Earlier this month, I was in Chicago for the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting. It was a whirlwind of fascinating scientific talks, engaging workshops (one with me!), and delightful networking with some of the greatest science writers, editors, and press officers. But that Sunday, I slipped away from the conference with my friend (and excellent science writer) Allie Wilkinson. There was, of course, only one thing in Chicago that was worth missing the exquisite program provided by AAAS: The Shedd Aquarium.
The Shedd Aquarium is the largest indoor marine mammal facility in the world and houses over 30,000 animals that are seen by some 2 million visitors annually. A few million gallons of seawater flow through its diverse and engaging exhibits, which range from local fisheries to exotic reefs from thousands of miles away. Highlights include the oldest aquatic animal on exhibit in the world (Granddad the lungfish), an abundance of marine mammals, a wobbegong and a sawfish, and—my personal favorites—several species of lionfishes. But beyond experiencing the aquarium itself, Allie and I were treated to a personal behind-the-scenes tour, led by communications & public relations manager Nicole Minadeo with help from Dr. Kristine Stump, Shedd’s newest research postdoc.
A lot of internet outrage has been directed at the Copenhagen Zoo in the past week after they euthanized a young giraffe because his genes were too common. From what I’ve seen, there are a lot of misconceptions about what happened, and a lot of hyperbolic statements are being thrown around about the event. The different decisions made by the zoo are being mushed together to tell one nightmarish tale, with adjectives like “barbaric” and “cabalistic” used to describe the so-called “entertainment.”
But did the zoo really just hack a baby giraffe to bits to amuse its (clearly deranged) visitors? Let’s start from the end and work our way back to the beginning of the story.
As a part of my new year’s resolutions, I’ve decided the bring back Sci-shimi, where I serve up fun science news in a simple link round-up. At the end of every month, I’ll post links to the awesomest nerdy news stories that came out in the past weeks (in no particular order), just in case you missed a few. Like a delicious, fresh platter of sashimi, these tasty links are meant to be shared! どうぞめしあがれ !
This month’s mind-blowing science moment: Black holes with inescapable event horizons? Yeah… no, says Stephen Hawking.
Aggrastat. Byetta. Captopril. Integrilin. Prialt. What do these drugs have in common? Not what they’re used for, certainly. From angina to diabetes, they treat different diseases or conditions, and all have very different markets. They’re sold by different companies, discovered in different laboratories around the world. But all have one simple thing in common: they come from animal venoms.
Miley Cyrus might have licked the sledgehammer first, but Dr. Carin Bondar’s remake of the infamous Wrecking Ball is spoof + science at its best. Whoever thinks Miley has cornered the market on licking strange objects is in for a real treat with Organisms Do Evolve (and I, for one, think Dr. Bondar rocks the white tank top, tighty-whities, and red lipstick far better). Though the aesthetics amuse, the video also focuses on the science, and smashes creationist notions that evolution isn’t true. As the lyrics state once and for all “organisms do evolve/That giant mystery’s been solved/Creationism’s proven false/Get familiar with our phylogeny.”
But does Dr. Bondar recreate the most infamous Miley moment? Well, I guess you’ll just have to watch to find out…
“All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves; and above all others the sense of sight” – Aristotle
Human beings are very visual animals. We rely on our sight more than any of our other senses to interpret the world around us, which is why over the centuries many have argued (and many still do) that sight is our most important sense. But, of course, we aren’t the only species that can see. Arthropods are particularly known for their acute vision, as are squid, octopus and other cephalopods. Yet although we’ve known about sea star eye spots for hundreds of years, no one knew whether they, too, are able to see images. That is, no one knew until Drs. Anders Garm and Dan-Eric Nilsson decided to investigate.
It has been three years since Penguin Press published The Poisoner’s Handbook, the NYT-bestseller from none other than the indescribably incredible Deborah Blum. Three years. You really have no excuse if you haven’t read it. But, if you are one of those unfortunate souls who has missed out, you’re in luck: The Poisoner’s Handbook has been adapted for TV, and will be premiering as a part of PBS’ American Experience next Tuesday, January 7, 2014 at 8/7c. Read More
It’s that time of the year again where I look back and see what has happened over the past 365 days in the life of this blog. So far in 2013…
…I have posted 65 posts
…that received over five hundred thousand views
…from 207 countries/territories
…with 755 comments
The most popular post of the year was my open letter to Discovery Channel for their terrible Megalodon fauxmentary that kicked off shark week, with its follow up not far behind. Second most popular was The Mythic Bite of the Komodo, explaining the venomous nature of these dangerous reptiles. Seaward posts fared well, with some of the top slots going to my critique of a BuzzFeed article, why dolphin-assisted births are a really, really bad idea, and yesterday’s post on how dolphins might not be getting high on tetrodotoxin. Also on the list were posts about the evolutionary origins of allergies, how parasites violate Dollo’s Law, the addictive taste of beer, and the difference between concern and denialism. Elsewhere on the internet, I wrote about obese lionfish, and Slate liked it so much it they put it on their list of their favorite animal posts of 2013. And last but certainly not least, my post Are Lower Pesticide Residues A Good Reason To Buy Organic? Probably Not was chosen to be included in the Open Laboratory 2013, an anthology of the best science writing online!
I’m thankful for the wonderful year that I have had here at Discover, and look forward to an even more amazing year to come. Thank you to all of you who read this blog: let’s keep this bio-nerdy party going all through 2014!
Fireworks image (c) Mark Wooding, from Wikipedia
The BBC will be airing a cool new underwater documentary on Thursday called Dolphins: Spy in the Pod, where carefully disguised cameras were used to film the daily lives of everyone’s favorite marine mammals. But the most interesting detail seems to have been leaked on Sunday: during the documentary, some of the dolphins reportedly used a pufferfish to get stoned.
“Even the brightest humans have succumbed to the lure of drugs and, it seems, dolphins are no different,” said The Sunday Times. The article goes on to describe how the team got footage of dolphins gently harassing a pufferfish, which led to the dolphins entering “a trance-like state after apparently getting “high” on the toxin.”
“After chewing the puffer and gently passing it round, they began acting most peculiarly, hanging around with their noses at the surface as if fascinated by their own reflection,” said Rob Pilley, zoologist and one of the producers of the documentary. “This was a case of young dolphins purposefully experimenting with something we know to be intoxicating.” And so it would seem that we can add drug use to the long list of dolphin bad behaviors, (a list which includes bullying, rape and murder, for the record; illicit drug use seems a minor offense in comparison).
It sounds too awesome to be true—which means it probably is. Read More