Five on Friday: 5 unusual natural world sightings in Singapore

In our regular light-hearted look at what has been making the headlines, Ramesh William recalls some other rare sightings apart from the "fire rainbow" that set tongues wagging this week.
Ramesh William Channel NewsAsia 24 Feb 17;

SINGAPORE: Folks on this sunny isle did not know what to make of a swirl of colours which emerged from behind some innocuous-looking clouds on Monday (Feb 20).

Was it a UFO? A sign from the heavens, perhaps?

Most people, however, just marvelled at a unique optical phenomenon known as a circumhorizontal arc, or - to the layman - a “fire rainbow”.

Looking suspiciously like a Tycho album cover (it would have been nice had it appeared during Laneway), people gave it all sorts of names from Paddle Pop rainbow to the Southern Lights.

Oh, the wit.

Speaking of optical phenomena, here are examples of the opposite: Sightings that are becoming familiar mainstays in various parts of the island to the point of boredom.

Rats (Bukit Batok), wild boars (Punggol), otters (Bishan, Marina Bay) and monitor lizards (no fixed abode) hardly elicit a second glance these days.

With that in mind, we thought we would go to the other end of the spectrum and showcase five rare natural world sightings that got us all in a tizzy.

DOUBLE RAINBOW DELIGHT

Two for the price of one. It is a bargain few Singaporeans can resist. Which is why when a double rainbow appeared last September, many whipped out their phones and set social media alight.

The science: A double rainbow occurs when the light is reflected twice in a raindrop - leading to two different reflections, coming from different angles.

Believed by some cultures to be a sign of good fortune, double rainbows are not altogether once-in-a-blue-moon rare.

There was one in July 2015 and also during the auspicious Chinese New Year period this year. But still, rare enough to cause a stir.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called on his Facebook fans to share their pics of the unique event during Chinese New Year festivities.

WELCOME BACK MALAYAN TAPIR

“If that’s a wild boar, why is it wearing diapers?” the driver asked, squinting.

“Erm, I dunno dear … maybe it has a weak bladder,” said her husband. “Taking precautions I guess. It’s so hard to find a loo around here.”

We will never know for sure if such a conversation took place along Changi Coastal Road on a balmy June night last year.

But one imagines it cannot be far from the incredulous chatter that would have occurred upon the sighting of a Malayan tapir - one that looked as if it was on a late-night mosey after a particularly heavy supper. Hey, we have all been there!

The Malayan tapir's biggest claim to fame in Singapore is that it is among the first animals you will see upon entering the zoo in Mandai (on the left, after the gift shop). And as for a sighting in the wild? Well, you would have to go back all the way to 1986 - on Pulau Ubin.

Forget the double rainbow, or even unicorns - this is a rare sighting. Goodness only knows when the last wild Malayan tapir made it to our mainland. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has said there are anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 left in Malaysia.

And then after a fleeting glimpse, the Changi Malayan tapir vanished. Animal Concerns Research and Education Society (ACRES) said it most likely swam back to Malaysia.

Well, till next time then. Jumpa lagi.

WATERSPOUTING ABOUT

Do not be fooled by its innocent sounding name. Waterspouts can do some real damage and the video above can attest to its might.

Thankfully not much mayhem (apart from getting people all uber-excited) was caused when a larger-than-usual version turned up off East Coast Park in August 2016.

According to the National Environment Agency, there is an average of three waterspout occurrences reported over Singapore waters every year.

Singapore’s thunderstorm-prone climate makes it all the more susceptible to waterspouts, but one as massive as this is extremely rare.

Still, if you are hanging about Bedok Jetty chasing fish and you see something similar heading your way, you best be on your skates sharpish.

DOLPHINS, SWIMMING WILD

An Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin spotted off St John's Island in August 2015.

Dolphins in captivity have been in the spotlight in recent years in Singapore, with questions asked about their living conditions.

So when footage or photos appear of dolphins freewheeling with joy off Singapore’s shores, it definitely calls for beers all round.

The Wild Singapore site has, over the years, blogged about dolphin sightings in the vicinity of the Southern Islands. Wild dolphins were sighted off Raffles Lighthouse in 2006, and off St John’s Island and off Sisters Island in 2007. Dolphins were also seen near Singapore’s landfill island Pulau Semakau in 2009.

The most recent sighting of wild dolphins was in August 2015 when four Indo-Pacific humpback pink dolphins were seen off St John’s Island. Joseph Chng, who spotted the dolphins while out at sea, said he had to perform an emergency stop to prevent his boat from running down the cute things.

SUPERMOON

Nov 14, 2016: A date that will live long in infamy. That was when the moon was at its closest to Earth in nearly 70 years.

Why infamy? Well, because the supermoon was a damp squib for many of us. Although the moon was 35,400km closer, cloud cover that night meant there was very little big lunar action to be had.

Yet, from photos that did emerge, we know that there were plenty who lucked out and managed to snag photos of the swollen moon - except that it was early the next morning.

Most of us were still in bed. I was quite exhausted after spending most of the previous evening like a demented maniac, opening my bedroom window, peering out and then shutting it again every 10 minutes or so.

Skygazers will not be able to see the moon this big again until Nov 25, 2034. At least there is some breathing space before we are all left disappointed again.

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