Sharks counted in Australian seas


By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News:

Australia Shark Count Breaking Records

April 28, 2008 — Australians apparently have a good chance of spotting a shark in the wild, since a new project called the Great Australia Shark Count has thus far determined at least 4,022 sharks swim in waters surrounding the land down under. …

While the project will continue throughout the year, the current most reported shark is the wobbegong [see also here], with 903 sightings. The grey nurse shark follows, with 733, and Port Jackson sharks round out the top three with a count of 519.

Other commonly spotted sharks include the grey reef shark, the whitetip reef shark, whale sharks, the blacktip reef shark, the tiger shark, gill sharks and the toothy great white. So far, participants have recorded 13 great white sightings.

Grey nurse shark video: here.

Ten captive bred wobbegong sharks tagged and released in Sydney: here.

Ningaloo Reef nomination for World Heritage status: here.

Grey nurse shark monitoring project launched in Australia: here.

Tiny Whale shark pup caught and released in the Philippines: here.

Greater white toothed shrew, a new species for Ireland


Greater white toothed shrew

From Queens University in Ireland:

For good or ill Ireland gains another mammal species

Dave Tosh, from the School of Biological Sciences at Queens University, found the greater white-toothed shrew in Tipperary and Limerick while working with University College Cork and BirdWatch Ireland. Its natural range is in parts of Africa, France and Germany and before now the closest it has been spotted to Ireland is in the Channel Islands.

As part of his PhD, Dave was studying the diet of the Barn Owl in Ireland. Last winter John Lusby, Barn Owl Research Officer from Bird Watch Ireland, sent him pellets (regurgitated food remains) from owls in Tipperary and Limerick to help with the study.

Dave explained: “It was amongst a batch that I was about to dry in an oven, that I noticed a very large shrew skull.

“Having looked at hundreds of pellets from Ireland already I knew that what I was looking at was very unusual as our native pygmy shrew is very small in comparison.

“I ended up looking through more and more pellets and discovered more and more of the strange shrew skulls.”

In March seven greater white-toothed shrews were trapped at four locations in Tipperary and their existence has just been recorded in the scientific journal Mammal Review.

Professor Ian Montgomery, Head of the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s, says the animal is likely to have been introduced recently to Ireland and the discovery of a new mammal species in Ireland is extremely rare.

“Most species which occur in Ireland also occur in Britain but the nearest this species of shrew has been found is on the Channel Islands and the Scilly Isles.

“These records are evidence of at least one recent introduction event, probably accidental, from continental Europe to Ireland and has resulted in a rapid increase in numbers over a short period.”

The discovery, however, raises issues related to ecological impact and control which need to be further researched. While the shrew is likely to sustain threatened birds of prey including the barn owl, it could lead to the loss of small native mammals including the pygmy shrew.

See also here.

The study showed that mitochondrial DNA lineages of three small mammal species – bank vole, field vole and pygmy shrew – form a ‘Celtic fringe.’ The researchers say that these small mammals colonised Britain, when it was still connected to continental Europe, in a two-phase process at the end of the last Ice Age: here.

Shrews in Texel, the Netherlands: here. And here.

Crocidura leucodon in the Netherlands: here.

Solenodon: here. And here. And here. And here.

Venomous mammal, the Hispaniola solenodon, and Hispaniola hutia targets of new study: here.

Pleistocene giant shrew Dolinasorex: here.

Marine animal fossils in Egyptian pyramids


By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News:

Egypt’s Pyramids Packed With Seashells

April 25, 2008 — Many of Egypt’s most famous monuments, such as the Sphinx and Cheops, contain hundreds of thousands of marine fossils, most of which are fully intact and preserved in the walls of the structures, according to a new study.

The study’s authors suggest that the stones that make up the examined monuments at Giza plateau, Fayum and Abydos must have been carved out of natural stone since they reveal what chunks of the sea floor must have looked like over 4,000 years ago, when the buildings were erected.

“The observed random emplacement and strictly homogenous distribution of the fossil shells within the whole rock is in harmony with their initial in situ setting in a fluidal sea bottom environment,” wrote Ioannis Liritzis and his colleagues from the University of the Aegean and the University of Athens.

The researchers analyzed the mineralogy, as well as the chemical makeup and structure, of small material samples chiseled from the Sphinx Temple, the Osirion Shaft, the Valley Temple, Cheops, Khefren, Osirion at Abydos, the Temple of Seti I at Abydos and Qasr el-Sagha at Fayum.

X-ray diffraction and radioactivity measurements, which can penetrate solid materials to help illuminate their composition, were carried out on the samples.

The analysis determined the primary building materials were “pinky” granites, black and white granites, sandstones and various types of limestones. The latter was found to contain “numerous shell fossils of nummulites gen.” At Cheops alone, “(they constituted) a proportion of up to 40 percent of the whole building stone rock.”

The findings have been accepted for publication in the Journal of Cultural Heritage.

Nummulites, meaning “little coins,” are simple marine organisms. Shells of those that lived during the Eocene period around 55.8 to 33.9 million years ago are most commonly found in Egyptian limestone. Fossils for the organisms have also been unearthed at other sites, such as in Turkey and throughout the Mediterranean.

When horizontally bisected, a nummulite appears as a perfect spiral. Since they were common in ancient Egypt, it’s believed the shells were actually used as coins, perhaps explaining their name.

Fossils for ancient relatives to sand dollars, starfish and sea urchins were also detected in the Egyptian limestone.

Tusk Shells: Fossils of the Lincoln Creek Formation: here.

Between 1887 and 1889, the British archaeologist W.M. Flinders Petrie turned his attention to the Fayum, a sprawling oasis region 150 miles south of Alexandria. Excavating a vast cemetery from the first and second centuries A.D., when imperial Rome ruled Egypt, he found scores of exquisite portraits executed on wood panels by anonymous artists, each one associated with a mummified body. Petrie eventually uncovered 150: here.