The Jeff Wise Blog

I’m Having One of Those Days

I’m not actually having one of those days, but what else to do with the best animated gif ever?

Filed under: Animal attack

This is a Serious Blog

But I just couldn’t resist. Thanks to dailysquee.com.

Filed under: Animal attack

In an Encounter with a Cougar, Four Different Ways to Panic

The new issue of The Brain, Discover magazine’s newsstand special, is now out, and with it an excerpt from Extreme Fear in which I discuss Sue Yellowtail’s struggle with a mountain lion in a remote canyon in southwestern Colorado:

At 25, Sue Yellowtail was just a few years out of college, working for the Ute Indian tribe as a water quality specialist. Her job was to travel through remote areas of the reservation, collecting samples from the streams, creeks, and rivers. She spent her days criss-crossing remote backcountry, territory closed to visitors, and rarely traveled even by locals. It’s the kind of place where, if you got in trouble, you were on your own.

On a clear, cold morning in late December Yellowtail pulled her pickup over to the side of the little-traveled dirt double-track, a few yards from a simple truss bridge that spanned the creek. As she collected her gear she heard a high-pitched scream. Probably a coyote killing a rabbit, she thought. She clambered down two steep embankments to the water’s edge. Wading to the far side of the creek, she stooped to stretch her tape measure the width of the flow. Just then she heard a rustling and looked up. At the top of the bank not 30 feet away, stood a mountain lion. Tawny against the brown leaves of the riverbank brush, the animal was almost perfectly camouflaged. It stared down at her, motionless.

She stood stock still.

As I go on to explain, Yellowtail had entered the first instinctual fear-response state, the condition of freezing known as attentive immobility. But her trial had just begun. Within the next 15 minutes, she would pass through the three other distinct forms of panic. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Animal attack, Panic

A Strange Calm in a Sea of Danger

An uncanny thing about life-or-death crises is how often those in them don’t feel fear. Time and again, I’ve heard from people who’ve had a close brush with death and didn’t experience any emotion at all. In the moment, they felt calm and focused. Everything seemed crystal clear. They saw what they needed to do and they did it. Only afterward, when they found themselves in a place of safety, did they become overwhelmed with emotion.

In the book I tell the story of Johan Otter, who was hiking in Glacier National Park with his daughter when they were attacked by a grizzly. Stepping between the bear and his child, he fought it off as best he could until he felt the animal’s massive jaws locked on his head. “I felt a tooth going into my skull and I thought, ‘This is going to be it.’” Otter says. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Animal attack

Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Wolf?

Few animals arouse as much passion, both for and against, as the wolf. Spend some time in ranching country and you’ll quickly find that many consider the animal not only economically costly but downright evil. Conservationists, on the other hand, marvel at the complex social lives and admirable adaptability of a creature closely related to our beloved pet dogs. One thing both sides agreed on was that wolves posed no real threat to human beings, at least in North America. Since the earliest days of European colonization, there have been no recorded killings of people by wild wolves on the continent. (Domesticated wolves are another matter.) Until now. According to a report in the Huffington Post, wolves in southern Alaska appear to have ended their streak of good behavior towards us humans:

Wolves likely killed a teacher jogging alone along a rural Alaska village road, public safety officials said Thursday. The Alaska State Medical Examiner listed “multiple injuries due to animal mauling” as the cause of death for Candice Berner, 32, a special education teacher from Pennsylvania who began working in Alaska in August. Her body was found off the road a mile outside the village of Chignik Lake on the Alaska Peninsula, which is about 474 miles southwest of Anchorage.

I suspect that how you take this news will depend entirely on how you viewed wolves beforehand. For wolf-haters, it’s yet more evidence of their nastiness. For wolf-lovers, a lone data point that by itself does little to change our overall perspective on wolves and their behavior. For everyone, though, a reminder that nature must be treated with respect, and that wild animals have a knack for upsetting our received notions of how they should act.

Filed under: Animal attack

Are We Living in a Low-Budget Marine-Themed Horror Movie?

Sea-dwelling animals are running suspiciously amok. There was, of course, the horrible case of the homicidal orca. (Who, it turned out, had already been involved in the death of two other trainers. Maybe it’s time to go back to calling them “killer whales” again, like in the good old days?)

Then there’s the news that the plexiglass tunnel running through the shark tank in Dubai has sprung a leak. Reportedly the tank contained not just a couple, not a few dozen, but hundreds of the deadly fish. And given the state of affairs in Dubai, they probably haven’t been fed in a while.

To round out the trifecta, it turns out that two sea otters aboard a Continental flight escaped from their cage and roamed free inside the plane, causing a flight delay.

Is global warming not only causing the oceans to rise, but to go crazy? Better to be safe than sorry: I’m heading down to the Red Lobster and get myself a seafood platter. It’s us or them.

Filed under: Animal attack

New York City: It’s a Jungle Out There

More things to be afraid of in NYC! Back in the day, the gritty streets of Manhattan were feared as the haunt of muggers, rapists, drug addicts, and the like. Now, with crime rates down, a different kind of predator is stirring alarm. Earlier this month, officials at Columbia University sent an email warning to students after three wild coyotes were seen on campus on a Sunday morning. Now video footage has surfaced, shot by blogger Urban Hawks, of what appears to be a juvenile on the frozen surface of The Pond. Urban Hawks writes:

The Pond is steps away from The Plaza Hotel, Bergdorf Goodman and the flagship NYC Apple store.  To the west of The Pond is Hallett Nature Sanctuary.  This is an area free of the presence of dogs and humans. It would be a perfect place for the Coyote to sleep during the day and was the favorite spot of the 2006 Coyote, Hal. As luck would have it, I had chosen the right spot and time.  The Coyote came out onto the ice four times.  It played with a bottle, went after some ducks, and eventually disappeared.  It seemed quite shy, hiding in the sanctuary between forays onto the ice.

How afraid should urbanites be? Not very, at least for themselves. Attacks on humans are very rare. Pets, however, are a different matter, as cats and small dogs can make a tasty treat for a coyote.

Filed under: Animal attack

Thinking About Fear & the Brain

If I find myself in a severe crisis, will I be able to keep it together? How can I control anxiety and panic? Is it possible to lead a life less bounded by fear? These are the sorts of questions that I'll be exploring in this blog, an offshoot of my book, Extreme Fear: The Science of Your Mind in Danger, published on December 8, 2009 by Palgrave Macmillan.

Video Introduction

Also by Jeff Wise