Two “Sea Serpents” Found Off Coast of California

Screenshot BBC

Marine biologists are having a heyday in California, where in the last week a rarely seen species of fish has washed ashore, not once, but twice.

In the last week, two carcasses of oarfish have washed ashore. The first one measured in at 18 feet long, and the second one, found by a group of third-graders on a school trip, was 14 feet long.

Sightings of the extremely large deep-sea creature, which can grow up to 50 feet, are rare, as oarfish tend to swim thousands of feet below the surface. While dead, the fish appear to be in good health.

“It looks good enough to eat – if you have a 13ft pan,” biologist Ruff Zetter told the BBC.So why have two of these rare fish washed up in the last week? In the wake of the sightings, many have cited an old Japanese myth that links oarfish sightings to earthquakes. But scientists aren’t so sure. What’s more likely is that these fish are poor swimmers, and a current simply could have carried them into rough waters.

For now, if you’re in the mood to see a sea serpent, your best odds are in Southern California as the Catalina Island Marine Institute will likely keep the fish skeleton for educational purposes.

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Fish Discovered in Sweden Will Make You Think Twice Before Skinny Dipping

Simon Q, Flickr

Sweden has always been a relatively calm and safe country; the only concern for tourists has been long lines at the new ABBA museum. But that all changed with the recent sighting of a pacu, a fish that’s closely related to the piranha.

While the waters of Øresund, the strait that separates Denmark and Sweden, are normally still and relaxing, the sighting has prompted the nearby Natural History Museum of Denmark to release a serious warning: “Keep your swimwear on if you’re bathing in the Sound these days — maybe there are more out there!”

The fish is more often found in warmer climates — in fact it’s the first time that it has been reported in Scandinavian waters — and while it’s not lethal, it doesn’t have a good reputation. Henrik Carl of the Danish museum pointed out that, “the pacu is not normally dangerous to people but it has quite a serious bite, there have been incidents in other countries, such as Papua New Guinea, where some men have had their testicles bitten off.”

The pacu can grow to 25 kilograms (about 55 pounds), and in large parts of the USA and Asia it’s considered an invasive species. So how did it end up in Scandinavian waters? It is thought that the fish may have escaped from a nearby aquarium.

A huge crotch biting fish? Keep your swim trunks on gentleman.

A Family Night Out In Baghdad

Baghdad, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel
After a long road trip around Iraq, I find myself back in Baghdad. It’s our last night together as a group. For our final dinner we decide to eat a famous Baghdadi recipe at a famous landmark –mazgouf fish at Abu Nuwas Park.

Abu Nuwas park runs for one-and-a-half miles along the east bank of the Tigris in central Baghdad. It’s named after an early medieval poet who was half Arab and half Persian, and wrote poems in both languages. His poetry celebrated wine and sex and made fun of the Arab nostalgia for Bedouin life. This ensured trouble during his lifetime and fame after his death.

In keeping with the Abu Nuwas’ liberal tradition, the park that bears his name is a neutral ground for the city’s warring factions. Everyone comes here to relax, not fight. Of course there’s still the usual cordon of armed guards. Trust is in short supply in this country.

Once inside, though, it doesn’t feel like Baghdad at all. Families have picnics on blankets spread under trees. Kids do cartwheels on the grass. The Tigris glitters with reflected streetlights. A fountain at the edge of the riverbank shoots up water as colored lamps make the jets pulse red and purple. Music mixes with the calls of vendors selling nuts, candy, and Spongebob Squarepants balloons.

We’ve come to dine at one of the city’s most popular restaurants, Mazgouf, named after a large fish found in the Tigris that’s considered a delicacy. The fish is cut in half down its length and stuck on spike next to an open wood fire to slowly cook. When it’s done, it’s pulled off the spike and put on a plate. The scales and eyes on the outside are still preserved, making a sort of bowl from which to scoop out the goopy and incredibly rich insides. The restaurant at Abu Nuwas Park is said to be one of the best.

We find the restaurant and sit outside. As usual, the people at the next table come over and welcome us to Iraq. Mazgouf is made to order so there’s a long wait before we get our meal. Once it comes, everyone digs in with relish. I’m no expert on mazgouf but it’s the second-best meal I’ve had this entire trip. It’s so rich and heavy I can only finish half of it, although I’d love to eat the whole thing. The mood at the table is celebratory. We’ve made it through Iraq unscathed. Everyone is thinking of home but disappointed to be leaving.

While everyone else is leaving tomorrow morning and the guards will go off to other duties, my flight isn’t until the following morning, which means I get a whole day to myself in Baghdad. This worries me only slightly. My time in Iraq has taught me that the country is far safer than most people believe, and my hotel is in a good neighborhood. Besides, staying in the hotel all day simply isn’t an option. I just hope I don’t have any trouble when I go out alone.

After dinner we stroll around the park. The mood is relaxed and festive. So is the dress code. A woman walks by in a skirt and I almost keel over. It’s the first bare female leg I’ve seen in more than two weeks. Young couples who may very well be unmarried walk hand in hand, whispering to each other. I’ve stepped into another world. It’s even more relaxed than Kurdistan. Flashing lights and squeals of laughter draw me down a path and to another gate.

%Gallery-172598%It’s an amusement park. Kids are zipping around on bumper cars in the middle of a pool, or shooting down a giant inflatable slide. Their big brothers and sisters play videos games in a nearby arcade.

Getting in requires going through another checkpoint. There’s a brief hassle as the park’s guards demand that our guards leave their guns behind. Captain Ali, the senior of our two guards, doesn’t like that idea. I’m not sure how it’s resolved but we eventually get through, only to be stopped again.

“What now?” someone in our group groans.

“Photo! Photo!” the park guards say.

“Oh, OK.”

We all line up and take each other’s photos. I still haven’t figured out why Iraqis all want their photo taken. Only one of them has asked for a copy, and he never emailed me so I could send it to him. Maybe they just want to be part of my holiday memories. That’s cool. Memory made.

As soon as we’re through I ditch my guards. I don’t think those kids on the Merry-go-Round are going to shoot me, and after more than two weeks of these guys dogging my movements I’m sick of them. I slip behind some spinning ride with flashing lights and I’m gone.

Swarms of laughing children zip past me as I wander among the rides. I shake my head in amazement. How is this possible? This country is torn apart by war and sectarian bitterness and here everything is just fine. These families are the Iraqi majority, the decent folks who want all the bullshit to stop so they can get some enjoyment out of life. It would be silly to think they’re “just like us”; they’re not. But they’re enough like us that when this whole mess sorts itself out, I know who I want to come out on top.

“Mr. Sean.”

I turned around. Aw crap, Captain Ali has found me.

“We need to go now,” he says.

“Yeah, yeah.”

I turn away and keep walking. He trots patiently behind. This is a game he knows he’ll win.

Families come up to me, asking that I photograph their children or forcing their kids into impromptu English lessons. The kids take it with good grace, as curious as their parents about this strange foreigner who’s wandered into their fun.

Well, almost all the kids take it with good grace. One man drags his toddler over and urges her, “Say hello. Say hello.” She bursts into tears.

“Tired?” I ask.

He smiles and nods.

“Yes, tired. Late night.”

We laugh, one father to another.

Another tug at my arm. It’s Captain Ali again. Go away.

“Mr. Sean, we need to go.”

He leads me off, holding my wrist like a naughty child. I could complain, but he’s the law and even though he still has a reserve of good humor, his patience is at an end. We head for the exit.

Three bombs exploded in Baghdad this morning. More than a dozen killed. The story is already being broadcast by all the major news channels, with the usual blaring headlines and snuff film visuals. I take a last look around at Abu Nuwas park, at the picnicking families and the laughing children and the guys selling balloons. There are no TV cameras here.

Don’t miss the rest of my series, “Destination: Iraq,” chronicling my 17-day journey across this strife-ridden country in search of adventure, archaeology and AK-47s.

Coming up next: “A Solo Stroll Through Baghdad!”

[Photos by Sean McLachlan]

Baghdad, Iraq, Iraq tourism, Iraq travel

Photo Of The Day: Maldives Fishmonger

Photo of the day - Maldives fish
Not sure who is scarier in this photo: the enormous fish or the intimidating fishmonger. The deep saturated colors and sparse backdrop add to the intense scene. Remove the fish and it could be a set from a “Hostel horror movie. Today’s Photo Of The Day was taken by Flickr user Mark Fischer in Male, Maldives. Although it may not be thought of as a major urban center, Male is one of the most densely populated islands of the world, even greater than Manhattan or Hong Kong. The island nation has been in the news frequently in the past year for environment and political issues, as well as a short-lived (but much hyped) spa ban. Luxury resorts without massages? Now that could be really terrifying to some travelers.

Have a scary travel photo you want to share? Add it to the Gadling Flickr pool for another Photo Of The Day.

Discovering Nonna Nina’s Kitchen: minnow heaven on the Italian Riviera

Just north of Portofino on the Italian Riveria, on the Genoa side of the Monte di Portofino Regional Park, is a perched hamlet called San Rocco di Camogli. This is the best place on earth to devour the marvelously flavorful minnows that come from the Gulf of Genoa, which the locals call rossetti – little red things. And little red things they are: about an inch long, thin as a thermometer, translucent, and with a little red dot near the gills. You don’t just pop rossetti in your mouth whole – you fork in dozens of them at a time. And the best place to do this is on San Rocco di Camogli’s single street, at the venerable restaurant La Cucina di Nonna Nina – Grandma Nina’s Kitchen.

You will not find Grandma Nina in the establishment: she left her corporeal essence behind some years ago, and never set foot in the place anyway. She also left behind many delicious regional recipes from yesteryear, recipes transformed into exquisitely delectable dishes by the elusive, retiring, shy Paolo Delpian and his wife, Rosalia, Grandma Nina’s natural heirs.

Paolo says little and works a lot: he’s not a super chef and doesn’t like “super” anything, including wine. He’s an excellent cook who makes everything from scratch, fresh, using local ingredients. Rosalia runs the show. A bona fide grandmother, she doesn’t look the part. She’s fashionably turned out and has little of the plump, flour-dusted Italian nonna of yesteryear. The restaurant and its food reflect the owners’ personalities: quiet, discreet, tastefully simple.

Tasteful simplicity is the root of the best Italian cooking. Paolo gets his minnows squirming fresh – they’re too small to flip. They’re fished along the jagged coast below the restaurant – whose dining room is blissfully unequipped with a distracting panoramic view. Into boiling water go the minnows, and mere seconds later, they’re slid onto a warm plate, then onto your table and into your watering mouth. Purists eat them this way, naked. Others dribble their minnows with the lightest, fruitiest local Ligurian olive oil: full-bodied oil would spoil the delicate flavor. A minnow-sized pinch of salt is also allowed. And then: piscine heaven.The first local decree regulating the fishing and devouring of rossetti was drawn up in Genoa in the 1300s. At about the same time, a Genoese proverb, often unfairly attributed to Dante Alighieri, ironically declared that Genoa’s bay was a “fish-less sea.” And yet to this day local fishermen keep pulling up little spiny, unmarketable fish-the most flavorful and delicious of fish-and zillions of minnows. The fishermen are careful about how and when they fish. Over 700 years after that first wise decree, the hedonist insiders of the Riviera swim by the school to places like Nonna Nina to savor this minuscule bounty.

Naturally, Paolo Delpian also transforms guppies into fritters – golden knishes studded with glinting little eyes. They’re flash-fried in olive oil, sprinkled with salt, and are too exquisite to describe.

Nonna Nina offers more than mere minnows. The place also happens to serve the best traditional Genoese air-dried cod-soaked, softened, then slowly stewed with pine nuts, potatoes, tiny local Taggiasca olives and that same olive oil pressed from them-anywhere, period. So having dispatched a few thousand minnows, washed down with the region’s finest white wine, I tucked into the cod.

This was a full-sized specimen of fish, yet I felt a moment of hesitation before being subdued by the simple, healthful, tender, deliciousness of the dish. Cod has been a specialty in the region for over 1,000 years. But it doesn’t come from the Mediterranean. Hereabouts what is served is from Iceland, mostly (that’s why Iceland has an embassy in Genoa). My worry suddenly was and remains: how sustainable are cod-fishing practices? The massacre of minnows doesn’t seem to bankrupt the Genoese fish bank, but those giant factory ships flying global flags pull up nothing but immature cod these days.

So it was with somewhat guilty pleasure that I mopped up the last drops of the flaky cod essence and the olive oil. But guilt-free was my amazement at the perfect match made by the pale yellow Pigato from the Western Riviera. Crafted by winemaker Azienda Agricola Bruna, in the village of Ranzo, this bottle of single-vineyard “Le Russeghine” seemed genetically engineered to accompany minnows and cod to digestive paradise.

The Pigato also flowed easily in the company of Paolo’s homemade semifreddos and rustic hazelnut tart. Though not necessarily an adept of fish, I felt no envy watching other diners enjoy land-based dishes of veal or rabbit or poultry accompanied by luscious Ligurian red wines.

Yes, the reds too are good, some excellent. They’ll never be as big and flowery and popular as Tuscan reds. Like the olive oil, the tiny olives and the ethereal cooking, things Ligurian are small, delicate, and quiet. They don’t export well. The ham-hankering, spice-loving, sugar-and-alcohol adoring crowd will never embrace them. And that suits people like Paolo, Rosalia and their customers. The tables at Nonna Nina are always full, even in deepest winter, when the Riviera empties of its speedboats and backpackers. The sun of Tuscany, the herbs of Provence, the over-loved beauty of the Cinque Terre and the glitz of Portofino-just over the hill-feel like they’re those proverbial million miles away.

[flickr image via Jeremiah John McBride]

Author and guide David Downie’s latest book is the critically acclaimed “Paris, Paris: Journey into the City of Light.” His websites are www.davidddownie.com, www.parisparistours.com, http://wanderingfrance.com/blog/paris and http://wanderingliguria.com, dedicated to the Italian Riviera.