Posts Tagged Ostermund I. Fuhl
If you were to follow the Pacific Coast Highway south from the harbor and lighthouse at Point Arena, winding along the rocky shoreline as the Pacific Ocean washes over the world’s end on your right, you might miss the unassuming bullet-battered tin sign swinging in the breeze that reads, simply, “C-Ranch Dairy.” The sign marks the sorry excuse for a rutted ranch road that cuts across the pasture tying Highway 1 to the salient bluffs where this fledgling enterprise – one that could only exist along the California coast – overlooks the sea. On the C-Ranch Dairy grounds, the herd lolls along the coastline, swatting flies and loafing in the fog-drenched, intermittent sun. Most of the herd here is recumbent, the cows and their young huddling by bulk-some bulls. The cathedral silence of the coast and fog is broken only by the herd’s insistent lowing and chuffing, and the crash of seething surf. But when a fight breaks out between two bulls, the blood and blubber flies as the two thunder and rear in a contest of dominance and mastery over the herd. Head hung low, the losers in these battles slink off into the surf in search of a tasty squid to wash away the taste of defeat.
The herd at C-Ranch is atypical of the traditional bucolic, happy-cows-California dairy. There are no Rorschach-dappled Holsteins, no steaming cow-piles, no cud to munch. Here at dairyman Angus Tirostris and wife Miro’s Sonoma County ranch, the stock is counted not by horn or hoof, but by flippers. You see, the Tirostris’ run elephant seals, not cattle, on their sea-green acres. And the brine-bottled seal milk they’re peddling – trademarked “Sealk” – may put hair on your chest, if not blubber under your belt.
When reporters come calling (which they seem to do increasingly, these days), Tirostris rattles down the road in his battered pick-up to meet them at the highway. The bumper sticker on the pick-up’s rear fender reads, “My udder ranch cows are Holsteins”. Tirostris is a third-generation dairyman – the only difference between him and his granddaddy is his livestock. To fend off the inevitable incredulous questions, the truculent Swede commandeers interviews by cutting to the chase – how did he get into the business of seal milk?
Sitting around the Tirostris’ kitchen table, Angus nurses a frosty glass of Sealk during our interview. His walrus whiskers strain the stuff like a trash rack or baleen (I admit the glass before me rests untouched). For 30 years, Tirostris had run several hundred head of Holstein along his 500-acre coastal pasturage. But after tsunami swells undercut the bluffs in 2011, 1/4 mile of seaside cliffs began to calve into the ocean, washing Tirostris’ Holsteins out to sea in the deal. When he set out to assess the storm’s aftermath, the unfortunate dairyman found he had lost his herd, and that the Fates had traded him bluffs for beach. Caught up in the throes of filing for bankruptcy, he hardly noticed when a colony of elephant seals arrived one morning in late December and established a breeding rookery on the raw, rocky beach.
Today, the elephant seal stands as a text-book example of a species that managed to survive near-extinction and a genetic bottle-neck. Despite the 19th Century “fishery” by sealers hunting the species for the prized oil made from its blubber, elephant seal populations have since rebounded along the Pacific Coast. Nevertheless, despite the elephant seal’s expansive breeding range in years past, rookeries along the Pacific Coast are still few and far between today. And so it was that this elephant seal colony became more than a curiosity to passerby biologists; it marked an extralimital range extension for the species along the Sonoma coast.
One such passerby, famed thalassohodoscatologist Ostermund I. Fuhl, Ph.D, saw in the rookery an opportunity. Thirty years ago, a younger Fuhl had embarked on an adventure into northern Alaska’s Avatanak Bight to explore what was then the burgeoning field of open water tracking and scat identification. On one of his many forays asea, Fuhl overheard an Inupiat–Yupik (Eskimo) elder recount the story of a fisherman’s infant lost at sea during a subsistence whale hunt. The child, tossed from a pitching umiaq (the traditional seal-skin boat), was found and adopted by a bearded seal that had recently become separated from her pup. The impromptu wet nurse suckled the infant on seal milk for three days before a Greenpeace activist stumbled across these strange bedfellows on an ice floe and rescued the child.
This tale stuck with Fuhl during his long years at sea. After his return to the states in 2008 and the successful 2012 publication of his renowned field guide, Marine Mammal Tracks and Scats: A Field Guide to North American Species, Fuhl pooled the royalties from his New York Times best seller, tracked down Tirostris and his elephant seal rookery, and formed a partnership under the label, feauxSeal Inc. Together, the entrepreneurs rehabilitated the waning C-ranch dairy with the shared vision of revolutionizing the American dairy industry with the next best food fad since Olestra or Crystal Pepsi.
The colony at C-Ranch arrives in December and departs in March, the perfect example of sea-range seastock. And because elephant seals, like other pinnidpeds, fast during their time at the rookery nursing their young, there’s no need for Tirostris to supplement their diet, a benefit that keeps C-Ranch’s overhead to a minimum. Fuhl and Tirostris are tight-lipped about the details of feauxSeal’s patented dairy process. But the entire facility operates above-board, permitted through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, California Department of Food and Agriculture, NOAA Fisheries, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife. More recently, feauxSeal made waves within rabbinical circles after attaining kosher certification through the Orthodox Union.
The nutritional health benefits of Sealk are staggering. In addition to the essential calcium, protein, potassium, and vitamins D, B12, and A, Sealk is packed with omega-3 fatty acids which – altogether – not only builds healthy bones and teeth, but can also help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke. “It’s nature’s equivalent of a glass of milk and fish tacos, bottled and delivered to your doorstep,” says Tirostris. “The only way you could replicate Nature’s recipe in the kitchen is with a blender.”
With the first Sealk season coming to a close, feauxSeal has been market-testing their products on the shelves of local Whole Foods Markets and smaller Sonoma County boutiques. The groundswell of foodies and connoisseurs describe the unique flavor of Sealk and other Sealk products – “sea butter” and “chaeses” – as “fishy to nutty,” a distinction Tirostris takes pride in. Like any fine wine, Sealk’s “bouquet” reflects the elephant seals’ diet in the wild: hagfish, lamprey, stingray, hake, skate, squid, rockfish, dogfish, and ratfish. Raw Sealk – sold in collector’s bottles in either half- (200.5 oz) or whole-steins (401 oz) – has already infiltrated the cafeterias of certain private elementary schools. The sea-salt rinded Beachmaster Brie and Poseidon’s pepper-jack, two in an expanding line of feauxSeal’s trademarked chaeses, are already on backorder. Sealk is quickly becoming Neptune’s nectar.
Despite Sealk’s many proponents, some dairy industry detractors have raised the hue and cry. Several environmental groups, purportedly tipped off by the Russian mafia-backed kefir industry, are scheduled to testify before congress next week about whether Sealk might be tainted by pollutants such as PCBs, DDT, and brominated flame retardants – all also common in marine mammals, especially in their fatty breast milk. Recognizing the highly competitive nature of the dairy industry and the instability of fickle food fads, feauxSeal is already in negotiations to develop an organic alternative, SoySealk, a clear sign Fuhl and Tirostris understand that profits grow where milk money flows.
When asked about the future of feauxSeal, Tirostris’ eyes gleam in anticipation of the sea change they’re banking on in this cottage industry’s prospects. “If our venture is profitable,” he muses, “we plan on taking the sea world by storm. Fuhl is already scouting a herd of manatees along the Florida coast. These are the ocean’s true sea-cows. Mark my words, by this time next April, Fuhl and I will be peddling Mermilk in every nursing home and Walt Disney World food booth along the Atlantic seaboard.”
Based on 22 years at sea exploring the Arctic circle under the tutelage of a veteran Eskimo tracker, Marine Mammal Tracks and Scats: A Field Guide to North American Species marks Dr. Ostermund I. Fuhl’s premier debut into the field of thalassohodoscatology – tracking marine mammals across the open ocean. Already heralded as a classic, this first-of-its-kind field guide will appeal to oceanographers, marine mammalogists, and sea-faring tradesman alike… [read more]
Marine Mammal Tracks and Scats: A Field Guide to North American Species, by Ostermund I. Fuhl, Feaux•Afield Guides (www.feauxafieldguides.com), 2012, 401 pages, $24.95
At long last, a field guide has come along that plumbs the steaming underbelly of Neptune’s Kingdom, the murky depths of which neither The Island of the Blue Dolphin nor Free Willy dared tread. With Marine Mammal Tracks and Scats: A Field Guide to North American Species, Dr. Ostermund I. Fuhl, Ph.D., takes the tracks and scats field guide genre to new depths, delivering the straight poop on remote tracking and identifying marine mammals adrift at sea.
Following in the footsteps of such greats as cultural anthropologist Alfred L. Kroeber or anthropologist/primatologist Jane Goodall, in the late 80′s Fuhl embedded himself among the elder huntsmen of a pre-contact Inupiat–Yupik (Eskimo) coastal village in northern Alaska along the Avatanak Bight. There, whether leap-frogging between ice floes in search of polar poo or daring hypothermia in the circumpolar pools of the Arctic shadowing bearded seals, Fuhl perfected the trade of open water tracking and scat identification – a burgeoning field of marine biology known as thalassohodoscatology – first-hand (literally; Fuhl lost his right thumb, both index fingers, and the distal lobe of his right ear to frost bite).
Upon his return to the mainland in 2008, Fuhl presented his work at the 2009 Decennial Association of Scatological Studies Convention in Munich, Germany, where he was lauded for his innovative analysis of maritime sign. After first adapting his work into a field manual for fellow thalassohodoscatologists, Fuhl quickly recognized thalassohodoscatology’s broader appeal and painstakingly adapted the manual into a field guide, tailoring it to lighthouse keepers, charter boat captains, whale watching tour operators, Navy Seals, fur trappers, deep sea welders, purse-seine tuna fisherman, offshore oil prospectors, transcontinental pilots, marine park curators, castaways, privateers, Greenpeace activists, and Russian whaling fleets.
Following the introduction, in which he recounts the adventures and exploits of his 22 years at sea under the wing of elder Qorviq “Willy” Ihun, Fuhl takes the plunge into the physics of what has, until recently, been considered an impossible feat: keying out narwhal wakes, untangling humpback bubble nets, and reconstituting sea otter plops in the precious seconds before they’re dashed to flotsam in the high seas. In the following chapters (The Physical Properties of Marine Sign; Dissemination, Decomposition, & Dissipation; Principles of Thermohaline Circulation), Fuhl begins by examining sign propagation and permanence (its floating shelf-life asea) as a function of thermoclinal refraction, wind and water turbulence, ocean current velocity, the Coriolis Effect (like on land, marine scat circulates the porcelain seas clockwise in the northern hemisphere), kinematic viscosity, diffusion gradients, and lunar phase. Using over 30,000 seaborne stool samples, archival marine snow indices, and historical ship’s logs, Fuhl has painstakingly tabulated each North American marine mammal species’ typical sign permanence based on its scats’ post-dispersal colloidal phase stability; rate of sedimentation, aggregation, and flocculation; buoyancy quotient; and dietary composition.
From discharge to dissipation, the remainder of Fuhl’s opus follows standard field guide fare: natural history accounts for each species accompanied by stippled, pen-and-ink wake-type diagrams and full-color plates of representative wild deuces, each annotated with Fuhl’s pioneering ephemerality equivalence equation – the “E³ half-life” – key to determining a given species’ poop-permanence. Tabbed pages, a color-coded poo-hue color wheel, and an extensive index allow aspiring thalassohodoscatologists to look up Flipper flops and Moby dookies with ease.
While field testing his preliminary E³ half-lives in the Puget Sound in the spring of 2011, Fuhl came into a pod of resident killer whales (I pod) foraging for salmon in the strait. After herding fish, breaching, and spy-hopping in the surrounding waters for over 2 hours, the matriarch – I2 – dove beneath Fuhl’s research vessel, the Starboard Bowel, venting a cloud of Chinook chowder as she passed. Knowing the orcas’ E³ half-life (47 seconds), Fuhl’s team had a Zodiac in the water and their nets wet in record time. The sample was overnighted to a lab in Virginia for testing. After three months of careful analysis, the lab confirmed for Fuhl with unqualified certainty the identity of the sample’s originator: a killer whale. Fuhl was ecstatic. “Despite the 22-plus years of sweat and tears I’ve poured into my work, I’ve had my doubts about the utility of the E³ half-life. Now, having seen it in action, I can say to the world, ‘My shit don’t sink’”.