Seabits 4.4 (fwd)

From: mike williamson (
Date: Sat Apr 08 2000 - 07:33:30 EDT

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Tue, 4 Apr 2000 17:09:52 -0400
From: Jen Goebel <>
To: Seabits <>
Subject: Seabits 4.4

New England Aquarium Monthly e-mail Newsletter
Volume 4, Issue 4, April 2000
Copyright, New England Aquarium 2000
It's spring at last! April is an exciting month here at the New England
Aquarium. We are opening a major new exhibit, Nyanja! Africa's Inland Sea,
which takes you on an adventure to the wilds of the world's largest
tropical lake. Nyanja is filled with exotic animals, like pythons,
crocodiles, baboon tarantulas, weaver birds and possibly the most
interesting fish of all, electric elephant-nose fish. The exhibit also
offers glimpses into the scientists working hard to restore the Lake
Victoria ecosystem. Our whale watches also start this month, weekends only
in April, so hop aboard and commune with the great whales!

In this issue:
  Watery Words
    - The Brains of the Operation
    - Part II: Giant Pacific Octopus: No Mother Could Give More
    - Stranded in the Bahamas
  Out on the Net
    - New GIS Website
    - Environmental Pow-Wow
    - Dive Club Recognized for Service
    - Marine Ecology Summer Program
    - Family Field Trips
    - Where in the World is the Traveling Tidepool
  April Calendar
  Contact Us

***** WATERY WORDS ********************************************************

"BAN IT NOW! Dihydrogen monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless and
kills uncounted thousands of people every year. Most of these deaths are
caused by accidental inhalation of dihydrogen monoxide, but the dangers of
dihydrogen monoxide do not end there. Quantities of dihydrogen monoxide
have been found in almost every stream, lake, and reservoir in America
today. The pollution is global, and the contaminant has even been found in
Antarctic ice. Companies dump waste dihydrogen monoxide into rivers and the
ocean, and nothing can be done to stop them because this practice is still

                     -- Adapted from winning 1997 Science Fair Project by
                        Nathan Zohner, a 14-year-old student at Eagle Rock
                        Junior High School in Idaho Falls.
                     -- Thanks to <>.

(Another name for dihydrogen monoxide is H2O or good old water. Don't you
love the web?)

***** STORIES *************************************************************
This month's stories
  1) The Brains of the Operation
  2) Part II: Giant Pacific Octopus: No Mother Could Give More
  3) Stranded in the Bahamas

----- THE BRAINS OF THE OPERATION -----------------------------------------
Debuting this month in our new Nyanja! Africa's Inland Sea exhibit are some
unique fish well worth a gawk: electric elephant-nose fish. While their
funny trunklike projections (good for sucking in worms, bugs and
zooplankton) are an immediate draw, these fish are even more interesting on
the inside. Surprisingly, the elephant-nose fish has the largest
brain-to-body ratio of any vertebrate animal - including us! These
peculiar-looking fish have brains that amount to 3% of their body weight,
while ours are only 2%. Most fish of similar size have brains that account
for only 0.1-0.3% of body weight. Elephant-nose fish aren't the only ones
to beat us out in the brain-to-body weight ratio; several birds, small
mammals and monkeys also beat us on this measure.

Usually, the theory goes, the energetic cost of a brain (a brain uses
energy 10 times faster than average body tissue) limits its size. Large
brains must have some payoff to justify such high energy costs. How much
energy is high energy? According to one study, most vertebrates use between
2 and 8% of their energy (at rest) to fuel their brains. Humans use about
20%. Elephant-nosed fish use about 60%! A website on keeping these fish in
captivity notes, "Many of these fish kept in captivity suffer from chronic
malnutrition because so many aquarists do not understand their dietary
needs." Given their prodigious energy requirements, that's not hard to

So, what does a small, cold-blooded fish need with such a big brain?
Elephant-nose fish are weakly electric fish. They aren't like electric eels
or torpedo rays that can produce great blasts of electricity. Instead, they
have special muscle cells that generate weak electrical impulses and
special sensory cells to receive those impulses. They use electric fields
to locate prey, to navigate their rocky and sometimes murky habitats, and
to communicate with each other. One theory for why their brains are so
large is that senses like electrolocation and sonar take much more neural
processing power than vision - which is also why dolphins' brains are so
large. Their electric sense evolved in the same part of the brain as
hearing, and the sensory processing rules are very similar for both senses.
Thus, what we learn about electric elephant-nose fish could apply to humans
as well.

People who work with elephant-nose fish say that they are smart,
inquisitive fish. They learn feeding signals quickly, communicate with each
other electrically and have been observed "playing" with small balls of
aluminum foil, which they probably found interesting because of the foil's
electrical conductivity.

Droplet: A MANLY FISH: Native to the East African lakes and rivers,
elephant-nose fish are sometimes caught for food. Some ethnic groups that
live in the Lake Victoria region forbid women and children eating
elephant-nose fish and lungfish; these fish are only for men.

Special to Seabits by Jim Cosgrove, Chief of Biological Collections at The
Royal British Columbia Museum and renowned giant Pacific octopus biologist.

Part II
We wanted to visit the octopus's den the next day, but a winter storm and
then other commitments kept us away; three days passed before Jeannie and I
could return. Tonight the water is choppy but diveable as we enter in the
protection of a small point of land.

Storm rains have left a thick layer of fresh water on the surface of the
ocean, which is very cold on our faces. The wind has stirred up the water,
so visibility is poor. For the first three meters of our descent our lights
are reflected back at us like headlights in a snowstorm. Then we break
through the fresh water into the warmer salt water and the visibility
improves sharply. Immediately we are surrounded in a comforting halo of
green illuminated by the beams of our lights. There is no sound except for
the hiss of air when we inhale and the rumble of bubbles when we exhale. We
are weightless and drifting in inner space.

As we approach the octopus den our lights pick up the body of the female
lying less than a meter from the den. Even before we reach her, we are sure
she is dead. She is being fed upon by three sunflower sea stars, several
red rock crabs and an armada of small shrimp and squat lobsters.

Our attention quickly turns to the den and the eggs. Have they hatched or
are they also being consumed by predators?

A rapid inspection of the den shows that the majority of the eggs have
hatched. Removing one of my gloves and lying flat on the mud bottom, I am
able to reach into the den far enough to reach most of the egg strings.
Running my hand through the nest, I am rewarded by having a few miniature
octopuses swim before me. It's a thrill to see them, but I also discover
that there are a few dead juveniles. They could not get out of their eggs
properly without mother's assistance, and they perished.

Because of our delay in returning, I had expected that the eggs may have
hatched or that the mother died, so I came prepared to collect the body of
the female and the remains of the nest. With Jeannie's assistance, I remove
all the strings of eggs from the den and place them in ziplock bags; I will
take them home for further study. We take the dead female back to the
surface where I weigh the body in order to estimate weight loss. Then we
return the remains to the ocean, where the scavengers will dispose of the
carcass in a matter of days.

After stripping off our gear, we place the bags of eggs in a bucket of
sea-water for the trip home.

Having followed other females and their nests through to hatching, I have
established a record of brooding time, egg development, water temperature
and a number of other facts useful to other malacologists (people who study
molluscs). I will count each string of eggs to see how many strings there
are, measure the length of the strings, and count every egg on selected
strings to estimate how many eggs were in the nest. I have found that the
number of unhatched eggs in any nest is very small, usually only one or
two, unless the mother dies before they hatch and the nest fails.

By the time I finish my research and record my data for this nest, I have
about 20 little octopuses bobbing around in a small jar of salt water; they
have hatched in the warmer water. I take them back to the ocean where I
release them.

As they disappear from sight I think of the life they face. For the next
several months they will become part of the plankton, the drifters of the
ocean. They will spend much of their time clinging to the underside of the
ocean's surface. Now and then, they will drop off to feed on small
crustaceans such as copepods and euphausiids, then swim back and hang on to
the surface and rest.

When they become too heavy for the surface tension to support, they will
drop to the bottom and adopt the benthic existence of the giant Pacific
octopus, the largest octopus in the world. By then, they are about 15 mm
long and weigh about five grams. But in less than three years, they will
grow to about 15 kilograms. This means they will double their body weight
roughly every 100 days. This is an incredible growth rate, one of the
fastest known to science for an animal of this size.

Most octopuses do not reach adulthood. They are consumed in the thousands
by plankton-eating animals, such as jellyfish, basking sharks and blue
whales. Southern Vancouver Island's octopus population appears to be stable
-- this means that, on average, only two octopuses from each nest of
thousands live to replace their parents.

My research will continue, for there is still much to be learned about this
fascinating animal. In Japan, the giant Pacific octopus is used for food
and has been heavily fished to the point where its populations are
depressed. There is also an increasing market in North America as people
discover that the flesh of the octopus is very high in protein and has
almost no fat. It is important that we know what level of harvesting is

It is for the knowledge that I can gain, as well as for the pure joy of
diving and watching nature, that I will continue to study Enteroctopus
dofleini, the giant Pacific octopus.

Part I was published in the March 2000 issue of Seabits, and may be found
at <>. Jim Cosgrove is an
accomplished diver and has studied octopuses for almost 30 years. This
article reprinted with permission from The Royal British Columbia Museum.
Copyright "1995 by The Royal British Columbia Museum. All rights reserved.
Province of British Columbia. Ministry of Small Business, Tourism and
Droplet: Octopuses catch prey with their eight arms. Once they have
captured prey, they bring the prey to the area where their arms join the
mantle (called the "interbrachial web") and use neurotoxic venom in their
saliva to tranquilize the prey. Some octopuses have very powerful venom,
such as the blue-ringed octopus, which has been known to kill a human in a
few minutes.

----- STRANDED IN THE BAHAMAS ---------------------------------------------
You may have caught this bouncing around the net in the last two weeks, but
if you haven't, here's the scoop:

Two military events, one scheduled for March 12-14, involving a live
surface firing exercise, and one scheduled for March 15-22, involving a sea
test of submarine detection sonar, recently took place around the Bahamas.

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Survey reports the following strandings in the
Bahamas during the month of March:
March 4, a 48-foot rorqual whale (died).
March 15, a 16-foot goose-beaked whale (alive)
March 15, a 12-foot goose-beaked whale (alive)
March 15, a 12-foot dense-beaked whale (alive)
March 15, a 5-foot Atlantic spotted dolphin (died)
March 15, a 12-foot dense-beaked whale (alive)
March 15, an 18-foot unidentified whale and calf (alive)
March 15, an 18-foot goose-beaked whale (dead)
March 15, 2 18-foot whales, (one died, one alive)
March 15, 2 goose-beaked whales (dead)
March 15, a 27-foot minke and a 37-foot rorqual whale (alive)
March 16, an 11-foot dense-beaked whale (dead)
March 20, goose-beaked whale (had been dead for a while)

The Bahamas Marine Mammal Survey, which has conducted field studies of
living marine mammals in the Bahamas since 1991, notes that the stranding
rate is typically one or two per year in the entire island chain.
Strandings of beaked whales are particularly rare.

Two of the whales had bleeding eyes, a possible sign of trauma, but the
post-mortems on the dead whales showed no physical damage, such as broken
ear drums. In fact, most of the stranded whales were in good physical
shape. However, beaked whales may be particularly sensitive to sound, and
may become disoriented or frightened by sound levels that are not
permanently damaging.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has sent their acoustics team,
veterinarians and other acoustic experts to investigate this rare event.
Tissue samples from four of the six dead whales will be analyzed.

A 1998 article in Nature reported that there was a greater than 99.9%
chance that the deaths of 13 Cuvier's beaked whales in the Mediterranean
Sea during NATO submarine sound detection system trials were caused by the
military tests.

Droplet: Sound travels at about 50 miles per minute underwater.

***** OUT ON THE NET ******************************************************
For additional information, you might want to check out the following
websites. Some of these links represent partners in aquatic conservation
and animal husbandry; others are simply resources we think may help you
enrich your perspective on our watery world. By listing these websites, the
New England Aquarium is not automatically endorsing or verifying the
accuracy of their content unless explicitly stated.


Electric Elephant-Nose Fish

Stranded in the Bahamas

***** Announcements *******************************************************
This month's announcements
  1) New GIS Website
  2) Environmental Pow-Wow
  3) Dive Club Recognized for Service
  4) Marine Ecology Summer Program
  5) Family Field Trips
  6) Where in the World is the Traveling Tidepool

----- NEW GIS WEBSITE -----------------------------------------------------
The New England Aquarium's Edgerton Research Lab is pleased to announce the
launch of a website dedicated to our GIS-based research efforts. GIS, or
Geographic Information Systems, is a computer software system that enables
researchers to explore the relationship between marine animals and their
environment. The new site contains information about our research with
right whales and northern bluefin tuna. Explore the site
<> to find out more information about the kinds of
research we do, maps of the study site, and information about research
partners and sponsors.

----- ENVIRONMENTAL POW-WOW -----------------------------------------------
On May 20 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. the New England Aquarium and the Native
Americans of the Northeast present the sixth event in our Gifts from the
Sacred Waters series. Some of the elements of a traditional pow-wow will
be incorporated, including a dancers' Grand Entry, and a
master-of-ceremonies for the event. The event will feature presentations
and demonstrations relating to the environmental practices of Northeastern
Native Americans, and will include traditional dancing, flute music and
flute-making demonstrations, canoe-making demonstrations, storytelling and
many other activities related to spring and travel on the water.

This event will be held on the tent behind the Aquarium and is free to the
general public. A special entrance will be available for those who wish to
attend the Pow-Wow but not attend the Aquarium.

----- DIVE CLUB RECOGNIZED FOR SERVICE ------------------------------------
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the Metropolitan District
Commission's Southwest Corridor Parks recognized the New England Aquarium
Dive Club this year for outstanding volunteer service. The Dive Club
received a plaque recognizing the club's efforts in organizing and
participating in underwater clean-ups of the Charles River. The club
participates regularly in clean-ups of the Charles River, the Ipswich
River, Lake Nippenicket and Misery Island and other sites as requested.

----- MARINE ECOLOGY SUMMER PROGRAM ---------------------------------------
New England Aquarium has enthusiastically joined with Duxbury Bay Maritime
School (DBMS) to offer marine ecology programs along with their very
popular sailing programs. To register for any DBMS Marine Ecology Summer
Program, please call the Duxbury Bay Maritime School at (781) 934-7555 or
email your inquiries to <>. You can select from three
different one-week ecology programs, listed below:

Ages 9-12: June 26-30, July 17-21 or August 7-11
Ages 13-14: August 7-11 only
Ages 9-12: July 3-7, July 24-28 or August 14-18
Ages 13-14: August 14-18 only
Ages 9-12: July 10-14, July 31-August 4 or August 21-25
Ages 13-14: August 21 - 25 only

----- FAMILY FIELD TRIPS --------------------------------------------------
Spring is here and that means time to get outdoors! Spend a few hours with
Aquarium educators exploring local habitats and raising your awareness
about environmental issues in our area. Activities will be based on age and
interest so every family member will have a unique learning experience. All
trips begin and end at the site mentioned, and do not include
transportation. Most trips are two hours in length beginning at 10 a.m. and
ending at 12 noon. Fees: $6 per person for members, $12 per person for
non-members. For more information, visit our calendar section in our
website <> or call Central
Reservations at (617) 973-5206.

For Ages 5+
Seashore Field Trips
Saturday, June 24: Chandler Hovey, Marblehead, MA
Saturday, July 8: Yerrill Beach, Winthrop, MA
Saturday, July 22: Webb State Park, Hingham, MA
Saturday, August 5: Carson Beach, South Boston, MA
Saturday, September 2: Brant Rock, Marshfield, MA
Saturday, October 7: Yerrill Beach, Winthrop, MA
Saturday, October 21: Chandler Hovey, Marblehead, MA

Salt Marsh Field Trips
Saturday, May 27: Chappaquoit Marsh, Falmouth, MA
Saturday, June 10: Belle Isle Marsh, East Boston, MA
Saturday, August 26: Sandwich Town Marsh, Sandwich, MA

Freshwater Field Trips
Saturday, May 20: Lily Pond, Cohasset, MA
Saturday, June 3: Baldpate Pond, Georgetown, MA
Saturday, July 15: Ward's Pond, Brookline, MA
Saturday, September 9: Walden Pond, Concord, MA
Sunday, Sept. 17: Lily Pond, Cohasset, MA
Saturday, September 23: Hall's Pond, Brookline, MA

For Ages 8+
Horseshoe Crab Evening, Saturday, May 20: Malibu Beach, Dorchester, MA
Freshwater Bog Explore, Saturday, August 19: Ponkapog Bog, Milton, MA

----- WHERE IN THE WORLD IS THE TRAVELING TIDEPOOL? -----------------------
Our traveling tidepool gets around! Drop by and meet our tidepool animals,
see Sammy the Seal and get a discount on admission to the Aquarium. For
more information, e-mail <>.
April 1: Burlington Mall
April 9: MS Walk at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade
April 15: Solomon Pond Mall
April 16: Arsenal Mall
April 17: South Shore Plaza
April 19: Liberty Tree Mall
April 21: Greendale Mall
April 26: Emerald Square Mall
April 27: Mall of New Hampshire
April 28: Square One Mall
April 29: Auburn Mall
April 30: Mall at Rockingham Park

***** APRIL CALENDAR ******************************************************
Saturday, April 1, Whale Watch Season Begins, 10 a.m.
Take a trip out to Stellwagen Bank and commune with the great whales.
Weekends only in April. Daily from May to August. Call (617) 973-5281 for

Saturday, April 8, Fish, Form and Function Guided Tour, 9:15 a.m.
What does a shape tell you about a fish? During this tour, you'll discover
how shapes are one way fish have adapted to live in their environments.
Call (617) 973-5206 for reservations.

Monday, April 10, Lecture: Fisheries Impacts II, 3-5:30 p.m.
Join Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation Dr. Bob Steneck from the University
of Maine for a lecture on fisheries impacts. Lecture takes place at UMASS
Boston, 100 Morrissey Boulevard in the Healey Library, presentation room 2.
Lecture is free and open to the public. If you are interested, RSVP to Mike
Rex at (617) 287-6600 or e-mail <>.

Thursday, April 13 - Monday, April 24, Florida Keys Collecting Trip
Ever wonder where we get the marine life that fills our exhibits? Scuba
divers and snorkelers are welcome to find out first-hand. The Aquarium's
Fishes Department offers limited space on its biannual collecting trips for
Aquarium members (new or present members). Dive certification is
recommended. For more information on prices and itinerary, please call
aquarist Holly Martel Bourbon at (617) 973-5248, Tuesday-Saturday, or
e-mail <>. Recommended for ages 18 to adult.

Saturday, April 15, Nyanja! Africa's Inland Sea Exhibit Opens
Nyanja! features the many animals and plants that call the lake their home
- among them, a Nile crocodile, giant golden orb spiders, electric
elephant-nosed fish, three twelve-foot long python, African bullfrogs and a
variety of colorful kingfishers and other birds. Included with admission.

Saturday, April 15 and Sunday, April 16, A Look at Fish Preschool Explorers
Class, 9:30 a.m. Recommended for ages 3 to 5. This program combines a
story, a hands-on activity, and a take-home art project or closer look at
live animals. Programs last one hour. Call (617) 973-5206 for reservations
and information.

Monday, April 17, Lowell Lecture, 5:30 p.m.
Lake Victoria: Past, Present and Future - Is There a New Beginning? Dr.
Richard Ogutu-Ohwayo, Uganda Fisheries Research Institute. A fishery
scientist from Uganda examines the current status of Lake Victoria and the
role that research and science are playing to help us understand what is
happening to the lake. In the Aquarium's Conference Center. Free thanks to
the support of the Lowell Institute. Seating is limited and available on a
first-come, first-served basis. You can make reservations by telephone
(617) 973-5295, Fax (617) 367-6615, <> Please leave your
name, number of places you wish to reserve, and a telephone number or
e-mail address where you can be reached.

Tuesday, April 18 - Wednesday, April 19, BreakAway Camp Session 1, 9 a.m -5
p.m. This vacation week camp focuses on the cycles of life and seasonal
changes. During this two-day session, campers will study animal species
native to New England considering what happens to them during the cold,
harsh winters and visit a local pond to see nature's rebirth first-hand.
Choose junior level (4th-5th grades) or senior level (6th-7th grades)
camps. Fees: members, $75, non-members, $95. Call (617) 973-5206 for
information or to register.

Wednesday, April 19, Dive Club Meeting, 6:30 p.m.
Guests and new members always welcome. Call (617) 973-0240 for details. In
the Conference Center.

Wednesday, April 19, Lowell Lecture, 5:30 p.m.
The Role of Museums in Educating the Public on Environmental Issues, Dr.
Helida Oyieke, National Museum of Kenya and Dr. Mark Chandler, New England
Aquarium. A scientist in a museum setting discusses her view of how public
institutions can engage and educate the public about key societal issues.
In the Aquarium's Conference Center. Free thanks to the support of the
Lowell Institute. Seating is limited and available on a first-come,
first-served basis. You can make reservations by telephone (617) 973-5295,
Fax (617) 367-6615, <> Please leave your name, number of
places you wish to reserve, and a telephone number or e-mail address where
you can be reached.

Wednesday, April 19, Nyanja! Gallery Night, 7-9 p.m.
Free and for members only, Nyanja! Africa's Inland Sea will stay open late.
Space is limited, so reserve your spot by calling (617) 973-6564, or by
e-mailing <>. The Gift Shop will offer a 20% discount on
selected merchandise.

Wednesday, April 19, Marine Protected Areas II, 3-5:30 p.m.
Join Pew Advisory Committee member Dr. John Ogden from the Florida
Institute of Oceanography for a lecture on fisheries impacts. Lecture takes
place at UMASS Boston, 100 Morressey Boulevard in the Healey Library,
presentation room 2. Lecture is free and open to the public. If you are
interested, RSVP to Mike Rex at (617) 287-6600 or e-mail

Thursday, April 20 - Friday, April 21, BreakAway Camp Session 2, 9 a.m -5 p.m.
This vacation week camp focuses on human interactions with nature,
including an investigation of search and rescue efforts with a visit to the
Lifesaving Museum in Hull. Choose junior level (4th-5th grades) or senior
level (6th-7th grades) camps. Fees: members, $75, non-members, $95. Call
(617) 973-5206 for information or to register.

Saturday, April 22, It's All in the Mouth Guided Tour, 9:15 a.m.
What do animals at the Aquarium eat and how are they fed? Guided exhibit
tours are a unique opportunity to see the Aquarium's hidden treasures. With
the lead of an Aquarium educator, you'll see animals you may not have seen
before Call (617) 973-5206 for reservations and information.

Saturday, April 22, Earth Day, 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Join the festivities at the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade and check out the
Blue Planet Youth Alliance booth. Also, check in with the New England
Aquarium and learn about opportunities for members and volunteers to get
involved with our oceans.

Thursday, April 27, Lowell Lecture, 5:30 p.m.
Fish and Chimps: Great Experiments in Evolution, Dr. Les Kaufman, Associate
Professor of Marine Biology, Boston University and Dr. Richard Wrangham,
Professor of anthropology, Harvard University. An ichthyologist and a
primatologist join forces to bare secrets of our past and our future as
revealed by joint research and conservation efforts in the Great Lakes
region of East Africa. In the Aquarium's Conference Center. Free thanks to
the support of the Lowell Institute. Seating is limited and available on a
first-come, first-served basis. You can make reservations by telephone
(617) 973-5295, Fax (617) 367-6615, <> Please leave your
name, number of places you wish to reserve, and a telephone number or
e-mail address where you can be reached.

Thursday, April 27, Spring Fundraiser, 6:30-9 p.m.
Join us for the New England Aquarium Council's and The Navigator Society's
spring fundraiser and special exhibit party for Nyanja! Africa's Inland
Sea. For more information, call (617) 973-5209.

***** SUBSCRIBE/UNSUBSCRIBE INFORMATION ***********************************
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write "subscribe seabits" (without the quotes).

To unsubscribe to Seabits, send email to <>. In the body
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***** CONTACT US **********************************************************
Questions and comments? Contact Jennifer Goebel at

***** THAT'S ALL FOLKS ****************************************************
Who would have thought a small, funny-looking fish would have such brain
power? For more on the fascinating little critters, see the winter issue of
Natural History, which has an article called "The Cost of a Brain" by Goran
- Jen Goebel, Editor

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