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  • Jaws for Thought

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 1 August 2012

    Epaulette sharkWorking at the Grant Museum I get asked a lot of questions about animals, most of which I can answer, some of which (normally from 5-6 year olds) I have to look up. A member of the public knows whether they’ve hit an information goldmine, or else should make excuses and leave immediately, when they say the s-word and see my eyes light up. The s-word brings excitement to some (such as myself) and abject horror to others- mostly those who were of a cinema-going age in the 70’s. For yes- the s-word of which I speak is ‘shark’. What hacking did for the News of the World, the film Jaws did for sharks. Generations of people left cinemas with a new found phobia, virulent enough to replace heights, the dark, and spiders. ‘Man-eater’, ‘blood lust’, ‘crazed feeding frenzy’… I’ve seen them all, and worse, in media from cheap-tat-newspapers to otherwise-decent-television-channel documentaries. As soon as people discover that I am a shark specialist, they either display a mutual appreciation of them through a spouting of random shark trivia (my favourite) or they respond by immediately telling me of their fear of sharks as ‘ruthless killing machines’. Some even make the mistake of using the nails-on-a-blackboard phrase ‘man-eaters’. These people find themselves unable to leave the museum without a conversation with me about why that is in fact, a very unfair thing to say. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Twenty-Nine

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 30 April 2012

    Scary Monkey: Week Twenty-NineA favourite in my household when I was growing up, these South-Pacific mammals are pleasant once you get to known them despite their bad reputation, only really fight when it comes to women or food, and don’t reach maturity until they are almost middle aged. This week’s specimen of the week is… (more…)

    Walking with Dragons

    By Mark Carnall, on 21 February 2012

    Sometimes* it feels like I have the best job. You may recall my previous musings on whether or not Planet Dinosaur was a documentary or not. This musing did not come from the blue, in fact I have spent more time than most contemplating digital dinosaurs. Today I’m pleased to announce that a book chapter I wrote a loooong time ago has finally been published.

    Image of the Grant Museum Quagga skeleton versus a plastic Tyrannosaurus
    The full reference is

    Carnall, M.A (2012) Walking with Dragons: CGIs in Wildlife Documentaries. In Bentowska-Kafel, A., Denard, H. and Baker, D (eds) Paradata and Transparency in Virtual Heritage, Pages 81-95 ISBN 9780754675839

    Getting back to why I think my job is the best job (more…)

    Animal Love Poem: Happy Valentine’s Day

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 14 February 2012

    The panther chameleon will bob his head
    And make his colour intense.
    A broody ringtail lemur girl,
    Will attract her mate with scents.

    Peacocks fan their tail feathers,
    Spreading blue and green.
    The Asian tortoise follows his girl
    With persistance to show he’s keen.

    Semaphore, believe it or not,
    Attracts girl wolf spider to boy.
    A fruit fly has his work cut out,
    These girls like acting coy. (more…)

    Art by Animals opens today

    By Jack Ashby, on 1 February 2012

    Art by Animals - Grant Museum - chimp - Saint Louis Zoo

    “Digit Master” 2011, Bakhari the chimp, Saint Louis Zoo

    Today the newest exhibition at the Grant Museum opens and it’s probably not something many people will have seen before. Art by Animals is an exhibition of paintings by orang-utans, a chimp, elephants and a gorilla, and to be honest, most of them are better than I could do.

    When our co-curators Michael Tuck, a graduate from the UCL Slade School of Fine Art, and artist Will Tuck, first approached me about a year ago I have to admit to being shocked at the elephant painting of a flower pot – it truly displays the incredible dexterity of the elephant’s trunk, but is it art?

    Here’s a video about it. (more…)

    Could 1950s marine biologists speak underwater?

    By Jack Ashby, on 25 January 2012

    Under the Caribbean (1954) on the Big ScreenLast week we kicked off the Grant Museum’s Humnanimals Season with one of our ever-popular film nights – Under the Caribbean (1954). Humanimals Season is all about the interactions between the lives of animals and humans, investigating human concepts in the animal world, and animals venturing into the human world. Dr Joe Cain, the stalwart presenter of GMZ film nights (and Head of UCL Science and Technology) had been insisting that we showed this 1950s underwater documentary for years.

    I must admit, I hadn’t watched it, but my gut reaction was that our audience relies on us to show classic films, with a link to natural history that they will enjoy watching – many people enjoy the camp, slightly ridiculous productions like Tarzan and The Blob. “An out-dated documentary is surely a bit dry?”, I would say to Joe. He would tell me that it was ground-breaking for the genre and had heaps of never-before seen footage. “Hmmm”, I would say, “it’s just doesn’t sound silly enough”.

    Boy, was I wrong. (more…)

    It crawls…it creeps…it eats you alive

    By Jack Ashby, on 16 December 2011

    Last week we finished off Natural Mystery Season with a screening of what must be the gooiest monster movie of all time: The Blob (1958). These classic film screenings have become one of the highlights of our ever growing public events programme. The masterful Dr Joe Cain has now introduced 21 of these films, from The Lost World (1925) and King Kong (1933) to Inherit the Wind (1960).

    It must be admitted that with our two films this term, The Blob and War of the Worlds (1953) we may have strayed a little far from natural history – we hope our visitors don’t mind. It’s definitely science, and mainly life science, so I suspect few people noticed. Next term we’ll be back to our roots with two very different must-sees: Under the Caribbean (1954) which I’ve described as a serious ground-breaking documentary that is very hard to take seriously (the ridiculous 1950s English dubbing, and the pretense that they try and make us believe they can talk to each other underwater reminds me of a cross between Eurotrash and Monty Python); and we finish the Humanimals Season with the Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953). These and all of next term’s events can be seen on our what’s on page.

    Back to The Blob: the UCL Events blog gave us a jolly review. It begins:

    Without a doubt, Film Night at the Grant Museum was the most entertaining event that I’ve attended at UCL. On December 6, they screened the 1958 sci-fi/horror cult classic, The Blob.

    Dr Joe Cain holds court. A senior lecturer at UCL by day, he is an avid film fan by night. And possibly by day at weekends.

    This is the first ‘On The Big Screen’ event at UCL that I’ve attended, despite this being the 21st showing. However, it’s clear that the event attracts a regular following, and by the time I arrive the large Darwin lecture theatre is almost full. All ages are represented in the crowd, and the mood is both jovial and excited.

    Read the rest here.

    Fake-umentary? BBC and Frozen World

    By Mark Carnall, on 15 December 2011

    Another quick post, many of you may have seen the news coverage about a sequence showing polar bear cubs in the BBC’s excellent Frozen Planet documentary that was filmed in a zoo, not in the wild. The footage has been called out as being misleading and the authenticity of some snow has also been called into question. It’s hard to pick out whether this is grabbing media attention because the Beeb has its fair share of enemies in the press or whether viewers are genuinely outraged. The BBC has posted this video showing BBC bosses defending the sequence. The Telegraph has this to say about it, posted here for balance. (more…)

    Why I like cryptozoologists – an UnConventional view

    By Jack Ashby, on 17 November 2011

    Big Foot crossing I am very fond of cryptozoologists. I’m not one myself, but I think they are great. I spent Saturday at the Fortean Times’ annual symposium, UnConvention 2011. This is a weekend of talks about all things paranormal, organised by the magazine Fortean Times (The World of Strange Phenomena), but cryptozoology is the reason I went. Well, the reason I went is because two dear friends of the Grant Museum were speaking and I rarely get to see them. One is Richard Freeman, Zoological Director of the Centre for Fortean Zoology (the world’s largest professional cryptozoological organisation) and the other is Brian Regal, an academic historian of science interested in the relationship between science and pseudo-science and the history of Big Foot.

    Cryptozoology, for those who don’t know, is the study of hidden animals, or cryptids. The bread and butter of it is animals unknown to science like yetis, sasquatch and Nessie; but also includes animals that are considered extinct, like thylacines; and animals beyond their normal ranges, like big cats on Dartmoor. (more…)

    Is Planet Dinosaur a Documentary?

    By Mark Carnall, on 9 November 2011

    Nearly three years ago I wrote a book chapter called Walking with dragons: CGIs in Wildlife ‘Documentaries’ the abstract can be found here. For one reason or another the book will only just be coming out someday soon, which means the content of the chapter went from state of the art, through to snapshot of thought in the noughties and is now practically an historical essay, such is the speed in which visual technologies change. The short summary of the chapter is that (chiming with Sir David Attenborough’s recent comments) CGI documentaries like Walking With Dinosaurs are a product of fact inspired fiction and presented as educational programmes. Ideally, this means that they should be as intellectually transparent as possible, the facts that inspire the fiction should be highlighted so audience members can get an idea of where porgramme makers have used artistic license to create an entertainment product. Can this be achieved in CGI documentaries without taking away from the spectacle of shows like Walking with Dinosaurs? This fact from which the fiction is derived can be called paradata and my book chapter examines how the paradata can be shown in these kinds of programmes. (more…)