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OFFBEAT

French divers launch daring deep-sea expedition to uncover ‘lost paradises’ of Mediterranean

A team of French divers took to the sea off Marseille in a canary yellow capsule on Monday to spend a month exploring the deep waters of the Mediterranean, without decompressing until the very end.

French divers launch daring deep-sea expedition to uncover 'lost paradises' of Mediterranean
The team of French divers who are set to spend a month exploring the depths of the Mediterranean. Photo: AFP
Laurent Ballesta, the marine naturalist and underwater photographer leading the audacious four-man “Planet Mediterranean” expedition, told AFP it aimed to 
show “that the Mediterranean is still very beautiful, with sort of lost paradises and secret oases beyond a certain depth.”
   
The divers will remain at depths of up to 120 metres (395 feet) for up to eight hours a day without having to worry about getting the bends when they resurface because they will remain sealed inside the airtight capsule for the duration of the mission.
   
“We no longer have to worry that with every passing minute at a depth of 120 metres, it will take us hours to resurface,” said Ballesta, who had the idea of using the diving bell provided by France's National Institute for Professional Diving.
 
   
Every day, the steel capsule, which measures one square metre, will be lowered from a barge into the gloom of the “twilight” or mesophotic zone, where only one percent of the sun's rays penetrate.
   
After each deep-sea dive, the divers will return to the chamber, in which the pressure is set at 13 times the pressure of the atmosphere.
 
In an interview with France Inter radio, Ballesta said the divers would have the impression “of having water in their ears all the time.”
   
They will then be brought back to the surface where the capsule will be connected to two other chambers — one acting as a bathroom and the other as a kitchen with a small table and an airlock through which to receive food.
   
The research station will be towed by barge along the coast between Marseille and Monaco over the course of the month, with the divers waiting until the very end before entering the decompression chamber for three days.

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OFFBEAT

France’s mystery rooftop panther stolen from zoo

A black panther rescued from rooftops near the northern city of Lille last week has been stolen from the zoo where it was taken after capture, officials said.

France's mystery rooftop panther stolen from zoo
Photo: AFP/ Sapeurs Pompiers du Nord

The feline was seized overnight from the zoo in Maubeuge near the Belgian border, the city's mayor, Arnaud Decagny, told AFP on Tuesday.

“This animal was the only target,” Decagny said, adding that “considerable efforts” were made to force locks and avoid security systems.

Zoo personnel are worried about the young panther's health, “which is rather delicate because he lacks strength,” the mayor added, saying the animal was just a few months old and weighed between 25 and 30kg.

The panther after its capture. Photo League Protectrice des Animaux de la Nord de France/AFP

The panther was going to be transferred to a centre specialised in rehabilitating wild animals that had been domesticated.

Firefighters caught the cat last Wednesday as it roamed rooftops in Armentieres after escaping through the window of a private apartment believed to have been its home.

The panther's owner is thought to have escaped through the same window, for fear of being charged with illegally harbouring a wild animal.

Police have not located the fugitive owner, who could face charges of endangering the public, which is punishable by up to a year in prison and €15,000 in fines, Decagny said.

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