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Weekly blog-about: Death of a World Record Quahog; The Hurricane Season That Wasn’t

Death of a World Record Quahog; The Hurricane Season That Wasn’t

By JAY MANN | Nov 21, 2013

In my world of journalism, it’s a growing enigma as to which news stories will sizzle the worldwide news wires, i.e. the cloud. With the web now carrying all newsfeeds, even the smallest of wires can carry a million-volt punch. Hell, based on some of the feedback I get here at The SandPaper, our Internet stories are being read as far away as Outer Mongolia. (Here’s a shout-out to good old Lkhagvasüren and his Wi-Fi unit somewhere in the Gobi Desert. Sonin sainan yu baina ve? That’s an inside joke.)

In the burgeoning age of social media newscasting, the editors of the biggest and deemed best newpapers and magazines are often baffled over which stories are garnering the greatest number of electronic page views, sometimes calledhits. There is no guessing what the planet will find irresistibly readable – and given the honorable distinction of going viral.

This is my hop/skip/jump intro into a compelling clam story, one that has gone viral – on the half-shell.

It begins in 2006 with the dredging up of a colossal quahog clam off Iceland. It was hauled off the bottom by nicely funded climate change experts from Bangor University in north Wales, Great Britain.

Ostensibly, the Bangor U. scientists had hoped to probe the mega-clam for any insights it might offer on global warming. And probe they did – overly so. They killed the ancient sucker. But with the huge clam’s demise came the realization that it had, up to that very point, been the oldest living creature on the planet.

“The good news is we’ve found the oldest living thing on the planet. The bad news is it won’t be getting any older,” spoken with both scientific and British aplomb.

When first found and aged, the clam was estimated to be 405 years old, based on the clam shell’s annual growth rings, called annuli. That type of age gauging is also used when dating trees. “The nice thing about these shells is that they have distinct annual growth lines, so we can accurately date the shell material,” said ocean scientist Paul Butler.

But the ancient clam story had more life in it than first figured.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ming_(clam)

Dating the quahog at four centuries was kind of a big deal at the time, but the news didn’t quite make the viral news cut. Of course, that was way back in 2006, when the cloud was in its infancy. It wasn’t until modern times, this year, that it was discovered that there had been a huge ring-counting screw-up. Upon further ring review, the clam’s true age was upped to 507 years.

“We got it wrong the first time and maybe we were a bit hasty publishing our findings back then. But we are absolutely certain that we’ve got the right age now,” said Butler.

That astounding ring count news rang out on the latest, greatest cloud, much to the grant-seeking ecstasy of the research folks at Bangor U. However, the researchers hadn’t counted on a wiser and wider cloud readership. The instant admiration for the finding of the world’s oldest known living thing was followed by a less than ringing reaction to its being loved to death. A cloud-wide chorus of “Dumbasses!” has arisen – pronounced the same in nearly all known languages.

You’ve heard about things being killed with kindness, well, this ancient clam was killed by curiosity. What a way to go – after 507 years.

By the by, the Bangor U scientists dubbed the clam Ming, based on the Ming Dynasty, which was going full gong when the clam was born. This, of course, seems an absurd name. What in bloody hell do Chinese time periods have to do with North Atlantic quahog clams? If nothing else, this is yet another reason scientists should not be allowed to name anything, even their children – which they want to call Einstein, be it boy or girl.

However, I have this theory: Can you imagine how much the Chinese market would pay to have the essence of the oldest living creature on Earth? Hell, there are old Chinese dudes who would pay a mint for even an old piece of concrete if they thought it would keep them hard, so to speak. Sparking my theory, there has already been a $75,000 offer for the clam. Nice try. Estimates now place the clam’s worth in the seven-figure range. Keep an eye on eBay.

NOT ONE HELLUVA HURRICANE SEASON: I don’t think I’ll be jinxing us to note the hurricane season that wasn’t, i.e. 2013.

The lack of both tropical storm systems and, way more importantly, landfalls flew fully in the face of those magical men and their prognostication machines. It was forecasted to be a global warming-fueled hurricane season from hell. For us, no Hades whatsoever. For the poor folks in the Philippines, their typhoon season became a nightmare wrapped inside a catastrophe. Let’s help them, however we can.

While folks in the meteorological realm are surely refining their abilities to successfully see as far as 10 days into the weather future, anything beyond that satellite-assisted scope of forecasting instantly lands in downtown Crapshootsville, hometown of hurricane foretelling.

It’s not just hurricane forecasting that’s guesstimation at best. Enter those so-called long-range “winter forecasts,” already in place for our arriving season of the frostfish and decoy carving. There’s a better chance of predicting the upcoming winter by reading scattered chicken bones than there is in systematically interpreting jet stream dips and jogs. If you really wanna nail a long-range winter forecast, throw chicken bones on an Old Farmer’s Almanac. Can’t miss.

It does seem that the famed Niños and Niñas at least hint at what’s ahead, winter-wise. However, those whimsical swings in ocean surface water temperatures in the Pacific Ocean, off South America, are too often fronted as the holy grails of accurate winter forecasting. There’s nothing either holy or, uh, grailish about them. Trying to precisely predict what this January will offer, weather-wise, is served just as well through divination as science.

As we speak, the soothsayers of weatherly things, putting their forefingers up to their temples and going into a mock trance, assure a cold and snowy winter – unless it’s mild and dry. That kinda combines the assorted forecasts I’ve heard.

I happen to have a 100 percent perfect forecasting record. My secret is simple. I wait until spring, then post-forecast the previous winter. Spot on, every time.

Counterintuitively, I do offer a winter forecast, but under an alias.

Someone called J-Mann predicts a moisture-ish, non-frigid December and Christmas. That doesn’t mean no whiteness. Remember that hereabouts ice-cold air and snowstorms don’t mix. The best chance for big snows for us is when a sneaky cold air mass sulks down from the north and greets a wet storm system moving up from the south. That famed winter storm setup seldom includes serious coastal snows, but it’s the main white-maker farther inland. Chance of a white Christmas here this year? Slim. For the mainland? Way higher for Philly and North Jersey.

January 2014 is going to be tricky on many fronts, offering icy stretches punctuated by odd warm-ups, in close order.

February is trickier yet. It could usher in the only truly bitter air, early on. It will then rapidly reverse gears. Combining with March, we could break some records for late-winter warmth.

This winter’s theme: If you don’t like the weather, just wait a day.

As to the storm potential, now we’ve got a prediction problem of the highest order. It’s way too hard to call except to say that any storms are going to be more dramatic than usual. That, to me, is the truer manifestation of global warming. However, you need the storms first.

Are we still in the storm zone, a stretch of uncanny storminess that can last up to five years before suddenly dying out? Let’s just say we’re on the cusp. I fear the current storm-swarm period might have one more kick-ass coast crusher. Here, I want to be wrong.

Maybe I should throw the chicken bones once more.

BLIND BOAT’S BLUFF: On Sunday, the fog played the spooky spoiler for the hundreds of vessels working a rampant bass bite only a mile from shore. In fact, I first alerted the National Weather Service when things got dangerously thick out there. I was told later that visibilities were reduced to the dreaded “near zero.”

Picture vessels of all shapes and sizes blindly – and simultaneously – trying to work their ways off the ocean and back toward what suddenly become absurdly small inlet openings, both Barnegat and Little Egg ends. A serious spook comes from not knowing if some numbnuts captain is plowing back to port convinced he/she has mastered zero visibility. Yes, you can hear that coming a mile away, but believe me, there is nowhere to run.

Toward the inlet entrances, boat horns were being blown all over the place.

We used to call the fog-negotiating process bumping, based both on a technique of lightly bumping the throttle for little bursts of forward progress into the awaiting gloom and also bumping off the bottom edges of bayside channels, hoping to stay within the channels’ deeper water.

Newer electronics definitely help the lost-in-fog cause, but even the most electronically accessorized vessels can’t fully see through pea soup conditions, as was the case Sunday, when there was some full-blown fretting and sweating being done by many a worthy captain.

I was aboard a “surfing” vessel – filled with boards – that was rammed in a sudden fog off IBSP. We heard the motor and gunnel slaps from the frickin’ idiot who hit us when he was still a football field away. You shoulda heard the shoutin’ we let loose as he got closer. Our racket was enough to slow the dickhead driver, but his forward speed brought him right into our circle of water. The hit was enough to throw a couple of us overboard. I, being of sound mind, had already jumped overboard. Oh, the cursing and threats that followed. We likely freaked that sheet-white captain clean outta boating ever again. On foggy nights, he now just sits in the corner of his bedroom, quivering.

DEER CROSSING: An older gal, obviously new to the area, was talking to the cashier at Wawa in Tuckerton. She was saying, “I think it’s so nice you feed your deer here.” She had seen the signs for “deer feed” along Route 9.

Deer-vehicle collisions are up nearly 38 percent in Jersey. The reason is both simple and complex. The simple part is the oft asinine expansion of suburbia – injecting lethal doses of humanity into the veins of once-pure wilderness areas. There are now more vehicles traveling more country roads more of the time. Bam! Dead Bambis.

Far more complex is the wholesale change in foraging strategies of our deer. While white-tailed deer aren’t the sharpest knives in the wildlife drawer, their survival instincts are simply killer. If given half a chance, they can survive anywhere.

Deer are the largest animal in what I call Ocean County’s backyard ecology, comprised of creatures (cover the kids’ ears) commonly found flattened on the asphalt. Among the main backyard wildlife players are opossums, raccoons, squirrels, hares, skunks and, foremost, deer. Also in the mix, but far wiser to vehicle tires, are coyotes, wolves, bobcats, turkeys and foxes. But it’s the deer that leads the survival pack, especially when factoring in its size.

Deer have an amazing ability to know where they’re not wanted – which often aligns with where they’ve traditionally been blown to bits by hunters. With more hunters than ever plying the Pinelands, our outback has become untenably hostile to deer.

Be it a cognizant move or survivalistically reacting to being shot silly, N.J.’s deer have taken to the relative safety of people-inhabited places. They’ve learned it’s infinitely safer to live in back yards and parks – where there’s some damn good grass to boot.

Southern Ocean County is a prime example of places where one-time wilderness deer are hoofing it into the ’hood. They’ve arrived, house-side, in remarkable numbers. Much of the white tail deer biomass has shifted from west of the Parkway to east of it – or clings to the edges of highly civilized roadways such as Route 72 and Route 539.

It must be noted that the deer are also (over)populating to beat the band. Currently, the deer count in New Jersey is, conservatively, 200,000.  As recently as 100 years ago, white tail deer were a rare sight in the Garden State – and seen only deep in the woods.

All this brings up my annual warning about driving during deer hunting season in Southern Ocean County. It hurts like hell to hit a deer, from body damage to your vehicle to seeing the body damage to the deer.

Deer are currently huddling up to our section of Route 9, a stretch of road with more road-kill deer per mile than just about anywhere else in the state. More deer are arriving daily, as they sense deadly danger in the nearby woods. Routes 539 and 72 are no bargain, either; they’re also deer drenched.

Believe me, it’s no riddle as to why the deer crossed the road. They’re just not real bright that way. Be on the nonstop lookout in heavily-deered sections of road – which is any piece of highway during the hunt.

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