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Life of Pi: Fact or fiction?

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Last week, the film Life of Pi took home four Academy Awards including Best Director, and was nominated in seven other categories. The movie, an adaptation of the bestselling novel by Canadian author Yann Martel, was lauded for its breathtaking visual effects and cinematography. The fantastical story follows a young Indian boy, Pi, who is shipwrecked on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker that feeds on the rotting flesh of a zebra.

Other fantastical elements of the story include an island of carnivorous algae, catching flying fish in mid-air, and making a raft out of bananas. But how much of the story is pure imagination?

As it turns out, many of the events in the movie are entirely possible. Though a Bengal tiger can be vicious and should be approached with caution, an attack could be avoided if the tiger was injured or already had a food supply. Since Richard Parker had the decomposing zebra to feed on, it was possible for Pi to avoid being attacked by the tiger. In addition, since tigers are like vultures and only have around 500 taste buds (compared to the 9,000 in humans), they have no problem eating rotten meat.

As for the carnivorous island, in places like the Gulf of Mexico there exists a species of flesh-eating algae known as Pfiesteria. The algae prey on fish by releasing a paralyzing toxin and has been known to cause fatigue, diarrhea, and skin rashes in people. In the Solomon Islands, not only do flying fish exist, but fishermen also catch them while in flight. And since bananas are less dense than water, a raft made out of bananas could theoretically float.

With files from National Geographic