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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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This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 licence. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

April 21, 2014

Wikinews interviews Paúl M. Velazco about new yellow-shouldered bat species

Wikinews interviews Paúl M. Velazco about new yellow-shouldered bat species

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Monday, April 21, 2014

Paul Velazco with a Vampyrum spectrum.
Image: Marco Tschapka.

Distribution range of species formerly ascribed to Sturnira lilium (gray tone) and the type localities (stars) of species in the S. lilium complex.
Image: Paúl M. Velazco.

Scientists at Chicago‘s Field Museum and New York‘s American Museum of Natural History have discovered three new species of yellow-shouldered bats, genus Sturnira, in the Neotropics. On Wednesday open-access journal ZooKeys published their paper on two of the new species, Sturnira bakeri and Sturnira burtonlimi. The two new species were previously confused with S. ludovici, and S. lilium and S. luisi, respectively. With the discovery, genus Sturnira now has the most species of any genus in family Phyllostomidae, the leaf-nosed bats.

Species S. bakeri was named after Dr. Robert J. Baker, who “has made enormous contributions to our [Authors of the ZooKey paper] understanding of bats, particularly to the evolution of Neotropical phyllostomids”; and S. burtonlimi after Dr. Burton K. Lim, who “collected the type series of this species and has made many other important collections throughout the Neotropics and beyond”, the authors noted in the paper.

Within the New World tropics, the distribution range of the genus, the new species’ known living areas are in Costa Rica and Panama for S. burtonlimi, and Western Ecuador for S. bakeri. The researchers identified differences between different specimens, including those in their teeth, skull shapes, and DNA sequences.

Wikinews interviewed one of the chiropterologists, Paúl M. Velazco of the American Museum of Natural History, about the study.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWikinewsWikinews waves Right.png The Sturnira genus now has 22 species, over 1.5 times larger than it was a year ago (14 species). Who contributed to this change? Did you participate throughout the entire process, or only the discovery of the last 2 species?

Paúl M. Velazco: The last Mammal Species of the World (Simmons, 2005) recognized 14 species for Sturnira. Since then three new species have been described [S. sorianoi Sánchez-Hernández et al., 2005; S. koopmanhilli McCarthy et al., 2006; and S. perla Jarrín-V. and Kunz, 2011] and one subspecies was elevated to the species level (S. hondurensis) by Gardner (2008). This brought the number of species of Sturnira to 18 by 2011. Along with my coauthor Bruce Patterson, we generated the most comprehensive phylogeny of the genus. For this we sequenced two nuclear and three mitochondrial genes from the liver or muscle tissue that had been frozen or preserved from each bat specimen, isolating nearly 5,000 base pairs of DNA. These sequences were obtained from specimens we have collected in the past (38) and from tissues we borrowed from different natural history collections. We published this phylogeny last year in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. Results of this study found that two subspecies of Sturnira lilium should be recognized as valid species (S. parvidens and S. paulsoni). Additionally we found three new species, two of them described in the ZooKeys paper. The third one hopefully will be published later this year.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The genus is called Sturnira Gray in the paper. I’ve not seen extra adjectives in genus names, before. What is the context for such name?

PMV: Usually in papers that deal with taxonomy and nomenclature, the first time that a genus or species is mentioned in text is accompanied by the authority that describes that taxon. In the case of Sturnira, it was Gray in 1842 that named the genus.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What caused your initial interest in the question in the genus? When did you become interested?

PMV: I have been studying bats for the past eighteen years and I am especially interested in the family Phyllostomidae that is endemic to the Neotropics. This family includes more than 160 species. It is the most diverse family of bats in the Neotropics, which together exhibits more variation in morphological features and feeding ecology than any other family-level group of mammals. Phyllostomid bats exploit an unusually diverse array of feeding habits including sanguivory, insectivory, carnivory, omnivory, nectarivory, pollennivory, and frugivory. Because of all mentioned before, phyllostomids are a really interesting group to work with. Sturnira and Platyrrhinus are members of this family.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png The paper mentions that the genus is now the most speciose genus in the Neotropical family Phyllostomidae. What genus did it beat? How many species does it include?

PMV: The other genus with the most species in the family is Platyrrhinus. Currently, it has 20 species, but soon it will increase to 21. Along with another colleague, Burton Lim, we have a paper in press describing a new species based on molecular and morphological data from the Guianan Shield.

Dorsolateral views of the left mandibular toothrows in Sturnira bakeri (A, QCAZ 14635 ♀) and S. burtonlimi (B, ROM 104294 ♂), illustrating taxonomic differences in the shape of the metaconid and entoconid of m1 and m2.
Image: Paúl M. Velazco.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What equipment did you use?

PMV: For the ZooKeys paper, we examined several specimens under the stereoscope. The molecular phylogeny gave us the separation between species, from there our job was to focus on finding morphological differences between these groups.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Did you conduct field study to identify the species’ habits? If so, where and how did you do that?

PMV: I have done fieldwork in Belize and Peru, and my coauthor did field work in Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru, where we collected several specimens of Sturnira (including the third species that has not been described yet). But the two species that were described in the ZooKeys paper are based on specimens collected by our colleagues Dr. Robert Baker from Texas Tech University and Dr. Burton Lim from the Royal Ontario Museum.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png How do you isolate of the living area of the new species from the living area of the old species?

PMV: We used the phylogeny of Velazco and Patterson 2013 (Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution) as a framework for this.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png How long did the study take? What has been the most time-consuming activity?

PMV: It took almost a year. The most time consuming part was spending several hours behind the stereoscope looking for the diagnostic characters.

Sturnira tildae
Image: Burton K. Lim.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Who participated in the study? What were their roles?

PMV: Dr. Bruce Patterson from the [American] Museum of Natural History and I. I was the one in charge of finding the diagnostic characters and together we both worked on the manuscript.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png Who do you collaborate with internationally about your study?

PMV: For this study I collaborated directly with Dr. Bruce Patterson from the Field Museum of Natural History, but studies like this cannot be completed without the contribution of scientific collections. We used specimens from the American Museum of Natural History, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Louisiana State University, Museum of Southwestern Biology, Museo de Historia Natural de la Universidad Nacional de San Marcos, Museo de Zoología of the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Museum of Vertebrate Zoology at Berkeley, Royal Ontario Museum, Texas Tech University, and the National Museum of Natural History.

Wikinews waves Left.pngWNWikinews waves Right.png What future research do you plan?

PMV: To keep doing what I love, which is going to the field, working at collections, and collaborating with the wonderful collaborators I have, all of this is an effort to try to understand bat diversity and evolution in the Neotropics, especially why phyllostomid bats are so successful at this. There is still much to discover, and hopefully we could, in time, implement conservation actions for species that have small distributions.



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This text comes from Wikinews. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 licence. For a complete list of contributors for this article, visit the corresponding history entry on Wikinews.

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