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Nature Live

September 2009

Talking Rubbish

Posted by Aoife Sep 25, 2009
Aoife and a volunteer picking litter sml.jpgall the rubbish we found.jpg


To find out just what gets washed up on our beaches over the summer, apart from shells and seaweed, I joined in with a beach clean that happened in Wembury, Plymouth as part of the OPAL BioBlitz.


The rubbish we collected was taken back to the Museum (and washed thoroughly!) for last Sundays Nature Live event with Tim Ferrero, a scientist in the Zoology department. This event was part of an EU funded project called 4SEAS.


Perhaps unsurprisingly, the vast majority of rubbish washed up came was plastic, which can affect wildlife in many different ways. The larger pieces of rope and fishing line can entangle larger animals like fish, cetaceans and birds. The smaller pieces can be mis-identified as food, causing poisoning or simply blocking up the animals digestive systems. Even when broken down so much that they are no longer visible to the naked eye, the microscopic pieces can turn up in tiny organisms such as shrimp.


What was a little more surprising though was just how much rubbish had clearly come from picnics by the sea. From lots of bottle lids, to crisp packets, to an entire 'disposable' barbecue, a significant amount of rubbish originates from, well, us! As Tim said, we are clearly very messy eaters.


So what can we do? Well, the best advice when you visit the seaside is to take all your rubbish home with you! Then, at home, try to recycle your waste and dispose of it properly – we found lots of cotton bud sticks on the beach that had been flushed down toilets and ended up in the sea!


And finally, if you want to get directly involved, join in with a beach clean, and that way you can make sure the beaches are not only nice and clean for visitors, but also for the wildlife that calls them home.


So last night we finished our special Attenborough Studio showcase events for the Royal Launch of the Darwin Centre - it was a real treat with no less that 6 scientists involved, live video links from the field as well as behind the scenes and some of the most amazing specimens we have ever seen in the studio. Topping it all off Sir David himself was in the audience.


Spider curator Jan kicked off with some tongue-in-cheek comparisons between spider and human courtship – just a few of the tricks used by the >40,000 different species of spiders to get all eight of their legs over. To honour the occasion we also saw spiders collected by Darwin himself.


We then went live to Adrian's deep sea observatory off the coast of Sweden and had a quite surreal conversation with Bjorn – who was diving next to a whale carcass at the time. We saw a new species of  bone eating snot flower worm (translation from the scientific name!) that Adrian has discovered that, as the name suggests lives on bones of dead whales and such like. You can watch the live stream from the whale bones  - I can't guarantee that Bjorn will be there - though you are quite likely to see the crabs and starfish.


From the deep sea we switched to deep time with Paul, just back from South Africa where he had been digging up early dinosaur fossils like this one we have on display. We saw another new species but we can't be sure until Scott, the Museum's fossil preparator, grinds, drills and picks all of the rock away. There were a few grimaces as his dentist's drill wirred away but it was cool to have a live demonstration in the studio and some of the kids even had a go.


Anyhow, the finale, if you like, was Al and Caroline from mineralogy. Al showed off some enourmous sparkly diamonds, the ultimate mineral from 200 km into the mantle - deep earth - and Caroline, who started in the basement collections area, showed us the meteorite Ivuna – the best example of the building blocks of the solar system and one of just 9 such meteorites (out of thousands) known to exist - from deep space. They wrapped up with a mineral face off – asking a visitor to hold a 460-carat dirty diamond - over 3 billion years old and formed deep within the earth – in one hand and a small piece of the planet Mars in the other. To Al's dismay Mars won - 7 times out of 8.


It sounds quite chaotic but was a huge team effort that all came together in less than 30 minutes and was all snippets taken from some of the great events happening in the studio over the next couple of weeks.Attenborough studio launch team photo.JPG


Batty about bats

Posted by vanessab77 Sep 15, 2009

My bordering-on-obsessive love for bats has grown since I started working at the Museum. I was already fascinated by the large, fruit-eating flying foxes but now appreciate just how diverse this group of mammals is, having seen the enormous collections of hundreds of different species, most of them smaller than a sparrow.


Horrible news today that the beautiful Christmas Island pipistrelle is almost certainly doomed to extinction. Recent attempts to capture some of these tiny bats for an Australian conservation breeding program, have sadly failed.

Hopefully our batty Nature Live events will continue to show people how important these animals are and help prevent future losses to bat biodiversity



Today will go down in history. Not world history but this momentous day should at least figure as a footnote in the Museum’s vast annals. It’s the very last Nature Live event in the Marine Invertebrates Gallery. Obviously I’m excited about moving into the brand shiny new Attenborough Studio where there’ll be lots of new technology for us to break but having hosted events in MI for the last 3 years it’s the end of an era.


The last show was with Dr Shelley Cook who works in our entomology department and I think has probably been to nearly every country on my wish list. She looks for new viruses that are carried by mosquitoes and could potentially be passed on to other animals and maybe even humans.


We spoke about the importance of her science and mosquito diversity; did you know that there are some mosquitoes that are so specialised they only live in the water that collects in elephant footprints! We got some good questions; my favourite being ‘how fast do mosquitoes fly? Answer: we don’t know.


Then we get on to the ‘best’ bit…how you collect them. I suggest that maybe she offers herself up as a sacrifice; I seem to get bitten within the confines of the M25 so it shouldn’t be too difficult in a Thai jungle. But she can go one better. The ghostbuster pack. Yes, it looks just like something that was used by Bill Murray. It’s basically a 20kg mosquito vacuum that is worn as a backpack but when they spot some mossies they flip the switch and the fun begins. Call me evil but there must be some joy in collecting the insects that feasted on your flesh the previous evening. So once they have been collected up they are put on ice at minus 80C. Where you find those sorts of temperatures in a jungle is one of the wonders of modern science!



Today Ollie Crimmen, the Museum’s  curator of fish, came into the studio to help us test the space with a new show  about the Great White Shark. Among other questions, we were asking whether Great  Whites could ever be found in British waters.


Ollie brought in a famous specimen  of a Great White’s jaw, which was originally reported as coming from a 36 foot  shark, though subsequent analysis by the Museum estimates it at about 25 feet –  still an awesome size. The specimen demonstrates the incredible rows of spare  teeth that Great Whites have lined up inside their jaw. If a tooth is lost the  next one in line just folds up to take its place.


Great Whites also have tiny teeth  all over their skin. This reduces drag as they swim, which has been copied by  the designers of the body suits that swimmers wear in competition these days.


So could Great Whites be found in  British Waters? Well there are around 40 -45 species of shark that can already  be spotted off the British coast. The most common is the amazing basking shark,  which filters plankton through its huge mouth. However, none of the reports and  grainy photos of supposed Great Whites in Britain have  been verified by the Museum thus far.


But just when you thought it was  safe to go the water, Ollie pointed out that there’s no reason why Great Whites  couldn’t come here: the water temperature would be ok for them, they’d be able  to live from eating seals, and getting here wouldn’t be difficult. In fact one  tagged Great White was recorded as travelling from South Africa to Australia and back in 9 days! So they  have no problem swimming huge distances. Think about that next time you take a  trip to the seaside.





Jaws: the natural  History of Sharks

All about sharks, from the natural  History Museum website


British Shark  Trust (external link)

A UK  charity that promotes the conservation of sharks

A Nature Live fan gets close to the famous Great White jaw specimen