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January 31, 2015

Rare megamouth shark found dead in Pio Duran, Philippines

Rare megamouth shark found dead in Pio Duran, Philippines

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A megamouth shark was found dead in the Philippines on Wednesday. There have been only fifteen confirmed sightings in the nation and around 60 worldwide.

Preserved head of a megamouth on display in Australia.
Image: “saberwyn”.

The fifteen-foot male was found after reportedly becoming entangled with a fishing net near the Barangay Marigondon neighborhood of Pio Duran, Albay province. Its body was encased with ice pending a necropsy. The cause of death was not immediately clear.

Locals have nicknamed the dead shark ‘toothless’, a How to Train Your Dragon movie reference. In truth megamouths can have up to fifty rows of teeth.

Megamouths reach up to eighteen feet. Their name refers to its large head and mouth, used to filter plankton and other small food from the ocean. Occasionally the prey of other sharks and whales, megamouths are thought to live in the Pacific around Taiwan, the Philippines, and Japan based on previous sightings. Its true range and population size are however unknown. The first such shark identified was accidentally discovered by the US Navy off the coast of Hawaii when it became stuck in a ship’s anchor. Researchers theorise a white strip on the shark’s head illuminates to attract prey.



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May 8, 2014

eBay removes Canadian town\’s listing of sperm whale carcass

eBay removes Canadian town’s listing of sperm whale carcass

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Citing violations of its policy regarding “Marine mammal items”, eBay terminated an online listing on Monday by the town of Cape St. George, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, for a 40 ft (12 m) sperm whale carcass reportedly beached upon its shores about a week prior.

With an initial asking price of 99 cents, bidding for the carcass reportedly rose to C$238.03 within 15 bids. Reports variously state the final price of the whale, prior to the removal of the listing from the auction site on Monday at about 2:30pm, was C$2,025 or C$2,075. Listed in eBay’s “really weird” category, the carcass was considered by eBay to be an example of “items made from marine mammals regardless of when the product was made”, which are prohibited as per site rules.

Following a council meeting on Sunday in the town of 950 residents, Cape St. George’s mayor, Peter Fenwick, put the whale up on the auction site in a bid to have it removed from the town’s premises, citing a lack of cooperation from provincial and federal government officials on the matter. “It’s your problem, you solve it”, Fenwick recounted to The Globe and Mail (TGaM) as the response he received from them. Apart from eBay, Kijiji was also suggested as another avenue by which to sell the carcass.

Fenwick told CTV News, several years prior another sperm whale measuring 15 ft was beached in the area, but disappeared without incident, an act Fenwick attributed to be the work of Fisheries and Oceans Canada. “This time”, he remarked, “the authorities have told us that it’s our whale, it’s our responsibility to get rid of it.”

On putting the carcass for sale, Fenwick remarked, “We knew we had to do something with it and this seemed to be the least expensive way of disposing of it.” In a news release, Fenwick highlighted a possible use for the carcass, particularly its bones. “The 40 foot sperm whale will make a spectacular exhibit once the fat and muscle is removed, and the town is asking museums and other organizations that could use a whale skeleton to contact the town for further details.”

On retaining the whale himself, Fenwick stated, “As a town we would dearly love to keep the whale and put it on exhibit in the town but the cost of such a venture would be hard to justify.” Fenwick told TGaM the whale was “in half decent shape”. “This one looks like it died very recently and hasn’t decomposed much”, which Fenwick suggested elsewhere was due to the whale’s present location, partially submerged in near-freezing water. However, Fenwick noted its close proximity to a residential area, saying homeowners who lived there were “very interested in seeing the whale gone.”

eBay was not the only organization who barred the sale from taking place. “We also got threatened by the federal department of the environment, and told to pull the ad off or they would prosecute us”, said Fenwick on the opposition he said he received from Environment Canada, which viewed the sale as contravening a federal act designed to protect endangered species. “I received a call from the federal department of the environment saying that you’re not allowed to sell any parts of sperm whales, even if they’re dead.” he added. “So I said, ‘Oh that’s very good, I’m glad to hear that, now can you send somebody over here to get rid of it for us?'” Fenwick’s request was met with a negative response from Environment Canada.

“They’ve got to sort it out somehow. The uncertainty means it just sort of sits there and rots.” Once decomposition sets in, Fenwick remarked the carcass would become a “real nuisance”. “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a whale that’s been rotting on the beach for a couple of months — actually sometimes you can’t see it for the clouds of flies around it — but you can smell it for about a mile”, he added.

On finding alternate means to dispose of the carcass, Wayne Ledwell, a member of Newfoundland’s Whale Release and Strandings, suggested the whale be towed out to a remote area. “They need to do that right away, when they come in and they’re fresh,” said Ledwell. “No one wants to go touch them … everything becomes gooey and slippery and you can’t stand up on the whale and it gets on your boots and you can’t get the smell off and then you go home and the dog rolls in it and you get it in your kitchen and you curse the whales, and you curse the government and … it becomes a mess.” Fenwick said they’d considered the idea, enlisting a local fisherman who, however, judged his engine too small for the job.

Previously, blue whale carcasses washed ashore in the towns of Trout River and Rocky Harbour, located about 150 km further north, and were taken by Royal Ontario Museum for preservation of the skeletons. Fenwick suggested the sperm whale carcass in his town might also meet a similar fate, as the sperm whale’s status as the largest toothed whale might prove to be a drawing attraction for such a facility.

Regarding what he plans to do next with the carcass, Fenwick said “If we’re not allowed to sell it, we’re willing to drop our 99 cent price down to a zero.” He said he hoped some eBay bidder stays interested in the whale. “We’ll be glad to talk to them about giving them the whale. We’re hoping that’s not illegal.” He also said he hoped the publicity from the town’s predicament, which garnered national attention, and its unusual means of finding a solution, would draw in someone interested in taking the whale off his hands at their own expense.

Should the whale fall under new ownership, Fenwick advised it be moved away from the town to a beach devoid of people, and the blubber left as food for seagulls, insects, and other predators. He estimated “It’ll probably take a year or so to get down to the skeleton.” As monetary gain was reportedly not what the town cared about, Fenwick was willing to offer the carcass for free, though one report noted money raised from the listing could have gone towards the building of a skate park.

The listing on eBay, as put up by Fenwick, read:

Cquote1.svg This 40 foot sperm whale rolled up on the beach last week. The actual seller is the town of Cape St. George which is responsible for disposing of it before it starts to decay. Once the fat and flesh is removed you have a spectacular 40 foot skeleton of the largest toothed whale in the world, great for museums and other attractions. To prevent it rotting in the town it can be towed to isolated beaches on the Port au Port Peninsula to allow the seagulls and other birds to remove the flesh. Call 709-644-2290 or 709-649-7070 for more details.

Please note the successful bidder will have to remove the whale within 30 days

Cquote2.svg



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April 4, 2014

Death of captive rhino halts propagation efforts in US

Death of captive rhino halts propagation efforts in US

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Dr. Terri Roth, director of CREW, with Suci.
Image: Cincinnati Zoo.

Dr Roth gave an overview of the Sumatran rhino project at USI less than a week after Suci’s death.
Video: Rfshipman1.

After the death of the Cincinnati Zoo’s female Sumatran rhinoceros last Sunday, Dr. Terri Roth, the director of the zoo’s research facility specializing in propagation, told Wikinews her organization remains committed to the Sumatran rhinos, an animal that is currently listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as critically endangered.

Suci (pictured left with Roth), the last female in captivity in the United States, died and was one of only two Sumatran rhinos in captivity in the United States.

The number of Sumatran rhinos worldwide is now around 100, according to Roth, who is the vice president of Conservation and Science and the director of Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW) at Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden in Ohio. She told Wikinews her research facility will continue to work with its partners abroad and focus on genetic diversity.

“Realistically, the odds are against us. This is going to be a tough one to save. It’s been a roller coaster experience and it’s been a challenge,” said Roth.

In the 1980s, Indonesia and the United States entered into a pact to save the animal. According to the plan, Indonesia would enclose captured rhinos in a secure wildlife habitat and provide United States zoos with additional captured rhinos, with the two working together to rebuild the population using the wildlife and captivity. The US program experienced a set back when four out of its seven rhinos died, while zoos were learning to feed them ficus rather than hay.

Roth is an expert on the propagation of the Sumatran rhino. Since the late 1990s, when the Cincinnati Zoo received the last three surviving captive rhinos in the United States, she has studied their mating and pregnancy. This led to the ability to detect pregnancy within sixteen days of conception by ultrasound. After five failed pregnancies, Roth tried hormone treatments of progesterone with success. In 2001, CREW and the Cincinnati Zoo celebrated the first rhino birth in captivity in 112 years, a male named Andalas. The previous Sumatran rhino birth in captivity occurred in 1889 in a zoo in Calcutta, India.

Roth’s work with Emi also produced Suci, a female born in 2004; and Harapan, a male born in 2007. Andalas was returned to Indonesia to sire Andatu, another success in the joint Indonesia-US project. Back in the US, the CREW facility would have to partner Suci with her brother Harapan once he reached sexual maturity between six to seven years age. Suci’s death on Sunday ended that plan.

“We were hoping to produce another calf, for a number of different reasons. One is that the females do lose fertility over time if they don’t get pregnant. So we thought even though were not doing a good genetic match, at least getting her pregnant would preserve her fertility. Although, we never got the opportunity to do that.” Roth said.

Indonesia will not be sending the US zoos any more Sumatran rhinos, Roth said, and for Indonesia it is a matter of national pride to rescue the Sumatran rhino.


SumatranRhino3 CincinnatiZoo.jpg

Sumatran Rhino (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis) at Cincinnati Zoo.
Image: Ltshears.

Dr Terri Roth.jpg

Dr. Terri Roth, director of Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife.
Image: Snbehnke.

Dr Terri Roth at USI.jpg

Dr. Terri Roth tells an audience at the annual Marlene V. Shaw Biology Lecture at the University of Southern Indiana about the work of Center for Conservation and Research of Endangered Wildlife (CREW).
Image: Miharris.

Terri Roth's Presentation 2.JPG

Dr. Terri Roth giving her presentation on Sumatran Rhinos.
Image: Snbehnke.



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November 14, 2013

Endangered \’Asian unicorn\’ sighted

Endangered ‘Asian unicorn’ sighted – Wikinews, the free news source

Endangered ‘Asian unicorn’ sighted

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Environment
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File photo of Pseudoryx nghetinhensis, the Asian unicorn.
Image: Gió Đông.

On Tuesday, the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) announced that a living saola, or “Asian unicorn”, has been photographed in Central Vietnam. The picture was recorded last September by a camera trap placed by the Vietnamese government and the WWF.

The saola, an antelope-like animal with long horns, had not been seen in Vietnam since 1998, said Quảng Nam Forest Protection Department Deputy Head Dang Dinh Nguyen. The saola is critically endangered, according to the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species. The WWF estimates only a few dozen saola, or at most a few hundred, survive in remote, dense upland forests along Vietnam’s border with Laos. They have never survived in captivity.

The WWF hopes to help save the saola from extinction by safeguarding its habitat from poachers. Their country director for Vietnam, Van Ngoc Thinh, said, “This is a breathtaking discovery and renews hope for the recovery of the species.”


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October 9, 2012

Australian scientists develop culture to destroy reef-killing starfish

Australian scientists develop culture to destroy reef-killing starfish

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

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Crown-of-Thorns starfish near Qamea Island in Fiji.
Image: Matt Wright.

Following a study linking poisonous crown-of-thorns starfish to 42 percent of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef destruction in recent decades, James Cook University Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Queensland has developed a culture to destroy the reef-killing starfish, announced yesterday. The researchers have carried out successful trials of the culture against the starfish.

The culture is a beef extract similar to Bovril, the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) reported.

The culture is expected to replace a manual treatment of the problem, involving a poison injection delivered by a diver to each starfish. One of the researchers, Jairo Rivera Posada, stressed urgency and scale of the threat: “In the current outbreak in the Philippines they removed as many as 87,000 starfish from a single beach”.

The researchers said the culture infects a starfish with bacteria that kill it within just 24 hours and spread by contact with other individuals of the species. This means divers would need to inject just one starfish to infect and destroy many individuals living close to each other.

The researchers recommended addressing the problems behind starfish outbreaks: “Any attempts to control these outbreaks will be futile without also addressing the root cause of outbreaks, including loss of starfish predators as well as increased nutrients that provide food for larval starfishes” referring to the agricultural run-off along the reef coast.

The researchers concluded the culture works and needs testing of its impact on other sea species.


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May 29, 2012

Short-haired bumblebees reintroduced to UK

Short-haired bumblebees reintroduced to UK

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

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A short-haired bumblebee, from file.

A small population of Bombus subterraneus, the short-haired bumblebee, was reintroduced to the UK yesterday. The bee was declared extinct in Britain in 2000.

Around 100 queen bees were captured from Skåne, Sweden after the Nordic nation gave the go-ahead. After quarantine, around half of these were rejected to avoid introducing parasites alongside the bees. The rest have been released into a nature reserve in Dungeness, England.

“We’ve screened for four different parasite species,” explains biologist Dr Mark Brown of the University of London, where the bees spent two weeks at Royal Holloway. The parasites “can all damage bees in different ways.”

Work has been ongoing at Dungeness for years, establishing flowers the bees are known to like in meadows at the site, which, although rural, lies at the heart of an industrial area. Habitat loss is blamed for the bees’ extinction in the UK, with more intensive farming methods destroying meadows. South Sweden has less intensive farming, allowing the Swedish population to thrive. A normal survival rate of 20–30% is expected.

Organisations including the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, Natural England, and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) are involved in funding the project, with the reserve itself belonging to the RSPB.

The bees were last seen in Dungeness in the 1980s. The same spot lost the shrill carder bee at around the same time, but shrill carder bees have recently been rediscovered there.

It is the second attempt to reintroduce short-haired bumblebees to Britain, after an effort in 2009 using bees removed from New Zealand. British bees were introduced to New Zealand to aid pollination before they were threatened. The bees died in the UK and tests established they had low genetic diversity. There are plans to add more bees to the Dungeness programme to increase genetic diversity there.



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July 29, 2011

National Museum of Scotland reopens after three-year redevelopment

National Museum of Scotland reopens after three-year redevelopment

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Friday, July 29, 2011

Grant Stott, and Bryony Hare opening the museum.
Image: Brian McNeil.

Today sees the reopening of the National Museum of Scotland following a three-year renovation costing £47.4 million (US$ 77.3 million). Edinburgh’s Chambers Street was closed to traffic for the morning, with the 10am reopening by eleven-year-old Bryony Hare, who took her first steps in the museum, and won a competition organised by the local Evening News paper to be a VIP guest at the event. Prior to the opening, Wikinews toured the renovated museum, viewing the new galleries, and some of the 8,000 objects inside.

The Mugenkyo Taiko drummers performing on the museum steps
Street theater for the opening
Animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex entertaining the crowd
The Mugenkyo Taiko drummers performing on the museum steps
Street theater for the opening
Street theater for the opening
Street theater for the opening
Animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex entertaining the crowd
Street theater for the opening
The Mugenkyo Taiko drummers performing on the museum steps
Street theater for the opening
Street theater for the opening

Dressed in Victorian attire, Scottish broadcaster Grant Stott acted as master of ceremonies over festivities starting shortly after 9am. The packed street cheered an animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex created by Millenium FX; onlookers were entertained with a twenty-minute performance by the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers on the steps of the museum; then, following Bryony Hare knocking three times on the original doors to ask that the museum be opened, the ceremony was heralded with a specially composed fanfare – played on a replica of the museum’s 2,000-year-old carnyx Celtic war-horn. During the fanfare, two abseilers unfurled white pennons down either side of the original entrance.

The completion of the opening to the public was marked with Chinese firecrackers, and fireworks, being set off on the museum roof. As the public crowded into the museum, the Mugenkyo Taiko Drummers resumed their performance; a street theatre group mingled with the large crowd, and the animatronic Tyrannosaurus Rex entertained the thinning crowd of onlookers in the centre of the street.

Press preview

A ‘God of the Sea’ carving from the Cook Islands, on display in the World Cultures Galleries.
Image: Brian McNeil.

The newly-opened, vaulted-ceilinged Entrance Hall.
Image: Brian McNeil.

On Wednesday, the museum welcomed the world’s press for an in depth preview of the new visitor experience. Wikinews was represented by Brian McNeil, who is also Wikimedia UK’s interim liaison with Museum Galleries Scotland.

The new pavement-level Entrance Hall saw journalists mingle with curators. The director, Gordon Rintoul, introduced presentations by Gareth Hoskins and Ralph Applebaum, respective heads of the Architects and Building Design Team; and, the designers responsible for the rejuvenation of the museum.

Describing himself as a “local lad”, Hoskins reminisced about his grandfather regularly bringing him to the museum, and pushing all the buttons on the numerous interactive exhibits throughout the museum. Describing the nearly 150-year-old museum as having become “a little tired”, and a place “only visited on a rainy day”, he commented that many international visitors to Edinburgh did not realise that the building was a public space; explaining the focus was to improve access to the museum – hence the opening of street-level access – and, to “transform the complex”, focus on “opening up the building”, and “creating a number of new spaces […] that would improve facilities and really make this an experience for 21st century museum visitors”.

Hoskins explained that a “rabbit warren” of storage spaces were cleared out to provide street-level access to the museum; the floor in this “crypt-like” space being lowered by 1.5 metres to achieve this goal. Then Hoskins handed over to Applebaum, who expressed his delight to be present at the reopening.

Applebaum commented that one of his first encounters with the museum was seeing “struggling young mothers with two kids in strollers making their way up the steps”, expressing his pleasure at this being made a thing of the past. Applebaum explained that the Victorian age saw the opening of museums for public access, with the National Museum’s earlier incarnation being the “College Museum” – a “first window into this museum’s collection”.

The bridge joining the Old College to the museum.
Image: Brian McNeil.

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The museum itself is physically connected to the University of Edinburgh‘s old college via a bridge which allowed students to move between the two buildings.

Applebaum explained that the museum will, now redeveloped, be used as a social space, with gatherings held in the Grand Gallery, “turning the museum into a social convening space mixed with knowledge”. Continuing, he praised the collections, saying they are “cultural assets [… Scotland is] turning those into real cultural capital”, and the museum is, and museums in general are, providing a sense of “social pride”.

The guided tour

View of the Grand Gallery from the south-east corner.
Image: Brian McNeil.

McNeil joined the yellow group on a guided tour round the museum with one of the staff. Climbing the stairs at the rear of the Entrance Hall, the foot of the Window on the World exhibit, the group gained a first chance to see the restored Grand Gallery. This space is flooded with light from the glass ceiling three floors above, supported by 40 cast-iron columns. As may disappoint some visitors, the fish ponds have been removed; these were not an original feature, but originally installed in the 1960s – supposedly to humidify the museum; and failing in this regard. But, several curators joked that they attracted attention as “the only thing that moved” in the museum.

The Millennium Clock, centred in the Discoveries Gallery.
Image: Brian McNeil.

The museum’s original architect was Captain Francis Fowke, also responsible for the design of London’s Royal Albert Hall; his design for the then-Industrial Museum apparently inspired by Joseph Paxton‘s Crystal Palace.

Newly-installed escalator in the Discoveries Gallery.
Image: Brian McNeil.

The group moved from the Grand Gallery into the Discoveries Gallery to the south side of the museum. The old red staircase is gone, and the Millennium Clock stands to the right of a newly-installed escalator, giving easier access to the upper galleries than the original staircases at each end of the Grand Gallery. Two glass elevators have also been installed, flanking the opening into the Discoveries Gallery and, providing disabled access from top-to-bottom of the museum.

History of the Museum

The National Museum of Scotland’s origins can be traced back to 1780 when the 11th Earl of Buchan, David Stuart Erskine, formed the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland; the Society being tasked with the collection and preservation of archaeological artefacts for Scotland. In 1858, control of this was passed to the government of the day and the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland came into being. Items in the collection at that time were housed at various locations around the city.

On Wednesday, October 28, 1861, during a royal visit to Edinburgh by Queen Victoria, Prince-Consort Albert laid the foundation-stone for what was then intended to be the Industrial Museum. Nearly five years later, it was the second son of Victoria and Albert, Prince Alfred, the then-Duke of Edinburgh, who opened the building which was then known as the Scottish Museum of Science and Art. A full-page feature, published in the following Monday’s issue of The Scotsman covered the history leading up to the opening of the museum, those who had championed its establishment, the building of the collection which it was to house, and Edinburgh University‘s donation of their Natural History collection to augment the exhibits put on public display.

The renovation

A GE 950. The oldest colour television in the world, build to a design by pioneer John Logie Baird.
Image: Brian McNeil.

The Grand Gallery on opening day

Selection of views of the Grand Gallery
Image: Brian McNeil.

The Grand Gallery on opening day

Selection of views of the Grand Gallery
Image: Brian McNeil.

The Grand Gallery on opening day

Selection of views of the Grand Gallery
Image: Brian McNeil.

Closed for a little over three years, today’s reopening of the museum is seen as the “centrepiece” of National Museums Scotland’s fifteen-year plan to dramatically improve accessibility and better present their collections. Sir Andrew Grossard, chair of the Board of Trustees, said: “The reopening of the National Museum of Scotland, on time and within budget is a tremendous achievement […] Our collections tell great stories about the world, how Scots saw that world, and the disproportionate impact they had upon it. The intellectual and collecting impact of the Scottish diaspora has been profound. It is an inspiring story which has captured the imagination of our many supporters who have helped us achieve our aspirations and to whom we are profoundly grateful.

The extensive work, carried out with a view to expand publicly accessible space and display more of the museums collections, carried a £47.4 million pricetag. This was jointly funded with £16 million from the Scottish Government, and £17.8 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Further funds towards the work came from private sources and totalled £13.6 million. Subsequent development, as part of the longer-term £70 million “Masterplan”, is expected to be completed by 2020 and see an additional eleven galleries opened.

The funding by the Scottish Government can be seen as a ‘canny’ investment; a report commissioned by National Museums Scotland, and produced by consultancy firm Biggar Economics, suggest the work carried out could be worth £58.1 million per year, compared with an estimated value to the economy of £48.8 prior to the 2008 closure. Visitor figures are expected to rise by over 20%; use of function facilities are predicted to increase, alongside other increases in local hospitality-sector spending.

Captain Cook’s clock, a Shelton regulator, taken on his first voyage to the Pacific to observe the transit of Venus in Tahiti.
Image: Brian McNeil.

Proudly commenting on the Scottish Government’s involvement Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs, described the reopening as, “one of the nation’s cultural highlights of 2011” and says the rejuvenated museum is, “[a] must-see attraction for local and international visitors alike“. Continuing to extol the museum’s virtues, Hyslop states that it “promotes the best of Scotland and our contributions to the world.

So-far, the work carried out is estimated to have increased the public space within the museum complex by 50%. Street-level storage rooms, never before seen by the public, have been transformed into new exhibit space, and pavement-level access to the buildings provided which include a new set of visitor facilities. Architectural firm Gareth Hoskins have retained the original Grand Gallery – now the first floor of the museum – described as a “birdcage” structure and originally inspired by The Crystal Palace built in Hyde Park, London for the 1851 Great Exhibition.

The centrepiece in the Grand Gallery is the “Window on the World” exhibit, which stands around 20 metres tall and is currently one of the largest installations in any UK museum. This showcases numerous items from the museum’s collections, rising through four storeys in the centre of the museum. Alexander Hayward, the museums Keeper of Science and Technology, challenged attending journalists to imagine installing “teapots at thirty feet”.

Galleries and exhibits

The redeveloped museum includes the opening of sixteen brand new galleries. Housed within, are over 8,000 objects, only 20% of which have been previously seen.

The newly-opened, vaulted-ceilinged, ground floor.
The first floor, with the Grand Gallery.
Second floor, including the Ancient Egypt gallery.
Top floor, including the Looking East gallery.

A collection of local signs in the Window on the World; not readily accessible, the red tramways sign may be a sore point with some Edinburgh residents.
Image: Brian McNeil.

The Window on the World rises through the four floors of the museum and contains over 800 objects. This includes a gyrocopter from the 1930s, the world’s largest scrimshaw – made from the jaws of a sperm whale which the University of Edinburgh requested for their collection, a number of Buddha figures, spearheads, antique tools, an old gramophone and record, a selection of old local signage, and a girder from the doomed Tay Bridge.

The World Cultures Galleries

The arrangement of galleries around the Grand Gallery’s “birdcage” structure is organised into themes across multiple floors. The World Cultures Galleries allow visitors to explore the culture of the entire planet; Living Lands explains the ways in which our natural environment influences the way we live our lives, and the beliefs that grow out of the places we live – from the Arctic cold of North America to Australia’s deserts.

A display housing musical instruments from around the world, on show in the Performance & Lives gallery.
Image: Brian McNeil.

The adjacent Patterns of Life gallery shows objects ranging from the everyday, to the unusual from all over the world. The functions different objects serve at different periods in peoples’ lives are explored, and complement the contents of the Living Lands gallery.

Performance & Lives houses musical instruments from around the world, alongside masks and costumes; both rooted in long-established traditions and rituals, this displayed alongside contemporary items showing the interpretation of tradition by contemporary artists and instrument-creators.

An interactive tonal matrix, constructed by Portugese-Angolan artist Victor Garna.
Image: Brian McNeil.

The museum proudly bills the Facing the Sea gallery as the only one in the UK which is specifically based on the cultures of the South Pacific. It explores the rich diversity of the communities in the region, how the sea shapes the islanders’ lives – describing how their lives are shaped as much by the sea as the land.

Both the Facing the Sea and Performance & Lives galleries are on the second floor, next to the new exhibition shop and foyer which leads to one of the new exhibition galleries, expected to house the visiting Amazing Mummies exhibit in February, coming from Leiden in the Netherlands.

The Inspired by Nature, Artistic Legacies, and Traditions in Sculpture galleries take up most of the east side of the upper floor of the museum. The latter of these shows the sculptors from diverse cultures have, through history, explored the possibilities in expressing oneself using metal, wood, or stone. The Inspired by Nature gallery shows how many artists, including contemporary ones, draw their influence from the world around us – often commenting on our own human impact on that natural world.

Contrastingly, the Artistic Legacies gallery compares more traditional art and the work of modern artists. The displayed exhibits attempt to show how people, in creating specific art objects, attempt to illustrate the human spirit, the cultures they are familiar with, and the imaginative input of the objects’ creators.

The Natural World Galleries

A range of sea creatures are suspended in the open space, with giant screens showing them in their natural habitat.
Image: Brian McNeil.

The easternmost side of the museum, adjacent to Edinburgh University’s Old College, will bring back memories for many regular visitors to the museum; but, with an extensive array of new items. The museum’s dedicated taxidermy staff have produced a wide variety of fresh examples from the natural world.

The head of the cast life-size T-Rex
Life-size replica of T-Rex
A pair of peacocks fighting
A giraffe shown using his long tongue to forage
The elephant that wouldn't leave; this exhibit stayed in a corner through the renovations

At ground level, the Animal World and Wildlife Panorama’s most imposing exhibit is probably the lifesize reproduction of a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton. This rubs shoulders with other examples from around the world, including one of a pair of elephants. The on-display elephant could not be removed whilst renovation work was underway, and lurked in a corner of the gallery as work went on around it.

Above, in the Animal Senses gallery, are examples of how we experience the world through our senses, and contrasting examples of wildly differing senses, or extremes of such, present in the natural world. This gallery also has giant screens, suspended in the free space, which show footage ranging from the most tranquil and peaceful life in the sea to the tooth-and-claw bloody savagery of nature.

The Survival gallery gives visitors a look into the ever-ongoing nature of evolution; the causes of some species dying out while others thrive, and the ability of any species to adapt as a method of avoiding extinction.

A giant centrepiece in the Restless Earth gallery.
Image: Brian McNeil.

Earth in Space puts our place in the universe in perspective. Housing Europe’s oldest surviving Astrolabe, dating from the eleventh century, this gallery gives an opportunity to see the technology invented to allow us to look into the big questions about what lies beyond Earth, and probe the origins of the universe and life.

In contrast, the Restless Earth gallery shows examples of the rocks and minerals formed through geological processes here on earth. The continual processes of the planet are explored alongside their impact on human life. An impressive collection of geological specimens are complemented with educational multimedia presentations.

The more familiar, the “Refreshed Galleries”

Beyond working on new galleries, and the main redevelopment, the transformation team have revamped galleries that will be familiar to regular past visitors to the museum.

Buddha figures sit alongside a gyrocopter in the Window on the World.
Image: Brian McNeil.

Formerly known as the Ivy Wu Gallery of East Asian Art, the Looking East gallery showcases National Museums Scotland’s extensive collection of Korean, Chinese, and Japanese material. The gallery’s creation was originally sponsored by Sir Gordon Wu, and named after his wife Ivy. It contains items from the last dynasty, the Manchu, and examples of traditional ceramic work. Japan is represented through artefacts from ordinary people’s lives, expositions on the role of the Samurai, and early trade with the West. Korean objects also show the country’s ceramic work, clothing, and traditional accessories used, and worn, by the indigenous people.

The Ancient Egypt gallery has always been a favourite of visitors to the museum. A great many of the exhibits in this space were returned to Scotland from late 19th century excavations; and, are arranged to take visitors through the rituals, and objects associated with, life, death, and the afterlife, as viewed from an Egyptian perspective.

A display of Egyptian shabtis, statues thought to act as servants to the dead in the afterlife.
Image: Brian McNeil.

The Art and Industry and European Styles galleries, respectively, show how designs are arrived at and turned into manufactured objects, and the evolution of European style – financed and sponsored by a wide range of artists and patrons. A large number of the objects on display, often purchased or commissioned, by Scots, are now on display for the first time ever.

Shaping our World encourages visitors to take a fresh look at technological objects developed over the last 200 years, many of which are so integrated into our lives that they are taken for granted. Radio, transportation, and modern medicines are covered, with a retrospective on the people who developed many of the items we rely on daily.

The Scottish Galleries

What was known as the Museum of Scotland, a modern addition to the classical Victorian-era museum, is now known as the Scottish Galleries following the renovation of the main building.

The modern extension, housing the Scottish Galleries.
Image: Maccoinnich.

This dedicated newer wing to the now-integrated National Museum of Scotland covers the history of Scotland from a time before there were people living in the country. The geological timescale is covered in the Beginnings gallery, showing continents arranging themselves into what people today see as familiar outlines on modern-day maps.

A replica Carnyx war horn being played at the museum opening.
Image: Brian McNeil.

Just next door, the history of the earliest occupants of Scotland are on display; hunters and gatherers from around 4,000 B.C give way to farmers in the Early People exhibits.

The Kingdom of the Scots follows Scotland becoming a recognisable nation, and a kingdom ruled over by the Stewart dynasty. Moving closer to modern-times, the Scotland Transformed gallery looks at the country’s history post-union in 1707.

Industry and Empire showcases Scotland’s significant place in the world as a source of heavy engineering work in the form of rail engineering and shipbuilding – key components in the building of the British Empire. Naturally, whisky was another globally-recognised export introduced to the world during empire-building.

Lastly, Scotland: A Changing Nation collects less-tangible items, including personal accounts, from the country’s journey through the 20th century; the social history of Scots, and progress towards being a multicultural nation, is explored through heavy use of multimedia exhibits.

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July 9, 2011

Polar bears related to extinct Irish bears, DNA study shows

Polar bears related to extinct Irish bears, DNA study shows

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Polar Bear (Ursus maritimus)
Image: Alan Wilson.

Modern polar bears are genetically related to an extinct species of Irish brown bear, according to a study published Thursday in Current Biology. The two share a distinct genetic marker not present in other brown bears, strongly suggesting that all modern polar bears are descended from the same extinct species.

The study found evidence of polar bear hybridization with a now-extinct population of brown bears that lived in Ireland and Britain during the last ice age. Brown bears are no longer found on the British Isles, and it had been thought that polar bears interbred more recently with brown bears living around Alaska. However, the samples used in the analysis came from the past 120,000 years and show that interbreeding of the two species occurred a great deal earlier. Climate change is thought to have presented opportunities for the two species to mate now and then in the past 100,000 years.

The evidence comes from a DNA analysis of fossil bones collected from the teeth and bones of seventeen bears from eight Irish caves. Ten Irish brown bears from between 10,000 and 38,000 years ago carried a distinct sequence of mitochondrial DNA, originating from a specific female brown bear, and this DNA sequence has been passed down the female polar bear line and is found in all polar bears today. It is not found in modern bears from Europe.

Fossils from the last species of ancient brown bears in Ireland, living from 3,000 to 5,000 years ago, have a different genetic fingerprint, matching neither that of polar bears nor of modern brown bears.

Cquote1.svg [A] likely genetic exchange with extinct Irish brown bears forms the origin of the modern polar bear matriline. Cquote2.svg

—Authors, Ancient Hybridization and an Irish Origin for the Modern Polar Bear Matriline

A member of the international team conducting the study, Dr Ceiridwen Edwards from Oxford University, said: “Hybridisation between ancient Irish brown bears and polar bears has led to the complete replacement of the original polar bear mitochondria. This maternal lineage is now present in all modern polar bears.”

The authors of the paper conclude that their evidence shows that matrilineal history of brown and polar bears suggest that “a likely genetic exchange with extinct Irish brown bears forms the origin of the modern polar bear matriline.” They suggest that hybridization may be more common than previously recognized and may be a way species deal with loss of their habitats when the environment is changing.


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July 7, 2011

Bahamas become fourth country to ban shark fishing

Bahamas become fourth country to ban shark fishing

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

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The Bahamas has become the fourth country to ban shark fishing
Image: Dr. James P. McVey, NOAA Sea Grant Program.

The Bahamas on Tuesday approved a law banning shark fishing in its waters, along with selling, importing and exporting shark products. This makes the Bahamas the fourth country to ban shark fishing, joining the Maldives, Honduras, and Palau. The 630,000 sq km of water around the Bahamas has now become an official shark sanctuary.

The ban is welcomed by many, including environmentalists. The President of the Bahamas National Trust, Neil McKinney, spoke about the issue saying, “They desperately need protection if we’re not going to drive them to extinction.” Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette also commented on the ban: “This is in keeping with the government’s commitment to pursue conservation policies and strategies in order to safeguard the marine and terrestrial environment.”

However, some feel that the ban will affect relations with China. Shark-fin soup is highly popular in China, with around 73 million sharks killed every year. To prepare shark-fin soup, the fins are often scraped off, and the body of the shark is thrown back into the water. A report published by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that shark populations have fallen by 70 to 80 per cent, with a third of all shark species being threatened or nearly threatened by extinction.



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January 26, 2010

Marine scientist says Australia\’s blobfish faces extinction

Marine scientist says Australia’s blobfish faces extinction

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

File:Blobfish.jpg

The blobfish
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Callum Roberts, a marine scientist with the Universtiy of York, has said he believes the blobfish to face extinction. The foot-long creature is under threat by bottom fishing trawlers off the southeastern Australian coast.

“The Australian and New Zealand deep trawling fishing fleets are some of the most active in the world so if you are a blobfish then it is not a good place to be,” said Roberts. The blobfish has never been observed outside of this small patch of ocean.

Blobfish, which are gelatinous, are rarely seen by humans owing to the depths they live at, going down as far as 800 metres. However, this area is shared by edible species such as crabs and lobsters and trawlers come in search of these. Inedible blobfish are dragged up with them.

Roberts, author of The Unnatural History of the Sea, explains that deep trawling is one of the world’s most destructive forms of fishing. He said that trawlers had destroyed large swathes of ocean at the 200 metre mark and were now “mov[ing] off those continental shelves and into the deep sea in areas a couple of thousand metres deep.” He described this as overfishing.

He went on to express concern for the worldwide effect of deep trawling, saying that the area of deep sea explored is “about the size of Paris, [deep seas]’s a really unexplored area, but we could be destroying it.”

He explained that previous efforts had been made to pass international law introducing regulations on deep trawling. “In 2006 conservationists came very close to achieving a global moratorium on restricting bottom trawling on the high seas.” Although activists “came within a whisker of that” they were thwarted by “Iceland [who] rejected it so the United Nations was charged with protecting the deep sea species.”

Roberts said that “Blobfish are very vulnerable to being dragged up in these nets.” The Daily Telegraph described the blobfish as “the world’s most miserable-looking fish,” and commented that the creature “ha[s] plenty to be miserable about.”



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