Sunday, October 18, 2015

Where Should You Live? Critter Fatalities By State From 1900

Added later: a NYT article shows that we do indeed spend too much time in the U.S. worrying about things with venomous things and things with big teeth, as opposed to dogs and wasps. And even considering wiki statistics, based on Wiki statistics from the 2010s for snake bite deaths and population, a person in Australia is indeed more than 11 times as likely to be killed by a snake in Australia than the U.S. - but even in Australia you still didn't even have a 1 in 13 million chance of being a victim from 2011 until today. Your morning commute is far more dangerous than living in Australia.

Also added later: here's a guy screwing up my statistics who was also bitten by a shark in Hawaii just a month after being attacked by a bear in Colorado. If I were this guy I would have business cards made up that said this.

In light of the recent seasnake that washed up on a beach in Oxnard (pleasantly, a few days after we were swimming across the channel from there), I looked up the statistics for snakebite fatalities in the U.S. (No recorded seasnake fatalities.) Interestingly, at the bottom of the wiki article for snakebite fatalities, they have links to mountain lion, bear, alligator, and shark fatalities because they know there are people like me running around loose who will look those up next anyway. (Hereinafter these five types of animals are referred to collectively as "critters".)

And of these critters, how many deaths do you think they've caused in the U.S. since the turn of the last century? 226, over the last 115 years. Not even two a year, not many! Compare that to the about 31 deaths per year caused by dogs (actually, 42 in 2014). And of course (being responsible) if you're out in the wild you are much much much more likely to be killed or injured by falls, drowning, exposure to heat or cold, dehydration, or other people than by wild animals. Of course drowning doesn't have pointy poisonous teeth that rush at us from the darkness, so our dumb Type-1-error making brains pay less attention to rushing water rising around our ankles than a twig snapping in a forest.

Still, I decided to compile absolute critter fatalities by state. In calculating this, I took out BS ones (i.e. snake handlers and dummies who keep non-native poisonous snakes at home don't count as a legitimate bite. Come on guys.) Interestingly, Texas has fatalities from the most types of critters (four of the five) - they finally got a gator fatality on the board this summer - and in fact Texas is the only state where the range for all five critter types overlaps because there are sharks and gators on the Gulf Coast, snakes all over, mountain lions in the west, and bears in the Big Bend part of the state. (Come on guys, you can do it!) There are 22 states with no fatalities from these critters since 1900. If all these critters scare you, then the biggest contiguous area with no critter fatalities stretched from Minnesota, to the west of Missouri and down to Louisiana. (To be honest I have difficulty believing no one died from a snake bite in the southern part of this range since 1900, and if this omission from my data here offends you I'd like to invite you to go dig for the stats yourself.) Northern Iowa/Southern Minnesota is the only place safe from all five, which no doubt is why the Mayo Clinic was placed there, as there's no other reason to want to be in Rochester Minnesota.

Ranked in order, the states with the most critter fatalities in absolute terms are:

However: the absolute number of critter-victims in each state is lacking as a risk indicator. Why? Look at California and Alaska, which are tied. There are a lot of people in California, and not so many in Alaska, and yet critters have managed to get the same number of people in each state. Concretely speaking, there are 38 million people in California, and not even a million in Alaska, so walking around in Alaska it's actually *76* times more likely that critters will get you! So if we weight for population (i.e. critter fatalities per person in the state) what does it look like? Now, Hawaii, which somehow manages to keep its shark attacks very quiet (I wonder why?) comes out on top, so I adjusted the rates to express the others in terms of how many Hawaiis-worth of critter risk they represent:

Interestingly, Hawaii has only ONE type of the five critters, but apparently in Hawaii that one type of critters eats well. In this analysis, California drops from #3 to #13. An also-ran! Even New Jersey is per capita more dangerous than California! (Granted, this is owing to the black-swan/white-shark event of the Matawan Maneater.)

People in Hawaii are in the water a lot, which reminds me that I once calculated statistics showing that people in Florida were 3 times more likely to get attacked by a shark, but people in California were 3 times more likely to be killed by one. (Which is to say, once you're attacked, you're 9 times more likely to get killed in California than in Florida. Because we have great whites and they have coot widdle tigers and bulls.) But again this statistic still understates the danger, because Florida has a lot more accessible coastline (California is mostly cliffs) and it's warm, so lots more people go in the water, therefore a LOT more exposure to shark attacks in FL. And still more fatalities in CA? That is to say, once you're in the water in CA, you're much more likely to be attacked and killed - but I don't have ocean bather-numbers to back that up.

And a good day to you.

Above: the head of the Hawaiian Tourism Development Board. He advises that all tourists bring Worcestershire sauce and perhaps tuck a sprig of parsley behind the ear before swimming. From

Saturday, October 17, 2015

The Channel Islands: Specifically, Santa Cruz Island

Santa Cruz Island from space, courtesy NASA.

Somehow these large islands off the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara County escape the notice of basically everyone in SoCal. We went out to Santa Cruz Island over the long Columbus Day weekend. It's been a long time when I've been in a brand-new (to me) part of California, and seeing the state from disorientingly new angles, it was like I'd just moved here again: over there is the front country of southern Los Padres National Forest, down there is the bumpy spine of the Santa Monica Mountains, and right over there is the marine hyphen called Anacapa. We camped in Scorpion Canyon, about a half mile from the beach. Close enough to hear the waves but not so close they kept you awake or made you worry you would get wet. It is most certainly a place to do nothing. It was pretty swell.

Above: Anacapa to the east as we head south toward Santa Cruz

And wildlife? We saw Risso's dolphins on the way over, a humpback in the channel on the way back, several silly seals, and some critters found only in the islands - an island scrub jay, and plenty of brazen human-habituated housecat-sized island foxes, which we named Foximus for obvious reasons. The foxes are nifty because they're a perfect example of island dwarfism in action. (They've only been separated from the mainland foxes for ~10,000 years, and the subspecies on each island in the chain actually have different numbers of vertebrae. Similar to cave fish losing their vision in a few thousand years, it's not saltation when you're losing information - especially when it's a repeated structure. They don't quite rise to the level of coolness of Galapagos finches since it's not obvious that they're uniquely adapting to each island. But still.)

Above: Foximus, one of the Channel Island Foxes that kept us company

We were only on the island for about 30 hours, but that was fine. It was really nice although I was surprised by the bugs, and it was actually pretty hot. When we arrived, my wife wisely set up camp and started a combination of three activities: napping, cutting it back, and chillaxing. On the other hand, I am a moron, and I just had to go running over to one of the few harbors, Smuggler's Cove (almost all of the island's coast is several-hundred-foot cliffs) and to Montañon Ridge, which honestly is ugly as sin - crumbly trail, unvegetated dirt ground - and it was really bright and hot up there. I ran out of water and asked, "What am I doing up here? There's a beach and blue water down there!" Which, after I returned by way of Scorpion Canyon loop and the wife hydrated me with red wine, I promptly took advantage of and did some swimming. The water was amazingly warm. The next morning we went kayaking to sea caves around the island, which unfortunately I had to bail on because I was getting seasick.

Above: Venus from Scorpion Canyon, just below dawn.
Below: sunrise at Scorpion Anchorage

Above: we went into some sea caves like this one, but didn't take cameras, hence this photo is from

Above: this is about as pretty as the land up on top of the island got. From

As with all trip posts, a word or two about food is in order. On the island we had power bars and red wine, which was quite rewarding, but before going across the channel we ate a HUGE amount of raw oysters and clams at the Jolly Oyster, right on the beach in Ventura. I was annoyed as I was trying to pry open clams that they were definitely clamping shut in reaction to my efforts - but also glad that they were alive so I could punish them. The proprietor tried to assure me that they do not have nervous systems capable of appreciating their fates but that's a bunch of liberal crap. In Cthulhu-like manner, for those that resisted me the least, I showed them mercy by eating them first. Those that held out suffered more. One that was particularly foolish in delaying the inevitable, I let sit alone and isolated from its fellows for quite some time, and then chewed extra slowly, reflecting that perhaps in a symmetric irony, the Lovecraftian nightmares of mollusks take the form of Euclidean warm-blooded tetrapods like myself. No I was not high at the time, nor am I now. We also hit Fisherman's Catch, where I did not psychologically torture my food, and which is about as close to an unpretentious East Coast seafood restaurant as any I've been to in California (on the plus side, the closest in the U.S. I've come to the quality of New Zealand fish and chips which is elevated to an artform; on the minus, no crabcakes dammit!)

Coming back across the channel, you could see Topatopa Bluff quite clearly, which again made me want to get into the mountains around Ojai as I did a year ago. I've been in this state for going on two decades and it keeps revealing new faces. A project for another time!

The Bluffs. From

Noted the week after the blog post: sea snake seen on the beach in Oxnard. Wow I *love* being in the water with elapidae. NICE.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Boat Trip from San Francisco to Red Bluff and Back?

I was thinking about doing this, or more precisely, thinking about trying to talk someone who has a boat into doing it. Kind of interesting - it's always difficult to imagine that the serene waters rolling along under the tree-lined banks of the Sacramento connect to the cold and choppy Bay. (For more on this feeling, see McElligot's Pool.) It might be good fun to start in the city and see how far you could get.

I went looking to see if anyone had done this from SF, and still couldn't find evidence of that. But there used to be a race - not from SF but from Stockton (starting on the San Joaquin) all the way to Redding, prior to the dam. I can't find anything showing the event is ongoing, but this 1957 Popular Mechanics article describes it. In those days the winner would make the 316 miles in 7.5 hours.

Still no evidence online that someone has done it from SF, but that would make it about 350 miles and a long weekend.