Saturday, March 1, 2014

Deserts & Dead Whales



Any time you find an article featuring 'dead whales' in the title, you just have to read on. It's natural human empathy, right? Sort of like sad puppy pictures. They lure you in like an emotional trap! At least that's my philosophy. And this is exactly what happened to me the other day. I read an article about a mysterious desert whale grave site, and bam- I was hooked. Why was there a mass whale die off here? What happened to these poor guys? Did they suffer?! Were there heart-wrenching SPCA commercials about them too??

Better yet, why were they in a desert!? Questions clearly must be answered. Thus, I present to you:

The Great Atacama Desert

Widely known as the driest location on earth, it's no wonder this place is a whale-killer. In fact, our friends at Nat. Geo claim that parts of this desert have never had a recorded drop of rain. Sheesh! I'll try to remember that next time I claim to be "dying of thirst..." So now that we've decided to never visit Atacama, Chile, let's learn a little more about this so-called whale mystery. 

In 2010, a grave site was found here containing the bones of 40 whales. Since the deaths were said to have occurred 6-9 million years ago, the question becomes not why the whales once were here, but more of what caused their sudden die-off? Apparently, microscopic algae can be quite a killer too. A massive algae bloom causing toxic effects has recently been announced as the culprit. Just when you thought you were safe as one of the world's largest mammals...minuscule enemies strike again!

Because there is literally NO moisture in the Atacama, (dead) things are quite well preserved. This explains why so many of the whale fossils were discovered in such great condition.  


Other interesting facts about the great Atacama Desert:
  • this giant hand sculpture 
  • over 1 million people somehow make a living in the Atacama today
  • temperatures in the Atacama are actually rather cold, averaging only 32-77 degrees F! 
  • 'marine fog' is the only harvest-able source of water for locals 
  • in July 2011, it SNOWED here
Okay, maybe I will reconsider adding this travel destination after all! So cool.




The cool articles I read:
http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/0308/feature3/
http://coolthingsinrandomplaces.com/?p=633
http://www.extremescience.com/driest.htm

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