A racing pigeon has just completed an extraordinary 8,000-mile journey across the Pacific Ocean from the United States to its new home in Australia.

But no one’s cheering.

Cyrus, the feathered friend in question, wasn’t really expecting birdseed and a ticker-tape parade, although it wasn’t averse to the idea in principle. Still, he felt a little more enthusiasm from his hosts might have been in order.

Even Captain Cook hadn’t achieved half as much, boasted Cyrus to the less-than-welcoming party. But there were no cries of admiration, not even a half-hearted chorus of Waltzing Matilda as would have been any hero’s due.

Not this time. Now, he was getting the silent treatment, the murderous stare and, more unnervingly, the calm, Hannibal Lecter-like appraisal.

In the absence of proper documents, Aussie hospitality is fraught with grim, even sinister, overtones. And murder was what surely lay at the heart of Cyrus’ immediate future.

It was.

To the chagrin of pigeon-huggers the world over, Canberra decreed that the avian adventurer was to be killed and possibly tossed on the barbie without so much as a “No worries, mate.”

It explained its escape.

Cyrus was appalled. When he’d exhaustedly crossed over into Aussie airspace for the first time, he’d been met by a dove which had greeted him with a courteous “G’day, how you doing mate?”

He’d been assured that he’d chosen the right place for a new home. So long as one liked vegemite and disliked poetry, this was the lucky country with an over-achiever’s share of pigeons.

Cyrus would feel right at home, he was told. Indeed, homing pigeons, like boomerangs, were some of the country’s biggest exports.

Cyrus had little memory of what transpired after his escape.
Kevin Celli-Bird – no relative of the fatigued flier – said Thursday he discovered the weary bird, that arrived in his Melbourne backyard on December 26, had disappeared from a race in the U.S. state of Oregon on Oct. 29.

Cyrus’ feat attracted the attention of the Aussie media but also of the notoriously strict Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. It was peopled with humourless people with right-wing eyes and thin lips that were pursed in perpetual distaste. They’d been the ones that had first accosted him, the ones with the fishlike gaze of a Hannibal Lecter.

To these people, Cyrus was a prima facie case, a textbook model for capital punishment. He was from the US which always elicited an aha anyway because it was a hotbed of pestilence. But what clinched it beyond all reasonable doubt was its name.

Cyrus rhymed with virus and there was no getting around that. It was as open and shut and final as that.

All that was needed was to catch the bird. Posters offering rewards for the undocumented immigrant sprang up. “A bird in hand is usually dead,” it gloated as if to underscore the point of it all.

But Cyrus was far from dead. Mr Calli-Bird said the pigeon had regained its strength in his backyard and looked capable of, well, resisting arrest.

The quarantine cops have since changed tack, urging Cyrus to turn itself in because “all was forgiven.”

Cyrus disagreed courteously. He wasn’t sure if, in Australia, forgiveness came before or after the barbeque.


Sharks Just Wanna Hear Jazz

Here’s the latest breaking news all the way from Australia. Sharks like to kick back to the sounds of Herbie Hancock, even some Wynton Marsalis, but generally sneer at any Bach, Brahms or Beethoven. 

Researchers at Sydney’s Macquarie University have discovered that sharks can recognise jazz music but are confused by classical music. 

What’s all this got to do with the price of fish, you might reasonably ask, and you would be right too except that Sydney’s restaurant owners, emboldened by the news, have begun charging more for shark’s fin soup on the reasonable grounds that a Herbie Hancock-appreciating fish was surely more desirable than one that liked, say, Conway Twitty? 

“What’s all this got to do with the price of fish”? demanded the Australian government indignantly, appalled that taxpayer funds were being used to find out stuff that seemed as relevant as the previous shark finding from the same Macquarie University. 

The aforementioned 2015 finding, however, did cause a frisson of excitement to ripple through Australia’s surfing community after said university discovered that the mushy stuff between the teeth of great white sharks was, almost always, a slow swimmer. 

More seriously, the shark research addressed issues of animal cognition. For sheer mindlessness of research though, the prize goes to a 2015 “anti-hysteria” kit that a local Malaysian university claimed could ward off “evil spirits” for the whopping price of RM8,700 a pop. 

To the bewilderment of psychiatrists from Guatemala to Greenland, the kit used such cutting-edge paraphernalia as chopsticks, salt, lime, pepper spray and formic acid. 

Reuters reported the whole pseudo-scientific, tragi-comedy with a straight face and a stiff upper lip but, mercifully, little has been reported about the kit or its creator since. 

Australians tend to take sharks seriously as there are at least 10-20 shark attacks in the country every year. Here, the Aussies would be well advised to take to heart an interesting piece of cutting-edge research from no less than Saturday Night Live.

Researchers there have found that sharks only attack a person if said person is wet. 

Back to the original research in question. 

The Macquarie researchers, led by Catarina Vila Pouca, trained juvenile Port Jackson sharks to swim over to where jazz was playing, to receive food. It has been thought that sharks have learned to associate the sound of a boat engine with food, because food is often thrown from tourist boats to attract sharks to cage-diving expeditions – the study shows that they can learn these associations quickly.

The addition of classical music, however, confused the sharks which couldn’t differentiate between the two musical genres. 

Vila Pouca added: “Sharks are generally underestimated when it comes to learning abilities – most people see them as mindless, instinctive animals. However, they have really big brains and are obviously much smarter than we give them credit for.” 

Anyone who’s seen the film Jaws would probably go for both the “big brains” as well as the “mindless, instinctive animal” theory. To put the great white shark in its complete, brutal perspective, the original name suggested for the Peter Benchley-written film was Gnaws.