Upon seeing an adorable Koala sitting on an eucalyptus branch in Australia, few would expect the beloved marsupial to emit a booming bellow to alert potential mates or rivals of its presence. But this powerful roar is just one of koalas’ many surprises, which delight and astonish in Australian biologist Danielle Clode’s new book, “Koala: A Life in the Trees.” Clode explores the enigmatic koala’s 24 million years-long saga of evolutionary adaptations, conservation triumphs, and endangerment catastrophes, and the prospects for their future following the 2019 bushfires that devastated Australia’s koala populations. We speak with Clode about the ancient ancestors, ecology, evolving relationship with humans, and uncertain fate of Australia’s bellowing marsupial.
In 2013, a sperm whale washed up dead on Spain’s southern coast. In its ruptured digestive tract, scientists found an entire flattened greenhouse that once grew wintertime tomatoes, complete with plastic tarps, hoses, two flower pots, and a spray canister. The whale also contained an ice cream tub, mattress parts, a carafe, and a coat hanger. And that was just the obvious human refuse. Our toxic chemicals build up in whale blubber over years such that the concentration of pollutants in some whale bodies now far exceeds that of the water surrounding them. In whales’ vastness, the reach of humanity’s destruction is magnified — but so too is the potential of our compassion. In her genius debut book, Fathoms: The World in the Whale, writer Rebecca Giggs asks: Who are we to whales? What does it mean to pollute not just places, but animals? What can understanding our ecological crises through the perspectives of other creatures teach us about ourselves? In this episode, we speak with Giggs about the astonishing ways in which whales and humans live in each other’s wakes and the enormous power of the world’s largest mammals to expand our own moral capacity.