ICYMI: Highlights from the week that was August 6 – August 12, 2017

No one can keep up with everything, so let us do it for you. We’ll gather the top Smithsonian stories from across the country and around the world each week so you’ll never be at a loss for conversation around the water cooler.

Rock and roll, rad sleepovers and bugs named for Beyoncé kept us entertained this week as we pondered yet another panda pregnancy possibility.


‘Rumble’ Celebrates Rock ‘N’ Roll’s Native American Roots

NPR Weekend Edition, August 6

Musician playing guitar

Rock musician and Native American music pioneer Stevie Salas performing in Germany in 2010. Salas served as executive producer on Rumble, which he was also featured in. (Thomas von der Heiden/Courtesy of the artist )

In 1958, the guitar riff known as “Rumble” shocked audiences. Its use of distortion and bass made it sound dangerous and transgressive to audiences at the time — and its influence is still heard today. Behind that song was a Native American musician named Link Wray, who went on to inspire legions of rock ‘n’ roll greats. He’s featured in a new documentary called Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, which aims to finally give Native American musicians their due.

Another rock legend featured in the film is Stevie Salas, who has played with Justin Timberlake, Rod Stewart, George Clinton, Mick Jagger and others. He also helped curate an exhibition about Native Americans in rock ‘n’ roll at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and served as Rumble’s executive producer. Read more from Lulu Garcia-Navarro and hear the story on NPR’s Weekend Edition. 

What Are Sea Lice? Facts About The Ocean’s Flesh-Eating Crustacean

International Business Times, August 8

close up of sea lice

Sea lice feed on an Atlantic salmon

Sea lice normally feed on fish flesh but they might have made a meal out of an Australian teenager’s feet this weekend. Sixteen-year-old Sam Kanizay was reportedly soaking his legs at the Dendy Street Beach in the Brighton area of Melbourne after playing soccer, but when he came out of the water his feet and legs were covered in blood. The bleeding did not stop and he was rushed to the hospital.

“As soon as we wiped [his legs] down, they kept bleeding,” father Jarrod Kanizay said. “There was a massive pool of blood on the floor [at the hospital].”

Some are speculating that sea lice were what attacked the teen. Read more from Elana Glowatz for the International Business Times.

Exploring the Mysteries of the Arctic’s Sea Unicorn

A new exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History examines the narwhal’s role in indigenous culture and the possible reasons behind its unusual tusk.

News Deeply, August 8

Impressionistic painting

“A Woman Who Became a Narwhal” is an illustration by Inuit artist Germaine Arnaktauyok presenting her interpretation of Inuit oral tradition about a woman who became a narwhal. (Germaine Arnaktauyok, Artist/Stephen Loring)

Most people know that polar bears are threatened by climate change. But few are aware that narwhal whales – the so-called unicorns of the sea, which are relied on by northernmost Inuit communities for subsistence and cultural survival – could be even more vulnerable.

A new exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., aims to bring much-needed attention to the narwhal and the imminent threat it faces with climate change. The exhibit, “Narwhal: Revealing an Arctic Legend,” also explores an enduring mystery about narwhals: What exactly is the purpose of that saber-like tusk sticking out of its head? Read more from Brad Badelt for News Deeply.

In Washington, a Truly Underground Arts Scene

The New York Times, August 10

Interior and exterior views of old trolley station

Dupont Underground, a converted trolley station, functions as an experimental art and cultural space in the Dupont Circle neighborhood in Washington. Credit Jared Soares for The New York Times

Roaming the streets of the Dupont Circle neighborhood about 20 years ago, Julian Hunt spotted a grimy staircase leading down from the pavement to a boarded-up door.

He spent many hours on the phone and in the city’s archives, which led Mr. Hunt to crawl through filthy tunnels with a flashlight to discover an old trolley tunnel inhabited by a small group of homeless people.

Since the city’s trolley service shut down in 1962, the 75,000-square-foot labyrinth had been the site of a subterranean murder, rumored ’80s rave parties and a Cold War-era bomb shelter. Now, Mr. Hunt, an architect who was a founder of the Hunt Laudi Studio, has turned the tunnels into the Dupont Underground art space, which draws 3,000 visitors every month. Read more from Avantika Chilkoti for The New York Times.

We spent the night at the Smithsonian, and it was pretty freaking rad

The Washington Post, August 10

Illustration of kids in sleeping bags at National Museum of Natural History

(Illustration by Ben Claassen III)

I woke up Saturday morning next to a large jar of something disgusting. “Agg, worms!” I exclaimed. “Actually, those are krill,” explained Colette, sitting up in her sleeping bag. “They pretty much form the foundation of the ocean food web,” she added, paraphrasing a label on a nearby wall.

That was just one of the many things I learned while camping overnight at the National Museum of Natural History, which, like many D.C.-area institutions, offers folks the opportunity to spend the night for around $135 a person (see chart). Despite the hefty price tag, these programs — which include an evening’s worth of educational activities — are wildly popular and sell out quickly. Read more from Sadie Dingfelder for Washington Post Express.

Girl Scouts join Rep. Carolyn Maloney to back U.S. women’s museum

New York Daily News, August 9

Group of young girls pose for picture

New York area scouts posed with the Fearless Girl statue in the Financial District. (Reza Moreno/New York Daily News)

New York’s Girl Scouts joined the push Wednesday for a Smithsonian Museum of American Women’s History on the National Mall in Washington.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, who has advocated for the museum for 20 years, said the idea is gaining momentum.

“We are entitled to one, just one museum,” Maloney said at a rally at the Fearless Girl statue near Wall St. “We are half the population.” Read more from Reza Moreno and Reuven Blau for The New York Daily News.

The top 10 most visited museums around the world have been revealed

Lonely Planet, August 10

Interior of Milestones of Flight Gallery showing aircraft

The National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC. Image by Pedro Szekelly / CC BY 2.0

The top 10 most visited museums around the world have been revealed, following a statistical analysis of attendance numbers taken last year. The results come from an index released by the Themed Entertainment Association, an international non-profit organisation working within the hospitality and entertainment field. The index accounts for a total of 107.8 million visitors to museums in total, showing an increase of 1.3 million people on the results from last year.

Attendance grew by 1.2% overall, while Museums in Europe, North America and Asia dominated the top 10 most visited list. Read more from James Martin for Lonely Planet

Scientists are naming new species after musicians, and it’s kind of amazing

From Beyoncé to Shakira.

Popular Science, August 10

Close up of ant's head

Sericomyrmex radioheadi is a new species of “silky” ant that grows fungus gardens for food. (Ana Ješovnik)

No one really knows how many species actually inhabit planet Earth—some say millions, others trillions—but regardless, it’s the job of taxonomists to name them all. Seriously, what the heck would you call an elephant—let alone these horrifying species living in the depths of the sea—if there were no system in place for naming them? Read more from Mallory Johns for Popular Science.

Zoos Celebrate World Elephant Day, Highlight Conservation Efforts

The gentle giants have a massive impact on their ecosystems.

U.S. News and World Report, August 11

Ambika the Aisian elephant spraying dust

Ambika uses her trunk to spray herself with sand in her enclosure at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo Elephant Community Center in 2013. (Ricky Cariot/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

On Saturday, Ambika will celebrate her 75th birthday like most people do, with cake and surrounded by friends.

She’ll reach for her cake–a mix of ice and tropical fruit–with a speckled trunk, during her celebration at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo. The 6,853-pound soon-to-be septuagenarian is one of the oldest Asian elephants in the United States.

“Seventy is a huge milestone for her, for any elephant, and so we’re happy about that,” said Tony Barthel, the zoo’s elephant curator. “We’re using this to highlight both her birthday, and then the reverse, to highlight elephant issues using her story.” Read more from Katie Watkins for U.S. News and World Report.

National Zoo vets give Mei Xiang ultrasounds, hope to detect fetus

WJLA-ABC7, August 11

Giant panda eating bamboo

Mei Xiang (Smithsonian’s National Zoo)

Veterinarians at the Smithsonian National Zoo have been giving Mei Xiang weekly ultrasounds in hopes of detecting a fetus.

Scientists at the zoo found a rise in Mei Xiang’s hormones, which means she will give birth, or end a pseudo pregnancy in 30 to 50 days.

According to scientists, it’s too early to see a panda cub on an ultrasound, but vets are tracking changes in Mei Xiang’s uterus. Read more and wath the story from WJLA.


Posted: 17 August 2017
About the Author:

Alex di Giovanni has been editing The Torch since August 2006. Prior to joining the Smithsonian, she worked as a writer and editor for the National Geographic Society, Plexus Scientific, The Nature Conservancy, The National Foreign Language Center and St. Martin’s Press, among others. She has the best job in the world.