Mad Minute stories from Monday, February 12th

JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) -- Strange sea creatures that resemble large pink thimbles are showing up on the coast of southeast Alaska for the first time after making their way north along the West Coast for the last few years.

Scientists say the creatures are pyrosomes, which are tropical, filter-feeding spineless creatures usually found along the equator. They appear to be one long pink tube, but in reality, they're thousands of multi-celled creatures mushed together, generally about 6 inches (15 centimeters) long.

Pyrosomes have been working their way north, Ric Brodeur, a researcher with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Associated Press on Monday.

Brodeur, who is based at the agency's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Newport, Oregon, said pyrosomes were first seen on the Oregon coast in 2014 and every year since. More recently, the animals have made their way up farther north on the Washington state coast, Canada's British Columbia and Alaska.

Jim Murphy, a biologist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said pyrosomes spotted near Alaska this year marked the first documented presence of the animals that far north, and their appearance is cause for concern.

"It means that we are clearly seeing really big changes in the marine ecosystem," he told The Juneau Empire.

Researchers have speculated that the bloom is tied to warmer ocean temperatures in the Pacific Ocean in recent years. But temperatures have nearly cooled back to normal this year, Murphy said, and these pyrosomes started showed up in the middle of winter.

Leon Shaul, a biologist with Fish and Game, has been tracking the appearance of pyrosomes in southeast Alaska. He said he's "emailed the whole world" about the issue, but hasn't heard much back.

Brodeur told the AP that it's also unusual how close to shore the pyrosomes have come, although they are now being found farther offshore again.

He said the creatures have a low nutritional value, and that raises concerns on how they will affect the fish that eat them.

"They're not the greatest food for the animals out there, compared to the things they normally have," he said.

Pyrosomes aren't harmful to humans, but they have puzzled those who've encountered them.

Angler Don Jeske was fishing for king salmon in February when he said he found himself surrounded by "millions" of the tube-shaped creatures and he'd never seen anything like it in his 50 years of trolling around Sitka, a fishing town about 90 miles southwest of Juneau.

"They were all over out there, they were everywhere. . I would say millions, not hundreds of thousands," he said. "This is a weird organism, man."


MILAN (AP) -- An Italian artist has used his tractor to transform a field near the Italian city of Verona into a giant portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of this week's Group of 20 summit.

The 135-meter (443-foot) -wide Putin portrait that artist Dario Gambarin created only can be properly viewed from above due to its scale.

Gambarin created similar land portraits of Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton during the U.S. presidential race last year.

The artist says he doesn't measure fields before he starts driving, but creates his giant images with a good eye and tractor skills.

Gambarin limits his creations to the brief period between the harvest of one crop and the planting of the next, meaning Putin's portrait will be cut down after a few days.



A wayward tortoise's surprising trek around Ohio has ended happily for its owner, whose two-week search, in a twist of fate, might have saved her sister's life.

Otis the California desert tortoise managed to push open a sliding glass door and escape from Kathie Heisinger's home in Sebring in Mahoning County on May 30.

Heisinger created flyers offering a $200 reward that was quickly matched by the Sebring Volunteer Fire Department, prompting her to make the reward $500 total. Village residents soon joined Heisinger in her search around Sebring.

"There are a lot of good people in the world," Heisinger said.

Otis quickly became a minor celebrity. Facebook posts and shares, newspaper and television stories and the flyers led to more than 100 phone calls from people who believed they had spotted him.

Heisinger then heard rumors that employees of an amusement company working the Sebring Fireman's Festival the weekend Otis went missing might have scooped him up. She called the company headquartered 20 miles away in Stark County and the owner told Heisinger his employees had indeed taken possession of Otis - at least temporarily.

Otis had once again escaped after knocking over the cardboard box the workers thought would contain him.

The owner kicked in another $200 to make the reward $700, and Heisinger, her sister and friends resumed their search.

But by this time, Otis already had found another new home. Tyren O'Steen spotted the tortoise on a road near the amusement company and thought it would make a good pet for his three children. Then last week, after reading a newspaper story about Otis, O'Steen called Heisinger, who was reunited with her beloved pet of 25 years.

"I could tell the tortoise meant a lot to her," O'Steen told another newspaper that publicized Heisinger's plight, The Alliance Review.

Heisinger said the ending was "heartfelt for a lot of people." She expressed her gratitude for all who helped out in the search, which she said might have actually saved her sister's life.

Heisinger said it was uncharacteristic for her sister, who lived alone, to have helped out. One day, Lynn Dicko complained about her foot hurting and returned to Heisinger's truck. By the time Heisinger drove her home, she had lost all feeling in her leg.

Dicko underwent emergency blood clot surgery that night. Doctors told her that if she had delayed seeking medical help for a couple of more hours, she would have lost her foot - or even worse. Dicko spent time in intensive care and is now on the road to recovery.

"That's God's way of having a plan," Heisinger said. "I'm a Christian, and nothing in this world will not convince me that wasn't meant to be."


When disgruntled neighbors complained to police about a giant slip and slide taking up their local street, the responding cops joined in on the fun.

North Carolina police officers were responding to a complaint about a slip and slide that was built for an Asheville neighborhood's annual Fourth of July block party.

"We have 20 plus kids in the four blocks. So this year the dads built a slip and slide in the street for the kids (and adults)," Katlen Joyce Smith told FOX 46. "This year, someone called the police at 11:30 a.m. and said we were blocking the road."

After the officers stressed the importance of safety and addressed neighbors' concerns, they joined in on the fun.

The police officers deemed the size of the slide as appropriate because it was small enough that vehicles could get past, according to WLOS. No citations were issued.


JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - A Florida man accidentally shot himself in the penis when he sat down on a gun in the driver's seat in his car.

Several television news stations report that the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office says the man ran into his girlfriend's house Friday after the gun discharged.

She saw that he had a wound in his groin and took him the hospital, where he underwent surgery.

The sheriff's office said the 38-year-old man has a previous conviction for cocaine possession and may now face charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm.


(Huffington Post) Powerful summer storms have sent runaway portable toilets chasing pedestrians in central Moscow, according to Russian news site

Video of the chaos uploaded to Twitter on Friday shows the fast-moving blue port-a-potties sliding across Red Square in the Russian capital as people move out of their way. 

"Even the toilets are fleeing from the bloody regime," Twitter user EugeneDX14 wrote, apparently referencing the Russian government under President Vladimir Putin. 

Strong winds were pushing the portable toilets across the rain-slick sidewalks between the Moscow Museum of Archaeology and the World War of 1812 Museum, according to RT.

Video of the hilarious scene went viral on Twitter and toilet jokes abounded.

The sliding port-a-potty reminded many people of the iconic British sci-fi show "Doctor Who," about an alien-like doctor who explores the universe in a time-traveling blue police box called the TARDIS.


(AFP) Driverless car makers are discovering a unique problem as they begin to test the vehicles in Australia.

It turns out the unusual way that kangaroos move completely throws off the car's animal detection system.

"We've noticed with the kangaroo being in mid-flight ... when it's in the air it actually looks like it's further away, then it lands and it looks closer," Volvo Australia's technical manager David Pickett said.

Because the cars use the ground as a reference point, they become confused by a hopping kangaroo, unable to determine how far away it is.

But Mr Pickett said it was even more complicated than that.

"First we have to start identifying the roo," he said.

"We identify what a human looks like by how a human walks, because it's not only the one type of human - you've got short people, tall people, people wearing coats. The same applies to a roo.

"If you look at a roo sitting at the side of a road, standing at the side of a road, in motion, all these shapes are actually different."

The company nailed down their large animal detection software, first tested on moose in Sweden. But the research team, who were sent to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve in Canberra 18 months ago to study roos, are still solving the Australian problem.

"It's quite interesting for them," Mr Pickett said.

He said it would not delay the eventual rollout of driverless cars in Australia, but it was critical to solve the problem before they were introduced.

According to the NRMA, there were more than 16,000 collisions with roos a year, with nearly 1,000 of those in the bush capital - the number one hotspot for roo collisions in the country.

Australian Driverless Vehicle Initiative executive director Rita Excell said Australia's many unsealed roads, its unmarked highways, and the huge road trains that barrel down regional highways were among the challenges.

"There are some things you don't find in other countries. If you've got a car passing something like [a road train], it needs to understand what that is," Ms Excell said.

But while regional Australia's road infrastructure may need some work to be driverless car-ready, Ms Excell said Australia was well positioned to be one of the first places for the vehicles.

"The maturity is much further along than maybe is publicly aware," she said.


COLUMBUS, OH (FOX19) - The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles has unveiled its new mascot and is asking the Internet for name suggestions.

The character is essentially a humanized license plate; it has arms and legs and sports some rather large red sneakers and a friendly smile…which may seem ironic to some who have a less than pleasant experience when visiting the BMV.  

Some Facebook users turned their frustration into creativity suggesting names like "Overpriced" and "My twin on the front is unnecessary."

One man commented, "How about 'Wait' because that's what I do at the BMV."

Some of the most popular names include "Platey McPlateface" and "Tag."


Cellphone video in Houston captured a naked homeless man armed with pesticide spray slapping a police officer in the face before being detained with a stun gun.

Graphic video of the June 6 incident was posted on YouTube.

According to KPRC Houston, 49-year-old Keith Dean stole a pesticide sprayer from a METRO grounds keeping crew and began spraying passengers waiting on a train platform.

An officer eventually grabbed the sprayer from Dean, who then slapped the officer in the face. The officer stunned Dean, sending him to the ground, the report said.

Benjamin Marquina, who captured the video, said he couldn't believe what was happening.

"It was more shocking that he didn't get killed or shot," he told KPRC, detailing the restraint the officer showed. "He didn't escalate it. He could have escalated it into something worse than just a Taser. And that's a good thing for everyone else to see how it should be handled."

A Houston police assistant chief commended the officers for bringing the volatile situation to a safe conclusion.

Dean, who is homeless, was charged with two counts of bodily injury to a peace officer, according to the report.


Vienna (AFP) - Emergency workers in Austria had an egg-stremely unusual operation on Tuesday removing an estimated 7,000 chickens which were blocking a busy motorway.

The birds' unexpected break for freedom came after the lorry transporting them lost its load on the A1 autobahn near Linz in the north of the country.

"Boxes containing dead and injured animals were strewn over a 160-metre (-yard) stretch (of road) while thousands of chickens ran onto the motorway on both sides," police said.

The incident closed the motorway towards the capital Vienna during the busy morning rush hour and caused long traffic jams in the other direction as drivers slowed down to look.


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