Friday, January 25, 2008

Shy shark chooses flatulence

Listening to: Goodbye by Sneaky Sound System

Fact* for the day

The sand tiger shark, Carcharias taurus,** is unique as a shark when it comes to regulating buoyancy. Instead of just having the high density lipid squalene***, this shark farts. It gulps then swallows air from the surface of the water. As necessary it then farts to control its position at a depth.

*Fact paraphrased from 'Why Don't Penguins' Feet Freeze' published by New Scientist, 2006, p53, Alexandra Osman, London UK
A fascinating book derived from the 'Last Word' page of New Scientist. It won me before I started reading it when I discovered it has a cute flick/flip book animation of a penguin down the right hand margin.
I had to laugh with delight! If you enjoy this part of New Scientist - especially if you do what I sometimes do and read it before I get to the end - if you have an enquiring mind and appreciate a scientific and sometimes humourous explanation for why things are, then you will enjoy this.

**Species corrected via cross referencing Shark Info / Dr. Erich K. Ritter.

***Edited 04/02/08 Also known as shark liver oil since that is what it is. I recently read that it has been used extensively in cosmetics including lipstick (eww!). Fortunately most cosmetic manuafacturers won't be doing this anymore.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Animals in captivity

I've always been a keen visitor of zoos ever since I was little when my parents would take me once a year. We would go to the Melbourne Zoo and my favourite animals then are actually two of my favourites now: the otters and hippopotamus. I'm not sure why the hippo. They look so round and content I guess. The otters, like the meerkats are enchanting to watch when they are active.

The recent new stories regarding animal mistreatment at Melbourne Zoo sadden me. I won't go into it here. Google it and see what I'm on about.

Despite my appreciation for the lovely new Asian elephant enclosure I was not happy that they chose to import more elephants. It does nothing for the species and I doubt it improved the welfare of the existing occupants despite the social/breeding arguements put forth by the zoo.

A few year agos on the ABC TV series 'Zoos Company' a chap from the zoo, possibly the director, said if he had his way he wouldn't have any megafauna (big animals like lions, elephants, giraffe etc) but lots of little creatures better suited to captivity like meerkats, otters, frogs, lizards, fish, insects, birds etc. He pointed out that the public wouldn't be content with this, complaining about all the little 'rats' (his word) on display and wonder where the megafauna are. In a nutshell; we get the zoo we want. Maybe this isn't what you personally want but it is what the masses want. I would love a zoo full of little critters!

Melbourne Zoo has built some fine, habitat mimicking enclosures in the last 10 years, allowing the animals to do what comes naturally and for us to see them doing that. It cost a lot of money some of which was raised by the public. Unfortunately the government has cut back on funding from last year. There are still quite a few animals living in unstimulating environments. I hope they realise that adding more megafauna to a suburban zoo is not the way to go. The space is too small and they are more expensive to keep. Far better to have it at Werribee Open Range zoo instead.

In the meantime I am postponing my day-long life sketching trip to Melbourne Zoo indefinitely.

* * *

I've only been to one zoo where there were peanuts. I was in Rome back in 1997 and went against my guidebook's recommendations (said it was depressing) and visited the zoo there. Don't visit it unless you want to be depressed, it IS the saddest zoo I've ever visited (maybe I'm sheltered...). People were throwing peanuts at a bear in a cage not much bigger than my bedroom. Most of the enclosures were bare earth or concrete with perhaps some straw.

I met the gaze of a lonely, caged gorilla and saw a sadness in its eyes I will never forget.

Monday, January 21, 2008

2008 Labyrinth Masquerade Ball, Melbourne

Listening to Straight Lines by Silverchair


Information regarding this year's Labyrinth Masquerade Ball from the organiser:

'The date: will be Saturday the 12th of July.
The venue: The Regal Ballroom, 216 High st Northcote

Yes after a bit of a hunt for a different venues the organisers stumbled across this lovely place.

Some more things to add to the list;

Live entertainment.
Finger food
Fashion parade
Fantasy art exhibition
Decent bar prices
Similar games and competitions as last year

...and more

Tickets to this year event are still being discussed but at this stage its looking to be around $30 (rough estimate so far).'

I will update/edit this post as further details become available. See here for a couple of pics from last year. Going by the gorgeous venue alone and the effort previously made it promises to be even better!
[edit 15/05/08]
Guild of the Golden Owl, the official Melbourne, Labyrinth Masquerade Ball website

Monday, January 14, 2008

Peak hour musings

Ladies, if you must totter about in high heels do not do it going down the stairs to a train platform during peak hour. Do not stop a few tantalising steps from the bottom of the stairs for no apparent reason while there is a train waiting. Take the escalator down, or be sure to keep to the extreme left. A few of us almost missed our train tonight because of such a woman who, when I turned back to give her a dirty look, was blissfully unaware of our frustration.

Have some consideration for your fellow passengers' olfactory sensorial systems.
Wear deodorant, especially in Summer!

Don't lean your body against the poles in the train carriage/tram/bus. It is not a strip club. You are not pole dancing. You do not have an exclusive one on one relationship with the pole. Only your hand should be in contact with it. Other people need to hold onto the pole and they want as little of you as possible, in their personal space when they do so.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Coypu in Florence, Italy

Listening to Super Massive Black Hole by Muse

Last year in Florence in the river near our hotel we saw what at first we thought were otters, water rats, and from initial research muskrats.

After hopping on the internet again (edited 18/01/08) I discovered they are most likely to be coypu*. The muskrat** is a very similar species. The coypu is a bigger animal with a pendulous, heavy body and a head shape more reminiscent of a capybara*** in its bluntness. It has a sleeker coat that is more reddish brown than grey. Having looked at lots of pictures of both I've decided we must have seen coypu. Both species were introduced for the fur trade.

Apparently they are also good eatin' going by some of the sites I've looked at.

Anyhooo, I found them interesting to watch as I tend to do with anything small and furry - or just new, special to me (last night I watched an orb weaving spider building its nightly web off our back verandah). Here are some sketches I did at the time (done from memory, they look more like muskrats, meh).

 photo Coypu_zpsce26a10d.jpg

 photo coypuTOP_zpsc749ceca.jpg

Coypu, Florence (drawings enlarged)
March 2007

Did you know...
...that the crested porcupine was introduced to Italy? Neither did I. Source: Wikipedia.

* Native to South America and called a nutria in America.
** Native to North America.
*** World's largest rodent, semi aquatic and also from South America.