A Fish Caught in Time

A Fish Caught in Time: The Search for the Coelacanth by Samantha Weinberg

Rating: ★★★★★

This is the modern history of the discovery of living Coelacanths (pronounced ‘seel-uh-kanths’). Since there have been exciting developments since 1998, it serves as a background text well worth reading especially for the human side of the story, the personalities involved, also a record of the petty exploitation and destruction these unique creatures have suffered since their rediscovery. Samantha Weinberg details the circumstances that led up to their protected status.

A few days before Christmas in 1938, a Coelacanth was caught at the mouth of the Chalumna River on the east coast of South Africa. The fish was caught by Captain Goosen and his crew, who had no idea of the significance of their find. They thought the fish was unusual enough to alert the curator of the local museum in the small South African town of East London, Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer.

She almost didn’t make the trek down to the docks because it was hot and she was busy. It was fortunate she did. She saw the strange blue fish and, as she said later, declared it was “the most beautiful fish I had ever seen…” She bought the animal and proceeded to take it back with her. After an argument with a cabbie who didn’t want to take the smelly carcass in his taxi, Courtenay-Latimer got it to the museum. However, once she was there she had no refrigeration facilities in which to keep such a large specimen and neither the local cold-storage warehouse nor the mortuary would cooperate. Turning to a local taxidermist, she had the animal and its viscera preserved as best she could. Then she wrote to J L B Smith telling him the story and including a sketch of the unusual animal. Smith was a South African chemistry professor who had taught himself ichthyology..

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William J Long 1866- 1952

William Joseph Long was an American writer, naturalist and minister. He lived and worked in Stamford, Connecticut.

Samuel Clemens

As a naturalist, he would leave Stamford every March, often with his two daughters Lois and Cesca, to travel to ‘the wilderness’ of Maine. William Long believed that the best way to experience the wild was to plant yourself and sit for hours on end to let the wild creatures “come to you; and they will!”

They would stay in the wilderness until the first snows of October, although sometimes he would stay all winter. In the 1920s, he began spending his summers in Nova Scotia, claiming “the wilderness is getting too crowded”.

He shared many of the same ideas of ‘wilderness America’ conserving and revitalizing the human spirit, as John Burroughs, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau, although as independent minded men, they were somewhat critical of each other.

He wrote of these wilderness experiences in the books Ways of Wood Folk (1899), Wilderness Ways (1900), Wood Folk at School (1903), Northern Trails (1905), Wood-folk Comedies (1920), and many others. His style was homely, individualistic, and compassionate, but perhaps lacking realism. Many of his early books were issued in school editions under the title of The Wood Folk Series.

He had a keen interest in the development of English and American Literature. Outlines of English and American Literature : An Introduction.. published in 1909, is written in such a charming style, I will devote the following Post to present its introductory material. It is freely available on the Internet.

Because of the increased interest in the natural world as a reaction to industrialization and urban life, many of his books were studied in the schools of the time. However, John Burroughs, adviser to President Roosevelt, accused William Long of gross exaggeration, if not outright lies, regarding his books and the reflections of nature therein. In March 1903, Burroughs published an article entitled “Real and Sham Natural History” in the Atlantic Monthly.

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The Grand Design

The Grand Design published on September 9th 2010, these are some pre-launch comments.

Tap Grand Design’ into Amazon currently, and it will show you books and DVD’s associated with the TV series. Tell any of the architects or designers that feature on that programme that their efforts in renovating or creating new buildings were a product of chance, or ‘self- creation’ and they might rightly feel insulted. They might also feel their intelligence had been insulted too. My point is the same as that of the apostle Paul, ‘Of course, every house is constructed by someone, but he that constructed all things is God’ (Heb.3:4). The Athenians of the time held diverse views, only one of which was that the Creator was unknown, or unknowable (Acts 17: 23).

Professor Stephen Hawking has claimed that no divine force was needed to explain why the Universe was formed. In A Brief History of Time , he differentiated between partial theories that help explain aspects of what we observe about the Universe, and the ‘holy grail’ of science, a single theory that explains all phenomena, or if you like, a ‘Theory of Everything’.  He appears as far from this goal as ever.

The sub-title, ‘New answers to the ultimate questions of life’,  inevitably reminded me of the scene in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, when the central characters meet Slartibartfast, a planetary coastline designer who was responsible for the fjords of Norway. He relates the story of how a super-race built a computer named Deep Thought in order to calculate ‘The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything’. When the answer was revealed to be 42, Deep Thought predicted that another computer, more powerful than itself, would be necessary in order to calculate the question for the answer.

In his latest book,The Grand Design, an extract of which was published in Eureka magazine in The Times , Professor Hawking said: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.” He added: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.” He concludes: ‘The Big Bang was the result of the inevitable laws of physics and did not need God to spark the creation of the Universe’..

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Best of Friends

After losing his parents, this three year old orangutan, named Suryia, was so  depressed he wouldn’t eat and didn’t respond to  any medical treatments.  The veterinarians thought he would surely die from sadness. Primates and dogs are usually wary of one another.   The zoo keepers found an old homesick dog on  the grounds in the park at the zoo where the  orangutan lived and took the dog home to the animal  treatment center.  The dog, named Roscoe, kept returning to see the orangutan. The two lost souls bonded, share food, and have been  inseparable ever since.

The orangutan  found a new reason to live and each always tries his best to be a good companion to his new found friend.  They are together twenty four hours a day in all their activities. See the video, it is really something to watch them together, riding the elephant, swinging on the stair rail, clinging to a bicycle and rolling together on grass. They live in  Northern California where swimming is their favorite pastime, although Suryia (the orangutan) is a little afraid of the water and needs his friend’s help to swim..

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Wildlife of Scotland

Rating: ★★★★★

Wildlife of Scotland (1979) Fred Holliday (ed)

In this 1979 198 page book, commissioned by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, eleven writers have presented a comprehensive, yet personal survey of the wildlife inhabiting Scotland’s rich and varied landscape. Man’s influence upon the land and the animals, past and present, has been given special attention, and inevitably sounds a warning for the future.

People are not now so directly dependent upon the land, communications are vastly improved, wildlife is increasingly accepted as a source of pleasure and deserving of protection, and hence there is reason for optimism. However, it is certainly reasonable in return to collectively and individually conserve the habitats of native wildlife, to minimise or eliminate the loss of plant and animal species regardless of how aesthetically pleasing or useful on a practical level..

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The Grey Whale (Eschrichtius robustus)

The Grey Whale is not one of the larger whales, but adults can reach 55ft. It has no dorsal fin, but is distinguished by a series of low bumps on the back near the tail. It has a smallish head (in proportion to the body), with two or three shallow grooves on the throat, and two blow-holes. The baleen, the means by which whales filter small crustaceans from mud and water, is hair-like, short and thick, with coarse, frayed inner edges. Sometimes the snout is seen covered in mud, or with barnacles adhering to it. These appear to irritate it, and may be a reason they seek out brackish, shore water to dislodge them. The body streamlining is also affected.

This whale is probably best known today for the extraordinary annual migration between the Arctic feeding grounds, and the breeding and calf-rearing grounds off the coast of Baja California. Grey whales undertake the longest  migration of any known mammal, and researchers have suggested that these epic journeys could also be driven by the threat of predation from killer whales.

Its habit of venturing within sight of land to breed almost caused its extinction. In the days of intensive whaling, in the 1870’s, something remarkable was noticed. The whales had changed their migration habits and were avoiding the coastal areas. By what means could whales who experienced the dangers posed by whalers near the coasts communicate this to others within the population?  At the same time, they were known as ‘devil-fish’ among whalers, and had a reputation for fierceness and aggression, attacking boats with little provocation. They swim faster than the similarly sized sperm whale, and once harpooned, would charge frantically about, capsizing boats and drowning men..

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Hugh Miller, The Cromarty Stonemason 1802- 1856

Cromarty today is a quiet little town on the Black Isle, North-east Scotland. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, however, it was an important fishing centre, and an important trade supplying the needs of visiting shipping sheltering in the firth nearby, brought relative prosperity.

Born on 10 October 1802, as a boy, Hugh loved the rocky shores and wooded hills of the Black Isle, which he explored, sometimes alone or with friends, sometimes with his uncles, who taught him to appreciate the teeming wildlife of sea, shore and countryside. At nightfall, by the glow of a cottage fire, he was entranced by the tales the old folk could tell, as they passed the long winter evenings.

His father having died at sea when he was five, he developed a certain self-reliance, and so, despite his uncle’s offer to fund a college place, at seventeen he decided to become a stonemason. He knew the trade was hard, but also that the slack winter months would allow him to study natural history and literature, his true vocation. For the next fifteen years, he travelled all over the north of Scotland, quarrying, stone-cutting and building. During this time, as he laboured, he made many of the geological observations familiar in his writings. The Old Red Sandstone, until then little known to fossil collectors or geologists, became his particular interest. Continue reading Hugh Miller, The Cromarty Stonemason 1802- 1856

The Facts of Life- Shattering the Myth of Darwinism

Rating: ★★★★☆

The Facts of Life: Shattering the Myth of Darwinism by Richard Milton

I initially picked up Richard Milton’s 1992 book (since revised in 1997), on the strength of the title, and as an introductory look at the evolution debate. It goes without saying that at present there are many more books for than against evolution, but for two reasons I was interested in this one. I too, believe evolution as taught fatally flawed, but also read both sides of the argument in order to understand more about the physical world, and also how men choose to present evidence (see  Darwin on Trial by lawyer Phillip Johnson). This issue is, I believe, of such importance, I welcome a trained journalist examining it.

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The Huia and the Honeyguide

What similarity is there between two species of birds, very different in many ways? They both cause major difficulties for evolutionists, and in their behaviour, exhibit forms of symbiosis that confound Darwinian natural selection. No explanation they offer has convinced me, look at the facts for yourself.

The Huia The Huia belonged to a family found only in New Zealand, a family so ancient that no relation is found elsewhere. Only the Moa and the Kiwi are likely to be older.  Before the arrival of Europeans it was already a rare bird, confined to the mountain ranges in the south east of the North Island.

The Huia was a bird of deep metallic, bluish-black plumage with a greenish iridescence on the upper surface, especially about the head. The tail feathers were striking in having a broad white band across tips.

At the base of the bill, on either side of the mouth hung the fleshy wattles characteristic of the family Callaeidae, which were bright orange in the Huia. In both sexes the bill colour was ivory white and the legs were bluish grey. In size the Huia were slightly larger than the introduced Australian magpie.

But the most remarkable feature of the species was the marked difference in size and shape of the bill and this difference was so extreme to cause early ornithologists, such as the renowned John Gould, to think that the male and female belonged to different species.

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