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This fierce-looking creature could be the only complete sea mink skin left of the extinct species

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Could a longtime stuffed and badly faded weasel offer the only complete skin of the extinct and near mythical sea mink?

The fierce-looking animal, about the size of a small house cat, was killed more than 120 years ago on Campobello Island. 

Scientists in the CRI Genomes lab at the University of New Brunswick hope new developments in DNA testing will put to rest any doubts about its identity.

The animal, mounted on a craggy piece of dark wood, is now the property of the New Brunswick Museum.

Sea minks were hunted to extinction in the mid to late 1800s.

An animal that was killed more than 130 years ago, this mink has lost its original colouring. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

They were highly prized for their size, which was considerably bigger than the common American mink.

Historic accounts describe them as “extremely fat” with a pungent, fishy odour and coarse reddish fur.

“Ty,” as this stuffed mink has been named by lab staff, has faded to a light tan, likely while doing time exposed to sunshine in a window.

“We’re not exactly sure what it is,” said Howard Huynh, a mammalogist and post-doctoral research fellow in charge of collecting and purifying DNA samples from one of the animal’s toe pads.

“If this actually does turn out to be a sea mink this would be the first known [specimen] skin and probably the only [specimen] with an intact skull found.” 

The mounted mystery mink was captured on Campobello Island. It spent more than 100 years in private collections across the border in Maine. (New Brunswick Museum X11475)

The sea mink’s territory was limited to the narrow coastal areas and islands of the Gulf of Maine and southernmost portions of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.

Little to work with

A 1903 story in Forest and Stream magazine described the brutal hunting practices that brought about the animal’s extinction.

“If they took refuge in holes or cracks of the ledges, they were usually dislodged by working with shovels and crow-bars, and the dogs caught them when they came out. If they were in crevices of the rocks where they could not be got at and their eyes could be seen to shine, they were shot and pulled out by means of an iron rod with a screw at
the end.”

There is little today for researchers to work with. The only confirmed remains of the creatures are partial skull and teeth fragments found by archaeologists in First Nations dumps, known as kitchen middens.

Sea mink or not, this particular specimen comes to the New Brunswick Museum with a rich history. 

It caused a stir in 1929 when it was discovered in the personal collection of Clarence Clark a prominent businessman, politician and collector in Lubec, Maine. 

Value ‘beyond price’

Its value was described as “beyond price” in a newspaper story at the time. 

It wasn’t until 1965 that researchers at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington managed to get their hands on it. 

Don McAlpine, a zoologist at the New Brunswick Museum, bought the Clarence Clark specimen for $500 U.S. (Brian Chisholm/CBC)

“In all, no less than 20 mammalogists expressed their opinions on it,” said a scholarly article subsequently produced by the National Museum.

The consensus, formed without the advantage of modern DNA sequencing, determined it is likely an unusually large specimen of the common American mink.

But the journal article nonetheless leaves open the possibility the animal is a hybrid between the extinct sea mink and a regular American mink.

Closing a chapter

In the early 2000s Don McAlpine, a zoologist at the New Brunswick Museum, managed to track down a Clarence Clark descendant and began purchase negotiations that carried on five years.

He finally managed to buy the mounted mink for $500 US.

After putting it on public display for a time, McAlpine recently turned it over to the CRI lab for examination.

The lab is able to perform state-of-the-art genomics testing for just this kind of project.

“I’ll be gobsmacked if it turns out to be anything other than a common North American mink. But this will allow us to maybe close the chapter on this particular specimen,” said McAlpine.

“But you never know. You get surprises.”

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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