Notes and shorts from around the world
Fossil shark makes a comeback
The waters around South Africa’s Seal Island have long been famous as a place to spot great white sharks, but then, in 2015, shark numbers began to drop – reaching a historic low in 2018. The reasons for this decline are mysterious: overfishing, habitat loss, changes in feeding patterns and even the vicious behaviour of local killer whales have been blamed. The great white’s withdrawal has had an interesting side effect: it has allowed a species of living fossil to re-emerge and take its place at the top of the food chain. A study in the journal Scientific Reports reveals a rise in sightings of sevengill sharks – so named because they retain the seven gill slits of their prehistoric ancestors (modern sharks have five). “In more than 18 years at Seal Island, we had never seen sevengills in our surveys,” said study co-author Chris Fallows, but “following the disappearance of great white sharks, sevengills have been increasing,” with 120 sightings in 2017-18.
Fined for fighting ISIS
A former sergeant in the Swiss army has been given a three month suspended gaol term and a fine of 500 Swiss francs for fighting Islamic State in Syria. Hanna Johannes Cosar was convicted of undermining Swiss neutrality by joining a foreign army, an offence that carries a maximum term of three years. Cosar, who has Syrian ancestry, fought with a Christian militia. A former British soldier, Jim Matthews, was charged with terror offences in 2018 after returning from fighting alongside the Kurds against ISIS, but the charges were later dropped. Australia similarly prohibits its citizens from fighting in such conflicts.
Seal thwarts smugglers
A giant seal has reportedly played a key role in foiling a major drug smuggling operation in Western Australia. Police tracked two men to Burton Island, near Geraldton, but when the pair attempted to flee, they were blocked by a seal, which “jumped up with its big chest out and bellowed,” according to local marine rescuer Damien Healy. “The guys had the choice of going through the seal or getting arrested.” Police later found 40 bags, hidden under seaweed, containing more than a tonne of cocaine, methamphetamine and ecstasy with a street value of $1 billion.
A plan of climate change activists to ground flights at London’s Heathrow was foiled when the drones they intended to fly over the airport were themselves grounded, apparently by jamming devices. Police also arrested some of the alleged conspirators.
“A great scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die.” – Max Planck, German theoretical physicist
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