Sunday, February 28, 2010


The Wee Soay Sheep of St. Kilda

There are actually two kinds of small, feral sheep on the St. Kilda (whoever that was) archipelago, a kind of outer Outer Hebrides set of windswept rocky islands as remote as one can get in Great Britain--the dark Soay, which have been there since paleolithic times and the light tan Boreray, which were introduced in the 19th Century. Soay is one tiny island in the group and Boreray is another. Life on these islands is so tough that in 1930, the humans bugged out and left. The sheep weren't so lucky.

Scientists with nothing better to do have been studying the sheep, mainly the 'purer' Soay, since the evacuation, well, at least since the 50s. Mind you, these sheep number in the 100s not thousands and they are trapped on these tiny little islands after being introduced by man (stone-age sailors at first) and then abandoned. There's nothing natural about these sheep's predicament. Some of the Soay sheep were moved, after evacuation, from Soay to Hirta, the big island of the group. Boreray remain on Boreray. Boring. Moving on.

The Boreray sheep are the results of crossbreeding Scottish Blackface with some other sheep on the Archipelago (wouldn't that necessarily be Soay?) and then leaving them alone. They are tiny--full grown males are less than 2 feet high at the shoulder and weigh 60 pounds. The Soay are not much bigger. And lately, the wee beasties have been getting a bit smaller (perhaps 5% smaller since 1986--that is, about 4 pounds smaller on average). This shrinking got a lot of coverage because the explanation was, wait for it... "global warming." So how much warmer, on average, has it gotten on Soay since 1986? The true answer is that we don't know. The island has been abandoned by humans (except for some thermometerless military types). That doesn't stop the scientists.

These guys, measuring it Stornoway airport on the Isle of Lewis (whoever that was) 90 miles away, say it's gone up from 10.5 degrees C to 11.6 degrees C. No wonder the wee beasties are shrinking? (Sarcasm that). Could there be any other explanation? Stay tuned, as the radio serials used to say.



Thanks a lot. The photographer caught my good side w/ this pix. I tell you, to quote Martha Reeves, "It's like a heat wave."

Keep up the good work. For us there is no such thing as bad publicity. Meanwhile, no one has ever figured out who St. Kilda was. It could have been a cartographer's typo or the name of a well or teh name of a spring. St. Kilda wasn't a real saint like St. Isadore, St. Hermenegilde, or St. Benoit du Lac.

All the best.

Seamus MacOvisaries the Soay Sheep
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