Wednesday, December 05, 2007

'Legendary' surfer perishes in huge waves

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

An accomplished local surfer who lived for monster waves died Tuesday at Ghost Trees, a Monterey County surf spot known for its potent swells and dangerous conditions.

Peter Davi, 45, one of the area's most beloved watermen, apparently lost his board and attempted to swim to shore, according to fellow surfers. He was later found floating in the water unconscious and was pronounced dead around 1:30 p.m., the Monterey County coroner's office said.

His death devastated Santa Cruz and Monterey surfers, many of whom had ventured to Ghost Trees on Tuesday in search of big waves.

"Pete was well-loved and well-respected worldwide," said Anthony Ruffo, one of Davi's best friends, who was at the surf spot Tuesday. "People from everywhere are calling. He'll be so missed. He's the diplomat of surfing. He was an anchor and a bridge between Santa Cruz and Monterey surfers."

"He's my friend," Ruffo said, "and I'm going to miss him so much."

Also at Ghost Trees was Tyler Smith, a professional surfer from Santa Cruz who said the wave faces were as big as 60 to 70 feet, "almost as big as we've seen out there."

"It could be the biggest swell we see all season," said Smith, a competitor in the Maverick's contest held in the waters off of Half Moon Bay. "It was really dangerous. It's big, and it breaks right in front of these rocks. It was big, and it was really tall."

At least 15 personal watercraft were circling in the water, Smith said, some carrying surfers and others carrying surf photographers. Big-wave riders often use such watercraft to tow each other into big surf and then snatch each other out of danger after a ride or a fall.

Smith said he believed Davi, who was the size of a football lineman, was paddling into waves and may have run into trouble after the leash tethering him to his board broke.

"It's super-sad, man," Smith said. "He was a gentle giant who surfed for his whole life. Everybody knew him. He was kind of like the godfather."

Davi's friends said that he was a fisherman and that his son Jake, who is also a well-known surfer, was on his way to California late Tuesday from Hawaii.

"I'm just kind of tripped out," said Anthony Tashnick, a Santa Cruz surfer and Maverick's competitor who surfed side-by-side with Davi on Tuesday. "Peter was one of the founders of that area. He's been surfing it for years. He's a legendary local."

Davi's death comes days before the waiting period opens for the big-wave surf contest at Maverick's. Davi was an early participant in the contest.

Chronicle staff writer Julian Guthrie contributed to this report. E-mail Demian Bulwa at

This article appeared on page B - 6 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Monday, December 03, 2007

Chimps beat humans in memory test

By Helen Briggs
Science reporter, BBC News

Chimp (Image: Matsuzawa/Current Biology)

Chimpanzees have an extraordinary photographic memory that is far superior to ours, research suggests.

Young chimps outperformed university students in memory tests devised by Japanese scientists.

The tasks involved remembering the location of numbers on a screen, and correctly recalling the sequence.

The findings, published in Current Biology, suggest we may have under-estimated the intelligence of our closest living relatives.

Until now, it had always been assumed that chimps could not match humans in memory and other mental skills.

"There are still many people, including many biologists, who believe that humans are superior to chimpanzees in all cognitive functions," said lead researcher Tetsuro Matsuzawa of Kyoto University.

We are still underestimating the intellectual capability of chimpanzees, our evolutionary neighbours
Dr Tetsuro Matsuzawa

"No one can imagine that chimpanzees - young chimpanzees at the age of five - have a better performance in a memory task than humans.

"Here we show for the first time that young chimpanzees have an extraordinary working memory capability for numerical recollection - better than that of human adults tested in the same apparatus, following the same procedure."

Memory tests

Dr Matsuzawa and colleagues tested three pairs of mother and baby chimpanzees against university students in a memory task involving numbers.

Human subject (Image: Matsuzawa/Current Biology)

The mothers and their five-year-old offspring had already been taught to "count" from one to nine.

During the experiment, each subject was presented with various numerals from one to nine on a touch screen monitor.

The numbers were then replaced with blank squares and the test subject had to remember which number appeared in which location, then touch the appropriate square.

They found that, in general, the young chimps performed better than their mothers and the adult humans.

The university students were slower than all of the three young chimpanzees in their response.

The researchers then varied the amount of time that the numbers appeared on-screen to compare the working memory of humans and chimps.

Chimps performed much better than university students in speed and accuracy when the numbers appeared only briefly on screen.

The shortest time duration, 210 milliseconds, did not leave enough time for the subjects to explore the screen by eye movement - something we do all the time when we read.

This is evidence, the researchers believe, that young chimps have a photographic memory which allows them to memorise a complex scene or pattern at a glance. This is sometimes present in human children but declines with age, they say.

"Young chimpanzees have a better memory than human adults," Dr Matsuzawa told BBC News.

"We are still underestimating the intellectual capability of chimpanzees, our evolutionary neighbours."


Dr Lisa Parr, who works with chimps at the Yerkes Primate Center at Emory University in Atlanta, US, described the research as "ground-breaking".

Dr Matsuzawa and chimps (Image: Matsuzawa)
Dr Matsuzawa and chimps Ai and Ayuma

She said their importance of these primates for understanding the skills necessary for the evolution of modern humans was unparalleled.

"They are our closest living relatives and thus are in a unique position to inform us about our evolutionary heritage," said Dr Parr.

"These studies tell us that elaborate short-term memory skills may have had a much more salient function in early humans than is present in modern humans, perhaps due to our increasing reliance on language-based memory skills."

The research is published in Current Biology, a publication of Cell Press.

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