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Archive for June, 2007

Common bird populations declining


Populations of 20 common birds declining

By SETH BORENSTEIN, AP Science Writer1 hour, 29 minutes ago

The populations of 20 common American birds — from the fence-sitting meadowlark to the whippoorwill with its haunting call — are half what they were 40 years ago, according to an analysis released Thursday.

Suburban sprawl, climate change and other invasive species are largely to blame, said the study’s author Greg Butcher of the National Audubon Society.

“Most of these we don’t expect will go extinct,” he said. “We think they reflect other things that are happening in the environment that we should be worried about.”

Last month a different group of researchers reported that seven species had dramatically declined because of West Nile virus. The species harmed by West Nile are different from those listed in the new study — except for the little chickadee, hard-hit on both lists.

Many of the species listed as declining in the new study depend on open grassy habitats that are disappearing, said Butcher, Audubon’s bird conservation director.

Some of the birds, such as the evening grosbeak, used to be so plentiful that people would complain about how they crowded bird-feeders and finished off 50-pound sacks of sunflower seeds in just a couple days. But the colorful and gregarious grosbeak’s numbers have plummeted 78 percent in the past 40 years.

“It was an amazing phenomena all through the ’70s that’s just disappeared. It’s just a really dramatic thing because it was in people’s back yards and (now) it’s not in people’s back yards,” said Butcher.

For the study, researchers looked at bird populations of more than half a million which covered a wide range. They compared databases for 550 species from two different bird surveys — the Audubon’s own Christmas bird count and the U.S. Geological Survey’s breeding bird survey in June. The numbers of 20 different birds were at least half what they were in 1967.

Today there are 432 million fewer of these bird species, including the northern pintail, greater scaup, boreal chickadee, common tern, loggerhead shrike, field sparrow, grasshopper sparrow, snow bunting, black-throated sparrow, lark sparrow, common grackle, American bittern, horned lark, little blue heron and ruffed grouse.

The northern bobwhite and its familiar wake-up whistle once seemed to be everywhere in the East. Last Christmas, volunteer bird counters could find only three of them and only 18 Eastern meadowlarks in Massachusetts.

The bobwhite had the biggest drop among common birds. In 1967, there were 31 million of this distinctive plump bird. Now they number closer to 5.5 million.

“Things we all think of as familiar backyard birds … they appear in books and children’s stories and suddenly some of them are way less familiar than they should be,” said John Fitzpatrick, director of the Cornell ornithology lab, who was not part of the study.

Audubon Board Chairman Carol Browner, former head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, called the declines “a warning signal.”

“We are concerned. Is it an emergency? No, but concerns can quickly become an emergency,” she said.

While these common birds are in decline, others are taking their place or even elbowing them aside. The wild turkey, once in deep trouble, is growing at a rate of 14 percent a year. The double-crested cormorant, pushed nearly to extinction by DDT, is growing at a rate of 8 percent a year and populations of the pesky Canada goose increase by 7 percent yearly.

Many of the birds that are disappearing are specialists, while the thriving ones are generalists that do well in urban sprawl and all kinds of environments, Butcher said. In a way it’s the Wal-Mart-ization of America’s skies, he said.

“The robins, the Carolina wrens, the blue jays, the crows, those kinds of birds, are doing just fine, thank you,” Butcher said. “They really get along in suburban habitats, most of them even like city parks, so they are not as susceptible to the human changes in environment.”

But nothing matches the take-over ability of one invading bird.

“Right now the Eurasian collared-dove is conquering America,” Butcher said. A dove-like bird that first entered Florida in the 1980s, it now is the most prevalent bird in the Sunshine State and is in more than 30 states.

“Soon you’ll be seeing Eurasian collared-doves in any city in the world,” he said.


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EcoSnake in New West Images


EcoSnake is honored to be featured in New West Images June 14, 2007:

New West Images: Featured Photographer

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“Operation Sneaky Snake”


This December, 2006 news article from Idaho Fish and Game describes a milestone case for Idaho in prosecuting cases involving the illegal collection, possession and trade in herps. Readers of EcoSnake Echoes should find it interesting. The case helps to ensure the protection of Idaho’s native wild populations of amphibians and reptiles.




Nampa, ID

Date: December 4, 2006
Contact: Evin Oneale
(208) 465-8465

wrangling the snake rustlers

By Evin Oneale, Regional Conservation Educator, Southwest Region

More than two years of determined investigative work by a small group of Fish and Game conservation officers and federal agents has led to the conviction of four individuals, with actions pending against one more, all involved in the illegal collection, possession and selling of reptiles. A Citizens Against Poaching (CAP) call started it all.

The case is one for the record books. During the course of “Operation Sneaky Snake,” a record 569 violations were detected, including 113 felonies against five individuals.

In June 2004, a Citizens Against Poaching (C.A.P.) call was received by Idaho Fish and Game regarding the possible illegal sale of an American crow. Fish and Game conservation officer Bob Sellers investigated the tip, and found that the illegal transaction was in the works. He issued warnings to both individuals involved and also learned that the buyer, Sarah R. Kafel, 27, of Mountain Home, was hoping to trade some reptiles from her personal collection for the crow. Sellers explained to Kafel that protected reptiles could not be legally traded or sold in Idaho.

Just one month later Kafel posted an advertisement in the local paper offering to sell some of her reptiles. U.S. Fish and Wildlife enforcement officer Scott Kabasa noticed the advertisement and brought it to the attention of Fish and Game conservation officer Charlie Justus. Their investigation of Kafel and her attempt to illegally sell reptiles in Idaho quickly broadened to encompass four other individuals. One of the four - Russell G. “Russ” Jones, 36, of Star, was already quite familiar to Justus and other Fish and Game officers. He had been convicted in 1998 for illegally collecting and possessing a variety of reptiles including endangered desert tortoises, rattlesnakes and Gila monsters collected in Arizona.

During the investigation, it was determined that Kafel, Jones and the other players in Operation Sneaky Snake were well versed but simply ignoring the rules governing the collecting, housing and trade in reptiles. It also came to light that many of the snakes and lizards in Jones’ current collection were from Arizona and Nevada, two states that allow for the collection of reptiles, but prohibit the sale of collected specimens. Additionally, none of the specimens collected from outside Idaho had proper import permits.

Jones and Kafel remained the focus of the investigation until Jones found himself in jail, charged with an unrelated criminal felony. That event actually led to the widening of the reptile case against Jones as Justus learned where Jones’ inventory of snakes and reptiles was being housed during his incarceration.

Justus determined that Joaquin C. “Jack” Coronado, 35, of Nampa, Arthur J. “Jared” Aicher, 35, of Boise and Craig L. Carpenter, 35, of Mountain Home were housing and caring for Jones’ collection of venomous and non-venomous snakes and lizards, including a rare Mojave green rattlesnake (found only in Nevada), sidewinder and great basin rattlesnakes, a Utah mountain kingsnake (a protected species in Nevada), rubber boas and collared lizards. Permits were lacking for all the species imported from other states.

Now armed with all the evidence he needed, Justus requested and received four search warrants from Ada, Canyon and Elmore counties. The warrants were served simultaneously on September 23, 2005 on the homes of Coronado, Aicher, Carpenter and Kafel. More than 180 venomous and non-venomous snakes were seized from the four residences.

Between May and July of 2006, portions of the investigation were finalized, and Justus began handing off his case files against the five individuals to Ada, Canyon and Elmore County Prosecutors.

The case load against Russ Jones was daunting: he faced 238 separate violations, including 60 felonies. Under a plea-bargain agreement, Jones pleaded guilty to five misdemeanor charges in Canyon County court on August 25, 2006:

- Import 38 snakes and lizards into Idaho without permit.
- Aid and abet in the taking/possession of 43 snakes and lizards in Idaho without a license.
- Sell/offer for sale 66 snakes and lizards from Idaho, Nevada and Arizona.
- Possess one Utah Mountain Kingsnake unlawfully collected in Nevada.
- Aid and abet the possession of 41 venomous snakes in unlocked/unlawful cages.

For his role in Operation Sneaky Snake, Jones received a lifetime hunting and fishing license revocation, 90 days in jail (to be served concurrent with his sentencing the same day for domestic battery), fines and penalties totaling $5,400 ($3,750 suspended), $1,338 in restitution to Idaho Fish and Game for expenses incurred during the investigation, and two years of unsupervised probation. He also cannot possess any snakes or lizards for two years, and cannot be in the company of anyone with snakes or lizards. Further, he cannot aid/abet anyone with the selling, distribution or gathering of snakes and lizards. The lifetime hunting license revocation means Jones will be unable to collect reptiles from the wild for the remainder of his life.

Jack Coronado faced a slew of charges: 132 violations, including nine felonies. These included taking/possessing 61 rubber boas without a valid hunting license, as well as possession of venomous snakes in unlocked/unlawful cages. For his role in Operation Sneaky Snake, Coronado received a five-year hunting license suspension, 300 days in jail with all 300 suspended, fines and penalties totaling $845, two years of unsupervised probation, $500 in restitution to Fish and Game for costs incurred during the investigation, 60 hours of community service, and a prohibition against possessing any snakes or lizards for two years.

Jared Aicher faced 10 separate felony charges and 37 misdemeanor charges. Under a plea bargain agreement, he was ultimately charged with taking/possessing three snakes without a valid hunting license and importing four snakes into Idaho without proper permits. He received a one-year hunting license suspension, $430 in fines and $250 in restitution to Fish and Game for costs incurred during the investigation. An additional provision prohibits Aicher from possessing any snakes or lizards for one year.

Facing 21 misdemeanor charges, Craig Carpenter chose not to cooperate with investigators, despite being offered a plea agreement during early stages of the investigation. He appeared in Ada County court on October 31 and eventually agreed to a much less favorable plea agreement. For his role in Operation Sneaky Snake, Carpenter received a three-year hunting license suspension, two years of unsupervised probation, 80 hours of community service (which will include additional time spent with investigating officers), and $225 in civil penalties and restitution. An additional provision of his sentencing prohibits him from possessing any reptiles and amphibians for the next three years.

Sarah Kafel originally faced 127 violations, including 32 felonies for her role in Operation Sneaky Snake. Despite a generous plea-bargain agreement, she failed to appear in Elmore County court for arraignment on two misdemeanor charges. A warrant for her arrest has been issued, and because of her failure to appear, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering resurrecting at least some of the 32 felony charges against her for her role in Operation Sneaky Snake.

Southern Idaho serves as the northern-most range for most species of desert snakes and lizards encountered in this part of the west. Scientific information regarding populations of these creatures is mostly lacking, including basic data such as population size and habitat preferences. Because many species have limited distribution, exploitation by Russ Jones or other unscrupulous collectors can potentially exterminate local populations. For these reasons, state law was amended to provide some protection for all of Idaho’s reptile and amphibian species.

For those persons who wish to legally collect and/or possess reptiles and amphibians in Idaho, four key rules apply:

- A person must possess a valid hunting license to collect reptiles and/or amphibians;
- A person can only have up to four of any one species of reptile or amphibian;
- Commercialization (sale or trade) of reptiles and/or amphibians is prohibited;
- An import permit must be secured from Fish and Game before any reptile or amphibian specimen collected or purchased outside of Idaho may be brought into the state (import permits are not available for venomous and/or dangerous reptiles or amphibians including venomous snakes and alligators).

Although the pet trade is - for the most part - above board, reptiles and amphibians (collectively known as “herptiles” or “herps”) continue to be illegally sold across the United States and abroad. Large wholesale dealers pay thousands of dollars for wild herptiles for the pet trade. “Any time money and wildlife come together, the potential for abuse is high,” noted Fish and Game conservation officer Charlie Justus. “Many of the animals purchased by these wholesalers are illegally harvested because the collector has no valid license, lacks an import permit, has an overlimit of certain species, or perhaps collects a snake or lizard in a state which prohibits the sale of wild caught specimens.”

Internet sales of herptiles continue to increase as more collectors discover the ease with which herptiles can be marketed. Auction houses, electronic classified ads, and personal web sites are all being used for both legitimate and illegal sales of herptiles. Gila monsters provide one such example of the latter. “A number of sites offer Gila monster hatchlings for sale, indicating that they were produced in captivity,” Justus explained. “That’s highly unlikely, as Gila monsters are a high maintenance species to begin with and extremely difficult to breed in captivity. If an unscrupulous collector finds a young Gila in the wild, it more than likely will be marketed as a young, ‘captive-born’ specimen.”

Tracking down internet sellers of illegal herptiles is equally difficult. “A person can post a specimen for sale, and request that interested parties respond via e-mail,” Justus said. The seller may remain anonymous, providing a fictitious name, partial name, nickname or a business name. “Conducted electronically, even transactions can be virtually anonymous,” Justus noted.

Finally, good old-fashioned newspaper classifieds are used to market illegally-procured herptiles. “This case was a classic example of using classifieds to traffic in illegal specimens,” Justus said. “Both Russ Jones and Sarah Kafel posted ads in the local paper offering specimens for sale.” Jones would travel across Idaho, Nevada and Arizona, collecting snakes and lizards from the wild, each and every one of them illegal under the respective state’s collecting rules. He would then “launder” these illegally taken specimens by shipping them to a herptile trader in Florida. The trader would ship legal herptiles back to Jones who would turn around and sell them locally. With invoices in hand from the Florida herptile trader, Jones was never questioned regarding the legality of the specimens he offered for sale. The illegal animals shipped to Florida by Jones would appear on the trader’s inventory sheets for sale the following month.


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Marine news from New England


Rare blue lobster avoids the cooker

Tue Jun 12, 10:46 PM ET

Call it crustacean discrimination. A lobster caught last weekend by Steve Hatch and his uncle Robert Green was spared from being cooked and ripped apart on a plate because of its color.

The 1 1/2-pound clawed creature is bright blue, the result of an extremely rare genetic mutation.

It turned up Sunday morning in one of Hatch and Green’s lobster traps at the mouth of the Thames River.

“I’ve heard about them but this is the first one I’ve ever seen,” Hatch told The Day of New London newspaper.

Later that afternoon, he put the lobster in a cooler and brought it to the Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration, where it will live out its days in an elementary school classroom for children to learn about.

Catherine Ellis, curator of fish and invertebrates at the aquarium, said only one in 3 million lobsters are “true blue,” meaning their color is the result of genetics and not the environment.

The one caught Sunday will join two other blue lobsters at the aquarium.

Researchers at the University of Connecticut found that the blue coloring occurs when lobsters produce an excessive amount of protein because of a genetic mutation.

But if blue lobsters are cooked like their red brethren, they too turn red, Ellis said.

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Marine news from Australia


Australian robbers attack man with sawfish snout

Wed Jun 13, 1:31 AM ET

An Australian man was attacked with a sawfish snout during a burglary in the northern state of Queensland, police said.

Police said two thieves broke into a caravan at Bundaberg in southeast Queensland Tuesday night and attacked the 40-year-old occupant with the fish snout, a length of cartilage with a row of serrated teeth around its outside edge.

The victim suffered cuts to his back, hands and arms in the attack and was treated by paramedics after the assailants fled, they said.

Police later said they had dropped their investigation of the case after the victim withdrew his complaint for reasons that were not made public.

They did not say whether the attackers happened across the sawfish bill in the caravan or deliberately brought it with them as a means of subduing their victim.

Sawfish are a type of ray with a prominent saw-like snout that is used to search the seabed for crustaceans and other prey. They are listed as endangered in Australia.

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Bird like dinosaur found in China


China finds new species of big, bird-like dinosaur

By Tan Ee Lyn and Ben BlanchardWed Jun 13, 6:52 AM ET

China has uncovered the skeletal remains of a gigantic, surprisingly bird-like dinosaur, which has been classed as a new species.

Eight meters (26 ft) long and standing at twice the height of a man at the shoulder, the fossil of the feathered but flightless Gigantoraptor erlianensis was found in the Erlian basin in Inner Mongolia, researchers wrote in the latest issue of Nature.

The researchers said the dinosaur, discovered in April 2005, weighed about 1.4 tonnes and lived some 85 million years ago.

According to lines of arrested growth detected on its bones, it died as a young adult in its 11th year of life.

What was particularly surprising was its sheer size and weight because most theories point to carnivorous dinosaurs getting smaller as they got more bird-like.

“It had no teeth and had a beak. Its forelimbs were very long and we believe it had feathers,” Xu Xing at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology & Paleonanthropology said in a telephone interview.

Through analyzing its skeleton, the researchers believe the Gigantoraptor shared the same ancestor and belonged to the same family as the Oviraptor.

With a beak and feathers, the Oviraptor is also bird-like and flightless, but weighed a mere 1 to 2 kg, Xu said.

Other similar feathered dinosaurs rarely weighed over 40 kg, which means the Gigantoraptor was about 35 times heavier.

The largest known feathered animal before the Chinese discovery was the half-tonne Stirton’s Thunder Bird, which lived in Australia more than six million years ago.

“It’s a giant dinosaur that looked very much like a bird … whereas from what we have known before, bird-like dinosaurs were very, very small. Large dinosaurs are usually not bird-like. So this Gigantoraptor was an exception,” Xu said.

If the Gigantoraptor had lived to a full-sized adult, it would have been a lot larger, but Xu could not estimate what that would have been.

However, the researchers believe it had an accelerated growth rate that was faster than the large North American tyrannosaurs.


The scientists had originally thought they had found tyrannosaur bones, as they were so large.

“It was a very surprising discovery, not at all what we expected,” Xu said later at a news conference in Beijing. “So we spent a lot of time investigating the fossils which is why it took us so long to announce the results.”

The scientists showed off two huge fossilized bones from the animal, and a model of its beaked head.

Its feathers were likely for show and for keeping its eggs warm, Xu added.

“We think it’s the largest feathered animal ever to have been discovered,” he said.

It had both herbivorous features — a small head and long neck — but also carnivorous ones — sharp claws for tearing meat — and could likely run fast on its long, powerful legs, the professor said.

“Of course, there’s no way of knowing for sure,” he added.

Its site of discovery, near Erenhot on the Chinese-Mongolian border, is known for fossils and calls itself “dinosaur town.”

The city of just 100,000 is hoping to leverage this fame to attract tourists, said its Communist Party chief Zhang Guohua, and will spend more than 100 million yuan ($13.11 million) on a new dinosaur fossil museum this year.

($1=7.625 Yuan)

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220 million year old gliding reptile discovered


Ancient Gliding Reptile Discovered">Dave Mosher
Staff Writer
LiveScience.comTue Jun 12, 2:15 PM ET

Paleontologists have discovered a new small gliding reptile in 220 million-year-old sediments of a quarry on the Virginia-North Carolina border. The new creature is named Mecistotrachelos apeoros, meaning “soaring, long-necked” and is about the size of a blue jay from head to tail.

“One of the really neat things about the new glider is the feet,? said Nick Fraser of the Virginia Museum of Natural History, who discovered the two fossils. “They are preserved in a hooked posture which is unusual and strongly suggests a grasping habit. I’m convinced it was using its hind limbs for grasping branches.”

Fraser noted that the Triassic Period reptile probably fed on insects, scuttling up tree trunks and foraging on the way, before gliding onto neighboring trees. Two other reptiles with similar gliding membranes are known from the Triassic, but Fraser noted that they have much shorter necks and therefore are more like modern gliding lizards.

The findings are detailed in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

The lineage of the ancient reptile is still unclear, but Fraser thinks it is related to a group of extinct reptiles with long necks called protorosaurs—a group that includes the bizarre Tanystropheus, which toted around a neck longer than its body and tail combined.

“The length of the neck on these guys is really surprising,” Fraser told LiveScience. “But what’s even more interesting are the thick ribs near the base of the neck.” He explained that such bones are indicative of beefed up muscles near the membranous wings.

“This would have given them much more maneuverability in the air than other gliders, even modern gliding lizards in the Malaysian rain forests,” Fraser said.

Fraser and his colleagues can’t be certain, but they think the gliders they found were blown off course and into a nearby lake with a muddy, silty bottom that eventually became shale.

Because the fossils formed in brittle shale sediments, Fraser and his team relied entirely on computed tomography scans, or CT scans, to study the specimens. The technology is typically used to create 3-D medical images of patients’ bodies but in this case helped peer inside the shale to reveal the fossils.

“This is a really cool little reptile which was very difficult to see until we looked at the CT scans,? said Tim Ryan of the Center for Quantitative Imaging at Pennsylvania State University, who led the scanning of the specimens.

Fraser thinks the long-necked specimens may rewrite the books about flying dinosaur evolution. “This is some of the best early evidence of strong aerial mobility,” he said. “It’s certainly something that will make us look more closely at the origins of flying dinosaurs.”

Vote: Avian Ancestors: Dinosaurs That Learned to Fly Ancient Lizard Glided on Stretched Ribs Gallery: Dinosaur Fossils
Original Story: Ancient Gliding Reptile DiscoveredVisit for more daily news, views and scientific inquiry with an original, provocative point of view. LiveScience reports amazing, real world breakthroughs, made simple and stimulating for people on the go. Check out our collection of Science, Animal and Dinosaur Pictures, Science Videos, Hot Topics, Trivia, Top 10s, Voting, Amazing Images, Reader Favorites, and more. Get cool gadgets at the new LiveScience Store, sign up for our free daily email newsletter and check out our RSS feeds today.

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Poachers kill one of last two white rhinos in Zambia


Poachers kill one of last two white rhinos in Zambia

Tue Jun 12, 9:56 AM ET

Poachers have shot the last two white rhinos in Zambia, killing one and wounding the other, in a night operation at the Mosi-Oa-Tunya national park in Livingstone, an official said Tuesday.

The shooting of the two endangered animals in a heavily-guarded zoological park near Victoria Falls in Zambia’s tourist resort town of Livingstone took place last week.

“I can confirm that one of the white rhinos was shot dead by suspected poachers. The other one was wounded and is undergoing treatment,” said Maureen Mwape, spokesperson of the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA), which would be investigating the shooting.

The dead female rhino’s horn was apparently removed.

Zambia’s white rhinos were all killed by poachers but the government managed to acquire six from South Africa in 1993, of which the injured male is the last to survive.

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Caribbean turtles threatened by catches and trade


Caribbean turtles said threatened by catches, trade

Tue Jun 12, 2:24 PM ET

Turtles in the Caribbean are under threat from over-fishing and illegal trade, with almost all eggs laid in Guatemala taken by humans, a wildlife trade monitoring network said on Tuesday.

Traffic, comprising the WWF conservation group and the World Conservation Union, urged governments in the region to set tighter limits on catches to help safeguard the region’s six species of turtles.

“Turtles may be adequately protected in some waters, but then travel into areas where they are at risk from unmanaged or illegal take,” said Steven Broad, Traffic’s Executive Director.

“Caribbean nations need to improve their cooperation to manage and conserve the region’s turtles,” he said in a statement issued on the sidelines of a U.N. Conference on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in The Hague.

Traffic said overexploitation was a threat to the survival of the region’s turtles, targeted for their shells, meat and eggs that are laid on beaches. All six species in the region are classified as endangered or critically endangered.

“In Guatemala, virtually every turtle egg laid is collected for human consumption,” Traffic said. By contrast, in Costa Rica, most eggs in trade were from a well-managed program operated at Ostional on the Pacific coast.

It also said once vast breeding colonies of green turtles in the Cayman Islands had all but vanished.

And it quoted estimates that populations of hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean were at most 10 percent of estimated totals around the time Columbus sailed the Atlantic in 1492.

Traffic said that more than half of the 26 nations surveyed — in Central America, island states in the Caribbean and Venezuela and Colombia — had weak regulations on turtle catches.

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Whale Tragedy


While I recognize the cultural roots of native Alaskan whale hunting, I think it is wrong and tragic that such an old and magnificent creature such as this could not have lived out all its days..


19th-century weapon found in whale


By ERIN CONROY, Associated Press Writer 45 minutes ago

A 50-ton bowhead whale caught off the Alaskan coast last month had a weapon fragment embedded in its neck that showed it survived a similar hunt — more than a century ago. Embedded deep under its blubber was a 3 1/2-inch arrow-shaped projectile that has given researchers insight into the whale’s age, estimated between 115 and 130 years old.

“No other finding has been this precise,” said John Bockstoce, an adjunct curator of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.

Calculating a whale’s age can be difficult, and is usually gauged by amino acids in the eye lenses. It’s rare to find one that has lived more than a century, but experts say the oldest were close to 200 years old.

The bomb lance fragment, lodged a bone between the whale’s neck and shoulder blade, was likely manufactured in New Bedford, on the southeast coast of Massachusetts, a major whaling center at that time, Bockstoce said.

It was probably shot at the whale from a heavy shoulder gun around 1890. The small metal cylinder was filled with explosives fitted with a time-delay fuse so it would explode seconds after it was shot into the whale. The bomb lance was meant to kill the whale immediately and prevent it from escaping.

The device exploded and probably injured the whale, Bockstoce said.

“It probably hurt the whale, or annoyed him, but it hit him in a non-lethal place,” he said. “He couldn’t have been that bothered if he lived for another 100 years.”

The whale harkens back to far different era. If 130 years old, it would have been born in 1877, the year Rutherford B. Hayes was sworn in as president, when federal Reconstruction troops withdrew from the South and when Thomas Edison unveiled his newest invention, the phonograph.

The 49-foot male whale died when it was shot with a similar projectile last month, and the older device was found buried beneath its blubber as hunters carved it with a chain saw for harvesting.

“It’s unusual to find old things like that in whales, and I knew immediately that it was quite old by its shape,” said Craig George, a wildlife biologist for the North Slope Borough Department of Wildlife Management, who was called down to the site soon after it was found.

The revelation led George to return to a similar piece found in a whale hunted near St. Lawrence Island in 1980, which he sent to Bockstoce to compare.

“We didn’t make anything of it at the time, and no one had any idea about their lifespan, or speculated that a bowhead could be that old,” George said.

Bockstoce said he was impressed by notches carved into the head of the arrow used in the 19th century hunt, a traditional way for the Alaskan hunters to indicate ownership of the whale.

Whaling has always been a prominent source of food for Alaskans, and is monitored by the International Whaling Commission. A hunting quota for the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission was recently renewed, allowing 255 whales to be harvested by 10 Alaskan villages over five years.

After it is analyzed, the fragment will be displayed at the Inupiat Heritage Center in Barrow, Alaska.


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