from the world's big
Nuclear weapons, whale sharks, and how to use both to make eco-tourism more sustainable.
- Scientists have finally determined the age of whale sharks using radioactive elements from bomb tests.
- Using the new data, the age range of the animals' bones has now been determined.
- The findings will help conservationists better maintain whale shark populations.
Majestic whale sharks, the gentle giants of the shark family.<p>Weighing in at 9 tons (20,000 pounds) and typically growing to around 10 meters (32 feet) long, the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whale_shark" target="_blank">whale shark</a> is the largest living species of fish. Despite the name, it is not a whale, though it is the size of one. Like many kinds of whales, it filter feeds on plankton.</p><p>Many things about the whale shark have remained unknown to science; how long they can live, their mortality rate, and how exactly to determine the age of a specimen from its remains was chief among them. However, these questions are now a little closer to being settled. In a <a href="https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fmars.2020.00188/full" target="_blank">study</a> recently published in <em>Frontiers in Marine Science,</em> scientists explain how they were able to date the bones of two whale sharks who met their fate earlier than they may have expected. </p><p>Like trees, whale sharks' bones have growth rings. Scientists have known about these rings for a while, but how quickly the rings grow has been unknown. It is difficult to use them to estimate the age of a shark if you aren't sure how much time each ring represents.</p><p><br></p>
A whale shark vertebra from Pakistan, in cross section, showing 50 growth bands
Image: © Paul Fanning, Pakistan node of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation<p>This is where carbon-14 comes in. As a result of nuclear bomb tests during the Cold War, large quantities of carbon-14 were put into the oceans. The isotope slowly made its way up the food web and into the bodies of larger animals. Knowing the yearly changes in the amount of carbon-14 in the oceans due to bomb testing, scientists merely had to compare that data with the changes seen in the sharks' bones.</p><p>"We found that one growth ring was definitely deposited every year," <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-04/aiom-cwn033020.php" target="_blank">said Dr. Mark Meekan</a> of the Australian Institute of Marine Science in Perth, a co-lead on the study. "This is very important, because if you over- or under-estimate growth rates you will inevitably end up with a management strategy that doesn't work, and you'll see the population crash." This means the sharks used in this study were around 35 and 50 years old at the time of their deaths.</p><p>Working forward from there, the scientists were able conclude that the animals may have an age range of 100-150 years. "Earlier modelling studies have suggested that the largest whale sharks may live as long as 100 years," Dr. Meekan explained in <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-04/aiom-cwn033020.php" target="_blank">a statement</a>. "However, although our understanding of the movements, behaviour, connectivity and distribution of whale sharks have improved dramatically over the last 10 years, basic life history traits such as age, longevity and mortality remain largely unknown. Our study shows that adult sharks can indeed attain great age and that long lifespans are probably a feature of the species. Now we have another piece of the jigsaw added."</p>
MIT team successfully tests a new method for verification of weapons reduction.
How do weapons inspectors verify that a nuclear bomb has been dismantled? An unsettling answer is: They don't, for the most part.
Russia urges villagers to leave nuclear fallout area and then tells them to come back.
- Residents of Northwestern Russian villages were told to evacuate after a nuclear-powered engine exploded.
- Russian authorities originally stated they saw radiation levels spike to 16 times above normal.
- Other reports from officials stated there was no spike and also no need to evacuate, creating confusion for villagers and international reporters.
Downplaying the nuclear incident<p>Russia is no stranger to nuclear catastrophe nor are they averse to <a href="https://bigthink.com/radiation-leak-russia" target="_self">outright denying claims of gross misconduct.</a></p><p>Russian state news agency <em>TASS</em> recently reported that the evacuations were just called off. Valery Mashenkov, head of administrative department for the village of Nyonoksa, told <em>TASS</em> that villagers wouldn't be required to leave their homes anymore. </p><p>The only official response so far from the Kremlin was a simple "accidents happen." Spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to say whether or not the nuclear accident was related to the nuclear-powered cruise missile known as Burevestnik or Skyfall. </p><p>Ignoring the potential crisis at hand, Peskov instead remarked that this accident didn't hamper their development of further advanced weaponry. </p><p>"Accidents, unfortunately, happen. They are tragedies. But in this particular case, it is important for us to remember those heroes who lost their lives in this accident."</p><p>Peskov reinforced President Vladimir Putin's assertion that in their efforts to advance nuclear technologies, they are "considerably far ahead of the level other countries have managed to achieve."</p>
Suspected site of the nuclear explosion<p>Nyonoksa is a small village 30 miles west of the port of Severodvinsk on the White Sea. News of the official, planned evacuation became public on Tuesday, August 13th, before it was reneged.</p><p>Rosgidromet, the Russian meteorological agency, initially reported that radiation levels were anywhere from four to 16 times higher than regular levels in the vicinity. The Russian military at that time told state new agencies that the radiation levels were normal. </p><p>The deputy head of Severodvinsk, Irina Sakharova, told <em>TASS</em> that "Everything is calm at Nyonoksa, life goes on."</p>
Conflicting reports from Russia<p>Some speculate that the nuclear reactor fell into the water. Aleksandr K. Nikitin, a researcher from the Norwegian environmental group Bellona, thinks that might be the case. But he was quick to remark, "There are mostly questions without clear answers." </p><p>Officials are still claiming that radiation levels are not elevated and there is no need for a displacement of the village. </p><p>The governor of the Arkhangelsk region, Igor Orlov, echoed these sentiments and stated to the <em>Interfax</em> news agency, "There is no evacuation. That is complete nonsense."</p><p>Residents from Nyonoksa were told they'd be leaving on a special train to evacuate their village. Russia's official reason was for unspecified "planned" activities at a nearby military testing range. But supposedly, this didn't go through, as a later announcement from Severodvinsk city officials stated, "Yes, indeed, they informed us that the military had canceled tomorrow's activities."</p><p>While we can only speculate, it seems that the "military activities" were a cover for the nuclear accident. Under the auspice of this ruse, villagers and others affected by the radiation fallout would have been evacuated. But as far as we can tell now, those plans have been halted. </p><p>Russian authorities wouldn't reveal what type of weapon was related to the nuclear accident. But they have at least officially acknowledged that some radioactive materials and a nuclear reactor were involved in the incident.</p>
For the Japanese in World War II, surrender was unthinkable. So unthinkable that many soldiers continued to fight even after the island nation eventually did surrender.
- Japan may have surrendered to the Allies on August 15, 1945, but many Japanese soldiers did not get word until much later.
- The culture of death before surrender that permeated the Japanese military caused many to continue to fight even after Japan's formal surrender.
- Hiroo Onada was one such holdout. He engaged in a guerrilla war in the jungles of the Philippines for nearly 30 years.
Hiroo Onoda presenting his sword to the Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos. Image source: Wikimedia Commons<p>The holdouts continued to fight local Filipino police and others, who fought back in self-defense. The continued engagement was taken as a sign that the war was still on. One of Onada's men eventually surrendered in 1950. Another was killed by a search party in 1954 looking for the group. After burning a field of rice in 1972 as part of their guerilla war, police killed Onada's last companion. Now, he was alone in the jungle.</p><p>But back in Japan, Onada and his men had become something of an urban legend. Although he had been declared legally dead by Japan, the holdout's presence on the island was almost certain; after all, he had been engaged in guerilla warfare for nearly 30 years and had killed 30 Filipinos after the war had ended. So, in February of 1974, a college dropout named <a href="http://www.wanpela.com/holdouts/profiles/onoda.html" target="_blank">Norio Suzuki</a> decided to go look for him. "[I'm] going to look for Lieutenant Onoda, a panda, and the abominable snowman, in that order," he told his friends.</p><p>Surprisingly, Suzuki did find Onada, but the lieutenant still refused to surrender. Onada would only surrender were he ordered to do so by his commanding officer: Major Yoshimi Taniguchi.</p><p>Suzuki returned to Japan and tracked down Taniguchi, by then an old man and a bookseller. He brought him back to Lubang to meet with Onada. Twenty-nine years after the end of World War II, Taniguchi relieved Onada of his duty. Before he left for Japan, however, Onada gave the Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos his sword in surrender — Marcos <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/1974/03/12/archives/marcos-extols-japanese-straggler-returns-sword.html" target="_blank">returned the sword</a> and pardoned Onada for his actions during what Onada had believed to be wartime.</p><p>Onada was given a hero's welcome in Japan in testament to what is either his incredible discipline or fanaticism. The island nation had changed drastically since he was gone, changes that Onada couldn't entirely come to grips with. In 1975, Onada retired to Brazil to raise cattle, later returning to Japan in 1984 to start a wilderness survival school.</p>
Russia's famed intelligence agency was often successful in getting American secrets.
- The KGB recruited spies and carried out numerous operations in the United States.
- The spies compromised U.S. intelligence and military.
- Some practices of the KGB continue in modern intelligence.
5. Flipping Robert Hanssen<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE3ODA1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0ODg5NjE2MX0.R3P8AyHe30MiGcGg6S_AQtzJn5J1VdDL5e0lx6rVQQA/img.jpg?width=980" id="db46c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5b311baa3fe0d168aad934b29f223329" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Robert Hanssen.<p>What's a greater intelligence coup than recruiting intelligence agents from the enemy's country? The KGB managed to pull off several such feats during the Cold War. One top double-agent was <strong>Robert Hanssen</strong>, an FBI agent who also spied for the Soviets from 1979 till 2001. The Department of Justice <a href="https://fas.org/irp/agency/doj/fbi/websterreport.html" target="_blank">called</a> Hanssen's espionage "possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history."</p><p>Currently serving 15 consecutive life sentences in a federal supermax prison in Colorado, Hanssen earned over $1.4 million in cash and diamonds for selling classified documents to the KGB by the thousands. These papers detailed American weapons developments and the U.S. counterintelligence program. Some of the KGB double-agent names Hanssen revealed to his Soviet handlers ended up getting executed. He also relayed American strategies in case of a nuclear war.</p><p> Hanssen was finally caught in 2001, after the FBI paid $7 million to a KGB agent for a file on an anonymous mole. Fingerprinting and voice analysis identified Hannsen. </p>
4. The recruitment of Aldrich Ames<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE3Nzk2Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNDMxMzUyMn0.KLsL8BFXicn71B_mEOa6NTkFecuiZbata7ChHiWZnF0/img.jpg?width=980" id="31487" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="96cda3856cf3fb5822419be6fb3ebeef" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Aldrich Ames' mugshot.<p>Spying at some of the same time as Robert Hanssen, <strong>Aldrich Ames </strong>was arguably an even bigger get for the KGB. He was a 31-year CIA officer, who fed highly classified CIA information to the Russians from 1985 until 1994. His actions directly resulted in the deaths of at least 10 CIA sources and compromised at least a hundred U.S. intelligence operations.</p><p>Ames was eventually caught when his lifestyle, which was too lavish for his paycheck, was noticed. </p><p>At his trial, Ames <a href="https://fas.org/irp/congress/1994_rpt/ssci_ames.htm" target="_blank">admitted</a> that he gave up "virtually all Soviet agents of the CIA and other American and foreign services known to me", while providing the KGB with a "huge quantity of information on United States foreign, defense and security policies."</p><p>He is now serving his life sentence in a medium-security prison in Terre Haute, Indiana.</p>
3. Operation Cedar<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE3Nzk2Ny9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0OTgwNzU4MX0.PrYQcxGF4CgsHZhofiJIPJ4QvWOXGFvZ9QfVwh0btkM/img.jpg?width=980" id="4f237" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="67ba1896c63b1c886e2920abf35eb5a1" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Hungry Horse Powerplant, Montana, USA.<p>This operation didn't fully come to fruition so why is it on this list? Its sheer ambition. <strong>Operation Cedar, </strong>which took over ten years of preparation (1959-1972), intended to seriously disrupt the U.S. power supply. The idea was to destroy giant hydroelectric dams, as well as the Hungry Horse Dam and Flathead Dam in Montana. This would result in the loss of power to the entire state of New York and all the regions nearing the dams.</p><p>KGB agents used a safe house near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to coordinate the attacks, which would lead to unimaginable chaos. The plan also called for destroying oil refineries and oil pipelines between the U.S. and Canada. The ultimate goal for the operatives was to plant explosives in the Port of New York – a key harbor for commerce.</p><p>The operation is mentioned in the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitrokhin_Archive" target="_blank">Mitrokhin Archive</a> – 25,000 notes made by the 30-year KGB archivist <strong>Vasili Mitrokhin, </strong>which he brought with him when he defected to the U.K. He worked in the First Chief Directorate, the unit tasked with gathering foreign intelligence and operations. Mitrokhin didn't reveal why Operation Cedar didn't happen.</p>
2. Operation Pandora<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE3Nzk3My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMTU0ODA3MX0.KTIRh29Dy6tiJRlmxjCz-f63EfROvY6GyxEcI5fbCsw/img.jpg?width=980" id="012ea" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fad44a1dde815e323a685b7bf1fc7af7" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Black Panthers in protest outside California's Capitol building.<p>The KGB had a long-standing strategy of exploiting racial tensions in the U.S. This approach culminated in<strong> Operation Pandora</strong>, a 1960s plan also detailed in the <a href="https://www.amazon.com/Sword-Shield-Mitrokhin-Archive-History/dp/0465003125" target="_blank">Mitrokhin Archive.</a> This operation's goal was nothing less than the start of a race war that would consume and self-destruct the United States.</p><p>According to Darien Cavanaugh, writing for <a href="https://medium.com/war-is-boring/russia-tried-to-use-martin-luther-king-jr-s-assassination-to-start-a-race-war-9eeab04f1b82" target="_blank">War Is Boring,</a> the Soviets looked to rattle the U.S. and wanted to incite violence between radical groups like the KKK, African American militants, and the Jewish Defense League (JDL). From that standpoint, the KGB sought to exploit the situation following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., who was regarded by Soviet authorities as being too moderate and standing in the way of greater social divisions and potential civil war in the U.S.</p><p>In 1971, the KGB distributed fictional pamphlets which appeared to be made by the right-wing Jewish Defense League. Booklets, actually written by the KGB, were sent to black militant groups, making claims that African-Americans were attacking Jews and looting their New York stores. The aim for the KGB was to incite anti-Semitism in the black community. At the same time, other fake letters were sent to black militant groups saying that the JDL was attacking black people in America. Those letters openly called for retaliation. </p><p>Following this modus operandi, the Soviets authorized Operation Pandora, a 1971 plan to blow up a historically black New York college and place the blame on the JDL.</p><p>While that operation didn't end up panning out and causing a race war, KGB efforts to stir up racial tensions continued into the 1980s. In the run-up to the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, KGB-penned racist letters were sent to the Olympic committees of a number of African and Asian countries in the name of the American KKK.</p>
1. The conspiracy of Rudolf Abel<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8xOTE3ODA1NC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyNTk1OTIzMH0.WbFRA6LNt7cq5OlFlvPBZCRwLCqcCeMm3CRoeRjuPIE/img.jpg?width=980" id="55709" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="84eaea5bc98d5a5fc0e633c7581549f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Rudolf Abel's FBI mugshot.<p><strong>Rudolf Ivanovich Abel </strong>(1903-1975) was probably the most famous KGB "illegal" in history, whose story was the basis of Steven Spielberg's Oscar-winning film "Bridge of Spies". Born William Fisher in the UK to Russian <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%89migr%C3%A9" target="_blank">émigré</a> parents, he grew up to be a Soviet intelligence officer. Proving himself for his intelligence work against the Nazis in World War II, Fisher worked for OGPU and NKVD (predecessors to the KGB), before being sent to the U.S. in 1948. Using fake documents, he crossed into the U.S. from Canada and took up a key part in a New York City-based spy ring. His spying continued under KGB supervision all the way until 1957 when he was arrested by the FBI.</p><p>Posing as a photographer and painter, Fisher was instrumental in organizing the "volunteer" network of agents that would smuggle American atomic secrets to Russia.</p><p>After he was eventually discovered, Fisher only served 4 years of his sentence, exchanged for the downed American U-2 pilot <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Gary_Powers" target="_blank">Francis Gary Powers</a> in 1962 on a bridge in Berlin (so-called "Bridge of Spies"). </p><p>The practice of placing "illegal" immigrants in the U.S. under fake identities who would then operate as sleeper or active agents has continued to modern times. In 2010, a network of 10 Russian sleeper agents was <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegals_Program" target="_blank">apprehended</a> in the U.S.</p>