Stories tagged New Zealand

MinuteEarth digs into the tricky balance of trying to manage invasive species.

Jan
31
2011

Leigh and I have safely arrive in Christchurch, preparing for our second trip to Antarctica this field season. We flew down with several folks that will be wintering over on the ice. For some, this is their first trip to the ice ever, for others, this has just become a bit routine.

The weather here is a bit chilly and overcast this evening, with a very nice forecast for the next two days. The forecast for our friends and family back home in KS is not nearly as positive. I guess that all depends on how you look at it though.

It's already been a crazy winter, and now this! I'm not going to lie, there is a part of me that really wishes I was going to be there for this one. I'm obviously a person that doesn't mind the cold weather or snow. Safe travels to everyone back in the Midwest! Stay safe and warm! We'll try to do the same down south.

Pop QUIZ: How would you describe the job of a Petroleum Transfer Engineer?

A major earthquake (magnitude 7.0) has struck near Christchurch, the second-largest city in New Zealand. Early reports describe extensive damage, but few injuries.

Wonder what magnitude really means?

Sep
26
2008

Could it be?: Precious ambergris? Or just beach cheese.
Could it be?: Precious ambergris? Or just beach cheese.Courtesy sarae
Oh, Fergie, you’ve ruined my life. And music.

Anyway, New Zealand seems to be a little grosser these days. Several huge, greasy “lumps” have been found on the shores of the North Island in the last week, leaving locals confused, disgusted, and hopeful that a fortune in whale puke is right around the corner. (This may be the default feeling for kiwis, but I don’t follow the news there enough to say for sure.)

The 1000-pound lumps are whitish, lard-like, and a little smelly. The dogs of the beachcombers who first discovered the objects were reportedly reluctant to touch or eat the material, which is a strange thing for a dog that has found something on the beach.

Locals were quick to assume that the lumps could be precious ambergris, highly valuable whale vomit used in cosmetics, and were seen hacking chunks off of the mystery blobs. Their retirements, they reckoned, would be full of featherbeds and yams. (Again, I’m sorry, I just don’t know what New Zealanders are into.)

Ambergris’ name comes from the French for “grey amber” (as opposed to “brown amber,” fossilized tree sap), and is in fact, for those of you behind on your cetology, sperm whale puke. Sperm whales, like the rest of us, love to puke. And it’s important that your average sperm whale gets a good puke in now and again to eject any sand or stones they might have taken in over the course of… you know, I don’t really understand sperm whales any more than New Zealanders. But somehow they get grit in them, and they regularly and easily hurl it out. It seems, however, that some materials, like the beaks of cuttlefish and squid, are particularly irritating to whale guts, and something different happens—a special puke. It’s not known if the ambrein (the fragrant main ingredient in ambergris) comes from the beaks themselves, or if the chemical comes from the whale’s digestive process acting on the offending materials, but eventually a big ball of pasty goo is formed inside the whale, ready to be puked out. The ambergris initially smells pretty foul, but after floating around for a while, and being hardened and broken down by sunlight, it becomes a very complex and valuable material. Depending on the quality, it can fetch up to $15,000 per kg from perfume makers, to be used as a high-quality fixative.

Giant squids come in, I like to think, as an appropriate source for this bizarre, valuable material. Sperm whales are, after all, the prime predators of the giant squid, and giant squid have awfully big, gut-irritating beaks. It’s a link I like to make.

Anyhow, a lot of New Zealanders were set on making their fortune with this so-called whale puke. Ambergris, however, is said to burn with a blue flame when lit, and give off a pleasant aroma. When the mystery material was subjected to this test “it just melted and really stank.” Ooh. Ouch.

After this revelation, guesses on the material compositions were downgraded from ambergris to lard or cheese—“possibly brie.” The lumps are, it should be noted, about the size and shape of 44-gallon drums, which should have been a tip-off. But whatever.

Jul
10
2008

Going, going, gone?: Will global warming doom the tuatara?
Going, going, gone?: Will global warming doom the tuatara?Courtesy Andrew_mrt1976

The tuatara looks like a lizard, but it ain’t. It actually split off from the lizard family tree some 200 million years ago, frolicked with the dinosaurs, and is considered a “living fossil.”

How much longer it will go on living is a matter of some debate. Restricted to a few small islands off New Zealand, the tuatara has long been classified as a vulnerable species. But some researchers feel it faces a new threat: global warming.

Many reptile reproductive systems are tuned to temperature. If the weather is warm, a male hatches. If the climate is cold, the egg produces a female. Some researchers fear that warming temperatures will lead to nothing but male tuataras within 75 years, ending the species’ 200-million-year run.

Most of the article is hidden behind a subscription wall, so I don’t know if the researchers ever get around to explaining how the tuatara survived the much, much warmer temperatures of the Mesozoic, and the much, much cooler temperatures of the Ice Ages, without going extinct then, too. But I’m sure it’s a beautiful explanation, though.

Jun
08
2008

The face of the enemy: Know it well.  They wait, biding their time, building up the strength of their numbers, and of their horrible, secret weapon of doom!
The face of the enemy: Know it well. They wait, biding their time, building up the strength of their numbers, and of their horrible, secret weapon of doom!Courtesy foxypar4

That’s sheep farts to you and me, and apparently it’s a major problem. There are over one billion sheep in the world. They spend their day, standing in the meadow, gamboling playfully, watching Sam, the big shaggy cartoon sheep dog, foil the ingenious but inevitably futile efforts of Ralph, the wolf who looks suspiciously like a coyote.

And eating. Grass is what sheep eat. Unfortunately, they can’t digest it. Instead, they have little tiny microbes in their stomachs (four stomachs per sheep) that break down the plant fiber for them.

Unfortunately, microbes are rude little creatures, emitting methane gas with every mouthful and nary an “excuse me” to be heard. The methane builds up inside the ovine until it escapes in the form of sheep farts. (And, seriously, if you ever have a chance to write an essay that can justifiably include the phrase “sheep farts,” then you should seize the opportunity and use the term just as often as you possibly can.)

Anyway, the methane (a.k.a. sheep farts) gets into the atmosphere where, some would have it, it will trap heat and warm the globe and eventually destroy civilization as we know it. This may or may not be a bad thing, but I personally would hate to see my home destroyed just because of sheep farts.

Fortunately some researchers in New Zealand have come to our rescue. These plucky kiwis are tackling the sheep fart menace head-on, trying to develop a vaccination that will improve the microbes’ table manners. An anxious world holds its breath – partly in anticipation of the coming breakthrough in sheep fart technology, but mostly in response to the sheep farts themselves.

We’ve done our best here on Science Buzz to dispel the myths of sharks gobbling up surfers and other ocean goers. Now here comes this story from New Zealand (doesn’t all the weird stuff seem to happen there?) about one surfer’s really bad day.