This Alkaline African Lake Turns Animals into Stone
A Calcified Fish Eagle
Photographer Nick Brandt captures haunting images of calcified animals, preserved by the extreme waters of Tanzania's Lake Natron
In 2011, when he was traveling to shoot photos for a new book on the disappearing wildlife of East Africa, Across the Ravaged Land, photographer Nick Brandt came across a truly astounding place: A natural lake that seemingly turns all sorts of animals into stone.
All the photos are of birds. However it would seem all animals including mammals have this option of immortality.
A Calcified Buffalo
“When I saw those creatures for the first time alongside the lake, I was completely blown away,” says Brandt. “The idea for me, instantly, was to take portraits of them as if they were alive.”
A Calcified Dove
The ghastly Lake Natron, in northern Tanzania, is a salt lake—meaning that water flows in, but doesn’t flow out, so it can only escape by evaporation. Over time, as water evaporates, it leaves behind high concentrations of salt and other minerals, like at the Dead Sea and Utah’s Great Salt Lake.
Why do minerals and Africa all ways seem to result in death.
" The Western world has for centuries nicked everything we could get our thieving hands on in Africa, including at our worst its people. From slavery in the past to Coltan today we have been complicit in the deaths of millions of Africans."
I guess we are off the hook for these deaths.
Unlike those other lakes, though, Lake Natron is extremely alkaline, due to high amounts of the chemical natron (a mix of sodium carbonate and baking soda) in the water. The water’s pH has been measured as high as 10.5—nearly as high as ammonia. “It’s so high that it would strip the ink off my Kodak film boxes within a few seconds,” Brandt says.
As you might expect, few creatures live in the harsh waters, which can reach 140 degrees Fahreinheit—they’re home to just a single fish species (Alcolapia latilabris), some algae and a colony of flamingos that feeds on the algae and breeds on the shore.
The Smithsonian should really know better than to publish such rubbish.
" In fact, Lake Natron's alkaline waters support a thriving ecosystem of salt marshes, freshwater wetlands, flamingos and other wetland birds, tilapia and the algae on which large flocks of flamingos feed."
Frequently, though, migrating birds crash into the lake’s surface. Brandt theorizes that the highly-reflective, chemical dense waters act like a glass door, fooling birds into thinking they’re flying through empty space (not long ago, a helicopter pilot tragically fell victim to the same illusion, and his crashed aircraft was rapidly corroded by the lake’s waters). During dry season, Brandt discovered, when the water recedes, the birds’ desiccated, chemically-preserved carcasses wash up along the coastline.
“It was amazing. I saw entire flocks of dead birds all washed ashore together, lemming-like,” he says. “You’d literally get, say, a hundred finches washed ashore in a 50-yard stretch.”
At the risk of sounding really gruesome, I would love to have a specimen.
A Calcified Bat
Over the course of about three weeks, Brandt worked with locals to collect some of the most finely-preserved specimens. “They thought I was absolutely insane—some crazy white guy, coming along offering money for people to basically go on a treasure hunt around the lake for dead birds,” he says. “When, one time, someone showed up with an entire, well-preserved fish eagle, it was extraordinary.”
I suspect that there would be a market for such curios I hope that Brandt pointed out the possible economic opportunities to the local people.
Just coming into contact with the water was dangerous. “It’s so caustic, that even if you’ve got the tiniest cut, it’s very painful,” he says. “Nobody would ever swim in this—it’d be complete madness.”
A very narrow perspective of an ecosystem.
For the series of photos, titled “The Calcified” and featured in this month’s issue of New Scientist, Brandt posed the carcasses in life-like positions. “But the bodies themselves are exactly the way the birds were found,” he insists. “All I did was position them on the branches, feeding them through their stiff talons.”
Hey it is his art and he can do what he wants. It is also bloody interesting.
The hard part:
Hat Tip : Whaleoil