Last week we covered the paper released by the Japanese Whale Research Program (JARPA) showing that minke whales in the Antarctic were getting thinner, and we also covered their research methods—taking measurements from more than 4,500 slaughtered whales. This week National Geographic has an update, interviewing two American researchers who say that killing the whales wasn’t necessary for the research.
Scott Baker, from Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, said researchers could have made the same finding by genetic testing, biopsy—removing a small piece of tissue for sampling—or simply through photographic evidence. And Stanford University’s Stephen Palumbi disagreed with the Japanese scientists over the importance of the finding, saying that whales getting a little skinnier might not matter that much, and the study’s findings weren’t statistically significant enough to be useful.
Researchers combing the Red Sea have identified a new species of clam, a giant one that could measure more than a foot in length and may have been one of our ancestors’ favorite meals. The oversized mollusk went undiscovered for so long because it accounts for only one percent of the current population of clams. However, checking the fossil record, the scientists found that the giant clam once made up 80 percent of the population, then dropped off precipitously around 125,000 years ago, a date that roughly coincides with early humans coming out of Africa.
Environmentalists have been all over Japan’s “scientific” whaling for years, with some organizations saying the program is unnecessary or little more than commercial whale hunting in disguise. But now Japanese scientists have published new research in
Popular Polar Biology, and their findings aren’t good: whales are getting skinnier, and global warming might be at fault.
The scientists measured the amount of blubber in minke whales captured since the 1980s and found that the level has dropped off precipitously since then. Why are they pointing the finger at global warming? Because krill, the tiny crustacean at the base of the food chain, have declined in Antarctic areas by 80 percent since the 1970s. Part of the problem is warming waters, but over-fishing for krill to use at fish farms and the ozone layer hole have contributed to the drop as well.
A person’s first thought of a giant squid might be the bloodthirsty behemoth that attacks seafarers in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But the animal’s reputation is a little over-inflated—the giant squid discovered last year might have been just a docile blob.
A New Zealand boat fishing in the Antarctic brought in the 1,000-pound female squid, and scientists have been studying the sea creature over the last year. But looking at its biology, they found that it’s unlikely the animal was a great ocean predator. Rather, the female squid bore quite a mother’s burden; the thousands of eggs she carried caused her to expand into a big blob as she got older, says marine biologist Steve O’Shea.
Viruses, those strange, quasi-alive chunks of genetic material, are usually bad news for the cells that they invade. A virus uses its host’s genetic machinery to replicate itself, often sickening or destroying the host in the process. But scientists might have found helpful viruses deep in the ocean, in one of the world’s oddest ecosystems.
Eric Wommack from the University of Delaware was studying the hot waters around hydrothermal vents in the Pacific Ocean when he found that viruses there, rather than replicating and destroying their hosts, often just hang around and cause no harm. When its bacterial host finds itself under stress, the virus comes alive. But while going about its business of replicating itself, the virus can interact and exchange DNA with the bacterium.
Yesterday we wondered whether the U.S. Navy’s plan to intentionally sink some of its old warships, so that they’d become new homes for fish and attractions for recreational divers, would be such a great idea in the long run. Today, a new study looking at a different shipwreck suggests that not only might intentionally sinking old ships be a bad idea, but officials might have to remove shipwrecks from sensitive ecosystems before they cause too much harm.
Back in 1991, a 100-foot-long ship sank in Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge near Hawaii. Now, 17 years later, scientists studying the area say the coral reef is under attack by an organism called Rhodactis howesii. It is a corallimorph, a relative to anemones and corals that clears out competitors with it stinging tentacles. Rhodactis is an invasive species to the Palmyra Atoll, and it doubled its presence between 2006 and 2007, pushing out the diverse mix of corals that is native there.
Have you ever seen those aquarium ornaments that look like shipwrecks? Well, the U.S. Navy is applying that idea in real life.
In 2006, the Navy intentionally sank one of its old boats off the coast of Pensacola, Fla. The U.S.S. Oriskany, which had served in the Korean and Vietnam wars and launched the last bombing mission of Sen. John McCain, became an “artificial reef.” The Navy has 59 decommissioned ships sitting around and nothing to do with them—while most will become scraps, some might become reefs. But is sinking more old ships really a good idea?
It’s been a weird summer in the waters off Great Britain.
First, in June, 26 dolphins washed up on the shores of Cornwall; that produced a number of possible explanations, including the idea that U.K. Navy war games in the area had frightened the marine mammals. Then a British study concluded that most of the dolphins, whales, and porpoises that died in U.K. waters were killed when they got caught in trawler fishing nets. But now, Nature has uncovered a 2007 report by the U.K. military that says sonar can change the behavior of whales in the sea.
British police are on the lookout for aquatic abductors who stole a female marble catshark from a private aquarium in Hampshire earlier this week.
The two-foot-long shark and its male partner are the only known breeding partners or marble catsharks in Britain. The police think this may have been a targeted burglary, but one that took a plenty of planning. The fish thieves would have needed a net to catch the shark, a bag to put it in, a box to carry it in, and knowledge of the building’s layout—meaning there was either an inside man, or the burglars liked to visit the aquarium.
To take a peek, Russian scientists have gone all the way to the bottom of Baikal. Anatoly Sagalevich, Artur Chilingarov, and others boarded MIR 1 and MIR 2, submersible vessels that could carry them a mile below the surface. (Director James Cameron used the same vehicles to film the wreckage of the Titanic for his film; last year MIR 1 and 2 carried Russian scientists to the sea floor beneath the North Pole.)