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February 2003 Vol. 18, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Flotsam & Jetsam

from the February, 2003 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Ever Heard of a Safety Sausage, Mate? Englishman Bobby Ratib, his Dutch girlfriend, two other tourist divers, and an instructor guiding them spent 24 hours adrift. Their dive boat driver missed them on a drift dive off Sri Lanka. Diving with a shop in the town of Negombo, Ratib said: "The plan was to go down, drift with the current, then come up some distance away -- but the boatman didn't realize what was going on. When we surfaced 50 meters from where we'd started, he couldn't see us. We shouted to him but in vain. All the time we were being carried further away by the current. It was very frightening, but I knew we had to remain calm. ... I kept telling the others to hold on to each other, to relax, and to gently kick our way towards shore, but there were strong winds and the sea became heavy." Rattib said he and his girlfriend survived by holding hands and following the stars until a fishing boat plucked them to safety a full day and night later ... and after the official search had been called off. All five recovered at a private hospital in the town, in time for New Year's Eve.

For a Sea Snake, There's No Place Like Home: The yellow-lipped sea krait, a sea snake that fascinates divers in the south Pacific, has been hunted to near extinction in both the Philippines and Japan. So Singapore scientists speculated that they could transplant snakes from other islands. To test their hypothesis, they set up camp on Fiji's uninhabited Mabualau island to compare snake populations there and on Toberua, a resort island 5.3 kilometers away. Snakes from both islands travel out to feed in the shallow waters between the two islands, so scientists captured and marked them, then released them all on Mabualau. A year later they recaptured 530 marked snakes. All had returned to their original homes. New Scientist, 5 October 2002.

Lobster, Too: Researchers Larry Boles and Kenneth Lohmann caught several spiny lobsters in the Florida Keys and took them to a laboratory 10 miles away. They carried the lobsters in an opaque container and in water from the collection site so they would not have any visual or chemical cues. At the testing site, they covered their eyes and yet they always figured out where they were relative to the collection site and walked in the direction of their home. "When we produced a magnetic field found at a location north of the site, the lobsters walked south," Lohmann said. "And when we produced a field similar to one found at an area south of the site, they walked north. Somehow, they could always figure out exactly where they were." This proved that the lobsters not only had a directional or compass sense but also the ability to determine where they were geographically by relying only on the earth's magnetic field -- similar to the way a person can use a global positioning system device. The New York Times, January 7.

What Can Women Teach Men About the Bends? An expansive study was conducted in the United Kingdom, involving 2250 divers, 47 percent of whom were women. Of the 458,827 dives reported, 31 percent were by women. Differences in diving habits were observed between men and women, which included number of dives per year, maximum depths dived, and dives with extra stops. The findings were a surprise. When they took experience into account, the rate of DCS in men was 2.6 times greater than in women. As you might imagine, further studies are needed. Space Environmental Medicine, 2002 Aug; St Leger Dowse M, Bryson P, Gunby A, Fife W. Diving Diseases Research Centre, Plymouth, Devon, U.K.

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