Home' Greymouth Star : January 13th 2014 Contents Greymouth Star
4 - Monday, January 13, 2014
A former Dunedin resident who wrote
a book on ambergris received hate mail
and threats of legal action after naming
Stewart Island as a spot to nd the
lucrative sperm whale excrement.
English molecular biologist Christopher
Kemp rst heard of ambergris in 2008,
when he was living in Dunedin and saw a
news report of an object washed up on a
e large lump, which was taken piece
by piece by eager ambergris hunters, was
not in fact the " oating gold'' used in high
quality perfume, but worthless lard.
"I'd never heard of ambergris before.
As soon as I saw that news report, I was
pretty much hooked.'' Mr Kemp, who
moved to the United States in 2010, then
began researching one of the most valuable
substances in nature, before publishing
his book Floating Gold: A Natural (and
Unnatural) History of Ambergris.
Ambergris was the result of "a series of
highly unlikely oddities''. It was produced
by just a few hundred sperm whales and
released at sea.
" e odds of nding it are minute and so
its value is high. Something like it can be
produced in a laboratory, but it's ... more
like an approximation.'' New Zealand
is known for high-quality ambergris,
probably because it is an isolated land
mass surrounding by deep waters in which
sperm whales were relatively common.
In particular, Stewart Island was known
for quality ambergris, as was the west
coast of the North Island, in areas around
Dargaville and along Ninety Mile Beach.
People were collecting and trading
ambergris full-time like any other
commodity, but "they're very tight-lipped
And, in some cases, irate ones:
"Especially the friendly and loving people
of Stewart Island, who sent me hate-mail
and threats of legal action after my book
was published,'' Mr Kemp said.
Good quality ambergris could sell for
thousands of dollars a kilogram and, while
he had never found any, "somewhere down
the line, someone is getting rich''.
Mr Kemp said he enjoyed writing the
book: "I'll always be glad I did it. I just
might not be welcome on Stewart Island
any time soon.''
Natural history teacher and author Lloyd
Esler, of Invercargill, said he had found
pieces of ambergris over the years and
advised fossickers "they have to smell a lot
of dog droppings before they nd their
rst piece of ambergris''.
He said the popularity of ambergris-
hunting in the South had increased thanks
to publicity about its value and he had
heard of people training dogs to sni it
Hotspots in the south were Oreti Beach,
near Invercargill, and Mason Bay on
Stewart Island --- "but they are also the
two beaches frequently scoured by people
who know what the stu is''.
"You have to get your eye in for it, as
there is an awful lot of other stu on the
beach that you could step over. ere was
report of a big nd on Stewart Island and
there were footprints over and around it,
so people did not know what it was.'' Mr
Esler had just nished writing a book
Whaling and Sealing in Southern New
Zealand, which noted whalers would slit
open sperm whales' innards as part of
e total ambergris recovered by all
whaling vessels from 1841 to 1914 was
said to be 1990kg, including 446kg
collected from whales by the Splendid on
a voyage in 1882. It was sold for £25,000.
Other ambergris nds reported in the
In 1928, three Southland men found
an 85kg lump of ambergris on a beach
near Otara, Southland, earning them
£8000 from a French perfume company.
After expenses were deducted, the men
had enough to buy their own farms.
In 1945, a 27kg piece of ambergris was
found on Stewart Island.
In 2006, 10-year-old Dunedin boy
found an 860g lump of ambergris at
Purakaunui, and another 370g the next
day, potentially earning him $10,000.
--- Otago Daily Times
Hate mail after book points to lucrative sperm whale excrement
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uLetters to the editor
1842 - At the end of an attempted retreat
from Kabul, a British force of 9000 men is
massacred in the Khyber Pass.
1929 - Death of legendary US marshal Wyatt
Earp, who with his brothers defeated the
Clanton brothers at the 1881 gun ght at the
1982 - Air Florida 737 taking o in
a snowstorm crashes into a
1989 - Computers across Britain
are hit by the Friday the 13th virus.
1992 - Serial killer Je rey Dahmer
pleads guilty but insane to 15
2004 - Harold Shipman
isconvicted in 2000 of murdering 15 of his
patients, is found hanging dead in his cell.
2007 - Ten former members of the Nazi
SS receive life sentences for this part in the
1944 slaughter of more than 700 people near
2012 - Italian cruise liner Costa Concordia
strikes rocks and keels over o Italy's west
coast. A total of 32 people die.
uWest Coast yesteryear
uToday in history
Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, New Zealand-
born former Queensland premier
(1911-2005); Paul Kelly, Australian
singer/songwriter (1955-); Julia
Louis-Dreyfus, US actress (1961-
); Graham "Suggs" McPherson,
British singer of Madness fame
(1961-); Mark Bosnich, Australian
goalkeeper (1972-); Orlando Bloom,
British actor (1977-); Liam Hemsworth,
Australian actor (1990-).
"If all mankind minus one, were of one
opinion, and only one person were of the
contrary opinion, mankind would be no more
justi ed in silencing that one person, than
he, if he had the power, would be justi ed
in silencing mankind." --- John Stuart Mill,
English philosopher (1806-1873).
"In the beginning God created the heavens
and the earth." --- (Genesis 1:1).
A Westport man
was killed and three
other Buller men
were injured when a
Ministry of Works truck plunged 300ft o the
upper Buller Gorge road between Lyell and
Murchison about 4.30pm yesterday. Killed was
Alan Farr, 52, single, whose neck is understood
to have been broken in the fall. Injured were
Alex Drummond and Percy Johnson, both
married, and Robert Cropp, a young single
man. eir injuries are not believed to be
It is understood the road gave way and the
truck dropped through heavy bush almost to
the edge of the Buller River. Mr Cropp, who
was riding on the deck of the vehicle, was
thrown clear and was able to climb the steep
bank and call for assistance from a passing
Four members of the Sumner Surf Life
Saving Club added someting novel to the
Grey River at the weekend. Conditions were
wet and chilly enough to keep the majority of
local residents indoors on Saturday afternoon
but the weather did not upset the visitors
when they made history on the water stretch
by covering the seven mile trip down from
Taylorville to Greymouth on surf boards.
is was the rst time that such an attempt
had been made on the river and the city sur es
found plenty to test their ability for the Grey
was owing dirty and rough and in semi- ood
at the time. Assisted by several boys from the
Kotuku Surf Life Saving Club, the party put its
boards in the water by the Taylorville bridge.
e strong ow caused several spills on the
way down but they recovered quickly.
uToday s birthdays
uFood for thought
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Sports Editor Tui Bromley
Chief Reporter Laura Mills
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03 755 8422
Do you remember your
wedding day? e birth
of your rst child?
How about where
you left your keys after
coming home from the
supermarket, or what you need to do at
ese memory tasks are universally
familiar to us as adults, and help us
function e ectively in the world.
We frequently re ect on events that
have happened in the past and plan for
events that we know will happen in the
Professor of Psychology Harlene Hayne,
vice-chancellor of Otago University,
describes this phenomenon as a kind of
mental time travel using a special kind of
memory that is commonly referred to as
It allows us to take a trip down memory
lane, revisit the past in our mind's eye and
allow us to consider future possibilities
that have yet to occur.
Most modern theorists of memory
agree our ability to remember the past
does not rely on a single memory system,
but rather a series of di erent memory
systems comprised of di erent neural
substrates and which operate according to
di erent principles.
e term episodic memory is used to
refer to the recollection of personal, past
More recently, the term has also been
used to refer to the ability to use past
experience to make plans for the future;
this latter ability has been referred to as
According to some memory experts,
episodic memory is a uniquely human
ability --- no other animal has the ability
to scan the past or plan for the future.
Prof Hayne has been studying memory
development in infants and children
for 30 years and her interest in episodic
memory began a decade ago, motivated
by the phenomenon of childhood
amnesia, or our inability to recall events
that took place during our infancy and
" is phenomenon is particularly
puzzling because infants and young
children have outstanding memory
ability," Prof Hayne said.
" e key question is what happens to
those memories and why."
Some researchers argue that a new
kind of memory --- episodic memory ---
emerges between the ages of three and
"Although there is little debate
among memory researchers about the
importance of episodic memory, there is
considerable debate about when episodic
memory might emerge during the course
of human development."
Prof Hayne's research seeks to answer
some of the area's burning questions. At
what age do children rst show signs of
"mental time travel" --- and how do these
skills over life as a function of age and
experience? When do children begin to
use what they have learned in the past to
make predictions about similar events in
Solving these riddles will have
important theoretical implications for
views about the normal course of memory
"It also has practical implications in
settings in which children must rely on
their memories, including clinical, legal,
and educational contexts.
"Furthermore, given the importance
of episodic foresight for coping and
planning, we also suspect that individual
di erences in this component of episodic
memory plays an important role in a wide
range of psychological processes that may
either enhance or impede mental health,
well-being and success."
Memory, she said, was a fundamental
aspect of human cognition that emerged
early in development --- even newborns
exhibit memory for their mother's face
Depending on their age, human infants
exhibit memory when tested after hours,
days, weeks, or even months.
"Our research and that of others has
shown that the basic building blocks of
memory emerge early, but change rapidly
during infancy and early childhood."
She and fellow researchers developed
two new tasks to explore the episodic
memory's development in children.
In the "timeline task", children aged
three to ve were provided a personal
timeline consisting of a large piece of
paper displaying the child at di erent
points in their life.
is reinforced the linear notion of
time, while also allowing the researchers
to ask questions about di erent events
without relying exclusively on terms like
later, earlier, before and after, that young
children struggle to understand.
e researchers then compared the
ability of the children to describe events
that happened to them in the recent past
or that would happen in the near future.
ey found all the children could
provide some information about these
di erent kinds of events.
"On every measure, even three-year-
olds exhibited evidence of both episodic
memory and episodic foresight," Prof
e second task, modelled on a
test developed by renowned memory
researcher Dr Endel Tulving, also showed
three-year-olds were capable of forming
an episodic memory of the task.
"One potential explanation for
childhood amnesia has been that prior
to three years of age, children do not
have the capacity to form episodic
memories. Our data render this particular
explanation unlikely. Instead, our ndings
clearly show that children as young as
three-years-old form episodic memories
--- the di erence appears to be in
how long they can remember
Ultimately, she believed the key to
unlocking childhood amnesia was
children's ability to use language in the
service of memory.
"Although their memory skills,
including their episodic memory skills,
emerge very early in development,
their ability to use their language and
the language of others to retrieve and
express those memories allow them to
be maintained over signi cant periods of
Prof Hayne and Otago University
researchers adopted the famous "spoon
test" by Dr Endel Tulving, a world
authority on human memory function, to
study "mental time travel" in a group of
New Zealand children.
e researchers tested three and four-
year-old children in a large outdoor
sandbox, over two phases separated by
delays ranging from 15 minutes to a
In the rst phase, each child was taken
to the sandbox and told: "I saw a pirate
around here earlier today and I think that
he might have hidden his treasure in our
sandbox. Can you help me nd it?"
e experimenter and the child then
dug for the gold-painted treasure chest.
Once it was uncovered, they found
it was locked and the experimenter
asked the child if they had a key to
open the padlock.
"When the child responds no, the
experimenter looks in her pockets and
says, 'I don't have a key to unlock it either,
oh well, we're just going to go back inside
now and do something else'," Professor
After a delay, the child took part in the
second phase, where their language skills
When these had been completed, the
experimenter told the child they were
going to go back outside to the sandbox,
but rst there were some things to show
them, and they could pick one to take
e experimenter then displayed three
objects in front of the child: a small
coloured ball, a small coloured wind-
up toy, and a key. e child was then
encouraged to select one of the three
objects and the child was taken back out
to the sandbox.
"Using our version of the spoon test, we
have shown that three-year-olds clearly
form an episodic memory of the task,
correctly selecting the key when they are
tested after one 15-minute delay," Prof
"Unlike their older counterparts,
however, they do not retain this memory
over delays longer than 15 minutes."
In contrast, four-year-olds exhibited
robust evidence of episodic memory, even
when the delay was as long as a week.
--- New Zealand Herald
Time travel in the mind
No other animal has the ability to scan the past or plan for the future as humans do, and it is infants who hold the key.
Sir David Attenborough has seen some
horri c sights over the course of his 60-year
None so terrible, however, than
watching monkeys brutally murdered by
e Octogenarian naturalist, who released
his latest lm Natural History Museum
Alive on New Year's Eve, was answering
questions from fans during an hour-long
Q and A session on social media site Reddit
Sir David Attenborough sounds population
warning "things are going to get worse" if
humans have large families
Asked by one member what he felt his
distressing moment was, he said:
"Seeing chimpanzees kill monkeys, they do
this to eat them.
" ey chase them, set an ambush, catch
them, and tear them apart," he added.
But, he went on to add, chimpanzees were
also responsible for the most human act he
had witnessed in the wild: Lying.
"Also, when some Colobus monkeys nd a
very precious piece of food, it calls the alarm
call that it would make if a snake were to
arrive, and all the other monkeys run away
and it gets the food," he continued.
Perhaps even more distressing was his
answer to whether he thinks the world is on
the brink of a new era of mass extinction.
"Yes, I'm afraid we are," he wrote. "It's not
possible to reverse the damage we've done.
We are undoubtedly exterminating species at
a speed which has never been known before."
"People should realise that waste of
anything is something that we cannot a ord
in this overcrowded world," he went on to
say, before praising the Worldwide Fund for
Nature as an organisation everyone needs to
In more trivial news, Attenborough said
that his next project, a 3D lm on the
evolution of ight, is slated for release
around Christmas this year.
His childhood inspiration was the
naturalist Ernest ompson Seton, and, most
importantly, he revealed his favourite biscuit.
It's chocolate, if you must know.
--- New Zealand Herald
Sir David Attenborough reveals his most distressing moment
Sir David Attenborough
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