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10 Offbeat Stories You Might Have Missed This Week (12/15/18)

by Radu Alexander
fact checked by Jamie Frater

With another week in the history books, it’s time to sit back and review some of the stories that made the news over the last few days. Click here if you want to learn about the major headlines; otherwise, read on for unexpected and outlandish stories.

Even though Christmas is fast approaching, this week’s list feels better fitted for Halloween. There’s talk of ghost pirates, Dracula ants, ancient skeletons, alien noises, guys in robot suits, and, of course, a river of chocolate.

10 Sister Act 3: Viva Las Vegas

Two nuns have been accused of embezzling at least half a million dollars and using the money to take lavish gambling vacations.

Up until this year, Sister Mary Margaret Kreuper served as principal for the St. James Catholic School in Torrance, California, while her friend, Sister Lana Chang, was a teacher. The two had access to an account nobody else was aware of, which was opened in 1997 under the name of “St. James Convent” instead of “St. James School.” The nuns often used it to embezzle tuitions, donations, and other fees. The $500,000 figure is just what forensic auditors were able to find by going through six years of bank records, and the real sum could be much higher.

The two nuns enjoyed taking vacations to casinos and, according to a lawyer for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, “used the account as their personal account.” Whenever questioned about their gambling trips, the duo said they were gifts from a rich relative. Meanwhile, parents were told that the school operated on a shoestring budget, and teachers were denied salary increases.

Both Kreuper and Chang have retired. Parents were further outraged when they found out that the archdiocese will not be pursuing criminal charges against the two nuns because they showed remorse.[1]

9 The Mysterious Seal-Eel Connection

There’s a new fad out there which has baffled scientists and poses a serious health risk: sticking eels up your nose. There’s just one catch, though. It’s not teenagers who are doing it but rather juvenile Hawaiian monk seals.

The story got picked up after the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) posted a picture of a seal with a dead spotted eel stuck up its nose on its Facebook page. The image puzzled animal experts, who’d never seen the bizarre phenomenon before. According to NOAA, the organization has been monitoring the endangered species for almost 40 years and had only noticed the odd incident on a few occasions, and they all happened in the last three years.

Charles Littnan, head of NOAA’s Hawaiian monk seal research program, said the first instance occurred in 2016.[2] He received an e-mail from a field researcher which, basically, said, “Found seal with eel stuck in nose. What do we do?” There was no protocol set in place back then, but now, standard procedure is to capture the animal and pull the eel through the nostril. So far, all the eels have died, but none of the Hawaiian monk seals seemed affected by the incident.

There’s still the question of why is this happening, and so far, there is no satisfying answer. NOAA has ruled out the work of a deranged person with a vendetta against seals. Littnan said it could be that the seal is regurgitating the eel, or the fish purposely swam inside the nose while the seal was hunting it, but doesn’t consider either hypothesis plausible.

8 Shiver Me Timbers

Photo credit: Amanda Teague

A woman from Northern Ireland ended her marriage with a 300-year-old ghost pirate.

Amanda Teague first made headlines at the start of the year, when she announced that she’d wed a man named Jack. Nothing unusual at first, except that Jack was an 18th-century pirate from Haiti who was executed for thievery. The 45-year-old woman, who happens to work as a Jack Sparrow impersonator, had her ceremony in international waters off the coast of Ireland. A medium was present so that Jack could say, “I do.”

Their love story began in 2014, when Jack began visiting Teague at nights. The two spent a lot of time together, developed feelings for one another, and even started having sex. That’s when Teague decided that it would be proper for them to get married, even though Jack “would have been happy like most men with just sex.”[3]

Alas, it seems like it was not meant to be, as Teague recently announced that their marriage is over. She said she will explain everything “in due course” but, for the moment, advised everyone to be careful when taking part in spiritualism.

7 The Speed Of The Dracula Ant

The Fastest Animal on Earth: the Snap-Jaw Ant

The Dracula ant has claimed the title of fastest movement in nature. Specifically, it can snap its jaws 5,000 times faster than a human can blink an eye.

The tiny creature can be found throughout Australia and tropical parts of Africa and Asia. It draws its name from the fact that it engages in larval hemolymph feeding, more colorfully known as nondestructive cannibalism. In other words, it sucks the blood of its own larvae.

Another unique feature of the ant is its mandibles. Their tips are pressed against one another, spring-loaded and ready for action. Instead of using them to bite its prey, though, the ant lets one mandible slide off the other one, smacking the target. This likely leaves the other critter stunned and fit to be delivered to the nest.

The motion of the mandibles is similar to a finger snap, except that it is much faster. Researchers from the University of Illinois and the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History had to use high-speed cameras to capture the movement. They discovered that the jaws snap at 320 kilometers per hour (200 mph), making them the fastest movement in nature.[4]

6 Boris The Not-So-Robot

Photo credit: MBKh Media

Russia recently hosted a technology forum dedicated to robotics. State television channel Russia-24 lavished particular praise on a robot named Boris. There was just one problem, though—Boris was a guy in a suit.

Soon after the channel showed footage of the “robot,” various blogs and news agencies started bringing the report into question. Some questioned why Boris had no external sensors or why it made many human-like movements. Others pointed out that certain photographs clearly showed that Boris had a visible neckline. The clincher came courtesy of MBKh Media, a news agency which obtained a picture of the actor prior to putting on the Boris head.[5]

As it turned out, Boris was actually “Alyosha the Robot.” It is a pricy £3,000 costume made by a company called Show Robots, which creates the “near total illusion that before you stands a real robot.”

The Proyektoria Technology Forum is hosted every year and is dedicated to the “future intellectual leaders of Russia.” According to its organizers, they never tried to pass off Boris as a genuine machine and don’t know how the Russian television channel got confused.

5 No Use Crying Over Spilled Chocolate

Photo credit: Reuters

It was a sad day in the German town of Westonnen as a ton of chocolate spilled onto the street.

On Monday evening, a tank tipped over in the factory of confectionery company DreiMeister. There was so much overturned chocolate that it burst out of the door and onto the nearby road. The cold weather quickly hardened the sugary treat, and the road had to be closed due to its Willy Wonka-style makeover.

Twenty-five firefighters armed with shovels worked hard to remove the chocolate, which covered around 10 square meters (108 ft2) of road surface.[6] They also had to use hot water and blowtorches to melt and remove the confection, which got stuck inside cracks and holes.

Company president Markus Luckey said that standard operations would resume on Wednesday and assured people with a sweet tooth that this setback will not lead to a chocolate-free Christmas.

4 Bad Santa

It’s not often that Santa Claus goes on the “naughty list,” but one Kris Kringle from the English town of St Ives, Cambridgeshire, had a potty mouth which scared a lot of children and angered their parents.

This happened last Sunday at an event hosted by Festival Event St Ives (FESt) at the Corn Exchange building. A crowd of about 50 children gathered to meet Santa and his “chief snowman,” but the assembly was cut short by a fire alarm. It came from an unrelated affair, described as a “family-friendly rave,” taking place in the same building. That’s when St. Nick got red with anger, ripped off his hat and beard, and told the evacuating children and their parents to “get the f—k out.”[7]

At the moment, it’s still unclear what made Santa fly off the handle like that. DJ Stuart Wilkin, who was part of the rave, said that Santa was “raging.” He speculated that St. Nick became not-so-jolly due to the music thumping while he was trying to talk to the kids, and the fire alarm proved to be the last straw.

In an apology, FESt claimed that their Santa Claus was only trying to help the evacuation process. Another event will take place this weekend, although it’s unclear if the same Kris Kringle will be returning.

3 Puck, Drop, And Roll

St. Louis Blues Goal Called Back For Deflecting Off Referee Tim Peel’s Mid-Section

It was a unique situation at a hockey game Monday night between the Florida Panthers and the St. Louis Blues. Both fans and players were left confused after a goal was scored when a puck hit the referee in the crotch and then bounced into the net.

The action took place in the first period when St. Louis defenseman Robert Bortuzzo lobbed the puck toward goaltender Roberto Luongo. It turned out to be a wide miss, though, as it went straight at referee Tim Peel, who was standing nowhere near the net. He tried to get out of the way, but the puck struck him right in the groin area. Peel fell to the floor, but the puck got deflected into the net.[8]

The confusion arose from the fact that this is such a rare occurrence that not even the players were sure if the goal would count or not. They turned to Peel for answers, but he just got hit with a flying puck in his privates, so he needed a minute.

The referee went to the locker room to recuperate and returned to the game later. The goal was disallowed, as there was a rule stating that the puck cannot strike an official and then deflect directly into the net.

2 Little Foot Causes Big Dispute

Photo credit: Ron Clarke

There is controversy in the anthropology world. Several papers under review at the Journal of Human Evolution claim that a famous ancient hominin dubbed “Little Foot” is actually a new species of Australopithecus.

Initially, only small fragments of a left foot were discovered in the early 1990s, hence the nickname. While trying to trace their source, paleoanthropologists discovered that Little Foot was, actually, an almost intact skeleton encased in rock in the Sterkfontein Caves of South Africa. It took two decades to carefully free it from its rocky tomb, but scientists were finally able to analyze the fossil.

The team that dug out Little Foot was led by Ronald Clarke from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Their findings have split the scientific community because they contend that the fossil is approximately 3.67 million years old, which is much older than previous estimates.[9]

Moreover, they also assert that Little Foot was not an Australopithecus africanus, as previously claimed, but rather a different species whose features match those of Australopithecus prometheus, a theoretical species of ancient hominin proposed in 1948. Many differences are observed in the skull, and the teeth indicate that Little Foot was vegetarian, while A. africanus was an omnivore.

Some consider their arguments convincing. Others find them lacking. This is likely just the start of the debate. Given the excellent condition of the fossil, Little Foot will provide us with valuable information even while defying classification.

1 The Sound Of Mars

Sounds of Mars: NASA’s InSight Senses Martian Wind

Two weeks ago, we talked about the InSight Lander making a successful touchdown on Mars. It didn’t take long for the spacecraft to deliver. It sent back the first-ever sounds of Mars.[10]

Okay, so the audio recording isn’t anything particularly jaw-dropping. There are no alien voices or mysterious noises. It’s just wind passing over InSight ‘s solar panels and picked up by its seismometer. Even so, the lander has provided us with a new way of exploring the Martian surface.

The wind blew at 16 to 24 kilometers per hour (10–15 mph). The audio was picked up at 10 hertz, which is below the threshold of human hearing, so it actually had to be manipulated to make it audible. NASA sped up the sound 100 times faster to shift the frequency higher.

The audio surveillance won’t last long, though, as InSight ‘s seismological tool will be shielded from all external noises when it is lowered and deployed. The only vibrations it will sense will come through the soil. But if you’re hoping for more Martian audio, you won’t have to wait long. NASA’s Mars 2020 rover will have two microphones to capture sound.


Read more offbeat stories you might have missed from December 8, 2018, and December 1, 2018.

fact checked by Jamie Frater