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  • The Western Australian shark cull

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 14 January 2014

    The Situation
    Twenty deaths have occurred in Western Australia due to sharks, over the last one hundred years (1). On one hand every life lost is a tragedy. On the other hand 20 deaths over 100 years, is nothing compared to other causes of death such as obesity, car accidents and even lightning. Each year, more people get killed by toasters worldwide than sharks. Nevertheless, the government decided action was needed to reduce the number of shark-related marine traumas and three years ago proposed a cull. This proposal was overturned in favour of investing $1.7 million into establishing four research projects at the Department of Fisheries in Western Australia to run from 2011-12 to 2015-16. The outline of these projects was to study shark ecology and behaviour, with the intended outcome of ‘improved capability to manage shark hazards’ (2). Sadly, a shark related marine trauma occurred at the end of 2013, which resulted in the death of a young father of two. Despite the rarity of such cases, and the yet to be completed research projects at the Department of Fisheries, the incident provoked a knee-jerk reaction* from the WA government in the guise of another proposal for a shark cull in Western Australia. In an official statement to the press, the WA government stated that the cull would comprise three major components (1): (more…)

    How To: Beat a Shark in a Fight

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 2 January 2014

    How To: Beat a Shark in a Fight

    Let’s not pussyfoot around with some measly small-spotted catshark or krill sucking basking shark. Let’s dive straight into the deep end and talk about the legend… the great white shark. Should you ever find yourself face to face with one of the most awe-inspiring predators in the world with no way out, here are some handy tips on how to beat a shark in a fight.

     

    Rub its nose

    Great white sharks have very sensitive snouts. The snout is covered in tiny pits called ampullae of lorenzini which if you get close enough, look like little black dots. These pits are filled with a jelly-like substance that allows the shark to sense electromagnetic fields given off by muscle contractions. Short of stopping your own heart and being stiller internally than a corpse, the best way to work around this ‘sixth sense’ of the great white shark is to over stimulate the ampullae of lorenzini by rubbing them. In smaller species, divers have discovered they can place sharks in a state of ‘hypnosis’ which they call tonic, by rubbing these pits. The shark becomes motionless and can even be manipulated in the water. So, work your best massage skills on the nose of the great white shark and it might put its lights out long enough for you to make a dash for it. (more…)

    The time to live life is now

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 7 November 2013

    As both of my parents worked in travel I guess whether you fall down in the camp of nature or on the side of nurture, eitherway I was probably destined to be a traveller myself. Although I was a late developer in this area, only travelling alone for the first time once at university, I have since clocked up 49 countries and have back of the envelope plans for well over fifty more. As a zoologist and conservationist seeing the natural world first hand is indescribable, though my background also makes me only too aware of the rapidity with which the planet is changing. I don’t just mean animals and the environment, people themselves are changing as well. It is not an uncommon site in Kenya to see Masai tribesmen in the bush wearing traditional red blankets and sandles, and herding goats whilst chatting away on their Nokia. But I feel privileged to have seen them and witnessed their lives and cultures even in this transitional state. In a few years they’ll be wearing GAP t.shirts and Nike trainers, tearing around the bush on quad bikes*. There is simply nothing like seeing mountain gorillas in the wild, being woken up in your sleeping bag by a giraffe munching leaves outside your tent, or being caught in the middle of a capuchin monkey turf war in the Amazon rainforest. (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week 104

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 7 October 2013

    Good gracious it is week 104. Those with good maths skills and a knowledge of how many weeks there are in an average Earth year would conclude that this is therefore the two year anniversary of the Specimen of the Week blog. PARTY. To celebrate, I elected to be allowed to write about a species within the most exciting, dynamic, elite group of animals known to man. (Only the fifth SotW to be on this group, out of 104. I think that’s very restrained). This week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    How To: Be a Bad Zoologist

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 3 October 2013

    Do you having any burning desires to have something explained by someone on the inside? This blog series is a How To Guide for the museological musings of a Museum Assistant. This edition will explain in detail…

     

    How To: Be a Bad Zoologist

     

    Put on your Dr Alan Grant hat and find your best palaeontological hammer and chisel. Go to some remote location rarely visited and poorly studied. Find a perfectly preserved fossil specimen that is a missing link, hugely important to mankind and that will in one rocky lump, answer a million questions that have been burning amongst the scientific community for decades. Dust it off, polish it up, put it on your mantlepiece, and don’t mention it to a soul. Or you could flog it to another private collector, just so long as it never sees the light of day, or the inquisitive eye of an expert. (more…)

    How To: Be a Cannibal

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 29 August 2013

    Do you having any burning desires to have something explained by someone on the inside? This blog series is a How To Guide for the museological musings of a Museum Assistant. The fourth along this (hopefully) long and happy blogging path is…

     

    How To: Be a Cannibal

     

    At first response you may think it’s easy to be a cannibal, you just have to eat someone of the same species as yourself. Technically you would be right, however there are ways and means to accomplish such a task. The natural world is a wealth of cannibalistic techniques and methods that will give the inquisitive mind a plethora of inspiration. Let’s look at a few in the hope of encouraging your inner cannibal to spread its wings.

     

    A number of amphibians are known to practice cannibalism. Cane toads for example are known to eat eggs of their own species when they are just tadpoles. Most importantly it provides them with a nutritional boost, but it is also thought to be done in order to reduce the competition. They seem to be choosy eaters however as they don’t appear to eat their siblings. Researchers believe that as cane toads have a short incubation length as well as a long period between clutches, eating your own siblings would decrease the number of offspring any single female would produce. Awfully well thought out for a tadpole with a brain the size of a pinhead. They both locate and differentiate between eggs using an impressive sense of smell.

    (more…)

    Specimen of the Week: Week Ninety-Seven

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 19 August 2013

    Scary MonkeyThree blogs away from the big 1-0-0! In the run up to the 100th blog I am going to bring to you the top ten specimens at the Grant Museum, as voted for by…. me. I have employed strict criteria with which to segregate the top ten from the other 67,990 specimens that we have in our care…

    1) It must not be on permanent display, giving you a little behind-the-scenes magic, if you will, as the specimen will then go on display for the week of which it has been named ‘Specimen’. Oh yes. That’s almost as good as our exhibition It Came From The Stores. Almost.

    2) It must have at some point in the past made me say ‘woooo’ out loud (given my childlike disposition for expressing wonderment at the world at large, this is not necessarily a hard qualification for the specimen to achieve)

    3) I must know (at least in a vague sort of a way) what species the specimen is, as SotW is researched and written within a strict one hour time frame.

    With that in mind, at Number Four, this week’s Specimen of the Week is… (more…)

    You dirty rats!, moles, dodos, etc…. Assessing popularity from visitor filth

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 15 August 2013

    Introduction
    Once every month I get to clean all of the glass throughout the Grant Museum. You may think this laborious back-breaking time-consuming task is not a popular event in my diary. You’d be wrong. It gives me the opportunity to see the Museum through the eyes of those who have visited the Museum over the last month. How? By their grubby little fingerprints. It interests me greatly which spots have provoked the highest number of points of contact between finger and glass as people have pointed things out to their friends and relatives. These prints are not necessarily a measure of positivity- of enthusiasm or pleasure, but a measure of ‘reaction’. How many times have you heard “Yuk, look at this”, as well as the more pleasurable “Wow, look at this”? This month, as I wiped out the traces of this month’s reactions, I decided to do an analysis. (more…)

    Underwhelming Fossil Fish of The Month: November

    By Mark Carnall, on 1 November 2012

    NEW FEATURE ALERT! NEW FEATURE ALERT! Yes it’s the long awaited Underwhelming Fossil Fish of The Month (UFFoTM) brough to you by the Grant Museum of Zoology and Comparative Anatomy (GMoZaCA) at UCL (UCL).

    There are a lot of animals, 1.5-30 million species to be precise* but after learning about 100 or so different animals from books we are read as children, visits to the zoo and from television our otherwise powerful minds start to lose interest. There are a lot of animals and for most people it really isn’t worth knowing more than 100 different types or being able to recognise more than the animals we see in zoos, on safari and on the front of cereal boxes. As we saw with worms the word “worms” is useful in day to day life even if it does describe thousands of species of very distantly related groups of animals. The same is true of terms like frog, butterfly, dog, deer, bat, sea urchin and fish which brings me on to why we’ll be focusing on some our fossil fish specimens in UFFoTM. (more…)

    I found this… great white shark

    By Emma-Louise Nicholls, on 11 October 2012

    I found this… is a new mini-installation by the entrance to the Museum. In each of the six cabinets one member of our team has selected one object which they have uncovered something new about. Today…

    The great white shark jaws

    The great white shark jaws in the current exhibition 'I found this...'People often ask where our specimens came from. The truth for some of the oldest objects is we don’t know. However, whoever first acquired this specimen left clues.

    During my Ph.D on sharks I learnt that large species attack using the front right, or front left of the jaw. This specimen has empty pits where two teeth are missing from this primary biting location. The teeth either side are intact, showing the damage was caused by something thin: fishing line. The damage is isolated to the top jaw, suggesting the shark tried to get away by diving rather than rolling.

    It is sad to think of how this animal died. (more…)