances on this river that give crocodiles an appetite for humans. Listen here.

– American ‘tall tale’ heroes like Paul Bunyan and John Henry performed hard working jobs that, by an accident of history, have been driven out of existence due to the development of machines that are more durable, cheaper and can do the job much faster. But unlike steel drivers, lumberjacks have held on, to an extent, through outdoors games competitions.Dave Jewett is a competitive lumberjack who throws axes, saws and chops through logs with amazing speed and accuracy. He shares some axe-handling tips with Boyd, but cautions would-be choppers to be sure to keep their toes clear of the axe. Listen here.

– Polar bears are animals that need the cold. Which is troublesome, considering the winter Arctic ice pack is at its sixth lowest level ever recorded. Steven AmstrupChief Scientist for Polar Bears International, tells Boyd that there is hope for the bears: with proper motivation, it’s possible to reverse global warming to the point of saving enough of the ice to allow the bears to continue hunting seals. Listen here.

– Boyd takes a road trip to The National Zoo to chat with seal-keeper Malia Somerville about a fishy topic: feeding her pinniped friends. Similar to training a pet, food helps to motivate the seals to do tricks and get their check-ups. Malia also brags about a colleague who once served as a Navy seal, although her contributions to national security remain mysterious. Listen here.

– War, one of the worst situations imaginable, can bring out the best in people. When chaos poured into Uganda’s national parks from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, Charles Tumwesigye, recipient of the National Geographic/Buffett Award for Leadership in Conservation, took in park rangers from DRC and negotiated with rebels, ultimately helping to save their resident mountain gorilla populations from becoming conflict casualties. Listen here.

Hour 2

– Watching orcas in person can be an amazing experience, but questions about whales in captivity abounded when SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau died after being attacked by one of the captive whales in 2010. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary, BLACKFISH, tells the story of Tilikum, a large bull orca who has been connected with three human deaths since being forcefully separated from his family. The film uncovers some of the industry’s secrets of just how ill-suited the orcas are for life in a small pool, with little opportunity for socialization with their own kind. Listen here.

– Great white sharks are portrayed as the perfect ocean killing machine. They’re goaded into frenzies by cage diving companies for the enjoyment (and fear) of their clients. But shark conservationist Ocean Ramsey says that they’re not always on the prowl for a meal. She became famous for a video of her trailing from a great white shark’s dorsal fin, in an attempt to show that, while she doesn’t advise it, the sharks are often just trying to swim. They’re often just as leery of meeting us in the ocean as we are of them. Listen here.

– In cultures that pass traditions and rituals down from one generation to the next, it is possible that if a keeper of a specific tradition were to meet with an unexpected illness, that tradition could be lost. National Geographic Young Explorer Will Meadows has spent the last year living with remote indigenous groups in Africa and South America, compiling knowledge and learning to make canoes from local trees or reeds, in an effort to recover some of the knowledge lost when a culture loses its boat-building history. Listen here.

– Skiing is an opportunity to get outside and feel at one with nature, even when the temperatures dip well below freezing. But crowds on the slopes and the infrastructure of a large ski resort can leave skiers feeling closer to a major city than a winter wonderland. For that reason, many relish helicopter skiing. There aren’t lines, there aren’t ropes denying access to terrain, and there is no ski patrol to bail skiers out when they make a mistake. Rob Turner is a helicopter skiing guide at Mica Heli, outside of Revelstoke, British Columbia. His job is to make sure that the few skiers on the mountain avoid avalanches, and return home safe. He tells Boyd about the pleasures, and the dangers, of back country skiing. Listen here.

– In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd reflects that it’s not just high schoolers who are fascinated by animal poop. Boyd shares some of his favorite poop facts, and explains a game that involves seeing how far one can spit impala droppings, known as a “bokdrol spoeg kompetisie.” Listen here.


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Meet the Author
Justin O'Neill produces the weekly radio program National Geographic Weekend with host Boyd Matson. Check it out on on SiriusXM satellite radio (XM channel 133 Sundays at noon), subscribe to the iTunes podcast, or stream it directly to your smartphone with Stitcher Radio.