It Wouldn’t Be Christmas Without Vegas and Sharks

Well, hello there, good lookin’.

I’m back from the non-stop holidaying extravaganza! As, I suppose, we all are, regrettably. Oh well. #TheStruggleIsReal

My main man-panion XFE took some time off during the holidays so we ate many, many great, decadent, meaty things, and drank many a delicious wine and cocktail (mostly made with gins-of-the-world, a current XFE obsession), and just generally loafed around competing with the cat on who could be more sloth-like.

You know who else loafs (loaves?) around? Sharks! Those guys are totally lazy.

Employee of the month.
Sharks may be lazy, but starfish are apparently hard workers.

You see, I spent an inordinate amount of 2012 deathly afraid of sharks. I thought they were these ferocious, teeth-grinding, people-killing machines. But through scuba diving the last couple of years, I’ve actually discovered that they’re kinda wimpy, and not really all that scary. (Ssshhh. Don’t tell them I said that?)

Just to confirm this suspicion, we went diving in the shark tank at Mandalay Bay over Christmas.

shark marketing

Because….Christmas, y’all. In Vegas. So….of course.

We had been on an aquarium dive before. In October, we went up to the National Aquarium in Baltimore and did the Atlantic Coral Reef tank dive there. It was….meh. We had to arrange and pick up our own gear (wetsuits, masks, booties, flippers), we did not actually get to see any of the aquarium (entry tickets had to be purchased separately for around $35 per adult), and the tank, while certainly nice, was a bit small. Plus, there was only one or two flesh-tearing aquatic creatures about, so it lacked a bit of pizzazz. (Actually, I don’t remember seeing any sharks, but the National Aquarium website says there are some, so I guess there were.)

But Mandalay Bay, my sweeties, is in Las Vegas and they bring a whole showmanship to their tank dives.

First, they take you and up to four guests on a tour of the Shark Reef Aquarium, which features over 2,000 animals. Our guide, Janna, showed us around the 14 exhibits, including jelly fish, piranhas, and a Komodo dragon. And of course, the shark tank, formally known as the Shipwreck Exhibit. The 1.3 million gallon tank has around 30 sharks, including sandtiger sharks, a couple of types of reef sharks, zebra sharks, and a Galapagos shark. The tank also has stingrays, sea turtles, a moray eel, and some crazy-looking sawfish.

Then they give you all the backstage tour, including and explanation of the filtration system and a stroll along the feeding platform that runs all above the shark tank. It’s very James Bond-ish.

That's Janna, our handler on the left. That's a bored shark on the lower right. You can almost see him yawning.
That’s Janna, our handler on the left. That’s a bored shark on the lower right. You can almost see him yawning.

Then Janna whisked away our loved ones (in our case, XFE’s parents) to go back inside the main shark exhibit while you (the divers) get geared up in the locker rooms. And by geared up, I mean, wedge into the wetsuit and booties they provided and then shimmy into a 14-pound suit of chain mail. Yes. Chain mail. Because they want you to think there’s an element of danger here. Pretty crafty.

Once we were suitable geared up, the incredibly patient and kind team helped us wade into the small holding pool near the exhibit and we did a buoyancy check to make sure everything was working. We also had these ear pieces that were supposed to help us hear our diving guide but really just sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher. They did help grab our attention when she (I think her name was April?) was trying to point out something to us.

Meanwhile, they have a videographer recording the whole thing: the divers gearing up (luckily, they don’t include audio so you don’t hear our grunts and cussing), getting in the water, and the view of us from inside the exhibit. In addition, the dive guide had a Go-Pro which she used to record us in the water.

(And I WOULD have posted clips from the final video except WordPress wants me to upgrade my blog plan to $100 a year in order to do that, to which I must say, “hellz no.” Sorry, kids. No MP4 videos on the scrub version of WordPress.)

And, as you can see by the bits of video I’ve posted, the sharks do not give a shit. They couldn’t have been less interested in us. I feel fairly certain there was a greater chance of one of us divers getting some sort of uncontrollable sushi craving all of a sudden and biting one of them than any of us even getting a tiny head nudge from any of the 30 sharks in that tank.

Here’s how the imaginary shark discussion goes in my mind:

Zebra Shark: “Ugh, these guys again.”

Sandtiger Shark: “I know, right?”

Zebra Shark: “I don’t know why they come down here and bother us if they’re not going to even bring us some tasty chum, like a fisherman’s hand or a small child or something. They’re really just wasting our time.”

Galapagos Shark: “And did you see that chick with the googly eyes? What’s her problem? Did you see how she was looking at me, all terrified and whatnot? As if. I can totally tell by that wetsuit that that girl has been eating way to much cheese and everybody knows I’m lactose intolerant.”

White-Tip Reef Shark: “Yeah, and did you see that one dude go right up to Larry’s face when he was trying to sleep? All he wants to do is take a little nap after swimming around in endless circles and what does that moron do? Swim right up and insist on getting his picture taken with him. Geeze.”

Sandtiger Shark: “Alright, I’m out of here. I’m going to go hide out at the top of this ship bow thing until they’re gone. By my limited edition shark Swatch watch, they’ll probably be in here about another 40 minutes, which gives me just enough time to watch an episode of Shark Tank OnDemand. Get it? See what I did there? Shark Tank? That’s comedy gold.”

End scene. 

Cheesepuff in a wetsuit
Cheesepuff in a wetsuit

All told, we were in the shark exhibit for around 45 minutes. It was pretty great. Unlike the National Aquarium where we were allowed to swim around on our own in pairs, we had to stick with our dive guide, but that was no big deal. We got to hunt in the sand for sharks’ teeth, get up close to a sleeping (resting?) reef shark, dodge sea turtles, and wave to the kids inside the exhibit.

When we got out, we unloaded our gear, hit the showers, and met our guests out by the aquarium store.

shark chompers

Even though I didn’t exactly test my mettle or stare down danger, I can’t say enough great things about the fine folks at Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay. It was first-class attentiveness from start to finish. The very thoughtful aquarium staff even had snacks and water set out for you in the locker rooms, which was a nice touch. They also gave us little glass vials of the shark teeth we’d collected (or, in my case, coral because I apparently cannot tell the difference underwater), and certificates to commemorate the day. And, about a week later, an awesome 15 minute video, which includes a very soothing-spa-music-soundtrack.

Maybe that’s why the sharks are so docile. Nonstop soothing spa music.

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Animals I Won’t Be Messing With: Mantis Shrimp

XFE and I were watching some documentary on some channel last night (I know, I’m practically a living, breathing TV Guide) because apparently we’d already watched all the really awesome shows in the Gypsies genre (or, more truthfully, were recording them for later, non-commercial viewing).

Anyway, this documentary was about this total badass shrimp called the mantis shrimp. The documentary was particularly timely because we’d had delicious huge grilled shrimp for dinner.

Mantis shrimp2

But Mr. Johnny Mantis Shrimp is a straight up gangsta thug. I’ll let Wikipedia tell you why:

Called “sea locusts” by ancient Assyrians, “prawn killers” in Australia and now sometimes referred to as “thumb splitters” – because of the animal’s ability to inflict painful gashes if handled incautiously – mantis shrimp sport powerful claws that they use to attack and kill prey by spearing, stunning, or dismemberment. Although it happens rarely, some larger species of mantis shrimp are capable of breaking through aquarium glass with a single strike from this weapon.

I think I just peed myself a little bit. Breaking an aquarium glass? I can’t even break the seal on a jar of peanut butter. Seriously, if it wasn’t for that little white ring tab thing on my new carton of half-and-half this morning, there would have been creamer carnage all over the kitchen. Even with the pull tab, I struggled.

Also: I do not want my thumb split. That sounds really, really awful. Prior to learning this little fact, one of my biggest heeby-jeeby-inducing fears was falling on my face and cracking my tooth, but now, having my thumb split open is quickly moving up the list.

And now I’m walking around with my thumbs tucked safely into my palms, all four lesser digits cupping tightly around my vulnerable hitchhiking phalange.

On this documentary, we saw these little freaks crushing other sea life that appeared larger than them. They were way aggressive, chasing down crabs and then WAPOW! Oh, and they eat other Mantis Shrimp as well. They showed one that had just eaten a rival and he was pushing the empty shell of his species mate out of his burrowing hole like he was taking out the trash.

The scientist on this documentary were also measuring the strike velocity, which is apparently one of the fastest movements of any animal on earth, and is complete in about 8 milliseconds, which is about 50 times faster than the blink of a human eye. They’re like the Jean Claude Van Damme of the sea world.

JeanClaude

None of this is reassuring either:

Mantis shrimp are long-lived and exhibit complex behavior, such as ritualized fighting. Some species use fluorescent patterns on their bodies for signalling with their own and maybe even other species, expanding their range of behavioral signals. They can learn and remember well, and are able to recognize individual neighbors with whom they frequently interact. They can recognize them by visual signs and even by individual smell.

Lucky for all of us, some of these delightful little killers are found in the Chesapeake Bay, which is a bit too close for my comfort.

In case you need some visual explanations, this really useful infographic on The Oatmeal should frighten you. Or, check out the video below: (THAT’s right, it was NatGeo that was airing it.)

http://video.nationalgeographic.com/video/animals/invertebrates-animals/crabs-lobsters-shrimp/deadliest-mantis-shrimp/

 

Maybe the Hogs Were Concerned About the Impact of a Potential Bacon Shortage?

Those animals, man. They are totally out to get us.

I don’t think I’m being paranoid (anymore) when I say that the animal kingdom has thoroughly turned on us.

The evidence is stacking up and has been well documented on this website.

  • Think badgers are cute little woodland creatures incapable of eating a midget porn star? Think again. Or chasing children? Nope. Or jumping out of the water and terrorizing adults. Wrong-o.
  • Perhaps you believe sea lions are adorable, doe-eyed water friends who like to eat fish, not celebrity’s legs? Au contraire, mon frère.
  • Are you entranced by the majestic wonder of an owl soaring through the air? Sure, that’s all well and good until it uses that impressive wind span to soar into attack mode on a running trail.

Do not get me started on sharks.

However, this little story out of Oregon definitely takes the animal kingdom revolt against humans to a whole other terrifying level. Blech.

“Authorities are investigating how a farmer in Oregon managed to be eaten by his own hogs.

A family member found what was left of Terry Vance Garner, 69, when they went to look for him a few hours after he’d left to feed his hogs – some of which weigh more than 700 lbs.

“For all we know, it was a horrific accident, but it’s so doggone weird that we have to look at all possibilities,” Coos County District Attorney Paul Frasier told the Register-Guard newspaper.

Agreed, County District Attorney Frasier. That is doggone weird.

Frasier said the family member first noticed Garner’s dentures at the farm’s hog enclosure, then saw pieces of the man scattered around.

Pause. Eeeeewwwww. Continue.

Watch out, dude. Those are cute pink killing machines.

The district attorney said Garner may have simply keeled over from a heart attack while feeding the animals. Then again, perhaps the hogs knocked him down, killed him and ate him, he added. There had been reports of the hogs behaving aggressively towards Garner before, even biting him once.

Or maybe someone else killed Garner and let the hogs dispose of the body. Frasier said he is also investigating the possibility of foul play.

Wow. This Frasier guy has got a whole lot of theories. He’s going to be doggone busy in the days and months ahead. Maybe he should call those Scooby Doo kids and get them on the case.

Garner’s brother Michael said the old farmer loved his animals, which he’d had since they were piglets and which helped him deal with his post-traumatic stress disorder from the Vietnam war.

Michael said a sow bit Terry once, but only because he accidentally stepped on its piglet, killing it.

“He said he was going to kill it, but when I asked him about it later, he said he had changed his mind,” Michael told the paper.

That might be one of the saddest stories I’ve ever read. You’ve got the therapeutic animals, the Vietnam war, dead piglets, and missed opportunities that come back and haunt you all in three sentences. Dang.

Packs of man-eating hogs go out for the night to forage on human limbs. Allegedly.

John Killefer, who heads the Animal and Rangeland Sciences Department at Oregon State University, said killer hogs are unusual but not impossible, noting they “are more omnivorous than other farm animals.”

So here’s a couple of things I didn’t know – that hogs could get up to 700 pounds, that they could be called “killer,” and that they are “more omnivorous than other farm animals.” Speaking of which, could I please get a copy of that color-coded Farm Animal Omnivorous scale that Professor Killefer apparently has access to? I want to take it with me next time I go to a petting zoo.

I found this other, slightly more morbid story in the LA Times. The first quote kills me.

“All we know is he died some way, and the pigs ate him. Most of him,” Garner’s brother, Michael Garner, told the Los Angeles Times.

Garner, a Vietnam War veteran, raised the giant hogs — larger than most of those sold for food — and provided piglets as 4-H projects for local youths.

“He’s an animal lover. He couldn’t do anything else with them. He wouldn’t sell them to eat, or anything else,” his brother said.

I haven’t asked XFE what he thinks about this, but I will personally be dedicating my excesses at this year’s Porktober to the memory of poor ol’ farmer Garner. He lived a good life, met with a, erhm, disturbing end, and provided us all a lesson: eat your pigs before they eat you.

Sharks Apparently Have Nothing on Beavers

Hey there! Remember me? Has it been five days? How can that be? Five whole days since I’ve blogged?? I’m so, so sorry.

But here’s the facts kids: I’ve been pretty dang busy. So busy, in fact, that I haven’t watched any reality shows lately, nor have I been reading any celebrity gossip magazines (I didn’t even get my US Weekly this past week), and I haven’t been running lately (next week, for sure.). And I hadn’t stumbled across stories about weird crimes. Or so I thought.

While JUST THIS SECOND trying to confirm that there had not in fact been some weird crimes committed in the greater D.C. area (didn’t I hear something on the radio the other morning about some toe sucker pervert on the loose??), I came across this gem from the always dependable Huffington Post:

“A summertime swim in Virginia’s Lake Anna was supposed to be part of a fun afternoon for sisters Annabella and Alyssa Radnovich. But a beaver attack left both of them wounded and at risk for rabies.”

Holy frothing mouths! How does this happen? Where the heck is Lake Anna? It must be way out in the country, right? Like, someplace heavily wooded (I mean, beavers eat wood, right?) where the main source of income is the selling of homemade beef jerky by the side of the road.

But NO! Lake Anna is only about 85 miles away from my home in Alexandria. By Texas standards, this is watermelon seed spitting distance.

The girls both reported that they were swimming when they felt something sharp. That just gave me goosebumps. We’re not talking little scratches or warning nibbles either.

Although their mother said they are doing much better, Alyssa received around 15 stitches on her upper thigh, while Annabella’s beaver bite cut through muscle, requiring bandages on three wounds just above her knee. Doctors said that closing Annabella’s wounds would increase the risk of infection and both girls are receiving shots for rabies.

So, this lucky kid gets to hobble around for the rest of the summer with open wounds caused by a rodent. That sounds just awesome.

Don’t worry. The Radnovich clan took care of this beaver pretty damn efficiently.

The girls’ uncle shot the beaver with a BB gun and then killed it with a knife. He turned it over to health department officials who confirmed the animal did indeed have rabies.

Apparently, aquatic attacks of the furry kind are on the rise. A triathlete in Minnesota (who, by the way, was wearing a wet suit) recently wrestled with an otter in a lake in Duluth.

Quick sidenote: otters are related to beavers, right? Wikipedia says beavers are rodents (second largest in the world!) but otters are mammals. But they look the same to me. If anything, otters look slightly friendlier, but apparently not.

The reporter on this story in the Duluth News Tribune really gave it her all:

Fangs pierced Leah Prudhomme’s legs as she swam through the deep, dark rum-colored waters of Island Lake.

OK, now we’re talking! That’s quite an intro there. Paint me a picture, young Kelly Smith. The suspense and terror continue to build throughout the article.

In the middle of the lake north of Duluth, the triathlete struggled as the animal sunk its needle-sharp teeth into her legs, feet and back, leaving 25 bite marks, some 2 inches deep. “It just kept coming after me,” said Prudhomme, 33, of Anoka, Minn. “You never knew where it was going to bite next.”

In between peppering her with puncture marks, the animal’s head popped up a few feet away. That’s when Prudhomme noticed its distinctive long tapered tail, small beady eyes and gray head. An otter.

This story did not have as satisfactorily an ending as the Virginia one though. It appears the blood-lusting otter got away.

This, my friends, is an example of how one falls into a weird news wormhole. One minute you think you have nothing new to write about. The next, you find a trend of completely unprovoked animal-on-human attacks.

All I know is I won’t be going near any lakes this weekend. I might even skip the bathtub. Petunia’s been staring at me in ways I’m not comfortable with.