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Weird Sport of the Day: Volcano Boarding

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Despite this blog's title, I don't think I'm going to make weird sports a daily feature -- but there are so many out there, and new ones cropping up all the time, that I could. Just last week, for instance, I found myself an hour outside of Las Vegas, ziplining across the desert at speeds of up to 50 mph. A few weeks before that I had (and declined) the opportunity to rappel down a waterfall, and while I was briefly in tropical North Queensland, Australia last month, I heard something about how "jungle surfing" was all the rage (though I never quite figured out what exactly it was). The point being, crazy new "sports" are cropping up everywhere, and it's tough enough just trying to keep up with them all, much less try them!

The latest craze? Volcano boarding. Sandboarding has been around for awhile -- you can do it on the endless dunes of Namibia or at a special sandboarding park in Oregon's coastal dunes, so it was only a matter of time, perhaps, before the sport migrated from mountains of sand to the ash plains of active volcanoes.

boom.jpgI climbed to the rim of Vanuatu's Mount Yasur volcano last month, one of the most active and accessible volcanoes in the world. (Pictured above, looking relatively benign in the daytime, and to the left, raging, at night.) There's no volcano boarding on Yasur: the locals are respectful enough of the "Old Man" to allow tourists just to gawp at the volcano's power from its rim -- which isn't that far away, considering a few get burned (and occasionally killed) every year by flying lava bombs. When Captain Cook landed on the island a few centuries back, attracted by the volcano's orange glow in the night, the locals wouldn't let him anywhere near it. It was taboo to climb Yasur. And you can bet they wouldn't have let anyone slide down it on a surfboard.

Nicaragua, however, is a different story.

According to a recent New York Times travel section article:

There's nothing quite like the sudden silence one experiences midway through the descent down a roughly 1,600-foot volcanic slope, having just somersaulted out of the pebble-scraping, air-rushing trajectory previously occupied by you and your volcano board.

... This was my introduction to volcano boarding, a young adventure activity that has popped up, most notably at Cerro Negro, an ominous charcoal-black volcano in western Nicaragua. Boarders hurtle down the active volcano's bald, steep slope atop a sledlike piece of plywood, at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour. It's hot, dusty, a little scary — and crazy enough to be fun.

The fellow who started it all is an Aussie named Daryn Webb, who'd grown up sandboarding in his native Queensland. Which was all well and good, but in Corro Negro he found "a dunelike slope, only bigger and blacker, and with the added thrill of a potential eruption."

"After a lot of trial and error with sledding vessels — he tried boogie boards, mattresses and even a minibar fridge — he settled on plywood reinforced with metal and augmented with Formica under the seat."

Speeds can reach 30 mph, and "crashing and burning" is common. If you're interested in playing where Sandanistan rebels once trained, here are the details:

Bigfoot Hostel (half a block south of Banco Procredit in León; 505-917-8832; www.bigfootnicaragua.com) runs boarding tours Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The price is $28, including $5 park admission. Dorm rooms at the hostel cost $6 a night; there are also four double rooms for $13, and a room for four is $28.

And for the faint of heart who'd rather just watch, here's a video.

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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images
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Animals
Fisherman Catches Rare Blue Lobster, Donates It to Science
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FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images

Live lobsters caught off the New England coast are typically brown, olive-green, or gray—which is why one New Hampshire fisherman was stunned when he snagged a blue one in mid-July.

As The Independent reports, Greg Ward, from Rye, New Hampshire, discovered the unusual lobster while examining his catch near the New Hampshire-Maine border. Ward initially thought the pale crustacean was an albino lobster, which some experts estimate to be a one-in-100-million discovery. However, a closer inspection revealed that the lobster's hard shell was blue and cream.

"This one was not all the way white and not all the way blue," Ward told The Portsmouth Herald. "I've never seen anything like it."

While not as rare as an albino lobster, blue lobsters are still a famously elusive catch: It's said that the odds of their occurrence are an estimated one in two million, although nobody knows the exact numbers.

Instead of eating the blue lobster, Ward decided to donate it to the Seacoast Science Center in Rye. There, it will be studied and displayed in a lobster tank with other unusually colored critters, including a second blue lobster, a bright orange lobster, and a calico-spotted lobster.

[h/t The Telegraph]

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Courtesy Murdoch University
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Animals
Australian Scientists Discover First New Species of Sunfish in 125 Years
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Courtesy Murdoch University

Scientists have pinpointed a whole new species of the largest bony fish in the world, the massive sunfish, as we learned from Smithsonian magazine. It's the first new species of sunfish proposed in more than 125 years.

As the researchers report in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, the genetic differences between the newly named hoodwinker sunfish (Mola tecta) and its other sunfish brethren was confirmed by data on 27 different samples of the species collected over the course of three years. Since sunfish are so massive—the biggest can weigh as much as 5000 pounds—they pose a challenge to preserve and store, even for museums with large research collections. Lead author Marianne Nyegaard of Murdoch University in Australia traveled thousands of miles to find and collected genetic data on sunfish stranded on beaches. At one point, she was asked if she would be bringing her own crane to collect one.

Nyegaard also went back through scientific literature dating back to the 1500s, sorting through descriptions of sea monsters and mermen to see if any of the documentation sounded like observations of the hoodwinker. "We retraced the steps of early naturalists and taxonomists to understand how such a large fish could have evaded discovery all this time," she said in a press statement. "Overall, we felt science had been repeatedly tricked by this cheeky species, which is why we named it the 'hoodwinker.'"

Japanese researchers first detected genetic differences between previously known sunfish and a new, unknown species 10 years ago, and this confirms the existence of a whole different type from species like the Mola mola or Mola ramsayi.

Mola tecta looks a little different from other sunfish, with a more slender body. As it grows, it doesn't develop the protruding snout or bumps that other sunfish exhibit. Similarly to the others, though, it can reach a length of 8 feet or more. 

Based on the stomach contents of some of the specimens studied, the hoodwinker likely feeds on salps, a jellyfish-like creature that it probably chomps on (yes, sunfish have teeth) during deep dives. The species has been found near New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and southern Chile.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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