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System's fragility highlighted

Posted AT 5:22 AM EDT on 15/08/03

The Globe and Mail

Janet McFarland and Richard Bloom and Showwei Chu


Yesterday's failure was not the first of its kind. On Aug. 11, 1996 -- almost exactly seven years ago -- a squirrel found its way into a grid on the U.S. West Coast and knocked out power in nine states and parts of Mexico, demonstrating the weaknesses in the system.


Last Updated: Thursday, 1 December 2005, 18:14 GMT

Russian squirrel pack 'kills dog'

Squirrels have bitten to death a stray dog which was barking at them in a Russian park, local media report.

Passers-by were too late to stop the attack by the black squirrels in a village in the far east, which reportedly lasted about a minute.

They are said to have scampered off at the sight of humans, some carrying pieces of flesh.

A pine cone shortage may have led the squirrels to seek other food sources, although scientists are sceptical.

The attack was reported in parkland in the centre of Lazo, a village in the Maritime Territory, and was witnessed by three local people.

A "big" stray dog was nosing about the trees and barking at squirrels hiding in branches overhead when a number of them suddenly descended and attacked, reports say.

"They literally gutted the dog," local journalist Anastasia Trubitsina told Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.

"When they saw the men, they scattered in different directions, taking pieces of their kill away with them."

Mikhail Tiyunov, a scientist in the region, said it was the first he had ever heard of such an attack.

While squirrels without sources of protein might attack birds' nests, he said, the idea of them chewing a dog to death was "absurd".

"If it really happened, things must be pretty bad in our forests," he added.

Komosmolskaya Pravda notes that in a previous incident this autumn chipmunks terrorised cats in a part of the territory.

A Lazo man who called himself only Mikhalich said there had been "no pine cones at all" in the local forests this year.

"The little beasts are agitated because they have nothing to eat," he added.

Sting Rays

A US man has been stabbed in the chest by a stingray which leapt on board his boat in Florida.

James Bertakis, 81, was critically ill in hospital after undergoing surgery to remove the stingray's barb.

He was brought ashore by his granddaughter and her friend, who were also on the boat, after the attack.

Last month, Australian TV naturalist Steve Irwin died when a stingray's barb pierced his heart as he filmed at Queensland's Great Barrier Reef.

US officials say they are shocked at the attack on Mr Bertakis.

"It was a freak accident," David Donzella, acting fire chief in Mr Bertakis' hometown of Lighthouse Point, was quoted as saying by the Associated Press news agency.

"It's very odd that the thing jumped out of the water and stung him. We still can't believe it," he said.

Surgeons were able to remove some of the barb from Mr Bertakis' chest.

The stingray died on the boat after the attack, officials said.

The stingray is a flat, triangular-shaped fish, commonly found in tropical waters.

It gets its name from the razor-sharp barb at the end of its tail, coated in toxic venom, which it uses in defence when it feels threatened.

Attacks on humans are extremely rare, scientists say.

Last Updated: Friday, 21 March 2008, 16:52 GMT

Leaping stingray kills US woman

A US woman on a boat off the Florida Keys has died after a stingray leaped up and struck her in the face.

Judy Kay Zagorski was boating with her family in the Atlantic Ocean when the 75lb (34kg) spotted eagle ray hit her.

The force of the blow knocked the 57-year-old over and her head struck the deck of the vessel, in what officials called a "bizarre incident".

The stingray died in the impact. Mrs Zagorski, of Pigeon, Michigan, was pronounced dead in hospital.

"It's just as freakish an accident as I have heard," wildlife official Jorge Pino told the Associated Press news agency.

Mr Pino said she did not appear to have been pierced by any of the ray's barbs.

The incident occurred near the town of Marathon in southern Florida.

In September 2006, Australian TV naturalist Steve Irwin died when a stingray's barb punctured his heart as he filmed at Queensland's Great Barrier Reef.

A month later, an 81-year-old Florida man was lucky to survive after a stingray landed in his boat and left a foot-long barb in his chest.


Who, What, Why: How dangerous are swans?

17 April 2012 Last updated at 11:41 GMT

A man has drowned after being attacked by a swan, which knocked him out of his kayak and stopped him swimming to shore. So how dangerous are these graceful white birds?

Anthony Hensley, 37, worked for a company that provided swans to keep geese away from property.

On Saturday morning, the married father of two set out in a kayak across a pond at a residential complex in Des Plaines, just outside Chicago, where he was tending the birds.

One of the swans charged his boat, capsizing it, says Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, whose deputies investigated the death.

Mr Hensley tried to swim to shore but eyewitnesses told the sheriff's investigators the swan appeared to have actively blocked him.


In April 2010, a swan on the River Cam in England made the news after repeatedly attacking rowers. It was nicknamed Mr Asbo, named after the Anti-Social Behaviour Orders issued by UK courts at the time. Two years later, there are still calls for it to be removed from the river, as the seasonal attacks go on.

But such incidents are very rare, says John Huston of the Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset, where there are 1,000 swans but no recorded attacks on humans in the colony's 600-year history.


Capitini, C.M., I.A. Herrero, R. Patel, M.B. Ishitani, and T.G. Boyce. 2002. Wound Infection with Neisseria weaveri and a Novel Subspecies of Pasteurella multocida in a Child Who Sustained a Tiger Bite. Clinical Infectious Diseases, vol. 34, pp. e74–76.


World Wildlife Fund

Caught on film: WWF captures tiger, tiger bites back

It's rare to escape a tiger attack unscathed. But a hidden camera set up in the Indonesian jungle by World Wildlife Fund has captured a rare Sumatran tiger walking through the jungle and then assaulting the camera after the flash goes off. The camera survived the attack and even took an image from inside the tiger's mouth.

The photo sequence was released today and can be found at, which will be regularly updated with photos from 30 "camera traps" in Sumatra. These are the first camera traps ever set up in the heart of central Sumatra's species-rich lowland rain forests.

Photos of critically endangered Sumatran tigers in the wild are scarce, because there are as few as 400 of the big cats remaining. WWF has stationed 30 camera traps in central Sumatra to determine where tigers exist and which habitat on the Indonesian island is most critical to their survival. The photo sequence was taken in the new Tesso Nilo National Park, which received protected status last year after lobbying by WWF.

"It's fortunate the camera survived the attack so we could retrieve the film," said Sybille Klenzendorf, lead scientist for WWF's tiger program. "We're confident that over the next year, the cameras will continue to yield new information about tigers in Sumatra and which forests most urgently need to be protected."

The photos show the tiger walking through the jungle, then turning to approach the camera after noticing the flash go off. The tiger strikes the camera with its paw, then tries to take a bite out of it before turning its back on the camera and walking away. Camera traps, attached to trees throughout the jungle in potential tiger habitat, are activated by infrared triggers when body heat from animals is detected.

Sumatran tigers face a number of threats – notably poaching and habitat loss – and could go extinct in the 21st century. Much of the forest where WWF's camera traps are set up is slated to be cut down and converted to commercial plantations, threatening the tigers and the prey they feed on.

"The good news for tigers is that, like housecats, they breed quickly. Populations are able to rebound if they are protected from poaching and if their habitat is preserved," Klenzendorf said. "It's not too late for Indonesia to get serious about wildlife protection and save the country's last tigers."

Indonesia already has lost two tiger subspecies, the Bali and Javan tigers, which became extinct in the 1940s and 1980s respectively. Three of the world's eight tiger subspecies have gone extinct in the past 70 years; the remaining five subspecies are all endangered.


International Whaling Commission, Whales and ship strikes including an incident database

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 5:07 AM

"The Belgian Ministry of Environment is happy to inform you about the release of a folder on ship strikes with whales. Ship strikes are now a recognized cause of mortality for whales globally. Every segment of the maritime industry is concerned, as well as sailing boats. The folder commissioned by Belgium includes advice to reduce the risk of collisions with whales. It also provides the link to the ship strikes database developed by the International Whaling Commission which offers an easy to use interface for data entry. Ship strikes are a priority area of work for the International Whaling Commission and other international organizations. The folder is available in six languages and can namely be used by ship strikes contact points, whale stranding networks coordinators and maritime authorities.

Last Updated Tue, 24 Aug 2004 19:44:03 EDT

Whale shuts down N.S. power plant

ANNAPOLIS ROYAL, N.S. - A humpback whale has forced the shutdown of a hydroelectric plant after swimming through the underground gates that connect the tidal power facility with the Bay of Fundy.

Nova Scotia Power officials said Tuesday that the whale got into the Annapolis Tidal Power Plant's head pond on Monday while apparently following a school of herring that swam through gates that were opened at high tide.

Officials were concerned the whale could get caught in a turbine, so the plant was shut down. They said it will remain closed until the whale leaves.

Emily Boucher, a tour guide at the plant's visitor centre, said she noticed the whale Monday afternoon.

"I looked out and ... there was a big spout of water and a big fin," Boucher said. "He was splashing around and diving and he really put on a show for us."

Fisheries officers are now trying to figure out how to coax the whale back through the two 10-metre wide gates and back into the bay.

Boaters have been asked to stay away from the area.

"The whale made some attempts to go back to the gates, but the presence of boaters may have been a distraction," Nova Scotia Power spokeswoman Margaret Murphy said.

Fisheries department spokesman Jerry Conway said the six-metre humpback does not appear to be in any immediate danger.

Written by CBC News Online staff

Whale Exploding

Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 January, 2004, 13:41 GMT

Whale explodes in Taiwanese city

A dead sperm whale has exploded while being delivered to a research centre near the southwestern city of Tainan.

Passers-by and cars were soaked in blood and body parts were sprayed over a road after the bursting of the whale, which was being carried on a trailer.

The whale had died earlier on a beach and had been collected so its remains could be used for educational purposes.

A marine biologist blamed the explosion on pressure from gases building up in the mammal as it began to decompose.

The whale attracted a lot of onlookers both before and after it exploded.

Several parked cars and pedestrians got covered in blood when it exploded.

Residents and shop owners wore masks while trying to clean up the spilt blood and entrails.

"What a stinking mess. This blood and other stuff that blew out on the road is disgusting, and the smell is really awful," said one resident.

Professor Wang Chien-ping, of the National Cheng Kung University in Tainan, had ordered the whale to be moved to the Shi-Tsao Natural Preserve after his own institution refused to allow a post-mortem examination on its own premises.

He said that the animal had been close to death when it was found on a beach and had died by the time help arrived.

"Because of the natural decomposing process, a lot of gases accumulated, and when the pressure build-up was too great, the whale's belly exploded."

However he said despite the explosion, enough of the whale remained to allow for an examination by marine biologists.

Professor Wang said initial observation showed the whale to be an older bull and that its weight of 50 tonnes and 17 metre-length made it the largest whale ever recorded in Taiwan.

Reports say because of the whale's size, it took 13 hours, three large lifting cranes and 50 workers to get the whale loaded on the trailer truck for its final trip.


Page last updated at 08:11 GMT, Tuesday, 6 April 2010 09:11 UK

Wombat bites Australian bush fire survivor

A man who survived last year's deadly bush fires in Australia is recovering in hospital after falling victim to a rare attack by a wombat.

Bruce Kringle, 60, was pulled to the ground by the animal and bitten on the legs and arms after apparently stepping on it by mistake.

He escaped after killing the wombat with an axe.

Animal experts said it appeared the wombat had been suffering from mange, which had made it irritable.

Paramedic Robert Gill said it appeared Mr Kringle had trodden on the animal when he left his caravan in Flowerdale, north-east of Melbourne.


There were reports that local people had complained about a rogue wombat in the area in recent days.


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