A rare case of conjoined cetaceans and a half-human sheep “sent by the Devil”
AT CROSS PORPOISES
The first known example of conjoined twin harbour porpoises ( Phocoena phocoena) was picked up recently by a Dutch trawler near Hoek van Holland. With a single body and two fully-grown heads, this is a case of partial twinning, or parapagus dicephalus. These male porpoises are only the 10th known case of conjoined twins in cetaceans, a group of animals that also includes whales and dolphins. The fishermen who made the discovery returned the twins – which were probably already dead when caught – to the sea. They believed it would be illegal to keep such a specimen, but took a series of photographs useful for research. We know that the twins died shortly after birth, because their tail had not stiffened – which is necessary for newborn dolphins to be able to swim. Other signs of their age were a flat dorsal fin that should have become vertical soon after entering the water, and hairs on the upper lip, which should fall out shortly after birth.
Partial twinning can happen in one of two ways: two initially separate embryonic discs can fuse together or the zygote can only partially split during the early development process. “Normal twins are extremely rare in cetaceans,” said Erwin Kompanje from the Erasmus MC University Medical Centre in Rotterdam, one of the authors of the paper describing the find. “There is simply not enough room in the body of the female for more than one foetus. Conjoined twins will be more common than the 10 cases we know at this moment, but we are unaware of them because they are born at sea and are never found.” New Scientist online, 14 June 2017
Villagers in South Africa were living in fear after a sheep gave birth to this strange creature that elders said was a half-human half-beast ‘sent by the devil’. Many of the 4,000 residents and farmers of Lady Frere in Eastern Province were convinced that bestiality and witchcraft were involved. The panic got so great that the authorities sent out experts to carry out tests. Dr Lubabalo Mrwebi, Chief Director of Veterinary Services, admitted that at first glance the lamb did resemble a human being. “It is not human,” he said, “but a deformed stillborn lamb sired by a sheep that was subsequently infected by Rift Valley Fever at an early stage of its pregnancy.” He said that the freak animal was conceived in late December 2016 or early January 2017, a time of plentiful rainfall that brings with it many mosquitoes and midges, carriers of viruses that cause the Rift Valley Fever in sheep. D.Mail online, 22 June 2017.
ABOVE: The conjoined harbour porpoises caught by a Dutch trawler. BELOW: The deformed stillborn sheep that terrified locals.