When an outstanding scientist makes a perfect pair with a great human being

This is a "news story" dealing with my esteemed colleague Antonio Fernández, a world-renowned veterinary pathologist and marine mammal scientist from the Veterinary Medical School of the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, where he serves as a full professor of Veterinary Pathologic Anatomy.  
Published in Microbiology

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Indeed, professor Fernández, who 20 years ago discovered "gas and fat embolic syndrome" in beaked whales - a pathological condition cmimicking "decompression sickness" in human divers (1) -, could not believe his eyes when, after more than 1,000 necropsies performed during his professional career on stranded cetaceans, he found an exceedingly large and heavy ambergris stone located next to the gut of a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) individual beached off La Palma, the most western of Canary Islands. Just one out of one hundred sperm whales is believed, in fact, to produce ambergris as a result of squid and cuttlefish digestion, with most of their prey being faecally shed into the open sea and/or "vomited" out undigested. La Palma whale's death was caused by an intestinal rupture due to the extraordinary size (60 centimeters in diameter, approximately) and weight (about 10 kilograms) of the ambergris calculus hosted inside its colon, with the cetacean's gut breakage being most likely followed by a fast developing haemoperitoneum and peritonitis (2).

Ambergris, or grey amber, that is very popular among perfumers, is a solid, waxy and flammable substance of a dull grey or blackish colour with a high economic value, which has been estimated to be around 500,000 Euros for La Palma whale's stone.

Notwithstanding the above, what makes this story even more impressive is the official announcement made by Professor Fernández, who will donate the aforementioned money sum to the people of La Palma, where he was born 64 years ago and which was hit by the devastating Cumbre Vieja volcano's eruption occurred in 2021, with an estimated 800 million Euros damage (3). 

I personally believe this is a very noble gesture and virtuous example not just for the scientific community but also for all of us, especially in the current "Anthropocene Epoch" where artificial intelligence (AI) increasingly pervades the scientific communication arena and, more in general, our lives.

Natural intelligence, not AI, is indeed the key driver of human generosity!


1) Jepson PD, Arbelo M, Deaville R, Patterson IA, Castro P, Baker JR, Degollada E, Ross HM, Herráez P, Pocknell AM, Rodríguez F, Howie FE, Espinosa A, Reid RJ, Jaber JR, Martin V, Cunningham AA, Fernández A. (2003). Gas-bubble lesions in stranded cetaceans. Nature 425:575-576. doi: 10.1038/425575a.

2) Burgen S. (2023). Pathologist finds € 500,000 "floating gold" in dead whale in Canary Islands. The Guardian, July 04, 2023. 

3) Wei-Haas M. (2022). Lava built this island then entombed towns in stone. National Geographic, October 14, 2022. 


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