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Living the pelagic life: of oil, enemies, giant eggs and telomeres (petrels part II)

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Cape petrel (Daption capense) - one of my favourite petrels. Photo by JJ Harrison, from wikipedia.

In the previous article we looked very briefly at a few basic aspects of petrel diversity, focusing in particular on their distinctive, tube-nosed bills (though, note: not unique to petrels but present across Procellariiformes). Here, I want to look at these birds in a bit more depth. We focus here on oil production and storage and also on reproduction, longevity, mortality and some related aspects of natural history. [Adjacent photo by JJ Harrison. Annoying fuzziness of these images due to scrunching - I have to reduce them as much as possible via the ‘save for web’ function.]

Oil, squirting oil, using oil, and why contain oil in the first place?

It used to be thought that the petrel nasal tube acted as a nozzle allowing the birds to squirt stomach oil as a defensive measure. In fact, the birds squirt oil defensively through the mouth (though, when handled, they do sometimes drip oil from the nasal tube). This oil-squirting behaviour is most famously practised by fulmars (Fulmarus) but other members of the petrel group Fulmarini (all of which nest out in the open, rather than in burrows like many other petrels) do it as well. [Fulmar image below by T. Müller.]

Northern fulmar pair, here not squirting oil. Photo by T. Müller, from wikipedia.

Fulmars in fact are able to squirt with quite some accuracy up to a distance of a metre or two, and young fulmar chicks seem to squirt at just about anything that comes within reach, including their parents (the chicks later learn not to do this). The oil mats feathers together and destroys their water-proofing abilities, so soiled birds generally die from chilling and/or drowning (fulmars seem ok when soiled by other fulmars, however, being able to preen and wash the oil out). There are cases where sea-eagles have died after being squirted by fulmars (Dennis 1970) and about another 20 species are known to have been killed as well, including herons, gulls, owls, falcons, crows and a few unfortunate small passerines (Broad 1974, Booth 1976, Warham 1977). A fulmar kept in captivity with gulls and auks managed to kill five of them by soaking them with oil. There aren’t many images of oil-spitting petrels out there, but I managed to find the one below. It’s from anneleeuw’s flickr site.

Brilliant image of oil-spitting fulmar by anneleeuw (c).

Where does this oil come from? A peculiarity of tubenose biology is that adults and young contain large quantities of oil in the proventriculus (e.g., Weimerskirch & Cherel 1998, Cherel et al. 2002).

This oil varies from clear to deep reddish-brown and solidifies to form a wax when cool. It has been used medicinally by humans as well as in the lubrication of machinery and of course in providing illumination. Oil from Short-tailed shearwaters Puffinus tenuirostris has been used in the manufacture of sun-tan lotion and as a coat shine for horses (Warham 1977).

It used to be thought that the birds manufactured the oil themselves. In fact, its chemical composition shows that they obtain it by rupturing their animal prey, differentially digesting the proteins and lipids, and concentrating huge quantities of energy in oil form (Warham 1977). This serves as an energy reserve for adults on long foraging trips but also allows them to provision their chicks with a condensed, lightweight (specific gravity 0.88) and highly nutritious substance in between periods of absence. Adult petrels tend to ‘overstock’ their chicks with oil, perhaps as a precaution against unexpectedly long trips away from the nest, and the oil-squirting abilities of chicks show that they contain a seemingly large amount of oil at any one time. They couldn’t do this if they were only being given the bare minimum to stay alive. Adults actually need to store the energy they gain on their long foraging trips in order that they can afford the many short trips required to feed the chick (Weimerskirch et al. 2003). In other words, the long foraging trips seem to allow parents to recoup their energetic losses.

Pelagic life

As a generalisation, petrels are stiff-winged soaring birds with low wing loadings. Wingspans range from about 60 cm in some of the prions (Pachyptila) to 2 m in the awesome, vulturine giant petrels (Macronectes). Petrels are pelagic, covering substantial distances across the open ocean. Some species are known to travel distances of 15,000 km on single foraging trips. This particular factoid concerns the Short-tailed shearwaters Puffinus tenuirostris that breed on the southern coast of Australia yet were shown by satellite tracking to forage at the limits of Antarctic shelf-ice (Klomp & Schultz 2000).

Wedge-tailed shearwater. Photo by Bryan Harry, from wikipedia.

After breeding, adults disperse. Some species (like prions, some gadfly-petrels and shearwaters like the Wedge-tailed shearwater Pu. pacificus [shown here] in the tropic Pacific and Indian oceans and Townsend’s shearwater Pu. auricularis in the eastern Pacific) are sedentary and only move to adjacent waters, while other range far and wide, even travelling to other oceans. Most Manx shearwaters Pu. puffinus, for example, breed in the north-east Atlantic (some breed off Cape Cod in the west as well*) and then disperse to the south-west before returning north, but it seems that some travel round Cape Horn and end up going north on the ‘wrong’ side of the Americas (Harrison 1988).

* This was only discovered in 1973 (Bierregaard et al. 1975). There are indications that Manx shearwaters bred off the east coast of North America in prehistoric and historic times but became extirpated relatively recently.

Similarly, Cory’s shearwater Calonectris diomedea breeds in the Mediterranean and then disperses right across the Atlantic with many ending up around South Africa and Natal. However, some go round Africa into the western Indian Ocean. These normally (it is thought) move back into the Atlantic before heading north, but the presence of individuals in the northern Red Sea suggests that some of these birds get back into the Mediterranean by migrating north along the east side of the Africa, not the west side.

Petrel predators

Great black-backed gull (Larus marinus) about to start dismembering Manx shearwater. Illustration by Noel Cusa, from Ronald Lockley's Flight of the Storm Petrel. More on Cusa's artwork at a later date.

We saw a moment ago that petrel chicks on nests need to defend themselves from raptors and also from predatory gulls and skuas. Asio owls, caracaras and Buteo hawks are also documented predators of petrels. On Codfish Island, New Zealand, Weka Gallirallus australis were taking such a major toll on Mottled petrels Pterodroma inexpectata and Cook’s petrel Pt. cooki that the decision was eventually made to remove them (Imber et al. 2003).

More unusual predators includes crabs, snakes, tuatara and skinks, all of which are on record as eating petrel eggs and/or nestlings. Foxes predate on some petrel populations and stoats introduced to New Zealand are known to have a significant impact on breeding Hutton’s shearwaters Pu. huttoni (Cuthbert & Davis 2002). Red deer Cervus elephus on the Scottish island of Rhum famously took to biting the heads, wings and legs off Manx shearwater chicks, apparently because of calcium deficiency (Furness 1988). Petrels are not great movers on the ground – their legs are weak, they mostly move with a shuffling gait, and they generally need to climb inclined surfaces (slopes, cliffs or tree trunks) for a takeoff. Needless to say, the altricial chicks are even more helpless, so they can fall prey to just about any animal capable of finding and overpowering or dismembering them.

Domestic cats – introduced to various islands used by nesting petrels – represent a serious threat and seem to have caused massive declines or even the local extinction of some species. To give some idea of how serious cat predation can be, note that about 5000 Cook’s petrels seem to have been killed by cats on a single New Zealand island in a single breeding season (Imber et al. 2003). A colony of Bulwer’s petrel Bulweria bulweria that previously nested on the southwest coast of Gran Canaria was seemingly eradicated by cats (Luzardo et al. 2008). On Marion Island in the southern Indian Ocean, Soft-plumaged petrels Pt. mollis had extremely poor rates of breeding success due to cat predation (just 7.9% of pairs succeeded in raising chicks) while the Common diving-petrels Pelecanoides urinatrix there became extinct some time round about 1952, apparently as a direct result of cat predation. Eradication of cats on Marion Island in 1991 resulted in improved breeding success in some (but not all) of the affected species (Cooper et al. 1995) and cat eradication elsewhere has resulted in petrel recovery (Keitt & Tershy 2003).

This diagram - from Rayner et al. (2007) - shows that, when cats are present (far left), petrel breeding success was higher than when cats were absent (but rats were still present). Needless to say, things only really improved once rats and cats were removed (far right).

However, while eradicating cats might seem like a great move, this isn’t necessarily always the case. People haven’t just introduced cats to islands – they’ve also introduced rats and mice. Freed from cat predation, rats on some islands have experienced so-called ‘mesopredator release’, increasing in number and becoming more significant predators of petrels (Rayner et al. 2007) [Laelaps blogged about this research soon after it was published]. A factor that may complicate attempts to assess the impact of rat predation is that adult petrels may persist for a long time (due to their longevity: read on) even when they are totally failing to raise chicks due to increased rat predation. Conversely, while cat predation may result in greater losses of adults, it may not necessarily have the same devastating impact on nestlings that rat predation does (though… it might). Accordingly, some workers urge that we need to be careful when deciding how to deal with alien predators (Le Corre 2008).

Breeding, brooding, ageing and claims of immortality

From Rahn et al. (1975). Obviously, some petrels produce proportionally large eggs for their body size.

Petrels are long-lived, slow-breeding birds that put a massive amount of effort into raising their chicks. Individuals of some species (the Manx shearwater being the classic example) might be at their nesting grounds from February all the way to September, October or even November. They produce a single, proportionally large egg – somewhere round about 21-25% of the adult’s mass (and thus within the upper range limit for birds)* – and have an incubation period that is round about, and sometimes exceeds, 50 days (Warham 1983). Cases where abandoned, second chicks have been adopted by breeding pairs suggest that parents aren’t able to provision two chick, and furthermore that chicks exhibit high levels of aggression towards one other (Archuby et al. 2010).

"Above is an x-ray of a pregnant kiwi. I think it's pretty clear that the bird can't eat, drink, poop, or even breathe while that monster is in the pipe. It's science." From the pen of Dr Mathew Wedel.

* Caveat # 1: after I said on twitter that some tubenoses exceed kiwi in relative egg mass (in the Little spotted kiwi Apteryx owenii, egg mass can be 22% of body mass), the brilliant Mike Dickison reminded me that allometry needs to be considered. To paraphrase Mike, avian egg mass scales to body mass at about the two-thirds power, so a 200 g bird that produces an egg 25% of body mass is much less remarkable than a 1000 g bird that does likewise. Caveat # 2: while it’s relatively easy to find data on egg mass as a percentage of adult female body mass (Rahn et al. 1975), most birds produce clutches of several or many eggs, and finding clutch size expressed as a percentage of body mass is less easy. Anyway, viewed within the context of both allometry and of total clutch mass, the single eggs of tubenoses and kiwi are not necessarily that remarkable in terms of parental investment, scaling linearly for body size with those of their relatives. It’s the fact that just a single enormous egg is produced that’s so unusual: a risky strategy that relies on low egg/juvenile mortality.

Southern giant petrel with chick. Image by Brocken Inaglory.

Chicks grow slowly. Cory’s shearwater, for example, spend about 90 days in the nest prior to fledging. There are indications that this slow development is related to previously unappreciated peculiarities of tubenose biology. Maternal antibodies, for example, persist for an unusual length of time (20 days or so) in Cory’s shearwater (Garnier et al. 2011).

I said that petrels are generally ‘long-lived’. By this I mean that individuals of some species (like the giant petrels Macronectes) can live for over 50 years (and there are suggestions that some albatrosses can exceed 70 years). [Image above by TheBrockenInaGlory, use licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license. I apologise profusely for not correctly attributing information earlier: this was an unfortunate oversight]. Longevity (though not necessarily of exactly this scale) is not unique to giant species. An individual of Bulwer’s petrel Bulweria bulwerii, for example, was at least 24 years old when last recorded in 1992 on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific.

Some tubenoses (including giant petrels and also storm-petrels) have been at the centre of argument and interest over the role and function of their telomeres. Telomeres are DNA fragments that ‘cap’ the ends of chromosomes, shortening at each cell division event, and also shortening as oxidative stress takes its toll on an animal over time. Older individuals thus have shorter telomeres than younger ones. Sexual differences in telomere length have been reported in some insect, squamate and mammal species (including Homo sapiens).

While the database we have on telomere length is not (so I understand) all that comprehensive, tubenoses are especially interesting because telomere length does not change all that much in adults (Foote et al. 2010). Furthermore, giant petrels were the first birds in which a sexual difference in telomere length was reported, with males have shorter telomeres (Foote et al. 2010). It may or may not be coincidental that giant petrels are unusual among petrels in exhibiting strong sexual dimorphism – perhaps the strongest dimorphism reported in any seabird. What, if any, impact this has on the biology and behaviour of these birds, or whether it skews survival rates between the sexes, is not entirely clear… or, it’s not clear to me, anyway. Do say if you know otherwise.

Leach's storm-petrel. Note: a storm-petrel, NOT a petrel proper. Photo by USFWS, from wikipedia.

Haussmann & Mauck (2008) reported that telomeres appeared to lengthen during growth in Leach’s storm-petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa. This probably doesn’t mean that storm-petrels are immortal (as is intimated in some popular re-tellings of this research) but it is probably related to the fact that these birds live about four times longer than expected for their size. One explanation for this pattern is that hatchlings are variable in telomere length and that individuals with long telomeres are the ones that make it to old age. In other words, it isn’t that telomere length is really increasing with age; rather, old individuals are the ones that made it to old age because they’re the ones with the long telomeres!

MUCH more on petrels still to come. For previous Tet Zoo articles on seabirds, see…

Refs – -

Archuby, D. I., Coria, N. R., Harrington, A., Fusaro, B., Montalti, D. & Favero, M. 2010. Is it possible for a procellariiform to raise two chicks? A case of chick adoption in southern giant petrels Macronectes giganteus in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. Marine Ornithology 38, 125-127.

Bierregaard, R. O., David, A. B., Baird, T. D. & Woodruff, R. E. 1975. First northwestern Atlantic breeding record of the Manx shearwater. The Auk 92, 145-147.

Booth, C. L. 1976. Peregrine and Raven possibly contaminated by Fulmar oil. British Birds 69, 61.

Broad, R. A. 1974. Contamination of birds with fulmar oil. British Birds 67, 297-301.

Cherel, Y., Bocher, P., De Broyer, C. & Hobson, K. A. 2002. Food and feeding ecology of the sympatric thin-billed Pachyptila belcheri and Antarctic P. desolata prions at Iles Kerguelen, Southern Indian Ocean. Marine Ecology Progress Series 228, 263-281.

Cooper, J., Marais, A. v. N., Bloomer, J. P. & Bester, M. N. 1995. A success story: breeding of burrowing petrels (Procellariidae) before and after the eradication of feral cats Felis catus at subantarctic Marion Island. Marine Ornithology 23, 33-37.

Cuthbert, R. & Davis, L.L.S. 2002. The impact of predation by introduced stoats on Hutton’s Shearwaters, New Zealand. Biological Conservation 108, 79-92.

Dennis, R. H. 1970. The oiling of large raptors by fulmars. Scottish Birds 6, 198-199.

Foote, C., Daunt, F., Gonzalez-Solis, J., Nasir, L., Phillips, R., & Monaghan, P. (2010). Individual state and survival prospects: age, sex, and telomere length in a long-lived seabird Behavioral Ecology, 22 (1), 156-161 DOI: 10.1093/beheco/arq178

Furness, R. W. 1988. Predation on ground-nesting seabirds by island populations of red deer Cervus elaphus and sheep OvisJournal of Zoology 216, 565-573.

Garnier, R., Ramos, R., Staszewski, V., Militã, T., Lobato, E., González-Solis, J. & Boulinier, T. 2011. Maternal antibody persistence: a neglected life-history trait with implications from albatross conservation to comparative immunology. Proceedings of the Royal Society B doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.2277

Harrison, P. 1988. Seabirds: an Identification Guide. Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston.

Haussmann, M. F & Mauck, R. A. 2008. Telomeres and longevity: testing an evolutionary hypothesis. Molecular Biology and Evolution 25, 220-228.

Imber, M. J., West, J. A. & Cooper, W. J. 2003. Cook’s petrel (Pterodroma cookii): historic distribution, breeding biology and effects of predators. Notornis 50, 221-230.

Keitt, B. S. & Tershy, B. R. 2003. Cat eradication significantly decreases shearwater mortality. Animal Conservation 6, 307-308.

Klomp, N. I. & Schultz, M. A. 2000. Short-tailed shearwaters breeding in Australia forage in Antarctic waters. Marine Ecology Progress Series 194, 307-310.

Le Corre, M. 2008. Cats, rats and seabirds. Nature 451, 134-135.

Luzardo, J., López-Darias, M., Suárez, V., Calabuig, P., García, E. A. & Martín, C. 2008. First breeding population of Bulwer’s Petrel Bulweria bulwerii recorded on Gran Canaria (Canary Islands) – population size and morphometric data. Marine Ornithology 36, 159-162.

Rahn, H., Paganelli, C. V. & Ar, A. 1975. Relation of avian egg weight to body weight. Auk 92, 750-765.

Rayner M. J., Hauber M. E., Imber M. J., Stamp R. K. & Clout M. N. 2007. Spatial heterogeneity of mesopredator release within an oceanic island system. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104, 20862-20865.

Warham, J. 1977. The incidence, functions and ecological significance of petrel stomach oils. Proceedings of the New Zealand Ecological Society 24, 84-93.

- . 1983. The composition of petrel eggs. Condor 85, 194-199.

Weimerskirch, H., Ancel, A., Calouin, M., Zahariev, A., Spagiari, J., Kersten, M. & Chastel, O., 2003. Foraging efficiency and adjustment of energy expenditure in a pelagic seabird provisioning its chick. Journal of Animal Ecology 72, 500-508.

- . & Cherel, Y. 1998. Feeding ecology of short-tailed shearwaters: breeding in Tasmania and foraging in the Antarctic? Marine Ecology Progress Series 167, 261-274.

Darren Naish About the Author: Darren Naish is a science writer, technical editor and palaeozoologist (affiliated with the University of Southampton, UK). He mostly works on Cretaceous dinosaurs and pterosaurs but has an avid interest in all things tetrapod. His publications can be downloaded at He has been blogging at Tetrapod Zoology since 2006. Check out the Tet Zoo podcast at! Follow on Twitter @TetZoo.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. David Marjanović 11:34 am 03/14/2012

    What, they lead such healthy, predator-free lives that they actually die from telomere exhaustion?!? That would be even more remarkable than killing sea eagles by projectile-puking oil on them.

    BTW, I’d greatly appreciate refs of (or links to) the Benson et al. 2011 and Caldwell 2012 papers you mentioned on Twitter.

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  2. 2. naishd 11:39 am 03/14/2012

    Whoah – I did >not< say that! (viz, telomere exhaustion happens in petrels).

    As for the references you seek…

    Benson, R. B. J., Domokos, G., Várkonyi, P. L. & Reisz, R. R. 2011. Shell geometry and habitat determination in extinct and extant turtles. Paleobiology 37, 547-562.

    Caldwell, M. W. 2012. A challenge to categories: “What, if anything, is a mosasaur?” Bulletin de la Societe Geologique de France 183, 7-34.

    Caldwell’s article actually comes from a mosasaur special issue of BSGF.


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  3. 3. BrianL 11:41 am 03/14/2012

    I think you can add Kea to the unusual predators of petrels. Also, do orcas, seals, sharks, polar bears or crocodiles predate them?

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  4. 4. naishd 11:49 am 03/14/2012

    I think anything that might eat petrels does eat petrels, but I had to stop somewhere :) What about human exploitation of ‘muttonbirds’? (I _have_ recently finished reading Thor Hanson’s Feathers).


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  5. 5. Hai~Ren 2:13 pm 03/14/2012

    I’ve read about the island populations of black tiger snakes (Notechis ater) that apparently eat nothing but muttonbird chicks, going on a binge while the chicks are small enough, then starving for the rest of the year. Is there really nothing else on the island (no lizards, rodents, smaller birds, even juvenile tiger snakes) for them to feed on?

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  6. 6. BilBy 5:48 pm 03/14/2012

    Darren – not just mutton birds, but Cory’s shearwaters used to be eaten by people on Madeira and Porto Santo – hence the loss of those birds on the mainlands and their survival on a few nearby islets. Must have been fun collecting them – I’ve helped ring Cory’s and they can BITE

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  7. 7. Halbred 5:55 pm 03/14/2012

    Okay, petrals are great and all, but you know you’re going to have to write an article about the tuatara now, right?

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  8. 8. Wilbert Friesen 6:20 pm 03/14/2012

    So eradicate the cats AND the rats. It ain’t rocket science. O wow, we killed the cats and now the stoats are eating the birds, o wow we killed the stoats and now the rats are killing the birds, o why etc…
    It ain’t rocket science.
    Everybody knows Rats or/AND Cats, mongooses etc will eradicate birds on islands.
    It has been known for over a hundred years.

    I -a simple nitwit an moron- could have predicted when the cats would be gone the birds would still be killed because of the rats. Why do these ‘scientists’ still get paid I always ask myself. When are we going to save the birds instead of pay these highly intelligent let’s visit conferences and drink ourselves stupid in bars scientists. How many species could have been saved if the ‘scientists’ wouldn’t have wasted everybody’s time quarreling about jack shit.

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  9. 9. Heteromeles 11:05 pm 03/14/2012

    Took a while for the idea of a trophic cascade to catch on, is why the scientists/island managers didn’t predict it.

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  10. 10. Dartian 3:43 am 03/15/2012

    So eradicate the cats AND the rats. It ain’t rocket science.

    Eradicating cats is difficult enough. If you know an effective way to eradicate rats, then by all means let’s hear it!

    Why do these ‘scientists’ still get paid I always ask myself. When are we going to save the birds instead of pay these highly intelligent let’s visit conferences and drink ourselves stupid in bars scientists. How many species could have been saved if the ‘scientists’ wouldn’t have wasted everybody’s time quarreling about jack shit.

    Are you trolling on purpose?

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  11. 11. naishd 6:02 am 03/15/2012

    Wilbert – while it might indeed seem logical that rats will continue to eat birds when cats are gone, there are several complications you aren’t taking account of. For one, it wasn’t obvious that rats WERE a problem until AFTER the cats were gone. Secondly, eradicating feral animals from even a small island is a costly and difficult operation, and it took enough effort to get cats removed in the first place: they were deemed to be THE problem – it wasn’t truly realised (oh, those silly scientists!) that a problem with rats would then persist, let alone become more significant. As Heteromeles says above, the notion of trophic cascades hasn’t always been around (for more on trophic cascades research, see my review of Cristina Eisenberg’s excellent book The Wolf’s Tooth). Thirdly, eradicating rats on small islands is a huge job (much harder than killing cats) and people have only learnt how to do it recently. It takes experience, special knowledge and a lot of funding and material (the most effective way is basically to create a string ‘grid’ of partitioned metre squares over the whole island, and to then bait each square metre. The people who have done this sort of work – my friend Gary Kaiser is one of them* – are international heroes in the conservation world). It stands to reason that this job was left until last.

    * We sometimes joke that Gary’s tombstone should include the epitaph “He killed a lot of rats”.

    As for pointing to what seems inherently logical and wondering why dumb, over-paid scientists didn’t sort it out sooner, may I direct your attention here? By the way, the idea that scientists are extremely well-paid intellectual playboys/girls who spend grant money in bars does not exactly match with my perception of the field, especially when it comes to field ecology. I wish it were more appreciated how hard scientists have to work in order to get >anything< done.

    Thanks for your comment though.


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  12. 12. David Marjanović 9:44 am 03/15/2012

    As for the references you seek…

    Thanks – it turns out I don’t have access to either.

    I guess the museum must have spent so much money sending people to conferences to drink themselves stupid that none was left for so much as online access to Paleobiology!

    let’s visit conferences and drink ourselves stupid in bars

    The money for food that comes with the financing of conference participation isn’t enough to drink oneself stupid. Small wonder, then, that I’ve never seen or heard of scientists drinking themselves stupid – except that I’ve heard of one case in Russia where a scientist came to work drunk; well, if you were a scientist in Russia, you’d drink yourself stupid, too, or kill yourself outright.

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  13. 13. vdinets 11:35 am 03/16/2012

    Well, to be honest, I do sometimes wonder if flying hundreds of people to a conference in, say, Melbourne is really that necessary in the age of the Internet. I wish all sources of conference travel money had an option of taking this money and spending it on research instead ;-)

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  14. 14. naishd 11:49 am 03/16/2012

    Interesting idea. But scientists are human – they need to meet other people face-to-face to learn stuff or get stuff done… and do you really want to spend >more< time on the computer than you already do? :)

    Another caveat – scientific meetings are tiny and run on shoestring budgets compared to international meetings held by other communities. The recent SVP meeting in Las Vegas, to take one example, hosted something like 1400 attendees. Earlier in the year, Las Vegas also hosted the Consumer Electronics Show. Number of attendees? About 140,000, and this is hardly exceptional. There was a car-themed meeting in town at the same time as SVP. I can't find the details, but I'm pretty sure the number of attendees was even higher.


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  15. 15. Heteromeles 12:03 pm 03/16/2012

    Random thought: all you need to turn a fulmar into a fire-breathing dragon is a way to vaporize that oil. And an ignition source. Hmmmm.

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  16. 16. vdinets 12:06 pm 03/16/2012

    Yeah, every time I see those fat permanently drunk white teenagers cruising African cities in 10 miles per gallon SUVs packed with prostitutes and marked with UN logo, I get a distinct feeling that I am in the wrong line of work.

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  17. 17. naishd 12:11 pm 03/16/2012

    Heteromeles… OMG, dragons are procellariiforms! It all makes sense.


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  18. 18. naishd 12:19 pm 03/16/2012

    Vlad: have you considered joining the UN? :)


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  19. 19. vdinets 1:20 pm 03/16/2012

    Darren: if I was looking for a meaningless job with an imbecile boss and huge paychecks, UN would certainly be near the top of the list and zoology near the bottom :-)

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  20. 20. CS Shelton 10:13 pm 03/16/2012

    OMG, I think we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss immortal storm-petrels. You see, they get oil from their victims, right? That makes it kinda like The Quickening. Especially if they can convert oil into telomeres. Aw yeah. HEEEEEEEERE WE ARE! BORN TO BE KINGS, WE’RE THE-

    Wait, do storm-petrels do the oil thing? Eh, whatev. I won’t let science or common sense stand in the way of AWESOME.

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  21. 21. Andreas Johansson 7:03 am 03/17/2012

    vdinets, speaking of fat degenerates, maybe we could turn a scientific career into the latest weight loss scheme? There seems to be unlimited money in that, which could then be used to study petrels.

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  22. 22. Heteromeles 11:36 am 03/17/2012

    If you can link weight loss schemes to global warming without going vegan (which is obvious, but unpopular), you might be on to something…

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  23. 23. naishd 1:24 pm 03/17/2012

    I LIKE the way this is going.

    I claim subsidiaries.


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  24. 24. David Marjanović 2:37 pm 03/17/2012


    “And now, at last, I – shall be king – of E – –”
    – Blackadder

    Sorry. I had to do it.

    maybe we could turn a scientific career into the latest weight loss scheme?

    Sure. Like, have you ever seen a fat petrel? Huh? Huh?? Obviously, petrels (probably their oil) hold the key to eternal slenderness !!

    (…Not you. Your customers.)

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  25. 25. Heteromeles 4:48 pm 03/17/2012

    I’m sure petrel oil is loaded with omega-3s. It’s a superfood, in and of itself. And we harvest it in a sustainable way, by sending grad students out with barf bags twice a week to visit colonies.

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  26. 26. naishd 10:31 pm 03/17/2012

    Yeah. I REALLY like the way this is going.

    Subsidiaries: still mine.


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  27. 27. Heteromeles 12:02 am 03/18/2012

    And don’t forget all the phylogenetic and population genetic research needed to do QA/QC on the project. You can incorporate the cost of doing it in every gel-cap you sell.

    All we need is a long-term lease on a north Atlantic tubenose colony. Perhaps Sealand can help.

    So, shall we call it? Petrel-lean?

    Whatever we put on the label, do not say that the contents were prion-enriched.

    Link to this
  28. 28. David Marjanović 10:46 am 03/19/2012

    I’m sure petrel oil is loaded with omega-3s. It’s a superfood, in and of itself. And we harvest it in a sustainable way, by sending grad students out with barf bags twice a week to visit colonies.

    I’m bringing your shiny new Internet, sir. Where shall I put it?

    And don’t forget all the phylogenetic and population genetic research needed to do QA/QC on the project. You can incorporate the cost of doing it in every gel-cap you sell.

    That Internet? It’s made of lavender cookies.

    Link to this
  29. 29. CS Shelton 10:16 pm 03/19/2012

    Petrel-lean! Through the “science” of word association, it cures prion disorders, guaranteed!*
    Order a tube now, and we’ll put it on your bill!

    (*guarantee only valid if it turns out sympathetic magic is real)

    Link to this
  30. 30. David Marjanović 9:20 am 03/20/2012

    Order a tube now, and we’ll put it on your bill!


    Link to this
  31. 31. naishd 10:46 am 03/20/2012

    Dartian was suggesting that I should have used the sub-heading ‘Tubular bills’ in the part I section on bill anatomy.


    Link to this
  32. 32. CS Shelton 8:46 pm 03/21/2012

    ‘Tubular bills’

    Link to this

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