Category: The Ocean & All Its (Endangered) Wonders

Grunts of the Two-Bladdered, Three-Spined Toadfish Are More Like Birdsong Than You'd Think

By Veronique Greenwood | May 12, 2011 10:27 am

toadfishIn this lab image, the toadfish’s twin bladders
are visible in the middle of its body.

There’s nothing like a bizarre fish call to shake you out of your complacency about the universe. With that in mind, we bring you the bottom-feeding three-spined toadfish, which produces its foghorn hoots and guttural grunts by vibrating the muscles around its two swim bladders, the sacs of air that keep it afloat. And these aren’t just any hoots and grunts, a new study reveals—some of these cries have qualities that have been seen the animal kingdom over, from babies’ cries to frog calls to bird song, but never before seen in fish, though fish have been known to make an incredible array of sounds (really!).

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Catchiest Mating Songs Spread Through Whale Populations Like Top 40 Hits

By Veronique Greenwood | April 16, 2011 8:55 am

whale
All the single ladies, all the single ladies…

Whales catch earworms, too, show scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia in a new study. Each breeding season, males start out singing a new tune, which might incorporate bits of golden oldies or be entirely fresh. These new songs are then passed from whale to whale for 4,000 miles, usually starting from the western edge of the Pacific near Australia, a veritable humpback metropolis, to French Polynesia in the east, a comparative hinterland: a possible cetacean case of cultural trends starting in the big city and propagating to the country. Another hypothesis from the Hairpin:

What if Michael Jackson was reincarnated as a whale and is now living off the coast of eastern Australia? 

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Aflockalypse: The Media Goes on Apocalyptic Overdrive

By Jennifer Welsh | January 7, 2011 1:14 pm

Since Monday’s news that a few thousand birds fell from the sky on New Year’s Eve over Beebe, Arkansas, the world has gone a little crazy with talk of the “aflockalypse”: the mass bird deaths that have been documented worldwide.

Bird die-offs have been reported in not only Arkansas but also in Italy, Sweden, Louisiana, Texas, and Kentucky. Die-offs of other animals, including thousands of fish in Arkansas, Florida, New Zealand and the Chesapeake Bay have also been noted, while dead crabs washed up on UK shores.

Causes ranging from UFOs, monsters (our personal favorite), fireworks, secret military testing, poison, shifting magnetic fields, and odd weather formations have been blamed for the deaths, but researchers are saying these types of die-offs are normal. It’s simply a coincidence that a few big ones happened right around the new year–and once the global media started paying attention to wildlife mortality, we saw examples everywhere.

BoingBoing quotes Smithsonian Institution bird curator Gary Graves on the Arkansas bird die-off that got the conspiracy theory ball rolling:

He doesn’t think these bird deaths are a sign of anything nefarious–or, at least, nothing more nefarious than local people taking it upon themselves to stress out a large roost of “nuisance” birds until it flies away. There’s a head count associated with that kind of thing, he says, and it’s not particularly odd to see a few thousand birds die this way. But, with roosts numbering in the millions of birds, that’s not a large percentage lost. The only thing different in this case, he says, is that the dead birds landed on lawns, rather than in the wilderness.

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Shark Attack in Egypt? Must Be the Work of Israeli Agents

By Jennifer Welsh | December 13, 2010 11:27 am

swimmersA recent smattering of shark attacks in the shallow waters of the Egyptian resort city Sharm el-Sheikh has visitors in a state of JAWS-like panic. The sharks (now known to be individuals of at least two different species) attacked five times over six days, killing a German tourist and severely injuring four others.

The state of panic is a fertile breeding ground for conspiracy theories. One Sharm el-Sheikh diver named Captain Mustafa Ismail believes that the sharks were trained to attack Egyptians by the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. He explained his theory to Egypt Today (as retold by Ahram Online):

When asked by the anchor how the shark entered Sharm El Sheikh waters, he burst out, “no, it’s who let them in?” Urged to elaborate, Ismail said that he recently got a call from an Israeli diver in Eilat telling him that they captured a small shark with a GPS planted in its back, implying that the sharks were monitored to attack in Egypt’s waters only. “Why would these sharks travel 4000 km and not have any accidents until they entered Sinai waters?” asked Ismail.

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I'm Dreaming of an Eel-Illuminated Christmas

By Eliza Strickland | December 3, 2010 2:28 pm

electric-eelWhen an aquarium in Japan planned their holiday displays for Christmas, they decided to harness the natural talents of one resident: the electric eel. The lights on one small Christmas tree are powered by the eel’s natural electricity, which is picked up by two aluminum panels in the tank that act as electrodes.

The eel-powered Christmas tree has been a fixture at the aquarium for the past few years, but Reuters reports that this year the aquarium broadened its alternative energy experiment by adding a dancing Santa powered by stomping human feet.

As we admire the tree, let’s also take a moment to appreciate Kazuhiko Minawa, the inventor of this marvel and a spokesman for the Enoshima Aquarium. He says in the 2008 video below: “If we could gather all the electric eels from all around the world, we would be able to light up an unimaginably large Christmas tree.” Oh Mr. Minawa, we can imagine it.

Related Content:
The Loom: When Love Shocks
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Two fish families evolved electric powers by tweaking the same gene
Science Not Fiction: How to Conduct the World’s First Electric Fish Orchestra
Science Not Fiction: Electric Fish “Plug in” and Turn Their Zapping Into Music

Image: Wikimedia Commons

To Find Love, the Barnacle Grows a Stretchy, Accordion-Like Penis

By Eliza Strickland | November 23, 2010 11:21 am

By Mara Grunbaum

To find a mate, most animals must travel—up a tree, down a stream, across the street to the bar. But not barnacles, which spend their entire adult lives cemented firmly to rocks, boats, whales and the like. To compensate for their immobility, barnacles have evolved the longest penises relative to body size in the animal kingdom.

The appendages can reach up to ten times the length of the barnacles’ bodies to allow them to search of a partner. See a video—safe for work!—below.

According to new research published in Marine Biology, the shape of barnacles’ penises varies depending on their circumstances. Barnacles spaced far apart from each other develop stretchier organs, the better for reaching across the gaps, and barnacles exposed to rough waves grow wider ones to stand up against the tide.

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"Octopus Head War" Pits Korean Health Officials Against Fishermen

By Jennifer Welsh | October 29, 2010 2:16 pm

tentacleCharges by South Korean health officials that octopus heads contain large and unhealthy amounts of the heavy medal cadmium have sparked a war with the fishermen who profit from the $35 million-a-year trade.

Octopus heads are a popular delicacy in South Korea, revered by locals for their health benefits and their supposed role as an aphrodisiac. About 12 million octopuses are sold for eating every year, says the LA Times:

Nakji, a dish featuring baby octopuses, head and all, is a popular snack at sporting events. Another dish, sannakji (“live octopus”), features squirming tentacles dipped in a sesame oil and salt sauce. Enthusiasts have been hospitalized after a wiggling tentacle lodged in the throat.

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"Whale Wars" TV Show Leads to Real-Life Feud Between Activists

By Jennifer Welsh | October 11, 2010 1:51 pm

ady-gilIt’s not so surprising that the violent destruction of a $1.5 million boat would lead to an argument. But you would expect the argument to be between the owners of the boat and the vessel that rammed it.

Instead, members of the activist group Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the group at the center of the Animal Planet TV show Whale Wars, are arguing amongst themselves and are making their he said/he said argument public business.

The group’s expensive and high-tech speedboat, called the Ady Gil, was damaged in a collision with a Japanese whaling ship in early January. The boat, worth $1.5 million, was used to chase down and harass whaling ships. After the crash, the Sea Shepherd crew tried to tow the boat with another vessel for over 36 hours, failing twice, before the salvage effort was given up and the boat was scuttled (deliberately sunk).

After the crash the Ady Gil’s skipper, Pete Bethune, boarded the Japanese ship to confront the captain, but the whalers detained him and Bethune ended up in Japanese court, where he was found guilty of trespassing and assault. In the midst of the legal maneuvering Sea Shepherd’s founder, Paul Watson, fired Bethune, but later said it was a tactical move to get Bethune a reduced sentence. (He was finally given a two-year suspended sentence, and was deported from Japan.)

Last week the argument intensified when a statement by Bethune to Japanese authorities came to light, claiming that Watson had ordered him to board the Japanese ship; there are reports that information has allowed the Japanese authorities to issue a warrant for Watson’s arrest. The reaction to Bethune’s statement was swift and fierce. In an email to Bethune, Watson denied that he had ordered Bethune to board the ship, relieved him of his post at Sea Shepherd, and even blamed Bethune for the destruction of the ship:

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Vladimir Putin Conducts Whale Research via Crossbow

By Joseph Calamia | August 26, 2010 5:47 pm

Required for biopsying a gray whale: one speed boat, one crossbow, and one Russian prime minister. Vladimir Putin recently spent some quality time in Olga Bay, helping the V.I. Il’ichev Pacific Oceanological Institute sort out the family tree for a group of gray whales.

As Nature’s blog The Great Beyond explains, the Institute hopes to determine if the whales descended from a Californian or extinct Korean whale population, and the crossbow holds a specially-designed arrow for taking a skin sample. The bold Russian prime minister, known for his shirtless fishing, fire fighting, and bear tracking, told the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS that science can be tricky but exciting:

“I had the sporting feeling, I missed the target thrice, but hit it the fourth time.”

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Damselfish, Damselfish, How Does Your Garden Grow?

By Joseph Calamia | June 18, 2010 11:02 am

Some damselfish have sensitive stomachs, but they certainly aren’t in distress. They can hold their own, researchers have recently determined, by diligently farming their preferred algae crops.

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