There’s a deceptively still body of water in Tanzania with a deadly secret—it turns any animal it touches to stone. The rare phenomenon is caused by the chemical makeup of the lake, but the petrified creatures it leaves behind are straight out of a horror film.
Photographed by Nick Brandt in his new book, Across the Ravaged Land, petrified creatures pepper the area around the lake due to its constant pH of 9 to 10.5—an extremely basic alkalinity that preserves these creatures for eternity. According to Brandt:
I unexpectedly found the creatures – all manner of birds and bats – washed up along the shoreline of Lake Natron in Northern Tanzania. No-one knows for certain exactly how they die, but it appears that the extreme reflective nature of the lake’s surface confuses them, and like birds crashing into plate glass windows, they crash into the lake. The water has an extremely high soda and salt content, so high that it would strip the ink off my Kodak film boxes within a few seconds. The soda and salt causes the creatures to calcify, perfectly preserved, as they dry.
I took these creatures as I found them on the shoreline, and then placed them in ‘living’ positions, bringing them back to ‘life’, as it were. Reanimated, alive again in death.
The rest of the haunting images follow and they feature in Brandt’s book. Or, you could go and visit for yourself—but keep a safe distance from the water, please.
Not all animals that become submerged in the water die. According to New Scientist, extremophile fish like alkaline tilapia have adapted to live in the harsh — often hot — water. The pH lake can reach an alkalinity between 9 and 10.5 — for reference a neutral pH of water is 7.
On the Web:
“Deadly lake turns animals into statues” New Scientist
“Across the Ravaged Land,” Discover Magazine
Video of a group of tilapia surviving in this microecosystem: Alkaline Tilapia of Lake Natron
Here’s more of an explanation from GeekOSystem about the animals’ calcified state:
The chemical process to which they were subjected is much closer to Egyptian mummifcation than anything else, and although the bodies appear chalky and stone-like in appearance, but they are not completely immovable. After all, if that were the case then Brandt would not have been able to reposition his birds into such surreal and breathtaking poses.
All images via © Nick Brandt 2013 Courtesy of Hasted Kraeutler Gallery, NY