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Sunday
Oct172010

One of the best things about marine biology

To me, the best bit about working in marine biology is the terrific moment of surprise when you discover a new expression of natural diversity.  Little kids know this - you can see it on their faces every time they turn over a rock in a stream or rock pool.   I think one of the reasons I enjoy it so much is that it almost takes you back to a state of childish wonder, and you get to appreciate something with truly fresh eyes, even if only for a moment.   In my early career in taxonomy, I became completely addicted to the idea of seeing a species that no-one else has seen before (of course, then you have to describe it, and some of the gloss wears off by the time you submit!).  These days, I get the same buzz just from learning about a species I didn’t know existed, and so it was when I recently read a story about an hourglass dolphin (Lagenorhynchus cruciger) that had washed up on a beach in New Zealand for the first time in a century.  Now, I’m not much of an expert on marine mammals, but I had never heard of or seen this animal before, and it was surprising to me because I usually expect the unknowns to come from among the other 95% (invertebrates), and not the more familiar mammals.  It was all the more surprising to me because of the stunning and bold markings of the animal, which are so distinctive, you’d think it would be more well-known (hey, maybe its just me).  Anyway, on the off chance that perhaps you, too, have never met this beautiful creature, I give you the hourglass dolphin, Lagenorhynchus cruciger:

Hourglass dolphins in the Great Southern Ocean. Image: South Georgia Heritage Trust (click for more)

Beautiful, aren’t they?  Have you ever had the feeling I’m talking about?  If so, what was the animal?

Reader Comments (1)

I think the hourglass dolphin suffers undeserved obscurity partly because most of the small toothed whales are unjustly obscure with a bit of boreaphilia added in to ensure southern species less notoriety than they merit. I only ran across the hourglass dolphin in a post on Darren Naish's Tetrapod Zoology when he ran an 'Identify the dolphin skull' post. I expand my knowledge by looking up the animals Darren or his highly erudite commenters refer to that I've never heard of.

Not being a scientist, never mind a biologist of any kind (my loss!), I don't have those moments where I come across an animal I should have known existed, but I do regularly come across animals or information about animals that is startling and astonishing. I am regularly amazed that mantis shrimp aren't better know as there seems no plumbing the depths of their wonders.

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October 18, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike from Ottawa

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