Sunday, July 29, 2012

10 Unexplained Ocean Mysteries

The vast briny deep has been the source for many a tale of the unexplained and unexplainable. Even though water covers a majority of the planet, we know more about outer space than we do about what exists beneath the surface of the oceans. The mysteries of the deep date back to ancient times. Modern science has been able to dispel many of these tall tales, but not all of them.

I recently came across a list of ten unexplained ocean mysteries (shown here in no particular order). There are, of course, many more strange and unexplainable occurrences than the ten I've listed.

10) "The Bloop" and "Julia"
Several creepy sounds have been recorded by underwater microphones off the Southern coast of South America. Nearly all of these sounds have been attributed to volcanic activity and shifting icebergs. There are, however, two incidents that have baffled scientists. The Bloop occurred in 1997 and lasted over a minute. In the same region, two years later, they recorded something that sounded like a watery voice saying Julia. Both seismic and human activity were ruled out in each case. Scientists agree than an animal is responsible for Julia, but no currently known creature is large enough to produce such a noise.

9) The Mary Celeste
In 1872, a merchant ship named Mary Celeste set sail from New York with ten people on board. Eight days later the ship was found adrift in the North Atlantic, intact with the exception of one missing lifeboat. A six month's supply of food was on board as were the crew's belongings along with the ship's logbook and some charts. Neither the lifeboat nor any bodies were ever found. So, what happened to the sailors, the captain and the captain's family? With valuables left on board, a pirate takeover wasn't the answer. An experienced crew and well-liked captain ruled out error and mutiny. To this day no one has an explanation for what occurred on board the Mary Celeste.

8) The Sonar Flying Saucer
Swedish researcher Peter Lindberg was using sonar to search for a shipwreck between Sweden and Finland in 300 feet of water. In July 2011, he discovered a perfectly round circle approximately 60 feet in diameter with deep scars nearby on the ocean floor suggesting the object had moved across the ocean bottom. Released sonar images immediately had a number of news outlets claiming the object was a UFO. Although finding a perfectly round object of that size on the ocean floor is very strange, sonar specialists declared the resolution of the image too low to identify it as anything in particular. Until more money is available for improved equipment and more exploration, the object will remain a mystery.

7) The Montauk Monster
In the summer of 2008, an unidentified dead animal washed up on the shore at Montauk, New York. Although several people reported seeing it and photographs surfaced, the carcass disappeared before police were able to recover the remains. Newspapers ran the story along with a grotesque image. Locals speculated that it could be a mutant resulting from experiments at nearby Plum Island Animal Disease Center. Others suggested that it was nothing more than a hoax. Many scientists who studied the photographs think it was a known species heavily damaged and decomposed as a result of time spent in the water. The raccoon claim seems to be the closest, but the Montauk Monster's legs are longer than a normal raccoon leaving us without a definitive conclusion.

6) The Vil Vana
A 41-foot fishing trawler with a seven man crew mysteriously vanished off the coast of Santa Cruz Island in 1993. With no signal for help and very few ship remains ever found, it was determined that the boat sank quickly and fully intact. For two decades, investigators have been baffled by the fact that no diesel fuel ever bubbled to the surface and no bodies were ever found. Some of the victim's families believe that a military submarine may have accidently caught one of the boats' nets and dragged it under. This is rare, but possible. Four years earlier a submarine sank a tugboat in the same area. The case of the Vil Vana is still open and unsolved.

5) The Lost City Of Atlantis
In 360 B.C. Plato wrote "in a single day and night of misfortune" a major sea power called Atlantis mysteriously sank into the ocean. Some historians have labeled Plato's account a myth while others have dedicated their lives to finding the lost city which they believe was a super power devastated by a natural disaster. It's been suggested that Plato was describing the Minoan civilization on Crete and neighboring Santorini where a devastating volcanic eruption happened in 1600 B.C. During the last fifteen years several research teams claimed to have located Atlantis, but this 2000 year old puzzle is still waiting to be solved.

4) The Bermuda Triangle
Certainly one of the best known ocean mysteries, this stretch of water between Bermuda, Miami, and San Juan has also been called The Devil's Triangle. Most of today's theories say that nearly all reported incidents are due to equipment or human error combined with the areas strong currents and frequent (and sudden) storms. Others strongly believe that paranormal activity or a magnetic anomaly are to blame. A few of the Bermuda Triangle accidents have escaped any type of scientific explanation. The U.S.S. Cyclops with 306 people on board disappeared in 1918 between Barbados and Baltimore with no signal for help and no remains discovered. Five Navy bombers disappeared off the coast of Florida in 1945 with neither the planes nor any bodies ever found. A DC-3 plane with 3 crewmen and 29 passengers on a flight from San Juan to Miami with perfect visibility radioed in just 50 miles from landing saying all was well, but the plane never arrived and has never been found.

3) Alaska's Loch Ness Monster
In Bristol Bay, Alaska, a fisherman managed to get some film footage of what the locals refer to as Caddy, a creature with undulating body, horse-like head, long neck, big eyes and back humps—much the same as descriptions of sea serpent sightings from Scotland's Loch Ness and of Lake Champlain's Champ on the New York-Vermont state line. This footage shot in 2009 has the distinction of being the first hard video evidence. After studying the footage, scientists have determined that the creature isn't a whale, seal, shark, eel or fish. It has been suggested that the film shows a Cadborosaurus, a beast named for Cadboro Bay in British Columbia combined with the Greek word saurus (lizard) that's been popular in Alaskan lore for nearly 200 years. But, without more physical clues no definite conclusions can be drawn.

2) Quackers
In various parts of the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans during the peak of the Cold War, Soviet submarines reported hearing mysterious sounds they called quakers (the Russian version of our own ribbit of a frog). Using sound recording from various ships, scientists concluded that the noises were made by a moving object with the behavior of a living creature or manned vessel. The origin of the sounds seemed to show interest in and occasionally circle the subs. However, their sonar was unable to find anything to account for the sounds. The Soviets claimed it was secret U.S. technology. Others believed it was giant squids that evaded sonar because they don't have a rigid skeleton. The most mysterious part of the quaker puzzle is that the sounds stopped in the mid 1980s.
(Note: spellings of quackers and quakers was the way it appeared in the article)

1) The Baychimo Ghost Ship
For centuries there have been stories about ghost ships either manned by the dead or possessed by some type of unknown force. While most of these stories are considered myths, one actual ghost ship did exist. Baychimo, a 1322-ton cargo steamer became trapped in pack ice in 1931 where the crew had to abandon ship off the coast of Alaska. A harsh blizzard hit and the ship was nowhere to be found. The crew assumed the ship had sunk, but Inuit hunters reported several sightings over the ensuing months. Many reports were received for nearly 40 years from people claiming to have seen the unmanned vessel sailing the waters around Alaska as if still in use. The last reported sighting was in 1969. The ultimate fate of Baychimo is a mystery.

And as a footnote to Ghost Ships:

This didn't actually involve a ship, but it is about a large man-made object that ended up navigating thousands of miles of ocean on its own. The tsunami following the Japanese earthquake ripped apart four large sections of dock and set them adrift on the ocean, each about the size of a freight train box car. One landed on a nearby island, two were never seen again, but the fourth managed to find its way across 5000 miles of ocean without any type of help and came to rest on a beach in Oregon. So…I guess a ship without a crew could continue to stay afloat and move with the currents and tides for an indeterminate amount of time.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

10 Little Known Wars

For every major war that fills our history books and newspapers—the Revolutionary War of the American colonists vs. England, Civil War with the North vs. the South, World War I, World War II, what were termed police actions such as Korea and Viet Nam (war by any other name), leading up to the current armed conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan—there are dozens of small wars that don't receive any attention in history class. Some of them are ludicrous and others are very serious.

Here's a list of 10 wars you probably never heard about.

The Pig War
This little known conflict dates back to 1859 and had the potential to change the course of American history. And it all started with a pig. Both America and Britain claimed possession of San Juan Island off the coast of Washington state. The two countries maintained an uneasy truce…until an American farmer shot a British pig he discovered tearing up his potato patch. This action resulted in the British trying to arrest the farmer who called in the American troops in support of his position. The two countries squared off on the tiny island. The British Navy sent 3 warships and over 2,000 men. No shots were fired (beyond the original shot that killed the pig). San Juan Island was eventually ceded to the Americans as part of the San Juan Islands group.

The Stray Dog War
And speaking of animals being the source of an international conflict, that's also the case with the long-running rivalry between Bulgaria and Greece. In 1925 a Greek soldier chased his runaway dog across the border and was shot dead by a Bulgarian border guard. That action set off an immediate retaliation with the Greek army invading the border region of Petrich and routing the Bulgarian army. The League of Nations ordered Greece to withdraw and pay Bulgaria about $90,000 in damages.

The War Of Jenkins' Ear
There are lots of reasons why wars start, but there's only one known to have started because of a severed ear. British sea captain Robert Jenkins' boat was boarded by the Spanish in the Caribbean. The Spanish accused him of piracy and cut off his left ear. In 1738, Jenkins brought the ear to Parliament and it was enough for Great Britain to declare war on Spain. After 7 years of conflict, both countries backed off with no major territory changes on either side.

The Moldovan-Transdniestrian War
The breakup of the Soviet Union left several countries looking for something to do and in some cases that something ended up being war. Moldova had a partisan faction wanting to stay allied with Romania and another wanting to align with Russia. Nearly a thousand people were killed before hostilities ceased. The unusual part of the war was the relationship between the soldiers of the opposing sides. After battling each other during the day, they would socialize in the bars in the disputed zone at night, often apologizing to each other for the events of the day.

The Honey War
In the early days of the United States when the federal government wasn't as strong as it is now, the individual states often became involved in ridiculous squabbles with each other that sometimes escalated into violence. In 1839, the governor of Missouri decided to redraw his state's border with Iowa because…well, apparently because he felt like it that morning. And then he sent in his tax collectors to pick up some extra cash from its new citizens. Needless to say, this didn't go over very well. The only thing the tax collectors were able to collect consisted of 3 beehives full of honey. The Missouri militia got into an armed conflict with Iowa citizens who captured a sheriff. Congress finally drew a permanent border line and told both states chill out.

Anglo-Zanzibar War
This conflict lasted an awesome 38 minutes making it the world record holder for the shortest war in history. Khalid vin Bargash, the new Sultan of Zanzibar, came into power in 1896. He didn't like having his protectorate as a British puppet so he declared war and barricaded himself in the palace. Less than an hour later, the British had shelled him, removed him from power and installed a new Sultan in his place.

The Football War
This four day war between Honduras and El Salvador was about more than a soccer game. Hundreds of thousands Salvadorans had been moving to Honduras to find work. By the late 1970s, tensions between the two countries had reached the breaking point. The spark that set off the war was the FIFA World Cup qualifying matches between the two countries. After each had won one game, the Salvadoran Air Force (passenger planes with bombs strapped to them) attacked Honduran targets. Neither nation could support an extended war, so a cease-fire was negotiated. They remained bitter enemies for more than a decade.

The Watermelon War
Yet another war that started over a trivial matter and quickly escalated out of control. The United States occupation of Panama to build the canal displaced much of the nation's white-collar workforce, leaving a great many natives unemployed. A boat carrying 1,000 American workers landed in Panama City making the matter even worse. One of those passengers, an American named Jack Oliver, took a piece of watermelon from a Panamanian vendor and refused to pay for it. The vendor pulled a knife. Oliver pulled a gun. And both sides were battling it out with each sustaining casualties. Eventually a railroad car of riflemen arrived on the scene and brokered a peace. The brief war, however, laid the groundwork for the later American occupation of Panama.

The Emu War
Unlike earlier mentioned wars started because of animals, this one was a war against animals. In 1932 Australia found itself overrun by emus, a large flightless bird that looks like an ostrich. More than 20,000 emus were destroying crops so the government declared all out war on the birds. They sent soldiers armed with machine guns and orders to shoot emus on sight. The birds proved to be tougher than estimated and after a week the commanding officer gave up. They had killed barely 10 percent of their target.

The Chaco War
This was a South American conflict that started over a postage stamp. The Chaco region is on the border between Bolivia and Paraguay with both countries believing the region was rich in oil (which it wasn't). Bolivia issued a postage stamp in 1932 featuring a map of their country including the Chaco region. Not to be outdone, Paraguay struck back by issuing their own stamp with their map including the Chaco region. Hostilities erupted in the region with both sides buying arms from the U.S. and from Europe. When it was over, Paraguay was the winner and new owner of a completely useless piece of land.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Nude Beaches—A Vacation Destination?

Legally designated nude beaches exist all over the world. Many travelers make vacation plans with one or more of these beaches as their specific destination.

Expedia did a recent survey to discover which country's residents are more likely to take a nude beach vacation. Their results indicated that Germans were the most likely to take it all off for vacation with 15% of those surveyed saying that had tanned at a nude beach. Spain and India shared the #2 spot with 8% (only a little over half of Germany's rating). Sweden, Denmark, Mexico and the Netherlands tied with 6%. The U.S. and U.K. occupied the #7 spot with just 2%.

Do you find the idea of a nude beach vacation intriguing but you don't know where to go? Following is a selection of international nude beaches that attract a faithful following.

Saline Beach—St. Barth:
This is St. Barth's most secluded beach, tucked away underneath a rocky hillside, where you can enjoy an afternoon glass of wine wearing only a hat and a smile.

Es Cavallet Beach—Ibiza, Spain:
This is one of several nude beaches in Spain. It's been reported that penalization for nudity in Spain violates constitutional rights.

South Beach—Miami, Florida U.S.A.:
You enter this beach near Haulover Park and be greeted by nude beach volleyball. Gives a whole new meaning to spectator sport.

Black's Beach—San Diego, California U.S.A.:
The Black Beach Bares is a group of local nude sport enthusiasts who enjoy stripped snorkeling, birthday suit boogie, and jiggly jogging.

Plage de Tahiti—St. Tropez, France:
This nude beach caters to the jet set rich and famous crowd. The rule is No Cameras Allowed.

Praia do Pinho—Santa Catarina, Brazil:
In 1987, Pinho became the first nationally sanctioned au natural beach in Brazil. It's motto? "Clothing is not an option."

Paradise Beach—Mykonos, Greece:
It's party all day and all night at the bars and clubs found along the sand line.

Little Beach—Maui, Hawaii U.S.A.:
This is Maui's official unofficial clothing optional beach.

Playa El Aqua—Margarita Island, Venezuela:
Margarita Island claims that in countries where nude sunbathing is widely permitted there is less incidence of sexual assault.

Clifton Beach—South Africa:
With steep dunes behind the beach to hide the sunbathers from gawkers, Clifton Beach claims it is the ideal nudist beach due to four sheltered coves that protect beach goers from chilly winds.

Baker Beach—San Francisco, California U.S.A.:
As part of San Francisco's Presidio, the half-mile long beach is on the San Francisco peninsula. But be warned, clothing optional is allowed only on the northern section.

Wreck Beach—Vancouver, B.C. Canada:
Hundreds of thousands visit Canada's first and largest clothing-optional beach each year. The beach is 7.8 kilometers long and follows the coastline below the forested 200-foot high cliff at the western tip of Vancouver.

Have any of you ever been to a nude beach? In which country?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

25 Obscure World Facts

There are almost 200 countries in the world. Even if you are a knowledgeable global citizen, I'll bet there are some items on this list that will be new to you. There are two countries that made it on the list twice (does not include honorable mentions)—Canada for #6 and #19, and Russia at #3 and #17.

25) Covers The Most Time Zones:
This honor goes to France, covering 12 time zones (when you include everything including overseas territories). The United States is next with 11 time zones, then Russia with 9 time zones.

24) Most Likely To Disappear Beneath The Waves:
With global warming and rising sea levels, the residents of the Maldives will be the first to suffer this fate. Their nation is the lowest on earth with an average height of only 1.8 meters (approx. 5.85 feet) above sea level.

23) Most Overweight Population:
More than 95% of the population of the small island nation of Nauru is overweight. This is primarily attributed to the importation of western fast food.

22) Roads Made Of Coral:
Guam doesn't have any natural sand, therefore, the island nation makes its asphalt using a mix of ground up coral and oil rather than importing sand.

21) 350 Sheep For Every Person:
The Falkland Islands' population is about 3000 people and half a million sheep. Needless to say, the major export is wool.

20) Oldest Sovereign State:
Depending on your definition of sovereign state (first acquisition of sovereignty) then Egypt is the winner based on the formation of the first dynasty in 3100 BC.

19) Most Lakes In The World:
Canada can claim this honor with over 3 million lakes (9% of the country) being fresh water and over 60% of all the lakes in the world within its borders.

18) Least Likely Place To Meet Your Neighbor:
With a population of only 4 people per square mile, Mongolia is the least populated country on Earth. The Mong Kok district of Hong Kong has the highest population density in the world with 340,000 people per square mile.

17) Largest Number Of Military Tanks:
Russia has the most tanks of any army in the world (21,000). However, most of these are outdated. The United States has an inventory of 16,000 tanks but they are much more advanced.

16) The Land With No Rivers:
You would think that a country as big as Saudi Arabia would have some sort of flowing water. Well, you'd be wrong. Most of their fresh water comes from desalinization plants or underground reservoirs.

15) Youngest Population:
This is calculated by determining the portion of the population that is younger than 15 years old. The current holder of this distinction is Niger with 49% of its population meeting this criteria.

14) Most Diverse Country:
Culturally, economically, climatically, racially, linguistically, ethnically, and religiously…the winner seems to be India.

13) Fastest Disappearing:
With a decrease in population of .8% annually, between now and the year 2050 the Ukraine is expected to lose approximately 30% of its population.

12) Most Of Its Citizens Live Abroad:
Rough economic times combined with an increased birth rate resulted in large numbers of people leaving Malta so that now there are more Maltese living abroad than within the country.

11) Smaller Than Central Park In New York City:
Although Vatican City is smaller in land size (.17 square mile) than Monaco (.8 square mile), it doesn't have any permanent residents which makes Monaco the smallest permanently inhabited nation in the world.
(Note: not sure I agree with Vatican City not having any permanent residents...wouldn't the Pope and his staff be considered residents and since the Pope holds that position for life, that sounds permanent to me)

10) Almost Entirely Covered In Jungle:
Suriname has 91% of its land covered in jungle. Half a million residents live primarily along the coast near the capital with only 5% of the population living inland.

9) Almost Entirely Treeless:
On the opposite end of the scale from Suriname is Haiti. The country has been so badly deforested that you can actually see where the border is between Haiti and the Dominican Republic in a satellite image.

8) Largest Country With No Farms:
There are a number of small nations in the world that have no hint of an agriculture based economy (such as Vatican City), Singapore is the largest of these urban city-states.

7) Most Languages Spoken:
English is its official language, but only 1-2% of the population of Papua New Guinea actually speak it. It's the most linguistically diverse country in the world with over 820 languages (12% of the world's total) spoken there.

6) Most Educated People:
Canada easily has the most educated population in the world with 50% of its people having been educated at the post secondary level. Israel is next with 45% followed by Japan at 44%.

5) The "Country Desert":
99% of Libya is covered in desert and is one of the most arid places in the world. Some regions of the country can go decades without a single drop of rain.

4) Least Peaceful Nation:
Although for the last 3 years Iraq has been ranked as the least peaceful country, the Global Peace Index has declared that in this year Somalia moved up to the top spot.

3) Produces Most Of The World's Oxygen:
Approximately 25% of the world's forests are in Siberia spanning an area larger than the continental United States which makes Russia the largest converter of carbon dioxide into breathable air.

2) Largest Opium Producer:
Afghanistan produces a whopping 95% of the world's opium. Not even 10 years of occupation by American forces has been able to slow down this industry.

1) Most People Behind Bars:
This dubious honor belongs to the United States. We have 2.2 million people behind bars. We have 5% of the world's population but 25% of the world's incarcerated population.

My disclaimer—this list was sent to me in an email, I have not personally checked out these facts.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Fourth Of July Holiday—Some Trivia And A Fireworks Safety Quiz

July 4, Independence Day—on this date in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress, setting the 13 colonies on the road to freedom as a sovereign nation. The U.S. Constitution, the document that emerged from the 1787 Philadelphia Convention, is the oldest national constitution in the world.

As always, this most American of holidays will be marked by fireworks, parades, and backyard barbecues. Fireworks displays are common throughout the world and are the focal point of many cultural and religious celebrations. Fireworks were invented in ancient China to scare away evil spirits, as a natural extension of the Chinese invention of gunpowder.

With 4th of July fireworks comes the concern for safety. A reality for the holiday is that fireworks cause thousands of injuries, and even some deaths, in addition to enough fires to make July 4 the day with the most reported fires across the United States according to the National Fire Protection Association.

So…how much do you know about fireworks safety? Here's a 9 question quiz to test your knowledge. Correct answers are at the end.

1) How hot does a sparkler burn?
a: 212 degrees
b: 600 degrees
c: 950 degrees
d: 1200 degrees

2) What portion of 4th of July fires are caused by fireworks?
a: 10 percent
b: 35 percent
c: 50 percent
d: 90 percent

3) Which age group has the most injuries reported from fireworks?
a: under 20
b: 20 – 40
c: 40 – 60
d: 60+

4) You should skip buying fireworks in brown paper packaging as that could be a sign that they're made for professionals, not consumers.
a: true
b: false

5) If a pack of fireworks has not fully functioned, you should cautiously relight it.
a: true
b: false

6) What's the best way to dispose of a used firework?
a: throw in trash
b: use hose or bucket of water to soak them then throw away
c: bury them

7) Last year what was the most common fireworks injury?
a: fractures and sprains
b: contusions and lacerations
c: ear injuries
d: burns
e: eye injuries

8) According to a U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission investigation, which of these were common reasons for fireworks injuries?
a: holding fireworks in the hand
b: mischief
c: debris or smoke from a malfunction
d: errant flight path from a malfunction
e: early or late ignition from a malfunction
f: all of the above

9) Never light more than how many fireworks at a time?
a: 1
b: 2
c: 3

And now, for those of you who want to see how well you did on the quiz—

1) the correct answer is d…1200 degrees F, hot enough to burn certain metals and ignite clothing.
2) the correct answer is c…50 percent, when shooting fireworks keep a bucket of water or sand available.
3) the correct answer is a…under 20, children 10 – 14 are more than twice as much at risk for fireworks injuries.
4) the correct answer is a…true.
5) the correct answer is b…false, any malfunctioning fireworks should be soaked in water and then thrown away
6) the correct answer is b…use hose or bucket of water to soak them and then throw them away
7) the correct answer is d…burns
8) the correct answer is f…all of the above
9) the correct answer is a…light just 1 at a time.

Happy…and safe…holiday to everyone.