Saturday, October 07, 2006


There is a zoo in Tappahannock North Virginia that has a very ornate Victorian entrance with two huge lion statues, on either side of the massive iron gates. In the summer of 1973, this zoo had two very rare specimens of Ageless Porpoises, neophocaena psuedimmortia. They were housed in the marine mammal center, a huge construction in the new part of the zoo. They had been caught in a fishing net off the coast and rescued by kindly old Mel Finnerston. A male and female, they were believed to be a breeding pair as neophocaena psuedimmortia is one of the few species of porpoise that mate for life. Sadly the porpoises only lived for a few months after they arrived. The mystery of their demise is something they still talk about today in staff meetings at the Tappahannock Zoo.

Among the native people that were in North Virginia long before all those pesky English people arrived this species, Ageless Porpoise was known as Muqualada, or roughly translated; immortal bird fish. The legend was that if they were left alone and allowed to eat the young shore birds that would float in the harbor, that the porpoise would live forever. Of course this was nonsense.

In late June of 1973 the news of the rare find was in all the papers. Ted Pederson, a marine mammal researcher, was excited just like all the other cetacean fans in Port Royal, just up Interstate 17 from Tappahannock. Too bad Ted was a little too excited. Ted wanted the porpoises to live forever. Ted had a plan.

On Wednesday July 18th, Ted went to the shore and captured four baby seagulls. He put them in a cardboard cat carrier and got in his car and drove down Interstate 17 to Tappahannock. He parked a quarter mile from the zoo, ate his McDonalds cheeseburger and waited until it was good and dark. The baby gulls squawked in the cat carrier. They were hungry.

At 10:45 he took the cat carrier and started his fateful walk towards the zoo. Arriving at the gates he sized up the problem of getting in undetected. He noticed that the statues were very impressive but not really high security. He quickly found a path up the front then down the back of the lion on the left. He was in. He made his way to the marine mammal center. He had never been there before so he just followed the signs.

The marine mammal center was new and had a somewhat more sophisticated security system than the front gate. When Ted picked up a stray paving stone and threw it through the glass door it tripped a silent alarm. Back in the guard shack Bill Pederson (no relation to Ted) saw the alarm light. He called the Tappahannock police for backup and went to investigate.

Bill found the broken glass all over the lobby floor. He knew this was no false alarm. He checked on the backup. They were only two minutes away. Bill slowly walked into the main aquarium gallery. There was no one there. He passed through the doors up to the outdoor arena where bleachers surrounded the main observation pool, a four million gallon seawater pool where the orca would do tricks for zoo visitors. No one there either.

He walked towards the smaller pools just to the North of the main pool. He saw a figure in the half light provided by the security lighting on the fence. Backup had arrived and two of Tappahannock’s finest joined Bill. As they approached one of the officers circled around to the other side of the pool to prevent the escape of the intruder. Bill shined his flashlight on Ted and shouted, “Stop”. Ted released the other two seagulls onto the surface of the water. The porpoises gobbled them up too, just like the first two.

Ted was quickly cuffed and taken to the Tappahannock Jail, and booked on charges of transporting young gulls past stately lions for immortal porpoises.


Anonymous said...

I thought you were out of the shaggy-dog business, but I guess I was wrong...


Amy Liebert said...


Anonymous said...

Nice one.