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March 31, 2013: Rowing Across the Atlantic, Reviving Extinct Species and More

An elephant seal cub smiles for the camera on South Georgia Island. Fully grown adults can reach over 4,000 pounds.
An elephant seal cub smiles for the camera on South Georgia Island. Fully grown adults can reach over 4,000 pounds.
(Fatima Williamson / National Geographic Your Shot)

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

Please check listings near you to find the best way to listen to National Geographic Weekend, or pick your favorite segments and listen now below!

Episode: 1313 – Air Date: March 31, 2013

HOUR 1

Charlie Pitcher shattered a world record for solo trans-Atlantic rowing by exploiting a long window of good weather, powering himself from the Canary Islands to Barbados in 35 days and 33 minutes. The 50-year old rowed 2,900 miles, knocking 5 days and 9 hours off of the previous record. He tells Boyd that age proved to be an advantage, as he has years of experience on the oceans, but added that he doesn’t plan to take on a solo row of the Pacific anytime soon.

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“Jurassic Park” was borne of Michael Crichton’s imagination, a parallel universe in which man had the ability to resurrect extinct animals from well-preserved DNA. At the time it was almost pure fiction, but in the April, 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine, Carl Zimmer shows just how close scientists have come to making it reality, in the story titled “Bringing Them Back to Life.” Zimmer explains that it now may be possible to revive recently extincted species by transferring their DNA to closely related living relatives. He tells Boyd that these scientists aren’t seeking to “play God,” but simply to bring back some animals that man himself wiped from the planet by over-hunting.

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For as clumsy and cumbersome that they appear to be on land, 4,000-pound elephant seals are powerful and graceful swimmers that can dive over 2,600 feet below the ocean’s surface while hunting prey such as the bioluminescent lantern fish. National Geographic grantee Randall Davis has been using a video camera to study the pinniped’s deep-sea feeding habits.

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On a recent trip, Boyd visited the border that separates Brazil and Argentina at Iguazu Falls. The most dramatic point of the 1.7-mile wide curtain of water is called “The Devil’s Throat.” Carlos Barros, a guide at Iguazu Falls, tells the story of a couple who were trying to cross the top of the falls in a wooden canoe and spilled down into the pool back in 1973. Boyd got a safer boat tour underneath the falls, in an inflatable zodiac.

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David Braun, editor of National Geographic Daily News, explains several different examples of animal navigation methods: star-gazing with dung beetles, “infra-sound” by homing pigeons, and salmon just going by feel.

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HOUR 2

The challenge for a National Geographic photographer isn’t simply to take a picture of a particular animal. It’s to take a different picture of a particular animal. Mike “Nick” Nichols has done this for decades, and on his latest assignment developed a drone helicopter, a remote control car, and a specialized open-air van to help him get closer than ever to lions. He tells Boyd that he was once so close that a bored adolescent lion stole a strobe light from his foot and promptly destroyed it. He also discusses launching his life’s body of work in an app designed for iPads.

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Whaling is largely a bygone profession, considered a relic from the 19th Century, particularly in the United States. But National Geographic Young Explorers Grantee Gemina Garland-Lewis visited the Azores, where, just three decades ago, the practice thrived. Her project focused on gathering as many first-hand stories and anecdotes about the erstwhile practice as possible. She tells Boyd the story of a man nicknamed “Silvino,” who was knocked out of the boat and fell into the jaws of a sperm whale.

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Part of the job of a photographer is to capture beauty and magic in the mundane. But there is nothing mundane about the chickens featured in photographer Tamara Staples‘ book The Magnificent Chicken, a collection of photos of championship chickens from around the world.

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Natural resource booms have become a part of the American fabric–from gold, to oil, to natural gas, and back to oil. Directional drilling and fracking have made oil and gas that is difficult to reach accessible, and the small towns that dot North Dakota’s landscape have become the beneficiaries. Edwin Dobb, author of “The New Oil Landscape,” in the March 2013 issue of National Geographic magazine, tells Boyd though that it isn’t all liquid gold for the state’s towns. High demand and low supply have driven up housing prices to levels that compare to San Francisco and Washington, D.C., while workers who migrate from across the country to work the oil fields lead to higher crime rates.

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In this week’s Wild Chronicles segment, Boyd admires one of the lesser-celebrated animals he found on a recent trip to Africa, and gives it a little fanfare of its own: the dung beetle.

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