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The Shark Whisperer and Other Animal Whisperers

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The 1998 movie The Horse Whisperer brought the word “whisperer” to public consciousness, meaning a person who has an extraordinary ability to relate to and communicate with animals. Such a person is considered just one rung below Dr. Doolittle. No matter how it’s done, the term “whisperer” conveys the seemingly magical abilities of these folks to get into an animal's head. And quite a few animal experts have been graced with the title, although many deal with animals the rest of us don’t want to.

1. Ned Bruha, the Skunk Whisperer

Photograph from Facebook.

Ned Bruha is known as the Skunk Whisperer. In fact, that’s the name of the TV show in which he stars, and his wildlife control business (formerly Bruha’s Nuisance Wildlife Control, Inc.) in Oklahoma. Bruha grew up among forest creatures, and developed control techniques as a boy when he learned how to keep chipmunks from disturbing gravesites. By studying ecosystems, he learned the value of proper wildlife relocation instead of extermination. Bruha’s business focuses on changing the environment to make it less attractive to wildlife, instead of having to constantly trap and relocate animals. And it isn’t just skunks; Bruha will relocate squirrels, raccoons, opossums, geese, foxes, coyotes, and other creatures. His Facebook page is dedicated to education about wildlife and support for wildlife rehabilitation centers and conservation programs.

2. Kevin Richardson, the Lion Whisperer

Kevin Richardson is called the Lion Whisperer because of his uncanny ability to relate to South Africa’s wildlife, especially lions. When you first encounter Richardson in a video, you almost believe he is going to be eaten at any moment. When he began working at a safari park 16 years ago, he rebelled against the established rules of dealing with predators with an iron fist. Instead, he learns each individual animal’s personality, and responds in a way the beast will relate to. With lions, he became part of their family, which inspired the title of his book Part of the Pride. Richardson works with conservation organizations to benefit the animals, and also as a consultant and animal handler for movies and TV.

3. Spikehorn Meyers, the Bear Whisperer

Photograph from Flickr user Don...The UpNorth Memories Guy... Harrison.

John “Spikehorn” Meyers opened a "Bear and Deer Park" on his property in Harrison, Michigan around 1930. According to Don Harrison, Spikehorn was a character and a jack of all trades who wove colorful tales of frontier life for tourists who would visit his park. There are plenty of pictures of Spikehorn, as he sold postcards of himself interacting with the bears. See a video of Spikehorn in action (in color). He was not known during his life as a bear whisperer, because that term had not come into use before he died in 1959, but he was called “The Bear Man of Michigan.”

4. RC Bridges, the Buffalo Whisperer

Screenshot from BBC One.

RC Bridges of Quinlan, Texas, grew up doing rodeo stunts, and also worked as a wildlife ranger and a farrier. In 2005, he took in an orphan baby buffalo he named Wildthing. Wildthing was treated like any member of the family, coming and going in the house like a human. As Wildthing grew, he was given a room of his own. Bridges taught his buffalo to dance, to pull a cart, and even to ride in his car. In 2012, he took in another buffalo named Bullet. See more pictures of Bridges and his buffalo

5. The Pig Whisperer

Dutch veterinarian Dr. Kees Scheepens is a consultant to pig farmers in Germany, the Netherlands, and other countries. He has earned the nickname The Pig Whisperer for his holistic approach to understanding pigs. Scheepens’ business Pig Signals aims to educate farmers on how to monitor their pigs’ needs and manage their care and health to the best of their ability. Here, you can see Scheepens de-stressing a piglet to the point that the animal appears to be hypnotized.

6. The Horse Whisperers

The Horse Whisperer is a book and movie about natural horsemanship. “Natural horsemanship” is a term used to describe techniques that train a horse for human use by befriending the animal and understanding and using the horse’s natural tendencies to shape a rapport with humans. It’s a departure from the traditional methods of breaking and coercing a horse. Although the style has been used here and there throughout history, two of the earliest modern proponents of the technique as it used today were brothers Tom Dorrance and Bill Dorrance, who passed their technique on to others.

Ray Hunt was a student of Tom Dorrance, and held clinics to teach natural horsemanship techniques to horse owners and trainers across the United States. He also distributed videos and books about horse training.

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One of Ray Hunt’s students was Buck Brannaman (shown above). Brannaman was the trainer who was the inspiration for the title character in Nicholas Evans’ book The Horse Whisperer, which was the basis for the movie. He also served as a consultant on the film.

7. Honza Bláha, the Czech Horse Whisperer

Honza Bláha is known as the Czech horse whisperer. He holds clinics to teach his techniques in his hometown of Srbice, Czech Republic. In this video, you can see how he gets horses to dance, ride in formation, and “act” without saddles or bridles. He has a rider’s crop, but we don’t see him use it for anything besides pointing. According to Bláha’s biography, horse training must be individually designed for each horse, because they all have different personalities.

8. Andre "The Shark Whisperer" Hartman

South African diver Andre Hartman is known as The Shark Whisperer. Hartman and a friend opened a business called Marine Dynamics to take tourists underwater in cages to observe great white sharks in action.

Then one day, he discovered the secret 'whisper' that has made him world famous. Often while they were out diving, the Great Whites would out of curiosity try and take a bite off the boat's motor. Concerned that they would harm it, he pushed one off by touching the tip of its snout. To his surprise, the big fish lunged up and then fell backwards, like it was in a happy trance!

What he had accidently done is touch the Ampullae of Lorenzini, the electronic receptors found in the snouts of cartilaginous fish like sharks and rays. They are so sensitive that just a mere touch creates a rush of information and puts the fish into a temporary sensor overload - The shark is so overwhelmed by this experience that for a few moments, it goes into a trance.

Hartman became so used to being around sharks that he would sometimes even swim among them and grab a fin to be pulled along. His foot was bitten by a shark in 2004, but he has fully recovered and went right back to the shark diving business.

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Animals
Australian Charity Releases Album of Cat-Themed Ballads to Promote Feline Welfare
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An Australian animal charity is helping save the nation’s kitties one torch song at a time, releasing a feline-focused musical album that educates pet owners about how to properly care for their cats.

Around 35,000 cats end up in pounds, shelters, and rescue programs every year in the Australian state of New South Wales, according to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Microchipping and fixing cats, along with keeping closer tabs on them, could help reduce this number. To get this message out, the RSPCA’s New South Wales chapter created Cat Ballads: Music To Improve The Lives Of Cats.

The five-track recording is campy and fur-filled, with titles like "Desex Me Before I Do Something Crazy" and "Meow Meow." But songs like “I Need You” might tug the heartstrings of ailurophiles with lyrics like “I guess that’s goodbye then/but you’ve done this before/the window's wide open/and so’s the back door/you might think I’m independent/but you’d be wrong.” There's also a special version of the song that's specifically designed for cats’ ears, featuring purring, bird tweets, and other feline-friendly noises.

Together, the tunes remind us how vulnerable our kitties really are, and provide a timely reminder for cat owners to be responsible parents to their furry friends.

“The Cat Ballads campaign coincides with kitten season, which is when our shelters receive a significantly higher number of unwanted kittens as the seasons change,” Dr. Jade Norris, a veterinary scientist with the RSPCA, tells Mental Floss. “Desexing cats is a critical strategy to reduce unwanted kittens.”

Listen to a song from Cat Ballads below, and visit the project’s website for the full rundown.

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Animals
Scientists Discover 'Octlantis,' a Bustling Octopus City
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Sylke Rohrlach, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Octopuses are insanely talented: They’ve been observed building forts, playing games, and even walking on dry land. But one area where the cephalopods come up short is in the social department. At least that’s what marine biologists used to believe. Now a newly discovered underwater community, dubbed Octlantis, is prompting scientists to call their characterization of octopuses as loners into question.

As Quartz reports, the so-called octopus city is located in Jervis Bay off Australia’s east coast. The patch of seafloor is populated by as many as 15 gloomy octopuses, a.k.a. common Sydney octopuses (octopus tetricus). Previous observations of the creatures led scientists to think they were strictly solitary, not counting their yearly mating rituals. But in Octlantis, octopuses communicate by changing colors, evict each other from dens, and live side by side. In addition to interacting with their neighbors, the gloomy octopuses have helped build the infrastructure of the city itself. On top of the rock formation they call home, they’ve stored mounds of clam and scallop shells and shaped them into shelters.

There is one other known gloomy octopus community similar to this one, and it may help scientists understand how and why they form. The original site, called Octopolis, was discovered in the same bay in 2009. Unlike Octlantis, Octopolis was centered around a manmade object that had sunk to the seabed and provided dens for up to 16 octopuses at a time. The researchers studying it had assumed it was a freak occurrence. But this new city, built around a natural habitat, shows that gloomy octopuses in the area may be evolving to be more social.

If that's the case, it's unclear why such octo-cities are so uncommon. "Relative to the more typical solitary life, the costs and benefits of living in aggregations and investing in interactions remain to be documented," the researchers who discovered the group wrote in a paper published in Marine and Freshwater Behavior and Physiology [PDF].

It’s also possible that for the first time in history humans have the resources to see octopus villages that perhaps have always been bustling beneath the sea surface.

[h/t Quartz]

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