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An otter-ly incredible tale and other animal yarns that grabbed headlines in 2018

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A koi-eating otter stole the show this past year when it came to animal stories in B.C., but there were others of a far more serious nature.

Exotic animals went missing in unexpected places, a virus threatened rabbits, crows dive-bombed Vancouver residents, and a female killer whale took her dead baby on a tour of grief for an estimated 1,600 kilometres.

Still, gripping interest in stories involving the natural world around us is heartening for people like Nick Page, the Vancouver Park Board’s biologist.

“This kind of idea that we’re more disconnected from nature than we were in the past seems not to be borne out by our fascination for wildlife in our daily lives,” he said.

Grand Theft Otter

Surely, this proved to be true when in late November a river otter showed up at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in downtown Vancouver and began eating koi — symbols of fortune and prosperity.

The mammal managed to devour 11 of the fish before the remainder were relocated to the Vancouver Aquarium. With the food source gone, the otter appears to have moved on.

A worker collects koi from the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen garden to move them to the Vancouver Aquarium. (Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden/Twitter)

The story created distinct camps between the fish and the otter, while Page says the outcome ultimately benefited both animals.

“From the otter’s point of view it’s a very urbanized area. There’s a lot of road traffic,” he said.  “Over the long term, it would probably be hit by a car.”

Whale wails

Not all stories involving animals in 2018 ended as well, however.

The plight of the southern resident killer whales was further highlighted with two heart-wrenching stories involving young whales that died.

This July 25 photo shows the orca mother, J35, balancing her dead baby on her nose trying to keep it afloat. (Ken Balcomb/Centre for Whale Research)

In August, a female killer whale known as J-35 put on what scientists call an unprecedented show of grief with her calf that died soon after it was born in July.

For 17 days, the mother refused to it let go, pushing the carcass along or holding its tail in her teeth in waters off the West Coast.

Meanwhile, in September another killer whale calf known as J-50 was declared dead after weeks of concern from scientists and the public in both the U.S. and Canada.

An image of J-50 taken by officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Friday Sept. 7, 2018 south of San Juan Island. (NOAA/Twitter)

Images had shown the female whale had lost body weight and was ailing. Attempts to treat the whale with antibiotics were unsuccessful.

The two deaths, both from the same family group, are a stark reminder that southern resident killer whales, which swim through busy shipping lanes in Canadian and U.S. waters are endangered and down to 75 animals.

There have been no successful births since 2015.

Threatened caribou

Scientists also took desperate steps in 2018 to prevent caribou from B.C.’s most southerly herds from disappearing completely.

The South Selkirk caribou are being killed off by climate change, habitat destruction, logging, highways and especially, predators.

Woodland caribou are struggling to survive across Canada. (Garry Beaudry/B.C. Forest Service/Associated Press)

Biologists captured the six remaining animals near Nelson and relocated them to a rearing pen near Revelstoke in an effort to increase their numbers.

South Selkirk caribou are close to a local extinction. The CBC’s Bob Keating describes the last ditch efforts to save the dwindling species. 8:37

Despite the bleak outlook for some species, biologist Nick Page wants people to be encouraged that biodiversity is flourishing in other areas, including cities.

For example, some whales are being seen in places where they haven’t been seen for decades.

“It sort of shows to me that, you know, biodiversity is very resilient,” he said.

Park Board biologist Nick Page says despite being heavily developed, Vancouver still has many places to observe wildlife and biodiversity. (CBC)

Page says the best way to advocate for animals is to go outside and observe them and learn about them.

Just don’t get in between a doe and her fawn.

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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