That's one fish you don't want to catch- humpback almost lands on boat

Continuing the whale theme- I'm not an enthusiast, I swear, it's just that dozens of these news reports have come all once- a fishing boat nearly avoided being squashed by a flying humpback on the 11th of August. The whale torpedoed out of the water, performed a perfect 360 degree roll in the air before belly-flopping into the water; 10 feet from their boat.

I think that these fishermen would have been very happy about this one getting away...

This is very reminiscent of a video taken in 2011, of two whales that apparently attempted to swallow a kayak whole:

moriarty sherlock crown

Killing the romance- A dead humpback whale washes up in Sydney

Since the cease of whale hunting in Australia in 1966, there's been a slowly building cult of the whale; in Australian culture they're the focus of of something very close to animal worship.

Migaloo, the white humpback whale, is a celebrity with tens of thousands of people waiting for him to appear during the yearly migration. He has so many admirers that he ended up having a legislation passed just for him, to prevent persistent and enthusiastic watchers from coming closer than 500m.

In 2008 a wounded and weakened humpback calf wandered into Sydney Harbour, trying to suckle from boats. The decision was made to euthanise the poor calf as there was utterly nothing that could be done to save it. A humpback suckles from its mother for eleven months. The milk it feeds on is extremely rich and complex and there is no synthetic substitute. And during this time the baby is taught how to be a whale, where the feeding grounds are and how to survive and how to communicate and how to be a part of whale culture. And as an added bonus it's a huge friggin' animal. How the hell could it be accommodated? Where is the infrastructure to hold it, keep it safe, keep it happy and healthy? Efforts were made to lure the baby back to sea but it returned. If memory serves there was a dead cow found offshore that was suspected to be its mother. So, the only thing that could be done help it was to put the poor thing down. Nature is a bitch,

But so is the Australian cult of the whale, apparently. The screams were deafening. A mass outcry about the euthanasia erupted as the public raged and spat over the way nothing was being done to help the baby. Why couldn't it be taken in? Why couldn't it be saved? How dare the animal wildlife service murder this precious creature? Zealous animal lovers tried to approach the whale. One twit said he tried to get close with his boat in order to give it the food it needed. The idea that this baby needed milk, rich, complex, humpback whale milk, not solid food washed straight through one ear and out the other. I wouldn't have been a member of the wildlife service for all the money in the world at that stage; I'd have been too terrified to walk alone. Attempts were made to talk common sense into the outraged public but the screaming continued for some time afterwards.

Today another example of Mother Nature's epic levels of bastardry was found washed up on a beach, also in Sydney.

So far there's no word on how this animal died and it's unlikely that there will ever be so. It's too big, even though it's a subadult, and it'll be a massive operation to even dispose of the carcass, let alone somehow drag it into shore to be autopsied. The statement made by the beach manager said it all: increasing whale populations mean a corresponding increase of whale corpses. There are many man made hazards that contribute to the death of these individuals. But the sea is a dangerous place even without our help. There are many things that can kill a whale. And it's tragic and it's unfair but unlike humans, whales are pretty much at the mercy of their environment. They do not have the tools to alter the world around them.

On a recent trip to Melbourne I visited the museum there. As soon as I walked in I saw it, the thing of sheer jaw-dropping beauty: the mounted skeleton of a pygmy blue whale. I spent a good ten or fifteen minutes walking around and around, taking dozens of photographs. It's amazing how the mammal structure is virtually the same from species to species, even with the drastic differences between apes and cetacea . After a while my friend went and fetched a crowbar, pried me off, and then had the privilege of watching me latch onto the dinosaur exhibit three minutes later. (Aside, the skeletons in the museum are all casts; and poor ones at that. But still interesting.)

Maybe it would be nice to get all starry eyed and romantic about humpbacks but honestly, I'm just too brutally pragmatic. It's depressing to have common sense at times. So, the next time I'm out shopping for frivolous items, I'll be skipping over the romantic whale statute and buying a copy of Inside Nature's Giants: The Sperm Whale.

The romance of the whale may be dead to me, but that doesn't make them any less amazing and complicated and beautiful. And honestly, loving the reality is so much more respectful to the animal, whatever that animal might be.

Helloooooooo, gorgeous. Where have you been this year?

embracing skeletons

When vegans see the light: Meat-eating horses in mythology and modern day

In much of the Western World not familiar with large animal husbandry, there are many misconceptions regarding farm animals. Milk magically appears on supermarket shelves and meat arrives sliced and pre-packaged in polystyrene and plastic. The actual involvement with the beasts of origin is drastically limited. So there are a great many assumptions and romantic lies regarding just about every aspect of rural or semi rural life.

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moriarty sherlock crown

Another strange denizen of the deep...

The ocean is weird. There is no arguing with that. It's filled with animals that can weigh up to 180 tonnes, 200kg jelly fish, fish with see through heads and whopping great holes ten kilometers deep.

So I thought we'd go for something a bit easier to comprehend: A shark. Sharks are really cool. They've been around for millions of years, they have great theme music (thank you, Mr Spielberg) and what's not to love about an animal so astonishingly good at doing what it does? I've been looking through Youtube and apparently this clip is really good.Let's watch it together, shall we?

Arrrrrghhhh! Arrrrghhh! Curse you to hell, Mother Nature! That's it! Swear to god! I'm never going within a 100 kilometre radius of the sea ever again! Oh god, my eyes! My eyes! Get it away from meeeeeeeeeeeeeee! 

Shows what you know- Motty the hybrid elephant

Meet Motty, a remarkable little elephant that said F-U to the laws of genetics.

A hybrid between the African elephant and the Asian elephant has always been viewed as impossible. Not only are they different species, they are also in different families. Despite their physical similarities, their genetic codes are too different to make a hybrid between the two possible.

At least, that was what geneticists thought.

In 1978, those same geneticists got a surprise.

Motty, a male calf, was born in Chester Zoo. His mother was Sheba, an Asian elephant, and his father was Jumbolino, an African elephant and the only male elephant at the time. The loving couple had been seen mating before, but zoo keepers had known about the genetic differences between the two species and had not considered that they could produce a viable embryo, let alone carry a calf to term. Sheba had been exhibiting signs of pregnancy since 1978. They were initially dismissed, but as time went on it became obvious that she was indeed pregnant. The bemused zoo keepers prepared for the calf’s arrival and waited.

When Motty finally made his appearance, he showed a complex combination of the physical traits between the two species. According to Karl Shuker’s excellent and very detailed article:

“Whatever doubts had been entertained in the past that an intergeneric elephant hybrid was possible were emphatically swept away by this living, breathing refutation, because Motty’s entire morphology was a complex and thoroughly fascinating composite of maternal Elephas and paternal Loxodonta characteristics. To begin with, whereas the back of Elephas is arched and that of Loxodonta is concave, Motty’s back was both – possessing a central hump but also a pelvic one. His head exhibited a similar ambiguity, for although his brow was sloping with a single frontal dome like Loxodonta, he also sported the smaller paired posterior skull domes characteristic of Elephas. Even his trunk was an intergeneric compromise – heavily wrinkled like that of Loxodonta, but with only a single digit at its tip like Elephas (Loxodonta has two trunk digits). Adding to his Elephas features were his feet, as they bore five toenails on each front foot and four on each hind foot (more than in savannah Loxodonta elephants), but his Loxodonta heritage reasserted itself in his longer slimmer legs and his larger pointed ears.”

Unfortunately, Motty was weakened by both his premature birth and his hybrid status. Despite considerable care and intense efforts to revive him on the part of the zoo keepers, he died ten days after his birth.

Motty’s death was tragically sad, but the fact that he existed at all was something incredible. And, as far as the world knows, he was the only living hybrid of an African elephant and an Asian elephant that has ever been documented. There have been other hybrids of these two species born; exactly three, apparently, but articles mentioning them have made a point of saying that these instances are rumours, and that if true, all three were born deformed and did not survive.Further reading:

Karl Shuker's full post on this fascinating little calf.

The short article discussing the other three African/Asian hybrids.

And another article regarding Motty.

These three are by no means the only webpages focusing on Motty, but they're a good place to start.

last unicorn

Saddest of songs- the 52 Hertz whale

There is a whale in the ocean that’s singing a song that no other whale will answer, and is swimming in a migratory pattern that no other whale follows. This whale is the 52 Hertz whale, and it is all alone.

In 1992 the US navy picked up a very strange whale call on an array of hydrophones. It was a whale call that was in the frequency of 51.75 Hertz, much higher than the usual whale call of between 15 and 25 Hertz. This is the only whale that sings so high and it seems that no other whale recognises it as a fellow member of the species. This lonely whale has been dubbed the 52 Hertz whale and has been tracked across the ocean by listening in on its distinctive song ever since. And not only does it sing out of tune, it also wanders out of place. It follows a yearly migratory pattern that is so different from any other whale that it’s possible that it rarely encounters another whale at all, regardless of species.

Debate over the identity of this strange individual will doubtless continue for a very long time, possibly even after it at last falls silent. It has been identified by its calls as a baleen whale. After that, all bets are off. It could be the last surviving individual of a species that has never been documented before and now never will be. It could be an animal that has had both its hearing and navigational ability badly damaged, or perhaps even affected by some form of a congenital birth defect. The more general consensus is that it’s likely to be the malformed hybrid of a blue whale and another unidentified species of baleen whale.

This whale will very likely never been identified or even seen by humans. Finding one lonely whale in the entire ocean is next to impossible, let alone finding one that is so dreadfully lost at sea.

Humans are the only ones listening in on the 52 Hertz whale’s song. And that is, in many ways, unbearably sad.

Further reading:

Auntie Wiki's entry on whale sounds, which contains a brief mention of the 52 Hertz whale.

This website contains an audio sound file of the 52 Hertz whale compared to that of a blue whale.

And finally, this blog contains a brief article on the 52 Hertz whale, as well as a number of not entirely undeserved comments by prats bitching about the anthropomorphism often applied to this animal.

The Beast of Gévaudan

I was at the library the other day, and while pawing through the documentary section of the DVD racks I came across this:

This documentary studies the cryptid that was the Beast of Gevaudan, a beastie- or beasties- that terrorised the area in the 1760s. Identifying the species of animal behind the attacks has been driving cryptozoologists, historians and naturalists insane for centuries. The following entry assumes that you are familiar with both the events in question and also with the documentary in question. My apologies for any confusion that results from my disjointed ramblings.

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