Welcome Back, Tasman Booby!


Thought to have been extinct since the late 18th century, when the hunting of Norfolk Island’s Polynesian settlers and European sailers eradicated its numbers to unprecedented lows, the Tasman booby, a long-winged sea bird formerly native to the small islands off the Australian and New Zealand coasts, has been rediscovered in a laboratory. But not in a Frankenstein’s monster kind of way – it turns out they never actually went extinct and have been hiding out on Lord Howe Island, passing themselves off as a different subspecies – the masked booby (above). It was only until recently when a number of biologists, palaeontologists, and geneticists teamed up and compared their data that they realised the Tasman boobies have been alive all along, and in fact are placed at  “least concern” in the IUCN rankings.

The problem with identifying them previously was that palaeontologists had been comparing the fossilised bones of “extinct” female Tasman boobies to those of the living males and assuming they were different species, unaware that the female Tasman boobies are typically much larger than the males. Of course, the biologists already knew this, but there had been little communication between these two groups until now. “Many rediscoveries of ‘extinct’ birds are the result of an intensive search in the field, but ours is a little different,” study leader, Tammy Steeves of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, said. “We are the first to rediscover a bird in the laboratory.”

Well then, Tasman Booby, I suspect you’re probably pretty excited about all the attention you’re going to get because of this. You’re going to save a fortune on groceries because every scientist with a keen interest in boobies is going to be inviting you over to their place for brunch, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and quite possibly supper, and you’ve been away for so long, they probably won’t even expect you to bring anything because your company is all that matters (but they’ll still whisper horrid things about you to each other afterwards if you don’t, Tasman Booby). But I’m here to tell you that being the prodigal son isn’t all complementary red wine and lamb cutlets, champagne and pistachio macaroons, gin and ginger snaps. The first thing the scientists are going to ask you is how you came back from extinction after all these years and all you can possibly reply is, “Well, I was never actually extinct, to be honest. I was just hanging out, you know, keeping a low profile. Chillin’.” And what are they going to say to that, Tasman Booby? Nothing! They’ll be like, “Oh,” after which there’ll be one of those excruciating awkward silences  you hate so much, which they’ll try to momentarily fill by serving you some more gin, so you’ll eventually have to ask, “So… what’s been going on with you?”

But what you might not have considered, Tasman Booby, is that you’ve been “extinct” for over two hundred years. That’s a whole lot of shit you’re going to have to catch up on with these scientists, especially considering a number of them will be likely pushing eighty. They’ll start with the moment they first took an interest in nature when that boy/girl they liked in Kindergarten gave them an ice-cream bucket full of fence skinks for their birthday. And then it’ll be all cicadas, tadpoles and rabbits right through to high school when it’ll be all boys/girls, formals, parties, drugs, and shit parents. And oh, did they tell you about the time they accidentally went with two boys/girls to the formal? They will have, Tasman booby, but you’ll have your mouth so full of macaroon you’ll be unable to tell them in time, so you’ll get to hear that story twice. And then there’ll be marriage, kids, divorce, dating, constant references to how diabolical their first husband/wife was (and still is), possibly marriage again, and oh yeah, the research papers. My god, Tasman Booby, the research papers. Unless they happen to be about something cool like Sauropod neck posture, no amount of free alcohol and dessert in the world can make having to hear about the minutiae of carotenoid crystal formation bearable, pretty sea bird.

So I guess the only thing left for it is to go back into hiding. Unless of course all of the above sounds awesome to you, (I don’t pretend to know what your idea of what’s fun is, Tasman Booby) but if you do feel the need to go “extinct” again, your best bet is find a hideout where no one’s going to come looking for you ever again. I hear Guam’s good for that.



Filed under Animals, Science

3 responses to “Welcome Back, Tasman Booby!

  1. Andreas Johansson

    every scientist with a keen interest in boobies

    There’s a sociological study waiting to happen here about whether boobiology is more male-dominated than other branches of ornithology.

  2. Pingback: A Plague’s A Crowd, Bosavi Woolly Rat. « Save Your Breath For Running Ponies

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