Malaysia: Museum official clarifies: It is a young Bryde’s Whale

31st December 2013;

The carcass that was washed ashore and found near D’Cove Pasir Panjang Family Park on Saturday morning had been officially identified as a Bryde’s Whale (Balaenoptera edeni) by the Museum Department.

According to museum deputy director and curator of Natural History Dr Charles Leh, this was the first record of a Bryde’s Whale found in Kuching Division.

“This was the first recorded Bryde’s Whale in Kuching. We have previous record of the same species washed ashore in Pusa in 1909. The skeleton of that is on display at the Sarawak Museum.

“This is considered an important find as it shows that this mammal can still be found, even though very rare.

“Bryde’s Whale is a globally protected species. They can often be found in tropical waters, but people seldom see them as they are deep-sea creatures,” he told The Borneo Post when met at Pasir Panjang yesterday.

He said the carcass will be left buried where it is on the Pasir Panjang beach for two months.

“We will leave it in the ground now, so that the flesh will rot away completely. After two months, we will come back to retrieve the bones, which have scientific value. They will be treated and then assembled to be put on display at the museum,” he explained.

Leh said the species, if full grown, can be as long as 40 to 55 feet and weigh 45 tonnes.

“The carcass from Pasir Panjang is still a juvenile whale, judging from its size (of about nine feet). It has been dead for about two weeks as what was washed ashore was highly decomposed. What remained were mostly skin and bones.

“Because of the year end rough sea conditions, young whales could easily drift from their parents and face the risk of death,” he said.

The carcass was found on early Saturday morning by a Pelita Holdings employee Mohd Hamzah Man, who was making a cleanliness inspection on the beach of the recreational area.

Source: The Borneo Post

Update: The identification was quite premature; the carcass turned out to be that of a Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus).

Malaysia: Museum official clarifies: It is a young Bryde’s Whale

Chela of Stone Crab (Myomenippe hardwickii) with atypical morphology
Pulau Ubin, 28th June 2013

This chela (‘claw’ or ‘pincer’) of a Stone Crab was found along the shores of Pulau Ubin, and was unique in that it had an extra ‘finger’.

1. UNKNOWN DEAD: A close-up shot of the carcass of a yet-to-be determined sea animal that was washed ashore at Pasir Panjang.
2. CLOSER LOOK: Pasir Panjang community leader Hadli Piee taking a close look at a section of the carcass.

Malaysia: Carcass of unknown sea creature washed ashore
By Sandy Mark Luna , 29th December 2013;

A nine-foot carcass, believed to be of a sea creature, was found at D’Cove Pasir Panjang Family Park yesterday.

A worker with Pelita Holding Sdn Bhd Mohd Hamzah Man made the discovery during a round of cleanliness inspection at the recreational area at 7am.

He said he saw a huge object that looked like a heap of rubbish washed ashore at the beach that emitted a foul smell.

“On closer look, I saw it was a carcass of a sea animal.

“This is the first time we have come across a carcass this size in this area.

“Inspection rounds at the beach area is our weekly routine on every Saturday morning to make sure it is clean,” he told reporters.

After the discovery, Mohd Hamzah made a phone call to the patrol police and Bomba for further action.

The carcass could be that of a baby whale or a dugong, but the relevant authorities will be there tomorrow (Monday) to conduct tests on the carcass to determine its actual species.

In the meantime, the carcass was buried at the beach for sanitary purposes and to cover the foul smell of putrefaction.

Source: The Borneo Post

It’s certainly some sort of marine mammal, and most likely a cetacean. Dugong (Dugong dugon) skulls look very different. although the photos really aren’t very informative at all. If only there were more photos of the skull from multiple angles.

Update: The carcass has since been identified as a Short-finned Pilot Whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus).

Merry Christmas!

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I hope 2014 will be another year of amazing discoveries, meaningful encounters with biodiversity in its myriad forms, and stories to share with all. And of course, a shout-out to all the people who have contributed their photos and shared their sightings of various animal carcasses; I wouldn’t have been able to feature many species here if not for you. Thanks everyone for supporting Monday Morgue on Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr. Good health and happiness to all, and try not to become potential subjects for Monday Morgue so soon.

Sunda Scops Owl (Otus lempiji)
Sungei Buloh, 28th November 2013

Ants made quick work of this carcass of a Sunda Scops Owl. The last photo shows the same carcass 4 days later.

Asian scops owls have had a confusing taxonomic history. For many years, various populations of scops owls distributed across India and Pakistan to South East Asia, Japan and the Philippines were identified as a single species, called the Collared Scops Owl (Otus bakkamoena). However, various subspecies were subsequently split off and recognised as distinct species; one such subspecies would become known as the Sunda Scops Owl. These days, Otus bakkamoena refers strictly to the Indian Scops Owl, found in the Indian subcontinent, while the common name of Collared Scops Owl belongs to Otus lettia, which was split off and represents populations found from the Himalayas to China and Indochina. This is why some resources still list the Sunda Scops Owl as a subspecies of Indian Scops Owl, which is given the common name of Collared Scops Owl.

As if things weren’t confusing enough, some sources consider the Collared Scops Owl and Sunda Scops Owl to be conspecific, whereas other authors split the Sunda Scops Owl even further, and recognise the subspecies found in southern Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore (Otus lempiji cnephaeus) as a separate species, the Singapore Scops Owl (Otus cnephaeus).

Giant Honeybee (Apis dorsata)
National University of Singapore (NUS) campus, 4th December 2012

Paradise Tree Snake (Chrysopelea paradisi)
Neo Tiew Crescent, 29th October 2013

This Paradise Tree Snake carcass was found on the road; it had been run over by a vehicle, but probably was not killed instantly, just mortally wounded. As a result of its injuries, it had writhed about in its death throes, leading to the odd posture seen here, even after an attempt was made at uncoiling the snake.

Undergraduate David Tan (left), 24, and Dr Frank Rheindt, 36, at National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Avian Genetics Laboratory. They collect dead birds to better understand their evolution and ecology. They are holding (from left) the Schrenck’s Bittern (Ixobrychus eurhythmus), which is rare; the Blue-winged Pitta (Pitta moluccensis); and the Pink-necked Green Pigeon (Treron vernans).

Team flocks to collect dead birds for research
Feng Zengkun, The Straits Times, 24th November 2013

Have you spotted a dead bird? Then undergraduate David Tan is your man.

The 24-year-old promises to “drop everything and rush down” to collect the carcass.

The self-proclaimed snatcher of dead birds explained in a widely shared Facebook post earlier this month why he is a bag man for science.

His work is part of a wide-ranging new effort here to understand bird evolution, conservation and disease, and how this relates to and impacts humans.

And no bird is too common for the cause.

“While mynahs and sparrows might seem common and worthless”, future research projects may require DNA extracts from their carcasses, he said.

He is part of the Avian Genetics Laboratory at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Set up in January, it aims to build up a repository of winged creatures’ genetic material to better understand their evolution and ecology.

The lab’s freezer is full of local species such as the Japanese Sparrowhawk (Accipiter gularis) and Red-legged Crake (Rallina fasciata), and the researchers have so far amassed records of more than 50 species.

The lab’s head, Assistant Professor Frank Rheindt, said the data could be used to identify species in danger of extinction due to poorer genetic diversity, which could help guide conservation efforts.

Dr Rheindt, who is with the university’s Department of Biological Sciences, said a large part of the lab’s analyses has become feasible only in recent years due to technological advances that allow genes to be sequenced faster and more cheaply.

The 36-year-old has been studying birds for more than a decade, including at Harvard University before he came to NUS.

“When I finished my PhD at the University of Melbourne in Australia in 2008, I had worked for five years on two genes for 80 birds,” he said. That is about one-millionth of a bird genome.

“With enough funding, my students could now do whole genomes in one afternoon.”

Remarkably, the team is doing its work without sacrificing a single live bird.

The team collects flesh samples from the dead birds and gets blood from live birds in the field through a tiny prick on the underside of a wing.

Dr Rheindt told The Sunday Times that the impact of human activity on nature can be tracked by studying samples of the same bird species across time.

The researchers also study dead and living birds across the region to find out how they may have evolved, and to better understand their travel and mating patterns.

In Singapore, examining the same species across green pockets allows them to gauge how successful eco-links are – and which birds are on an extinction clock.

Dr Rheindt explained that the country’s rapid development after the Japanese Occupation led to fragmented habitats. Trapped in small spaces, some birds may have bred within their own families.

“It’s extinction with a time lag. It takes a few decades for everyone in the little patch to become cousins.” Once that happens, the genetic defects start to pile up as the in-breeding continues, until the offspring are either stillborn or have disabilities and die soon after birth.

This may explain why some species such as the White-bellied Woodpecker (Dryocopus javensis), which has not been seen for almost a decade, may have become extinct here, he said.

“We call some species ‘the living dead’. They may be alive but they are functionally dead because their offspring will become unviable.”

Another reason to make sure the birds have high genetic diversity is to protect people.

“A healthy biodiversity could mean that fewer birds are susceptible to the same disease, which could lessen the risk of the disease jumping over to humans,” he said.

The lab’s partners at the Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School are researching this issue. The Avian Genetics Laboratory’s work for the school follows strict safety guidelines and is done in coordination with the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority and the National Parks Board.

He added that bird flu has been around for a long time, even though recent chicken-rearing practices for the meat and egg trade may be increasing the instances of it crossing over to people.

Call Mr Tan on 9176-8971 if you spot a dead bird.

Source: The Straits Times

Von Schrenck’s Bittern (Ixobrychus eurhythmus)
Corporation Drive, 18th November 2013

This particular carcass has an interesting story. Von Schrenck’s Bittern is considered an uncommon winter visitor and passage migrant in Singapore, with the last recorded individual being a single female in the mangroves at Pasir Ris Park in late April-early May this year (i.e. during the tail end of the 2012-2013 migratory season).

This individual, a male, might be the first local record of the species for the 2013-2014 season. Charmaine Chong encountered the carcass as she was leaving for work and tweeted a photograph of it (the image at the top). This was then forwarded to me by Justin Chan.

Once I was able to view the photo, I shared the details with my friend David Tan, who is a research student from the Avian Genetics Lab at the National University of Singapore (NUS), and who has been going around collecting bird carcasses reported all over Singapore.

David was subsequently able to retrieve the carcass, and took more photos, which he shared on Facebook. The bittern has been sampled for DNA and added to the Zoological Reference Collection of the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research (RMBR), for future research purposes. The cause of death is still unknown, although it might have collided with a building, or simply died from exhaustion while on migration.

It’s especially sad to think that a migrant like this Von Schrenck’s Bittern could have come from as far away as Japan, Russia’s Amur region, or northern China, and survived all sorts of challenges along the way, only to die in Singapore. The possibility that this bird’s journey came to a premature end because it crashed into a building or window makes it even more heartbreaking; how many more of Singapore’s birds, both residents and migrants, are killed by buildings?

It also makes one wonder about all the rare birds that could be seeking refuge or simply passing through various parts of Singapore, with their presence going unreported because people in the area don’t initially realise their potential significance to ornithologists and birdwatchers.

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