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The Walrus Knows


There’s a very interesting article in the Science section of today’s New York Times on the Walrus. They are magnificent creatures. I’ve always been fascinated by them.

NATALIE ANGIER the author of the New York Times article received this advice before her first Walrus meet-up:

Just as we were entering the walrus house at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in Vallejo, Calif., however, Dr. Schusterman tossed out a bit of advice. “The first thing the walruses will do when they come over is start pushing at you, pressing their heads right into your stomach,” he said. “Don’t let them get away with that. No matter how hard they push, you have to stand your ground.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Yeah, 2000 lbs is rushing towards me and I’ll just push it back. No problem.

With all the sighs and gloomy warnings for the future of the Polar Bear, I have to admit that I feel more kinship with the Walrus. I fear for their future. They are unique in all the world. From the New York Times article:

Evidence suggests that the bonds between walruses are exceptionally strong: the animals share food, come to one another’s aid when under attack and nurse one another’s young, a particularly noteworthy behavior given the cost in energy of synthesizing a pinniped’s calorically rich, fatty milk.

The look of the Walrus is charming, laughable and, still, it doesn’t quite invite an embrace. Yet, they are much more embraceable than any bear.

Walruses want so much to be with other walruses that if there are no other walruses around, they will make do with the next available large object.

How positively snuggly is that? It gets better. Walruses sing:

Walruses sing with their fleshy and muscular lips, tongues, muzzles and noses. They sing by striking their flippers against their chests to hit their pharyngeal pouches, balloon-like extensions of the trachea that are unique to Odobenus and that also serve as flotation devices.

What else? They play their own instrumental accompaniment.

The breadth of the walruses’ creativity exceeded all expectations, not only during training sessions but also during downtime. Dr. Reichmuth said one walrus figured out how to use a rubber toy in the pool as an instrument by pressing it against a window and blasting air through it until it sounded like a bugle. Soon two other walruses in the pool had learned to do the same thing.

They’re brilliant fantastic animals and more snuggly than 99.99% of the humans and bears on the planet.

May 20, 2008   No Comments

Platypus Genome (Ornithorhynchus anatinus)

To me, the decoding of the Platypus Genome coming out in Nature this week is uber cool. It’s one of those slap yourself why didn’t I think of this moments. From the NY Times review of the research:

In their investigation of the platypus genetic blueprint, the scientists found that its genome contains about 18,500 genes, similar to other vertebrates and about two-thirds the size of the human genome. The platypus shares 82 percent of its genes with the human, mouse, dog, opossum and chicken. Some repeated elements in the genome, the scientists noted, hold hints as to the chronology of changes in the platypus.

In other words, the genome is everything you would expect from an evolutionary perspective. This work is also reviewed on the BBC and you can see a great video on the Nature web site.

May 7, 2008   No Comments