The crowd goes wild: FC Barcelona reveals Camp Nou stadium’s animal inhabitants

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Saturday, March 18, 2023

Swifts, swallows, bats and geckos all enjoy a ‘coexistence of mutual respect’ on the football stands, wildlife census showsIn the silence after the final whistle you can hear the blackbirds sing, or perhaps a chaffinch or a Sardinian warbler. Or, if night has already fallen, you may see the bats swoop low over the centre circle as the fans shuffle towards the exits. This is the Spotify Camp Nou, the home of Barcelona football club … but also of myriad creatures.Barcelona is probably the first major football club in the world to produce a guide to its stadium’s wildlife, after carrying out a census of its animal occupants. The guide is part of the club rethinking its role in the community and its environmental impact, says Jordi Portabella, an environmentalist and former candidate for mayor of the city, now in charge of developing the club’s sustainability policy. Continue reading...

Swifts, swallows, bats and geckos all enjoy a ‘coexistence of mutual respect’ on the football stands, wildlife census showsIn the silence after the final whistle you can hear the blackbirds sing, or perhaps a chaffinch or a Sardinian warbler. Or, if night has already fallen, you may see the bats swoop low over the centre circle as the fans shuffle towards the exits. This is the Spotify Camp Nou, the home of Barcelona football club … but also of myriad creatures.Barcelona is probably the first major football club in the world to produce a guide to its stadium’s wildlife, after carrying out a census of its animal occupants. The guide is part of the club rethinking its role in the community and its environmental impact, says Jordi Portabella, an environmentalist and former candidate for mayor of the city, now in charge of developing the club’s sustainability policy. Continue reading...

Swifts, swallows, bats and geckos all enjoy a ‘coexistence of mutual respect’ on the football stands, wildlife census shows

In the silence after the final whistle you can hear the blackbirds sing, or perhaps a chaffinch or a Sardinian warbler. Or, if night has already fallen, you may see the bats swoop low over the centre circle as the fans shuffle towards the exits. This is the Spotify Camp Nou, the home of Barcelona football club … but also of myriad creatures.

Barcelona is probably the first major football club in the world to produce a guide to its stadium’s wildlife, after carrying out a census of its animal occupants. The guide is part of the club rethinking its role in the community and its environmental impact, says Jordi Portabella, an environmentalist and former candidate for mayor of the city, now in charge of developing the club’s sustainability policy.

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The beginner’s guide to bird-watching

Getty Images/CSA Images RF No, you don’t need a fancy pair of binoculars to get into bird-watching, according to avid birders. Sharon Stiteler once spent two decades tracking down a stout bird known as the spruce grouse. For Stiteler, the fowl, with its black and white feathers and a striking red eyebrow, is what’s referred to in the birding world as a nemesis bird: an elusive creature that always seems to evade your view. Every time she received a tip about a spruce grouse sighting, she’d arrive a little too late. “People would say, ‘It was just here 10 minutes ago,’” says Stiteler, a birder and writer known as Birdchick. “And then it would never show up again.” Stiteler had all but admitted defeat looking for the spruce grouse. It was only when she started a job at Denali National Park in Alaska in 2021 that she accidentally spotted not one, but three spruce grouses while on a bike ride her first day in the park. “I got off my bike, I took pictures,” she says. “I wept.” You don’t need to be a longtime birder to appreciate the thrill of spotting a new-to-you creature. Since its inception in the late 1800s, bird-watching has become the hobby of choice for millions nationwide — a population that has grown since the pandemic. What was once considered a recreation for middle-aged white men is slowly transitioning into a demographic of younger, more diverse birders. (Despite the fact that even the preeminent bird conservationist nonprofit Audubon Society recently announced that it will maintain its name, which has ties to John James Audubon, a 19th-century naturalist who enslaved people.) Christian Cooper, the Black birder who was falsely accused of threatening a white woman while he was birding in Central Park in 2020, is among the many leading the charge to diversify bird-watching. “The groups that started during the pandemic were 100 percent geared toward beginning birders and pulling in people who had not necessarily had access to birding in the past,” says Katrina Clark, a board member of the Philadelphia-based In Color Birding Club. “These newer birding clubs are really pulling in people of color, women, people who may not even be able to walk through a particular path.” Birding or bird-watching (the two terms, for all intents and purposes, can be used interchangeably) is a hobby that engages the senses, encourages mindfulness, and gets participants out into the fresh air. Not only does immersion in nature come with a host of mental health benefits, but even listening to birdsong can also improve well-being. Whether you’re looking to slow down a little bit or want to find your own nemesis bird, getting into bird-watching is as simple as appreciating a single bird. Birding equipment you’ll need As far as hobbies go, birding is fairly low-maintenance. In theory, fledgling bird-watchers don’t need anything but their eyes and ears to take in the sights and sounds of birds. “I honestly think that if somebody wants to start birding, there are birds everywhere,” says Meghadeepa Maity, the director of accessibility and intersectional community engagement at the Feminist Bird Club, “and you just need to go outside or look out your window.” For a little more guidance, a field guide and binoculars are the only items necessary. A field guide is a book documenting the kinds of birds typically found in the area and their descriptions. You’ll want to find one that is specific to your geographic region — it’ll have photos and descriptions of the birds you’re likely to encounter. Free apps like the Audubon Bird Guide App and Merlin Bird ID can also help you identify birds. Virginia Rose, the founder of Birdability, an inclusive birding group, recommends the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Binoculars will give you a closer look at the birds without disturbing them. Binoculars can get expensive, but beginners can use loaner pairs from local birding groups during guided walks. “If you can use some people’s optics before you take the plunge and buy them yourself,” says Geoff LeBaron, the director of Christmas Bird Count for the National Audubon Society, “that will help you initially use them on your own.” Should you want your own pair, entry-level binoculars can run anywhere from $50 to $150. Look for binoculars labeled as 8.5 x 40, LeBaron says (or as close to those specs as you can find). The first number is magnification: Eight is powerful enough to magnify the birds, but not so strong that you can’t find what you’re looking for. The second number refers to the amount of light let in through the lens: 40 or above provides a brighter image in darker or cloudier conditions. Safety gear includes sunscreen and tick and bug spray, especially if you’re headed to a wooded area. Clark always wears long pants tucked into her socks while birding to protect herself from ticks. You’ll want to wear sturdy, supportive shoes that are comfortable to walk in. Where and when to go bird-watching Contrary to popular belief, you do not need to venture to some faraway nature preserve to admire birds. When Maity began birding as a kid, they started by paying attention to animals in their surroundings: at school, in the neighborhood, at home. Stiteler suggests hanging around anywhere there is water — a fountain, a creek, a pond. If you have the space, consider a bird bath in your yard, front step, or balcony for at-home bird-watching. (“Cemeteries are actually fantastic places” for birding, Stiteler says, “but you do want to be respectful.”) When you’re ready to explore further, start by making a list of the parks in your city or county, Rose says, and visiting them, either by yourself or with a few friends. If a local birding club is planning trips to any of these parks, even better. A local bird club or Audubon chapter can offer recommendations for prime bird-watching locales in your area. These groups also host guided bird walks geared toward beginners, so that can be a great way to get acquainted with the landscape and how to identify birds. The American Birding Association has a list of birding clubs, and the Feminist Bird Club has chapters throughout the country. Of course, a Google or Facebook search will yield a number of local bird organizations. Birds are particularly active in the early morning — singing, feeding — so experts advise heading out at dawn for prime bird-watching, regardless of time of year. If you aren’t a morning person, birds are pretty active around dusk, too. Migration season is also primetime for bird-watching, especially non-native species that may be on their way north or south. In the spring, birds migrate between March and June; fall migration is August through November. What to keep in mind during your first bird-watching outings More experienced birders often have lists of birds they’ve seen and hope to see, but there’s value by simply existing in nature, listening to birdsong. Remove expectations and start by taking in your surroundings. What do you see? What do you hear? What shapes are the birds? What about their beaks and tails? What are their sizes? What are their behaviors? What do they sound like? All of the physical and auditory descriptions of the birds will help you identify them in your guide. Even if you can’t classify them, take pleasure in watching the creatures behave in nature. If you want to keep track of all the birds you’ve seen, experts recommend the app eBird where you can keep a record of your sightings. The app also provides a list of birds others have reported seeing where you are, based on your GPS location. As for actually spotting a bird — and communicating its location to others — Rose recommends looking at a tree as if it were the face of a clock. “Let’s say I see a bird that’s on the 3 o’clock branch,” she says. “I’m going to say the bird is six feet in on the 3 o’clock branch.” What to do if you’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed You might spend an hour in a park and struggle to spot a single bird or fail to catch any in action at your backyard bird feeder and feel frustrated. There is strength in numbers: Seek out the guidance of a bird club where more experienced birders can point out fowl and help identify them. When describing a yellow bird, another bird-watcher might be able to guide you with questions like, “Where did you see the yellow: all over or on certain parts of its body?” “After somebody has a few successes,” Clark says, “then you’re like, okay, I can do this. I got this. I might not know every bird but I’ve had some success.” If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the variety of birds, perhaps during migration, narrow your focus to one type, LeBaron says: only the ducks in the park, just the gulls at the beach. Maity also recommends bringing a notebook and jotting down observations. “Later on, you’ll notice patterns,” they say. “Birds become really predictable.” Remember to be respectful of nature and other birders As a general rule of thumb, give birds some space and avoid making loud noises. “Being quiet enough so that a bird will continue eating around you is a good sign,” Clark says. If you find a nest, don’t get close to it and do not touch it. “Your scent will linger,” Stiteler says. “Predators like raccoons and cats, they smell that and they follow the human scent.” This puts the nest in danger. For more guidelines, Maity recommends the American Birding Association’s Code of Birding Ethics, which encourages birders to be mindful of their environmental impact and to respect the rights and skill levels of other bird-watchers. Speaking of respecting other birders, when interacting with others, be aware of your surroundings, but never question anyone else’s right to be in a public space. While experts agree birders are largely supportive and helpful, racist incidents like the one Cooper experienced in Central Park underscore a need for inclusivity. “You’re going to see a person out there that doesn’t fit your idea of the world,” Maity says. “If you are making an assumption — which you most likely will — take a minute to consider if there is an alternate, positive assumption you can make.”

Pescetarians are responsible for many more animal deaths than regular meat eaters

Fish caught in a net in Poland. People catch or farm billions of fish for food each year. | Andrew Skowron/We Animals Media My year as a pescetarian did more harm than good. When I decided to stop eating animals for ethical reasons five years ago, I wanted to make sure I could stick with it. Following a path where, I thought, each step brought me closer to the most moral diet, I became a pescetarian first, swapping chicken quesadillas and beef burgers for salmon poke bowls. This went on for a year before I adopted a fully vegetarian diet. Pescetarianism — the practice of eschewing red meat and poultry but still eating seafood — is often recommended to people who want to make better food choices, but don’t want to go vegan or vegetarian. Fishing typically has a smaller carbon footprint than factory farming, fish are often seen as less worthy of compassion than land animals, and, while wild-caught fish lives are cut short, at least they don’t spend their entire existence in cages so small they can’t turn around, like some factory-farmed animals. Many people ease into thinking and acting more critically about what (or who) they’re eating this way, which is something we should laud in a society that eats billions of animals raised in terrible conditions without giving it much thought. Nearly a quarter of Americans report that they’re trying to eat less meat, motivated more by concern for the environment than for animal welfare. This matches my experience: saying that you’ve stopped eating animals because of concern for the animals themselves tends to provoke more hurt feelings and tense conversations than citing health or environmental reasons. And switching from an omnivorous diet to a pescetarian one is likely to reduce your climate impact because on average, seafood production releases less carbon per pound of meat than raising land animals (though there is huge variance depending on the species). But even though I shrank my carbon footprint by going pescetarian, I now think I was actually doing more harm to animals during my year of fish than when I was just a regular omnivore. For one thing, scientists have amassed evidence over the past 20 years that fish are sentient — that they feel pain, experience emotions, and engage in complex social behavior that we once thought was limited to humans and land animals — upending decades of received wisdom that they don’t matter morally because they can’t really suffer. Then there’s the question of numbers. Even if you’re less confident that fish can suffer like as pigs or cows, or you just have less empathy for them, keep in mind that you typically have to eat many more individual fish to get an equivalent serving of food. An average farmed salmon yields just under four-and-a-half pounds of meat. That’s over 30 times less meat than a single pig and over 100 times less than a cow. Salmon and chickens produce a similar amount of meat per animal, and both experience intense suffering on industrial farms, but farmed salmon live roughly 26 times longer than chickens before reaching slaughter weight, which means 26-fold more time spent in pain. And unlike farmed land animals, lots of the fish we eat are carnivorous, so they eat a huge number of bait fish before they make it to your plate, which only adds to the pescetarian’s moral bill. When I went pescetarian, I started eating around two pounds of salmon a week, the equivalent of one to two entire Atlantic salmon every month. The typical farmed salmon is fed 147 fish over the course of their short lives — which meant that I was responsible for somewhere between 1,700 and 3,500 fish deaths per year from eating salmon alone. By comparison, the typical American eats around 25 land animals in total per year (based on data from a decade ago, but current figures are similar). So it’s little surprise that, according to one estimate, humans catch or farm at least 840 billion to 2.5 trillion fish each year — at least 11 times the combined number of cows, chickens, and pigs slaughtered globally, even though seafood makes up just 17 percent of the world’s animal protein intake. These numbers are expected to increase — even more so if more consumers change how they’re eating to primarily help the climate, without worrying too much about animals. There’s a well-known trade-off here: a diet of small animals like chicken or anchovies instead of large ones like cows has a smaller carbon footprint but results in suffering and death for a far greater number of individual animals. Fortunately, there’s a simple way out of this dilemma, one that is better for both animals and the climate: instead of swapping one animal for another, eat fewer animals of any species and more plants. Our weird relationship with fish While I’ve never had any interest in hunting, I grew up fishing with my grandfather in the Florida Keys. When I was a boy, I remember watching with concern as he beat a fish to death with the handle of a knife. “Fish don’t feel pain,” he assured me. The fish’s writhing around on the prep table suggested otherwise, but hey, I thought, he knows a lot more about fish than I do. It’s hard to imagine this being seen as normal in the context of, say, hunting a deer, and hunting itself is a more culturally contentious activity than fishing. Americans are more disapproving of hunting than fishing, according to a 2019 survey conducted by hunting and fishing advocates. The same goes for how we raise the animals we eat. While we routinely treat land animals on factory farms in unconscionable ways, we tolerate even worse treatment of fish. Wild-caught and farmed fish are routinely left to suffocate in open air or killed by a combination of suffocation and being cut open alive. Fish aren’t covered by the US Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, so they get essentially no protection from cruelty. It’s much less likely consumers would tolerate the routine slaughter of chickens via drowning, which the US government at least nominally prohibits (although this still happens in poultry slaughterhouses). To take one extreme example: there’s a Japanese culinary tradition called ikizukuri — roughly translated to “prepared alive” — where sashimi is prepared from the body of a still-living fish right in front of the customer. Can you imagine a Manhattan restaurant carving off the flank of a squealing pig right in the middle of the dining room? Of the animals we eat, fish and other seafood — a term that, really, says it all about how we view aquatic life — get the least moral consideration. Why? As Vox’s Kenny Torrella writes: “They live underwater, so we rarely interact with them. They can’t vocalize or make facial expressions, so it’s much harder to understand them than mammals and birds. And research has shown that the further animals are from us on the evolutionary chain, the less likely we are to try to protect them.” The shifting consensus on fish pain Our evolutionary distance from fish has contributed to the now-debunked myth that, as my grandfather believed, they don’t experience pain. The most common biological argument against fish pain went something like: humans experience pain in the brain’s neocortex, but fish don’t have a neocortex. Therefore, fish can’t experience pain. Becca Franks, a professor of environmental studies at NYU, counters this argument with the example of the octopus. Humans need their visual cortex to see, but octopuses don’t have a visual cortex. That doesn’t mean they can’t see — it just tells us that they process vision differently. Vastly disparate animal species have independently developed vision with different eye and brain structures, in a phenomenon known as convergent evolution. The same thing has been found in birds, who were once thought to lack intelligence but are now acknowledged by neuroscientists to have developed capacities that are strikingly similar to humans. (Scientists are still learning about the extraordinary abilities of crows, for example, who can create tools to retrieve food). We should expect functions that provide animals with an edge in survival, like vision and logic, to arise in different species independently. Similarly, there’s an evolutionary incentive for animals to develop the ability to detect and avoid pain. Donald Broom, a professor of animal welfare at Cambridge University, has argued that pain and fear systems in animals evolved a long time ago and are unlikely to have suddenly appeared in just mammals or humans. In 2002, around the time my grandfather first taught me to fish, zoologist Lynne Sneddon discovered nociceptors — neurons that react to potentially painful stimuli — in fish. While we can’t exactly ask fish if they feel pain, Sneddon and other researchers have devised clever ways of getting to an answer. To distinguish reflexive behavior from behavior that can best be explained by a subjective experience of pain, a common approach is to look at how painful stimuli affect fish behavior, like by making them avoid predators or novel objects, with and without the presence of painkillers like morphine or aspirin. To take one example, when zebrafish are presented with the choice between a tank enriched with things like pebbles and fake plants or a barren tank, they’ll consistently choose the former. Their preference persists when they’re injected with noxious acetic acid (vinegar). But when the barren chamber is filled with a painkiller and the enriched chamber isn’t, the zebrafish will prefer the barren chamber. Fish form surprisingly complex social bonds Some researchers, like Franks, think the fish pain debate is missing the point. Rather than getting bogged down with contrived experiments, they argue, we should look more closely at fish behavior in their native environments, where they show clear evidence of sentience and express preferences. As Franks told me the relevant question is, “Are those preferences more than just reflexes, and instead felt experiences, felt emotions, and strong desires about the conditions of their life?” She firmly believes that all conscious creatures have evolved to enjoy the process of survival and that prey species may even get a thrill from evading predators. While Sneddon has focused a lot of her efforts on determining if fish can feel pain, when I spoke to her, she, too, was quick to point to broader evidence of fish sentience, which she defined as an animal’s ability to form relationships both within and across species. She cited the example of moray eels teaming up with grouper fish to form a hunting relationship, one in which the eels use their flexible, slender bodies to flush prey out of hiding places for the speedier grouper to catch. When teamed up, each predator gets to keep the kill about half the time. One thing that first convinced me to stop eating sea creatures was a 2018 talk on the inner lives of fish by Franks. She pointed out that even tiny fish exhibit surprisingly complex social behavior. Take the cleaner wrasse fish, which eats parasites off of larger fish. Occasionally, they’ll eat a scale off that big fish by mistake, and to “apologize” to them, they’ll give a literal back rub, providing extra attention to predatory fish. All this in a fish less than six inches long! Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild via Getty Images A tiny cleaner wrasse fish cleans a yellow-margined moray in the Indian Ocean. Cleaner wrasse fish who see their reflection will attempt to remove marks on their scales, joining a small handful of species in passing a self-recognition test. These fish also outperform three primate species, including orangutans, in a foraging task requiring advanced social intelligence, which may help explain their delicate masseuse sensibilities. The list goes on: guppies have friends, salmon probably jump for fun, monogamous convict cichlid fish exhibit more pessimistic behavior after a breakup, and Japanese puffer fish make flirtatious art. These capacities should have profound implications for all the ways we interact with fish, from sport-fishing to scientific research, but by far most of our interactions with fish are with the ones we eat. And the suffering we cause in those interactions is incalculable. The terrible lives of the fish we eat Consumers get mixed messages about whether farmed or wild-caught fish are better for the environment. The reality is complicated — it depends a lot on the species, harvest method, and location — giving rise to byzantine resources designed to help consumers make sustainable seafood choices. But it’s tough to even confirm where the fish on your plate came from: a 2015 analysis of salmon in a variety of US restaurants and groceries found that 43 percent was mislabeled — typically falsely claiming it was wild-caught when it was in fact farmed. Given the overwhelming evidence for fish sentience, the ethically motivated eater can rely on neither. And the distinction between farmed and wild-caught begins to break down when you consider the close relationship between commercial fishing and aquaculture, also known as fish factory farming. Over 90 percent of all fish humans slaughter are wild-caught, but about half of those are eaten not by humans but processed into fishmeal (mostly eaten by farmed fish and crustaceans) to accommodate the rapidly growing fish farming industry. A recent study estimated that the number of fish farmed globally grew ninefold in the last three decades, up to 124 billion in 2019. Raising fish in confined conditions far different from their natural environments presents severe ethical problems, to say the least. Farmed fish suffer from overcrowding, disease, and the pain of being forced to grow rapidly. They experience significantly higher mortality rates than those of farmed land animals, while diseases that spread in dense fish farms also threaten wild marine populations. Eating wild-caught fish — assuming you can actually be sure that’s what you’re getting — may be less bad from an animal welfare perspective than eating farmed ones. As brutal as standard capture and slaughter methods for wild fish are, they inflict a few hours of suffering instead of the months or years it takes to raise animals on farms. But commercial fishing creates plenty more externalities that go beyond the fish consumers directly eat. Ecosystem destruction is practically baked into its business model. Common fishing techniques like bottom trawling — dragging a large net across the sea floor — can cause severe damage and pollution. Fishing boats inadvertently catch many marine animals — like dolphins, whales, and turtles — known as bycatch, a category that includes about 10 percent of wild-caught fish, according to Our World in Data. Animals caught as bycatch are then tossed back, but most don’t survive. Selene Magnolia/We Animals Media Swordfish caught as bycatch in Greece on a fishing vessel. I’d be remiss not to mention shrimp, which are by far the most numerous individual animal species Americans eat, at over 120 per person per year on average. We have less evidence of shrimp sentience, but this is mostly due to our lack of research on it. Shrimp do respond differently to noxious stimuli when given painkillers, providing some evidence for their ability to experience pain. And shrimp farming involves some of the most horrifying routine practices, like eye ablation — the removal of eyestalks to induce female shrimp to spawn. Because so many individual shrimp need to be killed to make one serving of food, even a small chance that they’re sentient convinced me to stop eating them. Plus, trawling for wild shrimp has the highest bycatch rate in the commercial fishing industry — more than half of the animals caught are discarded. Individual versus systemic change is a false choice — we need both But is individual dietary change the right thing to focus on, rather than systems-level change? This is a long-running debate on complex consumer issues like animal welfare and climate mitigation, but it’s always been an unhelpful binary. We need both. Many of the most effective animal welfare organizations focus on changing corporate and state actors to improve conditions for large numbers of animals at once. Reducing your own consumption of animal products also has a real, positive impact on animals and the environment. After accounting for bycatch and feed fish, the typical American is responsible for the deaths of between roughly 340 and 560 sea animals per year. That’s a lot of lives you could save by simply leaving fish off your plate. Our individual choices can also have a social contagion effect — merely telling a recently converted pescetarian friend I was working on this piece convinced him to stop eating fish. In recent years, animal advocates have begun to turn their attention to this long-ignored group and lobby for welfare reforms to how we farm and catch fish. Two new organizations are dedicated to improving the lives of the aquatic animals we eat: the Fish Welfare Initiative and the Aquatic Life Institute. This area is so neglected that there is a lot of low-hanging fruit, from changing tank color to reduce salmon aggression in farms to using more humane slaughter methods. While writing this story, I’ve marveled at how much more fascinating and complex fish are than I originally thought. Our growing understanding of the sentience of other species has made it harder to identify ways in which humans are unique. Rather than diminish my view of humanity, this research motivates me to respect the unique preferences and experiences of nonhuman animals. One area where I think humans remain unique is in our moral agency — our ability to make choices based on a notion of right and wrong. It’s uniquely human to construct massive industrial aquaculture operations and suffocate fish by the billions — but it’s also uniquely human to refuse to participate. Garrison Lovely is a Brooklyn-based freelance journalist with work in BBC Future, New York Focus, Jacobin, and Current Affairs. He appeared on CBS News Sunday Morning and hosts the podcast The Most Interesting People I Know. He tweets from @garrisonlovely.

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