Whale-watching in Australia, war in the Falklands


This video from Australia is called Migaloo the White Whale Encounter.

By Peter Frost in Britain:

How to start a war and win an election

Friday 4th July 2014

Whale-watching in Australia leads PETER FROST to a forgotten story of a deception that led to the Falkland’s war

A year or so ago Ann and I spent time in Australia driving down the east coast in a motor-home. Highlight of the trip was watching the many whales from the headlands and beaches.

It was there we heard tales of a pure white humpback whale. It was a hard story to swallow, but the rumours of this great white whale had gone up and down the coast for over 25 years.

Now, it seems, the stories are proved true. Migaloo — his aboriginal name means White Fella — has been spotted and photographed close to Sydney and this has enabled whale scientists to discover a lot more about this amazing animal.

Migaloo is one of the few albino humpbacks in the world. Sadly as an albino he is more susceptible to UV damage in the bright Australian sunshine than darker humpbacks.

Indeed Migaloo watchers are worried about the 28-year-old whale’s health. Healthy humpbacks can live for 50 years but yellow and red patches on Migaloo’s skin suggest he may have skin disease or even cancer.

Humpbacks do bump into each other at play or when jostling for position when mating and it may be this that has caused the whale’s skin damage.

Meanwhile Migaloo is being studied and looked after. Watercraft are not allowed within 500 metres, aircraft no closer than 2,000 feet.

Watching these monarchs of the ocean prompted us to take a look at the history of British and Australian whaling.

We visited the old whaling station ports of Ballina and Byron Bay to learn a little about this huge, if cruel, industry.

The need for food fats in post-war Europe was critical. In the 1950s and 1960s Australia built a huge fleet of ex-wartime wooden Fairmile motor torpedo boats to hunt and kill thousands of whales. The whale oil was almost entirely used for the British margarine trade.

Scottish “Ten pound Pom” Harry Robertson recorded this hard life in song and story and on an amazing website brings this history alive — www.harryrobertson.net.

The Australian whaling fleet also ventured into Antarctic waters as competitors to the vast Scottish whaling company Christian Salvesen which built several hugely profitable whaling stations in the southern oceans — the first in the Falklands in 1907 and then another on the island of South Georgia. Their station at Leith Harbour, South Georgia, was named after the company’s home port in Scotland.

It was to South Georgia that Constantino Davidoff — an Argentinian scrap dealer — came in March 1982. He had a £180,000 contract from Christian Salvesen to dismantle the company’s derelict whaling station.

At the end of 1981 Davidoff had sought approval from the British ambassador in Buenos Aires. He had also spoken to the Falkland Island authorities.

Margaret Thatcher in London thought this might make a great excuse to flex her muscles in the South Atlantic. She declared the scrap metal workers were the advance party of an Argentinian invasion of South Georgia and told the press that the scrap-men had planted the Argentinian flag and were singing the Argentinian national anthem.

Thatcher despatched marines from the Falkland Islands and 39 scrap metal workers were detained. Argentina sent its troops to rescue them and landed in the Falkland Islands.

Two previously friendly countries were at war over a scrap of unwanted land 8,000 miles from London and 900 people would die before Argentina surrendered on June 14 1982.

Thatcher and the Tories would storm home in the 1983 general election and that, of course, was the whole point of the exercise.

In an ultimate irony, British forces contracted Argentinian scrap dealers to clear away the post-war debris of the many Falkland battles.

King penguins avoiding wet feet, video


This video from the Falkland islands says about itself:

Penguin Dilemma

Cute, funny penguin couple overcome an obstacle in the rainy, windy elements. Shot near Volunteer Point in the South Atlantic Ocean by Carole Anne (babers201) and Ron. Edited by paulgrem.

Copyrighted by Carole Anne and paulgrem.

Music by Kevin MacLeod under Creative Commons by Attribution 3.0.

Songs used:

Danse of Questionable Tuning
Sneaky Snooper
Conflicted
Scheming Weasel faster

These are king penguins.

A study of how penguin populations have changed over the last 30,000 years has shown that between the last ice age and up to around 1,000 years ago penguin populations benefitted from climate warming and retreating ice. This suggests that recent declines in penguins may be because ice is now retreating too far or too fast: here.

Today’s vast amounts of melted sea ice, caused by global warming, have left icebergs free to roam for most of the year, and batter the boulders on the shallow seabed, and the sea life that thrive there: here.

Falkland Islands wolves mystery solved


Old Falkland wolf family tree

From Wildlife Extra:

Mystery solved – Where did Falkland Islands wolves come from?

Ancient DNA solves 320-year-old mystery

March 2013. University of Adelaide researchers have found the answer to one of natural history’s most intriguing puzzles – the origins of the now extinct Falkland Islands wolf and how it came to be the only land-based mammal on the isolated islands – 460km from the nearest land, Argentina.
Previous theories have suggested the wolf somehow rafted on ice or vegetation, crossed via a now-submerged land bridge or was even semi-domesticated and transported by early South American humans.

Darwin questions

The 320-year-old mystery was first recorded by early British explorers in 1690 and raised again by Charles Darwin following his encounter with the famously tame species on his Beagle voyage in 1834.

New stuffed specimen found in New Zealand

Researchers from the University’s Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) extracted tiny pieces of tissue from the skull of a specimen collected personally by Darwin. They also used samples from a previously unknown specimen, which was recently re-discovered as a stuffed exhibit in the attic of Otago Museum in New Zealand.

16,000 years ago

The findings concluded that, unlike earlier theories, the Falkland Islands wolf (Dusicyon australis) only became isolated about 16,000 years ago around the peak of the last glacial period.

“Previous studies used ancient DNA from museum specimens to suggest that the Falkland Islands wolf diverged genetically from its closest living relative, the South American maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus) around seven million years ago. As a result, they estimated that the wolf colonised the islands about 330,000 years ago by unknown means,” says Associate Professor Jeremy Austin, Deputy Director of ACAD and co-lead author with Dr Julien Soubrier.

“Critically, however, these early studies hadn’t included an extinct relative from the mainland, the fox-like Dusicyon avus. We extracted ancient DNA from six specimens of D. avus collected across Argentina and Chile, and made comparisons with a wide group of extinct and living species in the same family.”

ACAD’s analyses showed that D. avus was the closest relative of the Falkland Islands wolf and they separated only 16,000 years ago – but the question of how the island colonisation came about remained. The absence of other mammals argued against any land bridge connection to the mainland.

Eureka moment

“The Eureka moment was finding evidence of submarine terraces off the coast of Argentina,” says study leader Professor Alan Cooper. “They recorded the dramatically lowered sea levels during the Last Glacial Maximum (around 25-18,000 years ago).”

“At that time, there was a shallow and narrow (around 20km) strait between the islands and the mainland, allowing the Falkland Islands wolf to cross when the sea was frozen over, probably while pursuing marine prey like seals or penguins. Other small mammals like rats weren’t able to cross the ice.”

The study was published in Nature Communications.