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The Shark Whisperer and Other Animal Whisperers

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.


Getty Images

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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NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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Joe Raedle, Getty Images
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Animals
10 Things You Might Not Know About Grizzly Bears
Joe Raedle, Getty Images
Joe Raedle, Getty Images

Ursus arctos horribilis is better known by the more casual term of grizzly bear. These massive, brown-haired predators have a reputation as one of nature’s most formidable killing machines. Standing up to 8 feet tall and weighing 800 pounds, these fierce mammals have captivated—and frightened—humans for centuries. Keep your distance and read up on these facts about their love for munching moths, eating smaller bears, and being polar-curious.

1. THEY’RE ACTUALLY PRETTY LIGHT EATERS.

Grizzlies—more accurately, North American brown bears—are strong enough to make a meal out of whatever they like, including moose, elk, and bison. Despite their reputation for having carnivorous appetites, their diet also consists of nuts, berries, fruits, and leaves. They’ll even eat mice. The gluttony doesn’t kick in until they begin to exhibit hyperphagia, preparing for winter hibernation by chomping down enough food to gain up to three pounds a day.

2. THEY USE “CPR” TO GET AT YOUR FOOD.

A grizzly bear eats fruit in Madrid, Spain
Dani Pozo, AFP/Getty Images

More than 700 grizzlies live in or near Yellowstone National Park, which forces officials to constantly monitor how park visitors and the bears can peacefully co-exist. Because bears rummaging in food containers can lead to unwanted encounters, the park’s Grizzly & Wolf Discovery Center tests trash cans and coolers to see if they’re bear-resistant. (Nothing is truly bear-proof.) Often, a bear will use “CPR,” or jumping on a canister with its front legs, in order to make the lid pop off. Containers that can last at least 60 minutes before being opened can be advertised by their manufacturers as being appropriate for bear-inhabited environments.

3. THEY CAN CLIMB TREES.

It's a myth that grizzlies can't climb trees. Though their weight and long claws make climbing difficult [PDF], and they need support from evenly-spaced branches, grizzlies can travel vertically if they choose to.

4. THEY’LL EAT OTHER BEARS.

Two grizzly bears play in a pool at a zoo in France
Jean-Francois Monier, AFP/Getty Images

In addition to being omnivorous, grizzlies can also be classified as cannibals. They’ve been spotted eating the carcasses of black bears in Canada. Calling it a “bear-eat-bear world,” officials at Banff National Park in Alberta said the grizzlies are “opportunistic” and more than willing to devour black bears—sometimes just one-fifth their size—if the occasion calls for it. And it’s not just black bears: One study on bear eating habits published in 2017 recorded a 10-year-old male eating a 6-year-old female brown bear.

5. THEY LOVE MOTHS.

Although grizzlies enjoy eating many insects, moths are at the top of the menu. Researchers have observed that bears are willing to climb to alpine heights at Montana’s Glacier National Park in order to feast on the flying appetizers. Grizzlies will turn over rocks and spend up to 14 hours in a day devouring in excess of 40,000 moths.

6. A PAIR OF THEM ONCE LIVED ON WHITE HOUSE GROUNDS.

A grizzly bear appears at the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenseburg, Colorado
John Moore, Getty Images

In what would be considered an ill-advised decision, explorer Zebulon Pike decided to gift his friend President Thomas Jefferson with two grizzly cubs in 1807. Jefferson reluctantly accepted them and kept them in a cage near the north entrance to the White House, and later re-gifted the cubs to museum operator Charles Willson Peale. Sadly, one of them got shot after getting too aggressive with Peale’s family.

7. THEY CAN RUN FASTER THAN USAIN BOLT.

The bears we see in fiction or lazing about in the wild tend to look cumbersome and slow, as most anything weighing nearly a half-ton would. But in a land race, even Olympic champions would be on the losing end. Grizzlies can reportedly run 35 mph, and sustain speeds of up to 28 mph for two miles, faster than Usain Bolt’s 27.78 miles per hour stride (which he can only sustain for a few seconds).

8. THEY MATE WITH POLAR BEARS.

A grizzly bear is shown swimming at a pool in an Illinois zoo
Scott Olson, Getty Images

In parts of Alaska and Canada where grizzlies and polar bears converge, there are sometimes rare sightings of what observers call “grolar bears” or “pizzlies.” With large heads and light-colored fur, they’re a hybrid superbear birthed from some interspecies mating. Typically, it’s male grizzlies who roam into those territories, finding female polar bears to cozy up with. Researchers believe climate change is one reason the two are getting together.

9. THEY KNOW HOW TO COVER THEIR TRACKS.

When it comes to intellect, grizzlies may not get all the same publicity that birds and whales do, but they’re still pretty clever. The bears can remember hotspots for food even if it’s been 10 years since they last visited the area; some have been observed covering tracks or obscuring themselves with rocks and trees to avoid detection by hunters.

10. THEY’RE NOT OUT OF THE WOODS YET.

A grizzly bear and her cub walk in Yellowstone National Park
Karen Bleier, AFP/Getty Images

For 42 years, grizzlies at Yellowstone occupied the endangered species list. That ended in 2017, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared that a rise in numbers—from 150 in the 1970s to more than 700 today—meant that conservation efforts had been successful. But overall, the grizzly population is still struggling: Fewer than 2000 remain in the lower 48 states, down from 50,000 two centuries ago.

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