World Oddities

Oddities News from across the world.

Ohio governor unrolls $1M lottery prizes to urge vaccination

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine is offering big lottery incentives — including a $1 million prize and college scholarships — in a last-ditch effort to get people vaccinated before the state's mask mandate and most other coronavirus-related state orders end June 2, he announced Wednesday. All Ohio's COVID-19 orders except those applying to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities will end, the Republican said during a primetime address. However, DeWine noted that stores and businesses still may require customers to be masked. With three weeks to go before restrictions lift, DeWine rolled out big-ticket motivators. Beginning May 26, adults who have received at least one vaccine dose may enter a lottery that will provide a $1 million prize each Wednesday for five weeks. In random drawings, the state will also provide five full four-year scholarships to an Ohio public university — including tuition, room-and-board, and books — to vaccinated Ohioans under 18. The money will come from existing federal pandemic relief dollars, DeWine said, and the Ohio Lottery will conduct the drawings. State Rep. Emilia Sykes, the top House Democrat, questioned the use of federal funds. “Using millions of dollars in relief funds in a drawing is a grave misuse of money that could be going to respond to this ongoing crisis,” she said. DeWine acknowledged the unusual nature of the financial incentives. “I know that some may say, ‘DeWine, you’re crazy! This million-dollar drawing idea of yours is a waste of money,’” he said. But the real waste, when the vaccine is now readily available, “is a life lost to COVID-19,” the governor said. In announcing the mandates' end, the governor cited the sharp drop in the numbers of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations and the high vaccination rates among people 65 and older. He also said the vaccine is a “tested and proven weapon” that all Ohioans 12 and older can now avail themselves of. “It’s time to end the health orders. It’s been a year. You’ve followed the protocols,” DeWine said. “You’ve done what we’ve asked. You’ve bravely fought this virus.” The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Ohio did not increase over the past two weeks, going from about 1,522 new cases per day on April 26 to 1,207 new cases per day on May 10, according to data collected by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering. More than 4.2 million Ohioans — about 36% of the population — had completed the vaccination process as of Tuesday. But the number of people seeking vaccines has dropped in recent weeks, with an average of about 16,500 starting the process last week, down from figures above 80,000 in April. About 42% of Ohioans have received at least one dose. “There comes a time when individual responsibility simply must take over," DeWine said. Business groups uniformly praised the decision. The news “is the logical next step in fully reopening our state for Ohio’s businesses and families,” said John Barker, president and CEO of the Ohio Restaurant Association. “Removing these barriers comes at the right time and will assist the efforts of Ohio’s business community to restore Ohio’s economy,” said Andrew Doehrel, Ohio Chamber of Commerce CEO and president. Dr. Lisa Egbert, president of the Ohio State Medical Association, said the organization supported the announcement but urged all eligible Ohioans to be vaccinated as soon as possible. DeWine made the announcement even though his previous goal for dropping the orders hadn't been reached. In a March 4 primetime address, the governor had said he would lift remaining mandates once the state hit 50 coronavirus cases per 100,000 people for two weeks. At the time, the figure was 179 cases per 100,000 people; it had dropped to 123 cases as of this week. Despite DeWine's message, he had little choice in removing the mandates. His speech came only a few weeks before fellow GOP lawmakers could have voted to immediately remove all mandates, per a bill passed earlier this year over the governor's veto. That legislation takes effect June 23. House Republicans had signaled their intention to introduce a resolution Wednesday in preparation for a June 23 vote. “There's a strong sentiment that the health orders need to be dissolved,” House Speaker Bob Cupp, a Lima Republican, said earlier Wednesday. Senate President Matt Huffman, another Lima Republican, also said Wednesday it was time for the end of mandates. “Ohioans care about getting their businesses open and doing other things that will allow some freedom,” Huffman said. Also Wednesday, DeWine spokesperson Dan Tierney confirmed that employees of executive branch agencies — who have been working almost exclusively from home — would return to their offices in stages, beginning July 6. DeWine implemented the current mask mandate in July as case numbers rose. That followed a mandatory mask order in April 2020 that he rescinded just a day later under intense criticism that the directive was “one government mandate too far.” In addition to his daily or weekly midday briefings, DeWine previously addressed Ohioans about the pandemic in primetime speeches Nov. 11 and July 15. Also Wednesday, a federal judge denied Republican Attorney General Dave Yost’s request for a temporary order preventing U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen from enforcing a provision of the American Rescue Plan Act that says states can’t use their recovery dollars to offset tax cuts or credits. Judge Douglas Cole said Ohio has a strong chance of proving the tax rule unconstitutionally ambiguous. But the judge also found that granting the order against Yellen wouldn’t provide Ohio the relief it seeks, because Treasury’s rules for the money are still being worked out, the state hasn’t yet received its money and Yellen has not yet tried to recoup anything. ___ Associated Press writers Julie Carr Smyth and Kantele Franko contributed to this report.

Colonial Pipeline restarts operations days after major hack

CLEMMONS, N.C. (AP) — The nation's largest fuel pipeline restarted operations Wednesday, days after it was forced to shut down by a gang of hackers. The disruption of Colonial Pipeline caused long lines at gas stations in the Southeast due to distribution problems and panic-buying, draining supplies at thousands of gas stations. Colonial initiated the restart of pipeline operations late Wednesday, saying in a statement that “all lines, including those lateral lines that have been running manually, will return to normal operations.” But it will take several days for deliveries to return to normal, the company said. In the meantime, drivers have been finding gas stations with little or no gas in some Southeast states. The Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, was hit on Friday with a cyberattack by hackers who lock up computer systems and demand a ransom to release them. The hackers didn't take control of the pipeline operations, but Colonial shut the pipeline down to contain the damage. The attack raised concerns, once again, about the vulnerability of the nation’s critical infrastructure. “What you’re feeling is not a lack of supply or a supply issue. What we have is a transportation issue,” said Jeanette McGee, spokeswoman for the AAA auto club. “There is ample supply to fuel the United States for the summer, but what we’re having is an issue with is getting it to those gas stations" because the pipeline is down. The pipeline runs from the Gulf Coast to the New York metropolitan region, but states in the Southeast are more reliant on it. Other parts of the country have more sources to tap. For example, a substantial amount of fuel is delivered to states in the Northeast by massive tankers. Jamar Gatison, 36, was filling up his tank in Norfolk, Virginia, Wednesday before a doctor’s appointment. “I’m about to run out of gas, so I have no choice,” the construction worker said while waiting in line at a 7-Eleven. “I’m also an Uber Eats driver. I also need gas for that,” said Gatison, who added he probably won’t deliver food Wednesday night because he doesn’t want to wait in line again while the shortage continues. In North Carolina, 65% of gas stations were out of fuel, according to Gasbuddy.com, a technology firm that tracks real-time fuel prices across the country. Just outside Raleigh, two people were charged with assault after fighting and spitting in each other’s faces while arguing over their spots in line Tuesday at a Marathon gas station, authorities said. North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper urged people Wednesday to only buy gas if their tank is low, and to report any instances of price gouging. “This news is another reason people do not need to panic buy gas right now unless they really need it,” he tweeted after Colonial announced it was restarting the pipeline. Georgians were also getting squeezed, with 43% of stations there out of gas, according to Gasbuddy.com. In Virginia, 44% of stations were out, and in South Carolina, 16% had no fuel. Along the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine through some of the most rugged and remote terrain in the Southeast, hikers depend on car and van shuttles to ferry them to and from the trail and get them back to civilization. “If I don’t have the gas, I’m not running,” said Ron Brown of Ellijay, Georgia, who operates Ron’s Appalachian Trail Shuttles and often takes hikers on hourslong trips from Atlanta’s airport into the north Georgia mountains, and to and from many points along the trail. Mary Goldburg, 60, of Norfolk, Virginia, waited more than 20 minutes for a slow-operating pump at a 7-Eleven to fill up her tank on Wednesday. Her job includes delivering T-shirts for events and other promotional products. “I can’t get paid until my customers get their products,” Goldburg said. The disruption is taking place at the time of year when Americans begin to become more mobile, especially as the nation emerges from the pandemic. Four to five cars were lined up at each pump at a Circle K in Clemmons, North Carolina. Several people said they had driven to multiple gas stations to find one that had gas. Across the street, gas stations were out of fuel. Mair Martinez, who works in landscaping, was filling up his lawn equipment and truck after checking several other gas stations without luck. “That’s why we’ve come in today, to fill up everything,” he said. Johnathan King, who works for an area towing company, was filling up his tow truck. He said he typically does 10 to 12 service calls a day, driving between several area cities. “It’s going to be very hard for us. Hopefully we’ll be able to get through it,” he said. Multiple U.S. agencies coordinated to relax rules and enable fuel to be shipped faster using trucks, trains or ships, but those changes had little impact Wednesday. The White House said the Department of Transportation is now allowing states served by the pipeline to use interstate highways to transport overweight loads of gasoline and other fuels. But there’s a national trucker shortage, so the industry isn’t able to put many more trucks on the road. Nationwide there are about 121,000 convenience stores that sell about 5,300 gallons per day of gasoline, accounting for about 80% of retail fuel sales. At many stores demand has been two to five times the normal amount, said Jeff Lenard of the National Association of Convenience Stores, in a conference call with reporters. Retailers were even running out of fuel in parts of Florida that are not dependent on the pipeline, he said. Rationing has been imposed after some natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but there could be resistance to that this time, especially if it looks like the pipeline could return to normal operation in a few days. It could also backfire. “Once rationing occurs, more panic buying ensues,” said Ryan McNutt, CEO of the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America. The national average price for a gallon of gasoline ticked above $3 for the first time since 2016 Wednesday, according to the AAA. Prices begin to rise around this time every year and the auto club said Wednesday that the average price hit $3.008 nationally. “You go to some states, and you’re going to see much higher increases, especially in the South, because that’s where you’re seeing the largest impact in terms of strain of gasoline, or strain of people,” McGee said. ___ Bussewitz reported from New York and Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia. Associated Press Writers Frank Bajak in Boston, Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia, David Koenig in Dallas and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.

Drivers scrambling for fuel as hacked pipeline restarts

CLEMMONS, N.C. (AP) — Drivers waited in long lines at gas stations in the Southeast on Wednesday after a hack of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline led to distribution problems and panic-buying, draining supplies at thousands of gas stations. Although there was no gasoline shortage, there was a problem getting the fuel from refineries on the Gulf Coast to the states that need it, and officials were scrambling to find alternate routes to deliver it. The Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of the fuel consumed on the East Coast, was hit on Friday with a cyberattack by hackers who lock up computer systems and demand a ransom to release them. The attack raised concerns, once again, about the vulnerability of the nation’s critical infrastructure. Colonial initiated the restart of pipeline operations late Wednesday, “which means that all lines, including those lateral lines that have been running manually, will return to normal operations,” the company said in a statement. But it will take several days for deliveries to return to normal, the company said. In the meantime, drivers have been finding gas stations with little or no gas in some Southeast states. “What you’re feeling is not a lack of supply or a supply issue. What we have is a transportation issue,” said Jeanette McGee, spokeswoman for the AAA auto club. “There is ample supply to fuel the United States for the summer, but what we’re having an issue with is getting it to those gas stations because the pipeline is down.” The pipeline runs from the Gulf Coast to the New York metropolitan region, but states in the Southeast are more reliant on it. Other parts of the country have more sources to tap. For example, a substantial amount of fuel is delivered to states in the Northeast by massive tankers. Jamar Gatison, 36, was filling up his tank in Norfolk, Virginia, Wednesday before a doctor’s appointment. “I’m about to run out of gas, so I have no choice,” the construction worker said while waiting in line at a 7-Eleven. “I’m also an Uber Eats driver. I also need gas for that,” said Gatison, who added he probably won’t deliver food Wednesday night because he doesn’t want to wait in line again while the shortage continues. In North Carolina, 65% of gas stations were out of fuel, according to Gasbuddy.com, a technology firm that tracks real-time fuel prices across the country. Just outside Raleigh, two people were charged with assault after fighting and spitting in each other’s faces while arguing over their spots in line Tuesday at a Marathon gas station, authorities said. North Carolina Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper urged people Wednesday to only buy gas if their tank is low, and to report any instances of price gouging. “We will continue our efforts to help make sure there is an adequate supply of fuel,” Cooper wrote on Twitter. Georgians were also getting squeezed, with 43% of stations there out of gas, according to Gasbuddy.com. In Virginia, 44% of stations were out, and in South Carolina, 16% had no fuel. Along the Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Georgia to Maine through some of the most rugged and remote terrain in the Southeast, hikers depend on car and van shuttles to ferry them to and from the trail and get them back to civilization. “If I don’t have the gas, I’m not running,” said Ron Brown of Ellijay, Georgia, who operates Ron’s Appalachian Trail Shuttles and often takes hikers on hourslong trips from Atlanta’s airport into the north Georgia mountains, and to and from many points along the trail. Mary Goldburg, 60, of Norfolk, Virginia, waited more than 20 minutes for a slow-operating pump at a 7-Eleven to fill up her tank on Wednesday. Her job includes delivering T-shirts for events and other promotional products. “I can’t get paid until my customers get their products,” Goldburg said. Government officials have said Colonial anticipates restarting most of its operations by the end of the week. However, the disruption is taking place at the time of year when Americans begin to become more mobile, especially as the nation emerges from the pandemic. Four to five cars were lined up at each pump at a Circle K in Clemmons, North Carolina. Several people said they had driven to multiple gas stations to find one that had gas. Across the street, gas stations were out of fuel. Mair Martinez, who works in landscaping, was filling up his lawn equipment and truck after checking several other gas stations without luck. “I’m a local landscaper, so that’s why we’ve come in today, to fill up everything,” he said. Johnathan King, who works for an area towing company, was filling up his tow truck. He said he typically does 10 to 12 service calls a day, driving between several area cities. “It’s going to be very hard for us. Hopefully we’ll be able to get through it,” he said. Multiple U.S. agencies are coordinating to relax rules and enable fuel to be shipped faster using trucks, trains or ships, but those changes are having little impact so far. The White House said Wednesday that the Department of Transportation is now allowing states served by the pipeline to use interstate highways to transport overweight loads of gasoline and other fuels. But there’s a national trucker shortage, so the industry isn’t able to put many more trucks on the road. Nationwide there are about 121,000 convenience stores that sell about 5,300 gallons per day of gasoline, accounting for about 80% of retail fuel sales. At many stores demand has been two to five times the normal amount, said Jeff Lenard of the National Association of Convenience Stores, in a conference call with reporters. Retailers are even running out of fuel in parts of Florida that are not dependent on the pipeline, he said. Rationing has been imposed after some natural disasters, including Hurricane Sandy in 2012, but there could be resistance to that this time, especially if it looks like the pipeline could return to normal operation in a few days. It could also backfire. “Once rationing occurs, more panic buying ensues,” said Ryan McNutt, CEO of the Society of Independent Gasoline Marketers of America. The national average price for a gallon of gasoline ticked above $3 for the first time since 2016 Wednesday, according to the AAA. Prices begin to rise around this time every year and the auto club said Wednesday that the average price hit $3.008 nationally. “You go to some states, and you’re going to see much higher increases, especially in the South, because that’s where you’re seeing the largest impact in terms of strain of gasoline, or strain of people,” McGee said. ___ Bussewitz reported from New York and Finley reported from Norfolk, Virginia. Associated Press Writers Frank Bajak in Boston, Jeff Martin in Marietta, Georgia, David Koenig in Dallas and Julie Walker in New York contributed to this report.

Scramble on for new fuel routes after Colonial Pipeline hack

CHAMBLEE, Ga. (AP) — State and federal officials are scrambling to find alternate routes to deliver gasoline in the Southeast U.S. after a hack of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline led to panic-buying that contributed to more than 1,000 gas stations running out of fuel. There is no gasoline shortage, but if the pipeline shutdown continues past the weekend, it could create broader fuel disruptions. The Colonial Pipeline, which delivers about 45% of what is consumed on the East Coast, was hit on Friday with a cyberattack by hackers who lock up computer systems and demand a ransom to release them. The attack raised concerns, once again, about the vulnerability of the nation’s critical infrastructure. A large part of the pipeline resumed operations manually late Monday, and Colonial anticipates restarting most of its operations by the end of the week, U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said. However, the disruption is taking place at the time of year when Americans begin to become more mobile, especially as the nation emerges from the pandemic. The national average price for a gallon of gasoline ticked above $3 for the first time since 2016 Wednesday, according to the AAA auto club. Prices begin to rise around this time every year and the AAA auto club said Wednesday that the average price hit $3.008 nationally. The AAA expects more than 37 million people to travel at least 50 miles from home during the Memorial Day weekend, up 60% from last year, which was the lowest since AAA began keeping records in 2000. Multiple U.S. agencies are coordinating efforts to avert any potential shortage, should they arise. The White House said Wednesday that the Department of Transportation is now allowing Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia to use interstate highways to transport overweight loads of gasoline and other fuels under existing disaster declarations. The department’s Maritime Administration completed a review of potential actions available under the Jones Act, a U.S. maritime law that requires shipments between U.S. ports, including fuel, to be moved by American-flagged ships. The Department of Homeland Security is prepared to review any temporary Jones Act waiver requests from companies if there is not sufficient capacity to get to regions suffering fuel shortages, said White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday. ___ Associated Press Writers Cathy Bussewitz in New York, Jeff Amy in Georgia, Bobby Caina Calvan in Tallahassee, Aamer Madhani in Washington, Michelle Chapman in New Jersey and David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.

88-year-old artist finishes year of pandemic 'daily doodles'

WESTMORELAND, N.H. (AP) — Much like the round clock faces, gears and planets that often populate his artwork, Robert Seaman has come full circle. Seaman, 88, has been drawing since he was a boy, and at age 60, left a real estate career to pursue his hobby professionally. But it took the coronavirus pandemic to fully return him to his passion. “As a kid, I kept lurching between being a loner and being an extrovert,” he said. “But in my introvert phase, I would love to go up to my room where I had a drawing table kind of desk and I’d spend hours up there drawing pictures. That’s what I’m doing now.” Tuesday marked one year since Seaman started churning out “daily doodles” from his small, one-room apartment at the Maplewood Assisted Living facility in Westmoreland, New Hampshire. He spends about six hours a day working on his intricate, fanciful illustrations, starting with pencil sketches and finishing with ink, colored pencil and watercolor. “After a long life, I’m back doing what I did when I was 11 years old,” he said. “And it’s great, I love it. I’m so lucky that I can do this.” Seaman moved in to Maplewood just two weeks before the pandemic restrictions cut residents off from the outside world. For many months, they couldn’t leave their rooms. It was only last week that they were allowed to interact in hallways and other common areas without masks. “The first thought I had was to just do some kind of dark stuff that reflected the nature of the confinement that we were experiencing and the difficulties that were created by this pandemic,” he said. “Then it just started to grow, and I thought it would be interesting to do one a day.” He started sending the doodles to his daughter, Robin Hayes, and other friends and family. Hayes then shared them on Facebook, and as interest grew, began offering the originals and prints for sale on Etsy.com, with half the proceeds going to charities, including a COVID-19 relief fund, a homeless shelter and an organization that helps refugees. As the days passed, Seaman’s art got a bit brighter in both theme and appearance. Some pieces showcase his fascination with science fiction, while others portray whimsical animals or sly humor — #131, “Portraits of a Shy Family,” depicts framed paintings of the backs of heads. Robots carrying purple flags march across the page. Blackbirds burst from a pie. A squiggly-lined brain is sandwiched between two burger buns. A much-loved cat, Piper, shows up in all kinds of scenes. Seaman, who has been fully vaccinated since January, says he’ll “probably kick the bucket” before he runs out of ideas. “I might be watching something on television, and someone will have a picture on the wall that will give me an idea. Or things just pop into my head. When I got to sleep at night, for a few minutes I try to think of some new ideas,” he said. “When I get stuck, I’ll just start drawing an object and it’s like word association. I’ll draw a hand, and all of a sudden that suggest something else, so it just grows from there.” Craig and Sandra Fox, of Deerfield, bought Doodles #13, 271 and 274 after hearing about Seaman on the radio and getting added to his daily email list. “During the pandemic, a lot of our normal ability to get out and have contact with people was diminished, so to be able to get some output or something that isn’t an advertising flier or newsletter on a daily basis was cool,” Craig Fox said. “I collect books by people I know. If someone I know writes a book, I buy it and ask for an autograph ... and by watching the doodles come by, I started to feel like I know him.” Sandra Fox, who once stared at a painting in a museum so long that a guard teased her about “casing the joint,” said she loves how much there is to see in Seaman’s drawings. “They are what they are to me, I have the same feelings, but I see more every time,” she said. “I could look at them for half an hour and see many, many things. I’ll catch another color or something in a corner I never even noticed before.” Doodle #365, titled “Potpourri” includes the Earth looming behind a jumble of objects that include the aforementioned cat, a wind-up bird Seaman keeps on his desk, a horse and a man wearing an aviator cap and googles. It’s framed by a series of shapes that evoke calligraphy but aren’t actual letters. Though he accomplished his goal of a year of daily doodles, Seaman said he has no plans to stop. “It’s selfish. It keeps me occupied, and I love doing it, but it also does help some other people, which is kind of nice,” he said. “Maybe I’ll get so shaky I can’t do anything, but as long as I can, I will.”

Bear has close call on utility poles in Arizona border city

DOUGLAS, Ariz. (AP) — Residents of an Arizona border city were left in disbelief by a surprise visit from a bear. The Arizona Game & Fish Department said the bear appeared Sunday in downtown Douglas. Bolder than your average bear, the animal climbed up two utility poles and even sat on the wires at one point. State wildlife officials, Douglas police, the Cochise County Sheriff's Office and U.S. Border Patrol closed off U.S. Hwy 191 and tried to get the bear to leave. Authorities say the seemingly unfazed bear eventually climbed down and scampered off, sending about two dozen onlookers scattering. No injuries were reported. Game & Fish officials say this is the time of year where people in the area need to watch out for bears.

Hopes fade for minke whale stuck in River Thames near London

LONDON (AP) — Hopes faded Monday for a young minke whale who became trapped in the River Thames near London, authorities said. Rescuers trying to recapture the whale said that by 5 p.m. (1600 GMT; 12 p.m. EDT) its condition had deteriorated rapidly and it would soon be stranded by the dropping tide near Teddington in southwest London. “Once the whale is beached a veterinary team will be on stand by to euthanize the animal to end its suffering,” the British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) said in a statement. The BDMLR said the injured and drained calf would struggle to swim even if it managed to get back into deeper water. Crews had already worked for hours before being able to free the whale early Monday from a perilous stranding on a lock near Richmond, a few miles downstream of Teddington. But as the mammal was being taken for further health checks on an inflatable pontoon, it slipped back into the water. “This animal is very, very lost,” Port of London Authority spokesman Martin Garside said. “It’s like seeing a camel at the North Pole.” Garside said a whale had never been seen this far up the Thames before, 95 miles (150 kilometers) along the river from its mouth, with the sheer distance making the whale's route back to safety extremely difficult. The whale, which measured about four meters (13 feet) long, was first seen lying on the lock’s boat rollers Sunday night. Hundreds of people gathered along the banks of the Thames to watch the rescue operation as night fell. The area is known for wide tidal swings that easily reach over 5.5 meters (18 feet) high. Port staff were joined by firefighters, coast guard members and marine animal rescue divers. Minke whales, which are more typically found in the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, can grow to a size of nine meters (30 feet). Meanwhile, in Spain, a marine wildlife group was working to make sure that a gray whale found near Spain’s northeastern Mediterranean coast, far from its usual northern Pacific migration routes, doesn't get stranded. Maritime rescuers, firefighters and other authorities worked with conservationists over the weekend to keep a whale nicknamed Wally from venturing into shallow water and ports near Barcelona. The maritime group said the whale entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait of Gibraltar and has been spotted since March in the vicinity of Morocco, Algeria, Italy and France. In an aerial video released by the group, the whale could be seen very close to a seawall near one of Barcelona’s main beaches. ___ Aritz Parra contributed to this report from Madrid.

Dracula's castle proves an ideal setting for COVID-19 jabs

BUCHAREST (AP) — At Dracula’s castle in picturesque Transylvania, Romanian doctors are offering a jab in the arm rather than a stake through the heart. A COVID-19 vaccination center has been set up on the periphery of Romania's Bran Castle, which is purported to be the inspiration behind Dracula’s home in Bram Stoker’s 19th-century gothic novel “Dracula.” Every weekend through May “vaccination marathons” will be held just outside the storied 14th-century hilltop castle, where no appointment is needed, in an attempt to encourage people to protect themselves against COVID-19. “We wanted to show people a different way to get the (vaccine) needle,” Alexandru Priscu, the marketing manager at Bran Castle, told The Associated Press. Those brave enough to get a Pfizer vaccine shot receive a “vaccination diploma,” which is aptly illustrated with a fanged medical worker brandishing a syringe. “Besides the diploma, people benefit with free entry to the (castle's) torture rooms, which have 52 medieval torture instruments,” Priscu noted. Since the light-hearted campaign was launched over the weekend — when nearly 400 people were vaccinated — Priscu said he has received scores of requests from foreigners wishing to get vaccinated in the spooky setting. Bad news for them: only residents of Romania can officially receive a jab. The campaign runs alongside a series of government initiatives as it pushes to speed up the inoculation campaign for the European Union nation of more than 19 million people. The government is hoping to vaccinate 5 million people by June 1 to herald in a “return to normality.” On Saturday, all vaccination centers in the country became appointment-free after 2 p.m., and round-the-clock “vaccination marathon” events have been launched in several cities throughout Romania. Since the pandemic started, Romania has recorded more than 1 million COVID-19 infections and 29,034 people have died. ___ Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic and https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-vaccine

Minke whale is lost far from home in London's Thames River

LONDON (AP) — A young minke whale was lost far from home Monday, trapped in the Thames River upstream of London landmarks after it escaped from rescuers overnight. Maritime authorities were trying to recapture the whale so they could relocate it to safer waters. Crews had worked for hours before being able to free the whale early Monday from a perilous stranding on a lock near Richmond in southwest London. But as the calf was being taken for further health checks on an inflatable pontoon, it slipped back into the water. “We are in uncharted territory. This animal is very, very lost,” said Port of London Authority spokesperson Martin Garside. “It’s like seeing a camel at the North Pole.” Garside said the whale was trapped without food between the locks at Richmond and Teddington. He said a whale had never been seen this far up the Thames before, 95 miles from its mouth, with the sheer distance making the whale's route back to safety extremely difficult. The whale, which measured about four meters (13 feet) long, was first seen lying on the lock’s boat rollers around 7 p.m. Sunday. Hundreds of people gathered along the banks of the Thames to watch the rescue operation as night fell. The area is known for wide tidal swings that easily reach over 5.5 meters (18 feet) high. Port staff were joined by firefighters, coast guard members and marine animal rescue divers. Minke whales, which are more typically found in the northern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, can grow to a size of nine meters (30 feet). Meanwhile, in Spain, a marine wildlife group was working to make sure that a gray whale found near Spain’s northeastern Mediterranean coast, far from its usual northern Pacific migration routes, does not get stranded. Maritime rescuers, firefighters and other authorities worked with conservationists over the weekend to keep a whale nicknamed Wally from venturing into shallow water and ports near Barcelona. The maritime group said the whale entered the Mediterranean Sea through the Strait of Gibraltar and has been spotted since March in the vicinity of Morocco, Algeria, Italy and France. In an aerial video released by the group, the whale could be seen only meters (yards) away from a seawall near one of Barcelona’s main beaches. ___ Aritz Parra contributed from Madrid.

Cowabunga! More than 800 turtles rescued from storm drains

They're lean, they're mean and they're green. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Not exactly, but hundreds of diamondback terrapin hatchlings have been rescued from subterranean storm drains along the Jersey Shore. According to a Stockton University Facebook post, the turtles were hiding from the cold temperatures over the winter and surviving off yolk sacks in drains in Margate, Ventnor and Ocean City. Volunteers who rescued 826 of the animals turned them over to Stockton University’s “Head Start” program, where staff will care for and rehabilitate the creatures for about a year before placing them back in the wild, NJ Advance Media reported. There are 1,108 terrapins receiving care from the program, which has reached capacity. If you find a hatchling, Stockton recommends placing the animal in room-temperature water up to the shell with a rock it can climb on. Healthy turtles can be released at dusk into a tidal creek or bay area.