Monday, November 5, 2012

A Whale of A Tale That Took Too Long In The Telling

A couple of whales either beached themselves and died or two dead ones washed ashore (less likely) in New Zealand in 2010. As it turns out, they were two members of the world's rarest whale species - the Spade-toothed Beaked Whales, apparently a mother and her calf. The New Zealand Department of Conservation, no doubt a government agency, took photographs of them and also took DNA samples. There is no doubt in my mind that said agency was part of the government because it took them almost all of two years, since they were discovered in December 2010, until now to be identified. Here I was thinking our government worked slow!


Now, if you look closely, at the title of the article and then at the first sentence of it, you will see that these whales were either seen for the first time ever (as in anytime and anywhere) and it just happened to be in New Zealand OR they were seen for the first time ever in New Zealand but have been seen elsewhere before. It all depends on the a comma or commas, in the following sentences (the first one below is the first sentence from the article):

"The world's rarest whale has been spotted for the first time, in New Zealand, where two of the whales stranded themselves." (This sentence makes it seem like this was the first time that these whales were seen anytime and anywhere, AND coincidentally, the sighting took place in New Zealand.

Now read the sentence from the caption. If you look closely, you will notice that while there are also two commas in the caption, that accompanies photo in the article, they are located as to give different meaning.

The world's rarest whale, the spade-toothed beaked whale, has been spotted for the first time in New Zealand. The whale stranded and died on a beach in December 2010. (New Zealand Department of Conservation).

That sentence from the caption also informs us that the world's rarest species of whale was seen but it makes it seems as if it was the first time they were ever spotted in New Zealand and leaves open the implication that they could have been or were spotted elsewhere before.

Either way, it took way too long for the government to get around to identifying them. I wonder if they preserved the carcasses, it does not seem like they did so. It probably would have been a boon to the scientific study of these creatures, about which so little is known, had they done so. If the conservation officers, as I suspect, only took tissue samples for DNA testing, I would bet they are kicking themselves in their heads right about now (well maybe their bosses and some scientists are kicking their arses too).

All the best,
Glenn B

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