21 October, 2007

Animalia

The thoughtful, kind and generous Legal Eagle has tagged me for an animal meme which is currently doing the rounds of the blogosphere:

An interesting animal I had:
We acquired an axolotl (aka Mexican Walking Fish) and a tank some years ago. An axolotl is an amphibian closely related to salamanders and newts. They are native to Mexico and can reach adulthood without changing from their larval state, after which they lose the feathery gills located at the back of their head.

As pets, they stay in this larval stage, never leaving the water. But I was curious. I read that if a land base is built up in their tank and iodine is added to the water as the weather gets warmer, they’ll metamorphose. This intrigued me. Lad Litter saw far too many schlocky mad scientist movies as a kid. But over at Party Pooper Central, TLOML was horrified and forbade me from playing God in our house. The shed was the place for that. I was known as Dr Frankenstein for a while afterwards.

An interesting animal I ate:
We’d walked along Sunset Boulevard in the early evening, once more stamping ourselves as tourists, and not-terribly-bright ones. No-one walks Sunset.

Feeling hungry, we entered a restaurant and perused the menu. Escargots anis jumped out at me. I’d never eaten snails and was keen to try. The waiter took my order and came back a short time later.
“The chef just wants to make sure you know what you’re ordering.”
“Of course.”
“And that it is flavoured very strongly with aniseed.”
“Yes, I understand.”

I believe I still don’t know what snails taste like. To me, I was eating those licorice blocks that were the staple fare of primary school tuck shops in the 60s.

An interesting thing I did with or to an animal:
We entered the Killer Whale show at the Stanley Park Aquarium in Vancouver later than the rest of the audience. It was crowded but there was a bank of unoccupied seats right up the front so we sat down and spread out. Ha! We’d sure beaten out all of those schmucks who were jammed into their seats like sardines. The young woman at the microphone said something we didn’t quite catch and the whole crowd looked at us and laughed good naturedly. Probably something about latecomers but, hey, we had great seats for the show.

The show’s finale was for the whales to demonstrate their capacity to leap from the water, leaving a large hole, then gracefully slam down in the centre just as the water rushed in to fill the hole, making a huge splash. Something about concussing their prey or maybe just for sport. The audience chuckled and looked in our direction as the announcer described what was about to happen. Another in-joke, but we were no longer latecomers so what was that all about? Oh well, the orcas swam around the tank getting faster and faster until they all reared up out of the water simultaneously, one of them right in front of us.

Everything seemed to happen in slow motion as the orca hung suspended some three metres in the air close to the edge of the tank and our front row seats. It dove into the gaping chasm left in the water by its exit (“We’re going to get soaked,” I thought) as it sent a huge tower of water straight up into the air (“Hang on, I think we’re going to be okay,” I revised) as the waterspout seemed set to collapse in on itself.

But a split-second later it exploded outwards instead. The mother of all splashes did indeed soak us. The auditorium was drenched in full-blown belly laughter. We joined in, the last ones to get the joke. The girl with the microphone came over to commiserate with us. I think we might have been simply the latest in a long line.

An interesting animal at the museum:
There are two main types of whales: toothed whales - which includes dolphins; orcas; sperm whales; porpoises and others; and baleen whales – right whales; blue whales; humpback whales and others.

Toothed whales hunt their prey, mostly fish, while baleen whales gather it. A baleen whale will hold huge amounts of water containing plankton in its mouth, and then strain the water out through baleen, which takes the place of teeth in whales belonging to this type. The plankton that’s left is then swallowed.

At the Melbourne Museum there was baleen in a hands-on display. It felt like giant fingernails.

An interesting animal in its natural habitat:
I'm terrified of sharks. I swim nervously in the sea, and don't dive. But a dive into Port Phillip Bay sounded a pretty good thing to do during a Queenscliff holiday.

Through the kelp beds at the edge of Pope’s Eye we circled. An unanticipated variety of fish ignored us. Around Chinaman’s Hat, the old navigation marker where male seals unsuccessful at mating congregated, we swam. Even from our watery vantage point, it was uncomfortably reminiscent of some share houses I'd lived in. Even the smells.

Then, the dolphins, mother and child. They swam alongside us as we were towed on a long rope out the back of the boat, making eye-contact and smiling anthropomorphically.

I repeated the experience when my mate from SW Yorkshire came over. He raved about it.

One year later, press reports appeared of a Great White Shark in Port Phillip Bay. I confronted TLOML’s brother-in-law, a keen fisherman.
“Hang on, Great Whites come into Port Phillip Bay?!”
“Yes, not that often, but not all that rarely either.”
“I thought they never came into the Bay. NEVER. Even if the last reported sighting had been in 1868, I WOULD NOT have done those two diving with the dolphins things.”

I still get the occasional shudder, but I’ve done it, so I don’t have to do it again.

6 comments:

Steph said...

Oh I had a close encounter with a shark in Ballina. They come right into the shallows and I remember going to the rock pool thinking, "What was that dark shadow that just......oh holy fucking hell" and running for my life!!

I've never seen people get out of the water so quick!

phishez_rule said...

I've always wanted to swim with a Great White Shark.

Is that strange?

Lad Litter said...

Steph:
An experience like yours would have reduced me to a gibbering idiot. Or elevated me to a gibbering idiot.
Phish:
You can do it in a cage. My Yorkshire mate swam with dolphins off New Zealand & then saw a poster advertising Great White shark swims operating out of the same port. But what if the shark needs to pass through the dolphin lovers on the way to all the blood dumped in the water? Brrrrr!

Legal Eagle said...

When I was little I really wanted an axolotl. I think it was the freak value, and the fact that they can apparently get quite attached to their owners, but don't have fur or dander for me to be allergic to. My Mum was not sympathetic, and vetoed the idea.

blonde canadian said...

LL, I can relate to your dolphin story.

The first time I went swimming with dolphins in Port Phillip Bay, the tour company gave us some rather ragged, red-stained wetsuits to wear. It only made me all the more apprehensive. Sharks and crocodiles scare me to death. Always have.

Lad Litter said...

LE: Axolotls are a delightful pet and kids love hand feeding them the worms that make up much of their diet. People who have aversions to lizards and other such animals tend to eschew them.

BC: You too? To be safe from crocs, I wouldn't swim north of the Murray River!