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September 2003 Vol. 29, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Flotsam & Jetsam

from the September, 2003 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Shark Advice I: John Marrack was swimming off Oahu with a pod of spinner dolphins in June when they "took off like rockets." Moments later, a shark grabbed his foot. He was rescued by a passing boater, but his foot was broken and the skin shredded. The moral: "If the dolphins change their behavior or disappear, get out of the water," says shark researcher Gerald Carr, of the Waikiki Aquarium. Carr said he has had shark encounters while swimming at Midway Island. When dolphins became agitated or left the area, a Galapagos shark or other shark species was almost surely in the vicinity. His orders to fellow swimmers were to get out of the water: "The landlord is here." (The Honolulu Advertiser)

Shark Advice II: If you are snorkeling or diving where a great white shark is looking for food, well, you're shark bait. On August 19, a woman in a full wet suit, mask and fins was snorkeling with sea lions off California's central coast, when a great white attacked and killed her. John McCosker, senior scientist with the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, says "If you are wearing a wetsuit and fins and you are swimming with sea lions, you are doing a clumsy job of imitating shark food." McCosker has done shark research inside an underwater cage among sea lions. "All of a sudden all the sea lions disappear -- and then you see the white shark." It arrives so fast that there is little a person can do to swim way. McCosker and his coresearchers have interviewed every single living shark attack victim on the West Coast (there have been 108 attacks since 1952, ten fatal). "None of the living victims ever saw the shark in advance," he said. "It all happens too fast." (San Francisco Chronicle).

Give Us All the Poop: Subscriber Patricia Harmon took us to task for our comments in August about the Ft. Lauderdale live-aboard Easy Goin'. "While we spent a long weekend on Easy Goin' and had a nice time and agree with the review, there is no mention of the bathroom facilities. With seven passengers and three crew, there is only one bathroom. For emergencies when that bathroom is occupied, there is a chemical toilet. Additionally, the toilet in the bathroom is such that toilet paper may not be placed in it, so soiled toilet paper must be put in a plastic bag and one must be sure to spray the deodorizer after each use. A suggestion for Undercurrent: Accept no live-aboard reviews unless there is a description of the bathroom facilities." Thanks, a point well made.

Antimosquito Coils Release Toxic Fumes: In your room in the tropics, you have no doubt burned those green, insecticide-treated spiral strips, letting them smolder through the night to keep mosquitoes at bay. Scientists have found, however, that they can cause asthma and wheezing in children. Furthermore, the smoke carries pollutants such as formaldehyde. A single burning coil can release as much of the carcinogen as 51 cigarettes. The airborne particulates in the smoke are equivalent to those released by 137 cigarettes. Particles that small can carry toxic compounds deep into the lungs. (Science News, July 12, 2003).

Seeing Without a Mask: Diving without masks, members of the Moken tribe (who live on islands in Thailand's Adaman Sea) can spot Shells that most people would be unable to distinguish from surrounding rocks. Anna Gislen, a Swedish scientist, found that Moken children and European children have the same visual acuity on land, but the Moken have better than twice the underwater resolving power, a level previously thought to be impossible. They do so by shanking the size of their pupils to a diameter 22 percent smaller than the minimum seen in Europeans, whose pupils enlarge slightly underwater, in response to the lower light. This reaction -- which is routine in Moken children -- is absent in European children. But Islen found that Swedish children can be trained to constrict their pupils when diving and enhance their underwater visual acuity. That suggests the Moken learn the skill and do not inherit it. (Washington Post)

Remember Crocodile Dundee: Cozumel has a "transvestite problem," says an article from El Semanario. To eradicate it, being dressed as a woman in a cantina gets a penalty and repeated offenses could lead to the closing of the bar, which happened to Rex's Cavern. The city treasurer says that "We hope is that the tranvestites won't mix with other people, because that is when prostitution can arise."

New Dive Destination: Australian scientists have stumbled on an uncharted coral reef. At 120 sq. km, it covers a larger area than all the reefs of Barbados put together. "We were stunned when we lowered a video camera down there and saw living hard corals," said Peter Harris, who led the Geoscience Australia expedition. The reef has probably escaped notice until now because most of it is more than 20 m below the surface and because of its remoteness. The nearest big settlement is the town of Karumba, 250 km to the southeast. They have always thought that the gulf was too clogged with sediment for reefs to grow, so it might not be a diver's dream.

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