More than 50 sperm whales emerged off the Southern California coast in an extremely rare, hours-long sighting that had whale watchers and scientists giddy with excitement.
Pods of mothers and juveniles rolled and played with dolphins Monday a few miles off Laguna Beach, the Orange County Register reported.
They later were spotted off San Diego and were heading south, said Jay Barlow, a sperm whale expert with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
It’s by far the largest group ever spotted so near to shore in Southern California, Barlow said Tuesday.
“I’ve been counting whales and been on the water for 35 years. We’ve never had a large group like this ever,” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, director of the ACS/LA Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project.
The massive mammals were spread out over an area of up to 3 square miles and came within inches of boats as they poked their heads out of the waves, said David Anderson, who operates Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari sightseeing tours.
Monster size: Sperm whales are the huge, toothed creatures mentioned in the novel “Moby Dick.” They were hunted nearly to extinction for their oil in the 1800s.
The whales weigh up to 45 tons and eat about a ton of squid a day. They prefer to hunt in deep waters and can dive to 3,000 feet.
Why the sperm whales showed up remains a mystery.
Unlike toothless gray whales, which migrate down the California coast each year, sperm whales aren’t frequent visitors.
Usually, only one or two adult males show up each summer or fall while large groups of females normally are found in warmer waters, Barlow said.
However, this year has seen a lot of warmer water close to shore, he said.
“The climate patterns have definitely been weird,” Barlow said.
Other species that prefer warmer waters also have shown up this year, including pilot whales, false killer whales, and various species of tropical birds.
The sperm whales also might have been chasing food, Barlow said. “That’s mostly what they think about.”
Humboldt squid, which can weigh 60 pounds or more, have been turning up in the area for a decade.
“Could be they’re catching on,” Barlow said.
The whales also could simply have gotten confused by the complicated ocean terrain and “wandered in not intending to be here,” he said.
Reported by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. Information from: The Orange County Register, http://www.ocregister.comRead More
Nobel season is upon us. On Monday, the Nobel Prize judges will begin a series of daily announcements revealing this year’s winners. To help avoid any embarrassing mistakes on the playground, here’s a true-or-false guide to the prizes created in 1895 by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel — the world’s most famous awards besides the Oscars.
Never heard of the Nobel Prizes? They’re international awards that honor achievements in science, peace and other categories. The winners get a gold medal and more than $1 million. The prize was originally set up by Alfred Nobel of Sweden who ordered that his fortune be used to honor those who worked toward making the world a better place.
Now, take your best shot at our Nobel Prize quiz.
TRUE OR FALSE:
- You can only win a Nobel Prize once
- You can only be nominated in one Nobel category
- A Nobel prize cannot be revoked
- Four people can share a Nobel Prize
- Hitler was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize
- Winston Churchill won a Nobel Peace Prize
- Nobel Prizes can be given posthumously
- Over 94 percent of Nobel Laureates are men
- The economics prize is not an original Nobel
- All Nobel Prizes are presented in Stockholm
1) YOU CAN ONLY WIN A NOBEL PRIZE ONCE
False. There is no limit to how many Nobel Prizes you can win. American scientist John Bardeen won the physics award twice, in 1956 and 1972, while British biochemist Frederick Sanger got two chemistry awards, in 1958 and 1980.
2) YOU CAN ONLY BE NOMINATED IN ONE NOBEL CATEGORY
False. Marie Curie of France won the physics prize in 1903 and the chemistry award in 1911. Linus Pauling, a scientist and peace activist, won the chemistry prize in 1954 and the Nobel Peace Prize eight years later.
3) A NOBEL PRIZE CANNOT BE REVOKED
True. The Nobel statutes are clear on this: Once you’ve received a Nobel Prize, it’s yours forever. Paragraph 10 states: “No appeals may be made against the decision of a prize-awarding body with regard to the award of a prize.” So those online petitions calling for a particular prize to be withdrawn have no effect.
4) FOUR PEOPLE CAN SHARE A NOBEL PRIZE
False. The Nobel statutes say the awards can be split among multiple winners but in no case “may a prize amount be divided between more than three persons.”
5) HITLER WAS NOMINATED FOR THE NOBEL PEACE PRIZE
True. The Nazi dictator was nominated in 1939 by Swedish lawmaker E.G.C. Brandt for the prize, which is meant to promote “fraternity between nations” and global disarmament. Brandt later withdrew the nomination, saying it was meant as satire. This just shows that anyone can be nominated — it doesn’t say anything about their chances of actually winning.
6) WINSTON CHURCHILL WON THE PEACE PRIZE
False. The eloquent British conservative leader did win a Nobel Prize, but in the literature category, not peace. Churchill received the literature prize in 1953 “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.”
7) NOBEL PRIZES CAN BE GIVEN POSTHUMOUSLY
False. Since 1974, only living people are considered by the prize committees. However, the Nobel Foundation made an exception in 2011 when it found out right after the medicine prize was announced that one of the winners, Ralph Steinman, had died just days earlier. They let the prize stand and Steinman’s share of the prize money was given to his survivors.
8) OVER 94 PERCENT OF NOBEL LAUREATES ARE MEN
True. Of the 847 individuals who have won a Nobel Prize, only 44, or 5 percent, were women. Fifteen women have won the peace prize, while only one — Elinor Ostrom in 2009 — has won the economics award. Nobel judges say they don’t consider gender when selecting winners and that the awards simply reflect the historical dominance of men in many fields of research.
9) THE ECONOMICS AWARD IS NOT AN ORIGINAL NOBEL
True. The economics award was not among the five awards that Alfred Nobel established in his will for medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and peace. It was created by the central bank of Sweden in 1968 in Nobel’s honor. It is announced along with the other prizes, carries the same prize money of $1.1 million, and is handed out at the annual Nobel ceremony in December. But it’s technically not a Nobel Prize. The official title is The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.
10) ALL NOBEL AWARDS ARE PRESENTED IN STOCKHOLM
False. The peace prize is both announced and handed out in Oslo, the Norwegian capital, according to the wishes of Alfred Nobel. No one knows why he wanted it that way but during his lifetime Sweden and Norway were joined in a union.
Reported by KARL RITTER of The Associated Press from STOCKHOLM, Sweden. Karl Ritter can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/karl—ritterRead More
Some of the water molecules in your bath water were created more than 4.5 billion years ago, according to new research.
That makes them older than the Earth, older than the solar system — even older than the sun itself.
In a new study, researchers say the distinct chemical signature of the water on Earth — and throughout the solar system — could occur only if some of that water formed before the swirling disk of dust and gas gave birth to the planets, moons, comets and asteroids.
This primordial water makes up 30% to 50% of the water on Earth, the researchers estimate.
“It’s pretty amazing that a significant fraction of water on Earth predates the sun and the solar system,” said study leader Ilse Cleeves, a University of Michigan astronomer.
Scientists are still not entirely sure how water arrived on Earth. The part of the protoplanetary disk in which our planet formed was too hot for liquid or ice water to exist, and so the planet was born dry. Most experts believe the Earth’s water came from ice in comets and asteroids that formed in a cooler environment, and later collided with our planet.
But this theory leads to more questions. Among them: Where did the water preserved in the comets and asteroids come from?
Replacing hydrogen: To find out, scientists turned to chemistry. Here on Earth, about one in every 3,000 molecules of water is made with a deuterium atom instead of a hydrogen atom.
A deuterium atom is similar to a hydrogen atom except that its nucleus contains a proton and a neutron, instead of a lone proton. (Both atoms also contain a single electron.) That makes deuterium twice as heavy as hydrogen, which is why water molecules made with deuterium atoms (HDO) are known as “heavy water.”
At the time that our sun was born, the ratio of deuterium to hydrogen throughout the universe was about 1 deuterium molecule to every 100,000 hydrogen molecules. But for water in the solar system, the proportion is significantly higher.
Water with a high deuterium content can only form under specific conditions. The environment needs to be very cold, and there needs to be enough energy to power the reaction that binds hydrogen, deuterium and oxygen.
Ted Bergin, an astronomer at the University of Michigan and co-author of the Science study, said the work suggests there may be an abundance of ancient water in young planetary systems throughout the universe.
Reported by DEBORAH NETBURN of the Los Angeles Times (MCT). Follow her @DeborahNetburn and “like” Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.
(c)2014 the Los Angeles Times
Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
NASA’s Maven spacecraft arrived at Mars late Sunday after a 442 million-mile journey that began nearly a year ago.
The robotic explorer fired its brakes and successfully slipped into orbit around the red planet, officials confirmed.
“I think my heart’s about ready to start again,” said Maven’s chief investigator, Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado. “All I can say at this point is, ‘We’re in orbit at Mars, guys!’”
Now the real work begins for the $671 million mission, the first dedicated to studying Mars’ upper atmosphere.
Flight controllers in Colorado will spend the next six weeks adjusting Maven’s altitude and checking its science instruments, and observing a comet streaking by. Then in early November, Maven will start probing the upper atmosphere of Mars. The spacecraft will conduct its observations from orbit; it’s not meant to land.
In the sky: Scientists believe the Martian atmosphere holds clues as to how Earth’s neighbor went from being warm and wet billions of years ago to cold and dry. That early wet world may have harbored microbial life, a tantalizing question yet to be answered.
NASA launched Maven last November from Cape Canaveral, the 10th U.S. mission sent to orbit the red planet. Three earlier ones failed, and until the official word came of success late Sunday night, the entire team was on edge.
“I don’t have any fingernails any more, but we’ve made it,” said Colleen Hartman, deputy director for science at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “It’s incredible.”
Maven joins three spacecraft already circling Mars, two American and one European. And the traffic jam isn’t over: India’s first interplanetary probe, Mangalyaan, will reach Mars in two days and also aim for orbit.
Martian air: Jakosky, who’s with the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, hopes to learn where all the water on Mars went, along with the carbon dioxide that once comprised an atmosphere thick enough to hold moist clouds.
The gases may have been stripped away by the sun early in Mars’ existence, escaping into the upper atmosphere and out into space. Maven’s observations should be able to extrapolate back in time, Jakosky said.
Maven — short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission — will spend at least a year collecting data. That’s a full Earth year, half a Martian one. Its orbit will dip as low as 78 miles above the Martian surface as its eight instruments make measurements. The craft is as long as a school bus, from solar wingtip to tip, and as hefty as an SUV.
Comet: Maven will have a rare brush with a comet next month.
The nucleus of newly discovered Comet Siding Spring will pass 82,000 miles from Mars on Oct. 19. The risk of comet dust damaging Maven is low, officials said, and the spacecraft should be able to observe Siding Spring as a science bonus.
University of Colorado: http://lasp.colorado.edu/home/maven/
Reported by MARCIA DUNN of the Associated Press from CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla.
Here’s a video showing the final minutes before MAVEN’s arrival into Mars orbit. http://youtu.be/l3SryPMaRYwRead More
Picture the fearsome creatures of “Jurassic Park” crossed with the shark from “Jaws.”
Then super-size your imaginary beast to the size of the biggest predator ever to roam Earth.
Now add a crocodile snout as big as a person and feet like a duck’s.
The result gives you some idea of a bizarre dinosaur scientists unveiled last week.
This patchwork of critters comes together in the form of a 50-foot predator. It is the only known dinosaur to live much of its life in the water.
The beast, called Spinosaurus aegyptiacus, was already known to scientists from a long-ago fossil discovery, but most of those bones were destroyed in Germany during World War II. Now, 70 years later, a new skeleton found in Morocco reveals that the beast was far more aquatic than early researchers expected.
Spinosaurus had a long neck, strong clawed forearms, powerful jaws and the dense bones of a penguin. It propelled itself in water with flat feet that were probably webbed, according to a study on its remains. The beast sported a spiny sail on its back that was 7 feet tall when it lived 95 million years ago.
“It’s like working on an extraterrestrial or an alien,” study lead author Nizar Ibrahim of the University of Chicago said, while standing in front of a room-sized reconstruction of the skeleton at the National Geographic Society, which helped fund the research.
“It’s so different than anything else around,” he said.
Reported by SETH BORENSTEING of the Associated PressRead More
A hundred years ago, Martha died and an environmental cautionary tale was born.
On Sept. 1, 1914, Martha, a passenger pigeon, fell off her perch at the Cincinnati Zoo and dropped dead. She was 29.
She was the last known example of her species, the sole survivor of what once was the most numerous bird in North America and possibly the world.
Estimates suggest that the number of passenger pigeons in the mid-1800s was around 5 billion.
Accounts by bird-expert John Audubon and others of the staggering numbers of the bird sound nearly mythical, describing them as a sort of a cross between a natural disaster and a natural wonder.
The pigeons were known to form “superflocks,” which could be a mile wide and hundreds of miles long. These superflocks were said to eclipse the sun and took days to pass. Others said their millions of wings made a noise that sounded like a tornado as the superflock passed overhead at 60 mph. They could devastate a farm crop. Their nesting colonies could cover more than 100 square miles. And when they roosted, their multitudes caused trees to topple and poop to pile up a foot deep.
But all those birds were no match for hungry humans with modern weapons.
In the course of a few decades, habitat destruction and unregulated hunting wiped out the passenger pigeon. They are all gone now. Not one is left.
Extinct: The abrupt extinction of the passenger pigeon is considered the greatest human-caused extinction in recorded history.
“No one thought you could cause something as common as the passenger pigeon to go extinct. It was inconceivable,” said Robert Zink, a University of Minnesota professor and bird expert.
However, recent research by Zink suggests that maybe the bird’s own biology shares a bit of the blame.
The new study indicated that while passenger pigeons were booming early in the 19th century, that wasn’t always the case. Studies of passenger pigeon DNA labeled the birds an “outbreak” species, similar to plague locusts or lemmings. In other words, they underwent large swings in population size, which could have made them vulnerable to determined human depredation.
Zink’s research says a natural downturn in the bird’s numbers occurred in the late 1800s. That, unfortunately, was when hunting of the birds really got going.
Zink said the acorn-gobbling bird was able to recover from population lows before. Some were caused by North American glaciers and others by bad acorn years. Still, the pigeons couldn’t overcome the clearing of forests for farming and logging and hunting on an industrial scale. Hunters were also aided by the telegraph, which allowed them to broadcast alerts of where the birds were flocking. When that news came, hunters simply hopped on railroad cars and zipped over to the latest hunting ground. It wasn’t long until the bird became a staple of the 19th century American diet.
Food for America: “The principal attraction is the birds were cheap,” said Joel Greenberg, author of the recently published book, “A Feathered River Across the Sky: The Passenger Pigeon’s Flight to Extinction.”
“They were the cheapest terrestrial protein,” he said.
They were also easy to find and kill.
Passenger pigeons weren’t particularly clever or elusive either, the experts agree. Zink said they didn’t have to be. Their huge numbers meant that natural predators couldn’t kill enough of them to make a difference in their survival as a species. That changed when humans with 19th-century technology came along.
A single shotgun blast into a dense flock could bring down a dozen birds. A kid with a pole could knock them out of a tree or even out of the sky. They also were netted, poisoned, burned out of their roosts and gassed with burning sulfur.
The birds were slaughtered in such numbers that surplus carcasses were used to feed hogs and fill potholes, according to Greenberg.
Hunting never stopped: Even as their numbers dwindled, the killing continued. Some people were in a state of denial about the disappearance of the bird, believing stories they had flown to South America and changed their appearance.
“That sounds crazy to us now, but at the time, the crazier alternative was that the passenger pigeon would go extinct,” said Elisabeth Condon, as assistant scientist with the University of Minnesota’s Natural Resources Research Institute.
Hunting efforts actually intensified as the flocks shrank, Condon said.
“People were really eager to shoot the last passenger pigeon,” she said.
According to Zink, it wasn’t necessary to shoot the last bird. Humans had already fragmented their habitat and their dwindling numbers made it hard for them to recover. Without large colonies and flocks, the passenger pigeon had a hard time breeding, scouting for acorns and resisting non-human predators.
The final pigeon: The last wild nest and egg of a passenger pigeon was found in Minneapolis in 1895, according to Greenberg. The last credible report of a wild bird bagged by a hunter occurred in 1902. The second-to-last bird living bird, named George, died in captivity in 1910 after failing to reproduce with Martha.
Martha, who had spent her life in captivity, endured the last four years of her life as a lonely, tragic celebrity. Greenberg said her death may be unique in bird extinctions in that we know the day when a species came to an end.
Passenger Pigeon 2.0: The story may not end if something called “The Great Passenger Pigeon Comeback” turns out to be a success.
That’s the “flagship project” of an organization called Revive & Restore dedicated to “de-extinction,” or using cutting-edge DNA science to bring extinct animals back to life.
The project would use passenger pigeon DNA harvested from museum specimens and DNA of the closely related Band-tailed pigeon to create a bird that would look and behave like a passenger pigeon.
“What is created is going to be up for debate by a lot of people,” said Ben Novak, leader of the project. “It’s a lot like passenger pigeon 2.0.”
Novak said if everything goes right, the “Adam and Eve” of this species “reset” might be created in about eight years. He said by using surrogate Band-tailed pigeon parents, several hundred or even a thousand new passenger pigeons could be created in another five years for a “soft release” in an enclosed wild environment.
“I can see wanting to bring it back because it’s pretty clear we caused its demise,” Zink said of the project. “I think the motivation is apologetic. We’re sorry for the passenger pigeon, we’re sorry we did this to you.”
Reported by RICHARD CHIN of the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Richard Chin can be reached at 651-228-5560. Follow him at twitter.com/RRChin .Read More
Toledo’s newest exotic resident weighs 440 pounds, is old enough to be considered a living antique, and hails from a volcanic Pacific archipelago near the equator.
Emerson, a dome-shelled Galapagos tortoise estimated to be about 100 years old, arrived last month at the Toledo Zoo in Ohio from the San Diego Zoo.
“He is a spectacular animal,” said R. Andrew Odum, curator of herpetology at the zoo. “He’s a very majestic, statesman tortoise.”
Emerson emerged from his wooden transport crate with no hesitation and explored his new surroundings. Handlers rewarded him with carrot and sweet potato treats and a neck rub.
No one knows the average lifespan of a Galapagos tortoise because they live so long. Tracking the animals with known hatching dates takes several generations of humans, but experts estimate the giant reptiles may live anywhere from 150 to 200 years.
The species: Galapagos tortoises, an endangered species, are one of the foremost examples of the impact of human activity on the natural world and are a common symbol of the need for conservation. They can live for months without food or water, and their populations were decimated in the 1800s when whalers rounded them up to store aboard ships as a reliable source of fresh meat. Now, predation and habitat destruction from invasive species are the primary concern.
Emerson was born in the wild on the Galapagos Islands — a part of Ecuador 575 miles off the coast of that South American nation — before being brought to the United States, so his age and history are only a best guess.
A spokesman with the St. Louis Zoo, which originally housed Emerson, said records show the tortoise arrived there on New Year‘s Eve, 1959, but there are no records that say exactly where Emerson came from other than having been acquired through a “private source.”
Odum said that given Emerson’s age and characteristics, he could be one of 180 tortoises brought to the states from Isabela Island in 1928 by Charles H. Townsend. The New York Zoological Society naturalist and director of the New York Aquarium was one of the first to notice the plight of Galapagos tortoises after examining logbooks from whaling ships and realizing how many had been taken. He led an expedition to the archipelago in an attempt to preserve them.
Reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from TOLEDO, Ohio. The Block News Alliance consists of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio. Alexandra Mester is a reporter at The Blade: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6066, or on Twitter @AlexMesterBlade.Read More