EDITOR NOTE: "Banana Joe," the Affenpinscher who won Best in Show at this year's 2013 Westminster Dog Show, appeared on "Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien" live this morning. Check out the segment here.
We here at "Starting Point" are used to covering hard news stories, and speaking to big newsmakers. But what you may not know is...we've got a big soft spot for dogs. Like, epic.
So when we heard that the 2012 Westminster Best in Show, Malachy, his owner David Fitzpatrick, and two new breeds were coming to visit "Starting Point"... why, we jumped for joy!
The dogs arrived promptly to our Time Warner Center studio, and let's just say we were more than excited. The two new breeds in this year's competition were getting ready for air: Perla, a Russell Terrier and Meg, a treeing walker coonhound. The green room...had gone to the dogs.
One even admired the view of Columbus Circle just before the big blizzard hit the Northeast.
This dog was up pretty early, so a big yawn was to be expected. And was adorable.
We thought about resurrecting the dog cage we were hoping to use for the Puppy Bowl guests, but we quickly realized that the awesomeness of Westminster dogs couldn't be contained.
Even our crew were smitten with the dogs.
While we got the set ready for our four-legged guests, 2012 winner Malachy and his owner had to make sure his hair looked just right.
Yes, the grooming does take a while.
Of course, shenanigans were bound to occur once the dogs got a look at each other.
Soledad was only too excited to meet the new breeds and reigning champ!
Malachy was especially happy to see Soledad.
Everyone had a great time and we were sad for the segment to be over.
But we knew we would be speaking to Banana Joe, the 2013 Westminster Dog Show winner on Thurs, Feb. 14th, so we were happy again.
John Berman might have fallen in love just a little bit.
And Soledad...well...let's just say dogs really like Soledad.
If you missed our segments with Malachy, Perla, Meg and Banana Joe, check out the video below.
He has taken the music world by storm, set an example as a philanthropist and is a pioneer in the race to explore space. But these days, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson is focused on a more aquatic venture: saving sharks.
In an exclusive interview with Soledad O'Brien on "Starting Point," Branson talks about his work with WildAid, an organization that focuses on addressing the human threat to wildlife. In partnering with the group, Branson's influence opens up a new world in ecotourism, dispelling myths about sharks and increasing awareness of the brutality of shark finning.
"It's the biggest fish in the ocean," Branson tells Soledad. "Just this enormous, gentle giant in the ocean. I just couldn't bear the idea that people were slaughtering them in their millions for soup. So I decided to devote quite a lot of my time and attention to it."
To demonstrate the elegance of sharks in the wild, Soledad went swimming with Branson and WildAid's Peter Knights, getting up close with whale sharks about 12 miles off the coast of Isla Mujeres in Mexico. It's the largest aggregation of whale sharks in the world – discovered just four years ago. Knights says up to 300 whale sharks come to the area every year to feed on fish eggs. It's turned into a booming business for local companies, who bring boats full of people to swim with the sharks.
"It's rapidly developed into an amazing ecotourism opportunity and as you can see, quite a major industry for local people," Knights says. "It's better because it's way more sustainable, but secondly you get to start seeing the effects of tourism and the growth of the economy as it grows locally."
"People aren't just making a living," Knights adds. "Ecotourism offers a more sustainable, often a more reliable income," Knights tells Soledad.
WildAid says 17% of all shark species are in danger of extinction from excessive shark finning, a process where the fins of sharks are cut off the animal and then the animal is thrown back into the ocean. Shark fins, used in a popular soup in China, can fetch up to $700/kg. Every year, up to 73 million sharks are used for shark fin soup.
Whale sharks in particular are ideal for tourism trips, because they’re friendly to humans, feeding only on plankton or small fish. "I hope these are shark ambassadors to tell the world we’re not all bad guys, and basically you can come and enjoy and swim with us," Knights says. "And it gets people out in nature and gives them a different understanding of sharks."
Whale shark tourism, WildAid claims, can generate up to $5 million in income a year.
"In order to keep the balance of the oceans, we must not see any species disappear," Branson says. "The way we're going about it at the moment, we could well see a number of the shark species disappear, if not all the shark species disappear. We’ve just got to stop it."
"This is simply a matter of trying to save a species that is in danger of disappearing because of a bowl of soup," Branson adds.
For more information on WildAid, visit WildAid.org. To read more about the Virgin Unite program, visit VirginUnite.com
Since the 9/11 attacks, airport security measures have become much more intrusive to protect the flying public. On Tuesday, Portland, Oregon resident John Brennan decided to make a stand against screening pat-downs...by stripping down.
Shocked onlookers averted their eyes as 49-year-old Brennan disrobed in protest of the security procedures, after his clothes supposedly tested positive for explosives. When Brennan refused to get dressed, he was arrested.
On Wednesday, he was charged with indecent exposure, while a second charge for disorderly conduct was dropped. The TSA issued a statement, saying "TSA partners with the traveling public to screen all passengers safely and efficiently. When a passenger chooses to be purposefully disruptive, we notify law enforcement."
Brennan talks with Soledad this morning on "Starting Point" and explains why he chose to take off his clothes in public.
"I found out I tested positive for nitrates, which is an explosive," Brennan says. "I decided the best way to show them that I'm not carrying a bomb is to take off my clothes. They get to choose when they see us naked in those machines, and I just decided I'm going to speed the process up."
"As an Oregonian, I know my right to free speech includes nude protest," Brennan adds. "As I look at any situation, I'm aware that's one way I can communicate and have a voice. And so, this, certainly, was not premeditated."
In the second video below, he explains that he's willing to give up some of his liberties for the sake of safety and understands that TSA workers have a job to do, but he felt that in his case it went too far.
"I went through a metal detector and I was patted down through my crotch by a stranger," he says. "That's giving up a lot. When they took me past that step, I said, here's what I'm going to do. I did not impede the search process. They were uncomfortable that I was naked, but it shouldn't be illegal. My nakedness should not be illegal."
Brennan did admit that he wishes he didn't have such a big belly, but says he's not ashamed of his body.