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Heather Lynch visits Cape Lookout in Antarctica during recent trip that included an NBC TV crew that produced a feature for ‘Sunday Night with Megan Kelly.’ Photo by Jeff Topham

By Daniel Dunaief

Heather Lynch is thrilled that she’s in the first class of scientists chosen as a recipient of the National Geographic AI for Earth Innovation Grant.

An associate professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University, Lynch uses computers to study satellite images to reveal details about populations of penguins.

In addition to determining how many penguins are in an area, Lynch also can use images of the stains penguin poop leaves on rocks to determine what the penguins eat. Krill, which feeds on the underside of ice, is reddish or pinkish, while fish leave a white stain.

Heather Lynch with a penguin. Photo from Heather Lynch

A total of 11 researchers won the grants, which are a combined award from Microsoft and the National Geographic Society and were announced in December. The winners were chosen from more than 200 qualified scientists.

“This is the first grant that National Geographic and Microsoft are doing,” Lynch said. “It’s super exciting to be in the inaugural group.”

To hear from Lynch’s colleagues, she is an extraordinary candidate for a host of awards, including recognition as one of the TBR News Media People of the Year for 2018.

In addition to landing a coveted grant for her innovative research using sophisticated computers and satellite images, Lynch earlier this year made a remarkable discovery using Landsat imagery about a population of Adélie penguins on the Danger Islands in the Antarctic that was largely unknown prior to her published paper.

This archipelago of nine islands, which were named because of the ice that is impenetrable in most years, was home to 1.5 million penguins, which she surveyed using a combination of photos, drone imagery and hand counting. That figure represents a substantial population of a charismatic animal whose numbers often are used as a way to determine the health of a delicate region managed by a collection of nations.

“She does such good work,” said Patricia Wright, a distinguished service professor at Stony Brook University and the founder and executive director of Centre ValBio, a research station in Madagascar. Her discovery of the additional Adélie penguins was “fantastic.”

Lynch received some pushback from people who thought the discovery of these penguins ran counter to the narrative about the need for conservation. Wright appreciates how Lynch shared the discovery with the public, reinforcing her scientific credibility.

“She’s an example of a scientist who doesn’t give in to political pressure,” Wright said. “It’s difficult sometimes to face up to people who have good intentions, but who don’t seem to want to accept the reality.”

While the discovery of the Adélie penguins was remarkable, it doesn’t necessarily run contrary to the notion about the delicate balance of the Antarctic ecosystem, and it also doesn’t indicate that the population is soaring in a way the flightless water fowl never will. Indeed, the 1.5 million penguins may have been higher in the 1990s, although she is working to pin down exactly how much larger they might have once been.

Heather Lynch at Spigot Peak in the Antarctic. Photo by Catherine Foley

Lynch has also won admiration and appreciation from Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who recently won his 14th term and has focused attention on environmental issues.

“Her ability to use statistics and mathematics to further conservation biology is pioneering work and worthy of recognition,” Englebright said.

The assemblyman believes scientists and policymakers are still in the early part of the process of understanding the complexity of the ecosystems in the Antarctic.

Finding the penguins on the Danger Islands doesn’t mean the “Antarctic is any less at risk. We still have to place that discovery into its proper context and [Lynch] is helping us do that,” Englebright said.

People who have ventured to the Antarctic with her admire Lynch’s focus, energy
and stamina.

Michelle LaRue, who is a lecturer at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, suggested that Lynch was “the most hardworking scientist that I know.”

LaRue recalled a time when Lynch was ill, and she still got up and did her job every day.

“The work we were doing wasn’t easy,” LaRue said. “I know she didn’t feel well and she kept going. She has a lot of perseverance.”

LaRue appreciates how her fellow scientist sees the “forest for the trees,” using a combination of high technology and considerable on-site counting to understand what changes in the penguin population reveal about the region.

Michael Polito, an assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University, has also worked with Lynch for years. He appreciates how she’s “not afraid of uncertainty. In science, it’s knowing how well you know something. She’s amazing at taking data and information, which from the natural world is messy, and analyzing it and helping people pull useful and meaningful knowledge from complex situations.”

Ron Naveen, who founded the nonprofit group Oceanites in 1987, has worked with Lynch for 11 years.

“I’m very much proud of her work ethic and the standard of excellence she brings to the job,” Naveen said.

Oceanites collaborates with Lynch and others, Naveen said, to understand how penguins have reacted to climate change in an area where temperatures have been increasing at a faster rate than they have for much of the rest of the world.

Naveen recalls how Lynch, whom he describes as “petite and energetic” lugged around “amazingly heavy equipment,” including a camera for a Google Earth project.

“Whether [Lynch] is hiking, using a satellite or a drone, or lugging equipment that’s heavier than she is, she gets the data,” Naveen said.

He recalled a lab meeting with Lynch, who was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Maryland in the lab of William Fagan. Lynch circled the room as she wrote on the board, sharing statistical language to explain a point.

“I had no bloody idea what she was talking about,” Naveen said. “When she was done, she sat down with a smile, and I raised my hand and innocently asked, ‘Would you mind translating that into plain English?’ Without missing a beat, she did.”

By all accounts, she’s continuing to do that.

A photo of Jose Borgos who allegedly left dogs out in freezing temperatures. Photo from SCPD

More than 20 dogs were left out in the cold in Rocky Point until a local police officer saw them and took action.

Jose Borgos, a 52-year-old Rocky Point resident, allegedly left 21 Rottweilers out in freezing temperatures Nov. 22 at his house on Broadway. Seventh Precinct Officer Karen Grenia was on patrol when she heard dogs barking at about 10 a.m., according to a Suffolk County Police Department press release. The officer discovered the dogs in Borgos’ backyard, nine of which were found in travel crates in a shed.

Borgos, who identified to police as a dog breeder, was charged with 21 counts of violating the New York State Agriculture and Markets Law pertaining to appropriate shelter for dogs left outdoors, which requires dog owners to provide appropriate shelter to dogs existing out in inclement or harmful weather. He was also charged with 21 counts of violating Suffolk County code on outdoor restraint of animals, which prohibits dogs from being tethered outside when the temperature is below freezing.

Information on Borgos’ attorney has not yet been made available, and he was scheduled for arraignment at a later date.

The Town of Brookhaven Animal Control will determine the placement of the dogs, the police statement said.

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Partisanship is a distressing topic these days. We are a divided country on so many issues, and savvy candidates in the upcoming elections try to sooth that aggravation by offering to reach across the aisle to get the nation’s business done. But here is an age-old question that is simply unbridgeable: Which are smarter, dogs or cats?

Now many of us have heard of Chaser, a border collie from Spartanburg, S.C., who understood 1,022 nouns. His owner was John Pilley, a scientist who studied canine cognition and trained his pet as part of his work. There was also a border collie named Rico who could identify 200 items. These dogs helped us reach the conclusion that dogs were extraordinarily intelligent and certainly smarter than cats. But had their partisanship colored the verdict of remarkable canine smarts on the part of owner-scientists?

Currently there seems to be a study for every question, and this one is no exception. Stephen Lea, an emeritus professor in the psychology department of the University of Exeter in Devon, England, along with Britta Osthaus, a senior lecturer in the School of Psychology, Politics and Sociology at Canterbury Christ Church University in Kent, England, conducted one such study, according to a recent Laura Holson article in The New York Times. The results are published in the journal Learning & Behavior. In the interests of full disclosure, Lea confessed that he was a cat person. Nonetheless the scientists tried to impartially compare dog cognition with three similar groups: carnivores, social hunters and domestic animals. Among those selected were wolves, cats, chimpanzees, dolphins, horses and pigeons.

Here is what they found.

Dogs cannot use tools, unlike dolphins, New Caledonian crows and chimpanzees, which according to The Times, can harness plant stems to fish for termites. Homing pigeons are trained to fly home over great distances, and probably would be more trustworthy to travel on a 1,000-mile errand than a dog, Lea believes. Domestic animals, like horses, can also impress with their learned tasks and tricks. Dogs seem smart in part, Lea said, “because they like to be trained.” The same cannot always be said for cats.

In my dog-owning years, some 45 all together, I’ve loved and enjoyed the company of three golden retrievers and one royal (the largest) standard poodle. From this small sample, I would conclude that the poodle was the smartest. When I would sit on the sofa and read the newspaper, he would hop up on the cushion next to me, sitting upright as people and that breed do, and peer over my shoulder. I swear I think he was reading the paper, much as paperless people used to do to their paper-toting seatmates on subways before the arrival of the smartphone.

So all right, I am a bit partisan.

The conclusion that Lea’s study reaches is that dogs “are not smarter than they are supposed to be, given what they are.”

Clive Wynne, director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University in Tempe and a dog lover, recognizes merit in Lea’s study. He explains that Lea is not putting dogs down but rather putting them in their proper context. What Wynne touts about dogs is their outstanding capacity for affection.

Cats, I feel, are more aloof. So while Lea concludes that dogs are not particularly extraordinary, I would say that by being so affectionate toward humans, they have created the best possible lives for themselves. I once had a plumber working in my house who, eyeing my dog asleep on a pillow, told me, “In the next life I want to return as an American dog.”

Now if that doesn’t show superior intelligence on the part of dogs and their ability to earn that kind of existence, I’m not sure what could reveal a higher IQ. Certainly our elected officials are not nearly so endearing.

A popular Sound Beach event for a good cause took place Sept. 22, but this year it was renamed to honor a late friend and participant.

For the sixth time, the Sound Beach Civic Association hosted its pet adopt-a-thon in the parking lot of the Hartlin Inn on New York Avenue, during which representatives from local animal groups and shelters set up shop and push for the adoption of dogs, cats and more looking for permanent homes. During adopt-a-thons past, Sound Beach father-daughter duo Sal and Gina Mingoia provided the musical accompaniment to the event, singing and playing instruments throughout the day. This year, Gina had to perform without her dad, who died after a battle with cancer in 2017. This year and going forward, the event will be known as The Sal Mingoia Pet Adopt-A-Thon.

“Sal loved animals, and everybody loved Sal,” said Bea Ruberto, Sound Beach Civic Association president and organizer of the event. “So we checked with the family to see if it was OK with them. They said great, they loved it, so that’s why we changed the name. And that’s what it’s going to be named from now on.”

Sal Mingoia was described as a gentle, caring soul by civic association member and Sound Beach resident Ernestine Franco.

“Although he’s gone, Sal’s kindness and generosity are not forgotten,” she said.

The event always leads to the adoption of quite a few animals, according to Ruberto, who said this year four cats, three dogs and a guinea pig were adopted, though applications are pending for the adoption of eight more cats and six other dogs. More than $1,100 was raised through donations and auction items, as well as from the sale of digital pet caricatures done on-site at the event by 19-year-old Sound Beach resident Brianna Florio using a drawing tablet. Funds raised were distributed to the animal organizations in attendance.

Ruberto credited volunteers and civic members for helping to set up and execute the event and gave special thanks to Boy Scout Troop 244 for helping to set up. A local band called Random Notes even showed up unexpectedly and offered to take turns with Gina providing music for the event, Ruberto said.

“Over the time that I’ve been involved with this event, I’ve never had to really go looking for people to step up and help — they just show up and offer their time and talent,” Ruberto said.

A dog is rescued from flood waters of Hurrican Harvey in Texas. Photo from Mark Freeley's GoFundMe

After internet sensation Storm, an English golden retriever, saved a drowning fawn from Port Jefferson Harbor, now owner Mark Freely is looking to help others.

Last Chance Animal Rescue is teaming up with Freeley’s North Shore Injury Lawyer and volunteer Jeff Segal, owner of Boom Event Source, to help thousands of animals affected and displaced by Hurricane Harvey.

Freeley is an animal adoption event leader, foster and pro bono attorney for Last Chance Animal Rescue on Long Island. He said the organization has a truck leaving next Wednesday, Sept. 6, being driven by Segal’s friend transporting all needed supplies to Texas, according to an email from Freeley.

There is a need for donations of dog and cat food bowls, leashes, collars, collapsible crates, cat litter and disposable litter pans.

“Last Chance has already stepped up to donate many of their existing donations to help these animals who are in dire need,” Freeley said of the Southampton-based nonprofit. “Donations will help us to send these items to Texas, and purchased items can also be donated to us.”

Items to be donated must be handed in no later than Sept. 5. Items can be brought to Freeley’s law office at 144 Woodbury Rd. in Woodbury from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., to Boom Event Source located at 11 Michael Avenue in Farmingdale from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. or to the Last Chance adoption event at the Selden Petco Sept. 2 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A truck will be dropping off supplies to the George Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas, which is housing over 400 animals and 8,000 people, to San Antonio Pets Alive Rescue and some will also be dropped off at St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey, which will be taking in 200 displaced rescue animals from the Texas flooding.

“They are so desperately need our help, and as much as possible,” Freeley said. “The animals of Texas are counting on us.”

Freeley has already collected $2,200 from 41 people in less than 24 hours after creating a GoFundMe page to help the cause. The current goal is $3,000.

“Thank you for helping these poor animals,” Danielle DiNovi said with her donation.

“God bless the victims of Hurricane Harvey,” wrote Geri Napolitano with a contribution to the cause, “both big and small.”

A brave dog took Port Jefferson Harbor by storm to rescue a flailing fawn July 16, and as a result has become a national celebrity. A video was posted on Facebook Sunday morning of Storm, a dog owned by Setauket resident Mark Freeley, bounding into Port Jeff harbor to rescue a drowning baby deer as Freeley watched from the shore and urged his dog to bring the deer in. By Wednesday, several million shares and views later, the video had gone viral and Storm was set to be honored by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D). Freeley said it best at the conclusion of the one-minute video: “Good boy, Storm!” Check back next week for a full story on the local hero.

Guardians of Rescue members cut the chain holding Bear. Photo from Guardians of Rescue.

One dog in Smithtown has more than a few guardian angels watching over him.

Bear has spent 15 years chained to a doghouse in the backyard of a Smithtown home, but as of Jan. 23, he’s officially off the leash. The black lab has Guardians of Rescue, a Smithtown-based organization that works to provide aid to animals in distress, including facilitating foster programs, rehabilitation and assisting other rescue groups, to thank for his new-found freedom.

“We received a call about a dog in need of a doghouse,” Robert Misseri, founder and president of the group, said. “But when we got there, it was even worse than that. That’s when we discovered the poor dog had spent his whole life attached to a heavy chain. We knew then and there that we had to do something to make a difference in that dog’s life, and so we did.” The group said Bear had endured harsh winters with little attention.

The guardians said they spoke with the dog owner, who agreed to surrender the animal to the rescue group.

“It’s excellent,” Misseri said as Bear was cut free from the chains. “It’s nice to see the dog get off the chain after 15 years and live out the rest of its life with a nice older family, perhaps who will treat him right. He’ll lay around inside and have a good rest of his life.”

Bear was cut free, loaded into the front seat of a pickup and sent to the groomer. The group is currently searching for a permanent home for Bear.

The rescue group said its plan is to make Bear veggie burgers, take him to dog parks, on car rides and even get him into an indoor pool. The helpers also want to make sure he’s able to spend some time lying in front of a warm fireplace.

“Our mission is to help rescue as many animals as we can, but we can’t do it without the help of the community,” Misseri said. “One phone call from someone in the community set the wheels in motion that have changed Bear’s life. That’s a true success story and why we exist.”

Guardians of Rescue has a new show “The Guardians,” which airs on Animal Planet Saturdays at 10 p.m. The show depicts the work of the group as they travel Long Island rescuing animals and providing them with a better life.

The community can assist the group by watching out for animals in need and contacting the organization when they see one in distress. To learn more or get involved, visit www.guardiansofrescue.org.

Nunu wants a home outside the town animal shelter. Photo from Brookhaven Town

The town animal shelter is now open every day as part of an effort to get more dogs and cats adopted.

Supervisor Ed Romaine said the expanded hours would make it more convenient for people to visit the shelter in Brookhaven hamlet, which is located on Horseblock Road.

The Brookhaven Town Animal Shelter and Adoption Center is now open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-451-6950 or visit www.brookhaven.org/animalshelter.

Huntington Town celebrated fall this weekend at the annual Long Island Fall Festival. The event, free to the public, is organized by the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce and spans Friday, Oct. 9 to Monday, Oct. 12. Festivities include a carnival, food courts, entertainment, vendors, animals and more.

Some Three Village residents became concerned when they received an advertisement for a deer management program offering its services. File photo

Residents living in the Village of the Head of the Harbor are up in arms due to a public hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 16, that considered allowing deer hunting in the area.

Citizens in the community said they not only disagree with the proposal but they also have a problem with the way village hall handled alerting them on the issue.

“This is a huge concern to the residents,” Julie Korneffel, a Head of the Harbor resident, said in a phone interview. “This goes against the town, which should preserve the natural aspects of the woods.”

Korneffel said that the code written “seemed purposely vague,” and she was especially unhappy with how little notice she was given about this issue before it came to village hall.

“There is a big concern for transparency now,” Korneffel said. “When paving is going on or a bike marathon is going to be held, we receive an email notice. But for this extremely important issue there was no email notice.”

Mayor Douglas Dahlgard said he thinks village hall did all it could to let residents know what is happening.

“We followed the rules,” Dahlgard said in a phone interview. “We put notices in the paper and on our village website. We do not have the budget to send out info every week.”

Dahlgard put a letter on the village website after the public hearing, informing residents of the status of the issue and how the public hearing went. According to Dahlgard, the letter should be mailed to all residents by the end of this week.

The public hearing was meant to discuss amending the town code to allow for limited bow hunting for deer on certain properties.

Currently, Head of the Harbor village code doesn’t allow hunting unless you have the consent of the owner of the property you want to hunt on and have a hunting license from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Hunting then can only happen during hunting season, and you cannot discharge a weapon within 500 feet of any house or farm structure.

Dahlgard said the village board is looking to involve the Head of the Harbor police to help monitor where and when hunting would take place. If this happens, aside from the DEC and the property owner’s approval, a hunter would also need approval from the police. The board of trustees is also looking into the minimal size a property would have to be in order to hunt there.

Dahlgard said he recognizes the concerns for safety people have due to the deer population.

“I am for protecting village residents from the overpopulation of deer,” Dahlgard said. “We know there are deer causing traffic accidents and devastating crops, as well as the issue of Lyme disease. We are looking into alternative options; we want to bring in all the info we possibly can on this issue.”

Although Dahlgard said he and the trustees are looking into alternatives, he does not believe village hall should be responsible for the costs. “It is complicated, because the costs of methods like contraception are very expensive,” he said.

In his letter to the public, Dahlgard updated residents on where the board plans to go from here.

He said he has asked the DEC to make a presentation on the deer situation on Long Island at the next public hearing, on Wednesday, Oct. 21, at 7 p.m. Deer fencing, birth control, culling and other methods will also be discussed, and the board will appoint a deer commission, consisting of volunteer residents, to address this problem and advise the board. It was also recognized in the letter that some residents felt code changes needed to be more specific.

But residents said they are still unhappy with how the issue has been handled.

John Lendino, a Head of the Harbor resident and deputy highway commissioner for Head of the Harbor, distributed letters to residents to let them know of the public hearing last week and urged them to go.

In the letter he said that at the Aug. 19 meeting the board of trustees made an announcement to have this code change drawn up by the village attorney and put to the hearing on Sept. 16. According to Lendino, when one of the two town residents who were in attendance opposed, saying residents weren’t warned and that there should be a larger input before this decision is put to hearing, the resident was dismissed and the vote went forward.

“It seems that this is being done to rush this law into passage in order to kill deer in the village immediately,” Lendino said. “I don’t see any benefits to this, it’s just going to endanger people’s lives. It’s dangerous, and it’s even more dangerous when you have a board like we have.”

Lee Stein, a Head of the Harbor resident, said the only reason she knew of the meeting was because of Lendino. Korneffel said the same.

“I don’t want anyone hunting on my property with any weapon,” Stein said. “They should be representing us as our board. I have grandchildren that play in the woods. There have to be safer ways to remedy the problem.”

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