Beluga whales’ hearing, new research


This 2017 video is called Things You Should Know About Beluga Whales.

From Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the USA:

Beluga whales have sensitive hearing, little age-related loss

June 20, 2018

Scientists published the first hearing tests on a wild population of healthy marine mammals. The tests on beluga whales in Bristol Bay, Alaska, revealed that the whales have sensitive hearing abilities and the number of animals that experienced extensive hearing losses was far less than what scientists had anticipated.

The latter findings contrasted with expectations from previous studies of humans and bottlenose dolphins, which showed more hearing loss as they aged, says Aran Mooney, a biologist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and lead author of two new studies on beluga whales. “But unlike the wild beluga population, the dolphins that were studied lived in a very noisy environment, as most humans do.”

At a time when noise in the ocean is increasing from human activities, such as oil and gas exploration and ship traffic, understanding the natural hearing abilities of whales and other endangered marine mammals is crucial to assessing potential noise impacts on animals and to management efforts to mitigate sound-induced hearing loss.

In the two related studies, WHOI researchers and their colleagues measured the hearing sensitivity of 26 wild belugas and then compared the audiograms to acoustic measurements made within their summer habitat in Bristol Bay to study how natural soundscapes-all sounds within their environment-may influence hearing sensitivity. The soundscape also reveals sound clues that the belugas may use to navigate. The first study was published May 8, 2018, in the Journal of Experimental Biology. Results from the soundscape study were published June 20, 2018, in the Journal of Ecoacoustics. “In the first paper, we characterized the beluga population’s hearing ability, which had not been done before in a healthy, wild population”, says Mooney. “And in the second paper, we put that into context to see how they might use acoustic differences in their habitat and how their hearing is influenced by the natural ambient noise in their environment.”

How do you test a beluga whale‘s hearing? Researchers applied the same screening method that doctors use to test the hearing of newborn babies who can’t yet vocally respond to whether or not they hear sounds: automated auditory brainstem response.

A suction cup sensor is gently placed on the whales’ head, just behind the blowhole, and another is placed on the back for reference. A series of quiet tones are played, and the sensors help measure the brain’s response to the sounds from the surface of the skin.

“It’s fairly straightforward,” Mooney says. “We just had to make a portable system that we could bring out into an extreme environment in order to perform the hearing tests.”

The test itself goes quickly, taking only about five minutes to measure each frequency. The most challenging part, says Mooney, is catching the participants.

For that, the researchers relied on the expertise of Alaskan Natives who hunt belugas. From small aluminum boats, the team would approach an individual adult whale-no calves were included in the study-in shallow waters of the bay. Taking care not to stress or injure the whale, they would catch it in a soft net. Marine mammal handlers, including teams from Georgia Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium, and Mystic Aquarium, would then get in the water to help secure the animal’s tail with a rope before moving it to a belly band (like a small stretcher) in the water next to a soft inflatable boat where the hearing tests took place.

“The belugas stayed relatively relaxed during the tests, seemingly employing a resting behavior that they may use to avoid killer whales“, Mooney explains. “When a killer whale is hunting them, belugas will often move to very shallow water and quietly stay there until they can safely return to deeper waters.”

In addition to the auditory testing, the researchers also performed a physical exam to assess the overall health, sex, and estimated age of each animal and obtained skin, breath, and blood samples to collect information on the whales’ hormone levels, microbiome bacteria, and other health-related data. The assessments were part of a beluga population health assessment program coordinated by the NOAA Fisheries Alaska Fisheries Science Center, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and Alaska SeaLife Center. Satellite transmitters were attached to some of the whales before release to study the whales’ movements.

The hearing tests revealed little hearing loss in the seemingly older members of the population, which could be because the estuary where the belugas reside is fairly quiet compared to more urban areas.

“Because there haven’t been any other studies of the hearing of wild marine mammals, we compared the results to previous studies of captive dolphins in San Diego and in Russia”, Mooney says. “The dolphins showed clear hearing loss as they aged, but the San Diego group lives in a very noisy environment, as most humans do.”

Mooney and colleagues also compared the wild belugas tests to those of belugas living in human care facilities. Both groups heard similarly well, and the authors suggest that it is likely due to the quiet environments in which they live.

“Sensitive hearing within a quiet soundscape could allow belugas to detect predators, navigate, and communicate with their young via low-amplitude signals,” Mooney explains. “This hearing sensitivity could be compromised in a noisier environment. It also suggests management concerns for animals that inhabit noisy areas, where they may already be showing greater proportions of hearing loss.”

The two studies are important to efforts to evaluate the effects of underwater noise on endangered Cook Inlet beluga whales, whose numbers have dwindled to an estimated 328. The species lives in habitats close to Anchorage, AK, and is exposed to noise from shipping, pile driving, construction, and explosive noise from nearby military bases.

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Donald Trump, children’s incarcerator, more unwelcome in Britain than ever


This video from the USA says about itself:

Trump Detaining BABIES In “Tender Age” Shelters

20 June 2018

TYT Politics’ Emma Vigeland and Katie Halper discuss the latest news surrounding the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. The Associated Press is reporting that babies and other young children are being sent to “tender age” migrant shelters.

One should hope these Trump ‘tender age’ jails will not turn out to be similar to Irish Roman Catholic homes for babies; which ended up with babies being dumped in mass graves, as was discovered many years later.

After Weeks of Lies and Cruel Family Separations, Trump Says He Will Sign Order to Save Children From Horror He Created. “Trump can sign all the executive orders he wants. It won’t change the fact that his administration chose to rip infants out of their parents arms in an effort to terrorize people seeking safety and refuge.” By Jake Johnson in the USA, 20 June 2018.

Trump Ends Family Separations by Detaining Whole Families Indefinitely. No plan is in place to return already-separated children to their families. By William Rivers Pitt, Truthout, June 20, 2018.

On World Refugee Day, Trump Gets Big Fat “F” for Treatment of World’s Displaced and Persecuted: here.

Separated Migrant Children Are Headed to Shelters With Histories of Abuse And Neglect. A Guatemalan boy was sexually assaulted by an older boy at a shelter. His mother only found out about it when she received an $800 hospital bill: here.

Lawsuit Alleges Immigrant Children Were Forcibly Injected with Psychiatric Drugs: here.

This 20 June 2018 video from the USA says about itself:

BREAKING NEWS: Babies Are Being Forcibly Stolen From Parents

The AP is now reporting that the Trump administration has been forcibly separating babies and toddlers from their parents as well as older children. There is no reported minimum age for separation. More details available at this link.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Trump’s contempt for human rights should scupper the state visit

If Theresa May won’t cancel we must mobilise the biggest protests yet when the US President lands

US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s announcement that Washington is quitting the UN Human Rights Council seems quite apposite given the Trump administration’s monstrous conduct towards children.

The revelation that a 10-year-old child with Downs Syndrome has been separated from her family at the Mexico-US border, following the stomach-churning audio-recording of caged infants crying for their parents, indicates that for Trump human rights is a foreign country. …

Trump outdoes his Israeli allies by using babies and toddlers as bargaining chips, interning them in wire cages and denying them their parents’ love and protection to make two political points.

One is to tell their parents, whom he designates “illegal” and worse, to leave the US and return to conflict, poverty and desperation.

The other is to blackmail Congress to back his plan for an impregnable wall along the border with Mexico or the children from the nations south of the Rio Grande get it.

He bickers with his political opponents about who passed which laws and when, but the reality is that he, as US president, could end the children’s torment without delay by a single phone call.

This man, let it be remembered, will be welcomed to Britain next month for a state visit at the behest of Theresa May whose first trip abroad after her appointment as prime minister was to Washington to declare her fealty to the emperor.

While shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry calls the incarceration of children and their parental separation “abhorrent and repulsive,” the best May can manage is “deeply disturbing. This is wrong, this is not something that we agree with. This is not the United Kingdom’s approach.”

She evoked the mythical “special relationship” with the US, claiming that, “when we disagree with what they are doing, we say so.”

We can all imagine how brief, perfunctory and half-hearted any such diplomatic aside will be and how much respect Trump will accord it.

The PM ought to have announced that the inhuman treatment of children meant that the state visit is off. Her weak-kneed response should spark yet greater support for protests against Trump’s arrival here.

TRUMP TO MEET REAL BILLIONAIRE The U.S. ambassador has revealed that Trump will meet with Queen Elizabeth II during a state visit to the United Kingdom next month. [HuffPost]

NICOLA STURGEON called on Theresa May yesterday to wind back the “red carpet treatment” for Donald Trump but admitted she may meet the US president herself. The [Scottish] First Minister said she was “glad that the president appeared to U-turn” on his policy of separating migrant children from their parents, but she stressed that “we’ve all got to be careful not to just assume that the situation now is OK”: here.

Sponge-like Cambrian fossil discovery


Allonia nuda. Credit: Derek Siveter/Tom Harvey/Peiyun Cong

From the University of Leicester in England:

Strange sponge-like fossil creature from half a billion years ago

June 19, 2018

Summary: A discovery of a new species of sponge-like fossil from the Cambrian Period sheds light on early animal evolution.

Scientists have discovered the fossil of an unusual large-bodied sponge-like sea-creature from half a billion years ago.

The creature belongs to an obscure and mysterious group of animals known as the chancelloriids, and scientists are unclear about where they fit in the tree of life.

They represent a lineage of spiny tube-shaped animals that arose during the Cambrian evolutionary “explosion” but went extinct soon afterwards. In some ways they resemble sponges, a group of simple filter-feeding animals, but many scientists have dismissed the similarities as superficial.

The new discovery by a team of scientists from the University of Leicester, the University of Oxford and Yunnan University, China, adds new evidence that could help solve the mystery.

The researchers have published their findings in the Royal Society journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. The Leicester authors are Tom Harvey, Mark Williams, David Siveter & Sarah Gabbott.

The new species, named Allonnia nuda, was discovered in the Chengjiang deposits of Yunnan Province, China. It was surprisingly large in life (perhaps up to 50 cm or more) but had only a few very tiny spines. Its unusual “naked” appearance suggests that further specimens may be “hiding in plain sight” in fossil collections, and shows that this group was more diverse than previously thought.

Furthermore, the new species holds clues about the pattern of body growth, with clear links to modern sponges. It is too soon to say the mystery has been solved, but the discovery highlights the central role of sponge-like fossils in the debate over earliest animal evolution.

Dr Tom Harvey, from the University of Leicester’s School of Geography, Geology and the Environment, explained: “Fossil chancelloriids were first described around 100 years ago, but have resisted attempts to place them in the tree of life. We argue that their pattern of body growth supports a link to sponges, reinvigorating an old hypothesis. We’re not suggesting that it’s “case closed” for chancelloriids, but we hope our results will inspire new research into the nature of the earliest animals.”

Dr Peiyun Cong, from the Yunnan Key Laboratory for Palaeobiology, Kunming, China, and The Natural History Museum, UK, added: “The Chengjiang deposits of Yunnan Province continue to reveal surprising new fossils we could hardly have imagined. Together, they provide a crucial snapshot of life in the oceans during the Cambrian explosion.”

German sexist couch potatoes attack female football reporter


This German TV video is about the 2016 European football championship. Austria scores a goal against Iceland.

Special in this report is the reporter. She is Claudia Neumann. She is a woman. Most football reporters in Germany and elsewhere are male.

However, German sexist couch potato ‘football fans’, probably voters of the 90% nazi AfD party or the 100% nazi NPD party hate listening to a female football reporter. They have started an anti-Claudia Neumann witch-hunt on the Internet.

As the extreme right AfD is not only anti-Semitic. As not only their party leader Alexander Gauland is racist against African German national team footballer Boateng: the far right hates women as well.

An example is this tweet by a German far right couch potato calling himself Emperor Wilhelm II. It says that the only work Ms Neumann should be allowed to do at German ZDF TV is cleaning the floors; but never reporting.

This sexist has chosen a rather fitting pseudonym. Emperor Wilhelm II was a warmonger (AfD fuehrer Alexander Gauland is an admirer of Philipp Friedrich Alexander, Prince of Eulenburg and Hertefeld, Count von Sandels, 1847-1921, far-right anti-Semitic important adviser of Emperor Wilhelm II in his militarist policies). Emperor Wilhelm II was an anti-Semite. And Emperor Wilhelm II hated outspoken women: so he banned the work of anti-establishment and anti-war visual artist Käthe Kollwitz.

According to Dutch NOS TV today (translated):

Two years ago during the European Championships in France, Neumann also had a hard time. “If someone does not want to hear any woman’s voice at a football commentary, then a neutral assessment is hardly possible”, she said at the time. “I do not see it as criticism, I only see it as insults.”

The first female German football commentator gets a lot of support on Twitter. Many people take her side and say it refreshing to hear that a woman comments on the competition.

Racist AfD wants Turkish German players Özil and Gündogan sacked from national team, blaming them for the whole team failing at the 2018 World Cup: here.

From Britain today:

Vicki Sparks made history today as she became the first woman to commentate on a World Cup game on British TV

It was a historic moment for sports broadcasting and for Vicki Sparks. She was joined by Martin Keown on co-commentary for the Morocco vs Portugal match earlier today in which Portugal emerged the victors courtesy of a Cristiano Ronaldo header.

It apparently wasn’t to everybody’s tastes though, notably John Terry. The former Chelsea captain came under fire after uploading a photo to his Instagram story with the caption “having to watch this game with no volume”.

World Cup Reporter Sexually Harassed During Live Broadcast: here.

SOCCER PLAYER A SCAPEGOAT FOR RACISTS Germany’s Mesut Özil was a national soccer hero. Now he’s a scapegoat for racists. We look at how Europe’s anti-immigrant hysteria ended his international career. [HuffPost]

Collared dove’s nest photos


Voorschoten house, 2018

In Voorschoten town in the Netherlands, there is this house; as this photo (a cellphone phone, like the others in this blog post) shows.

Voorschoten nest, 2018

A house where not only humans live; this spring also a collared dove couple. This photo shows their egg in their nest.

Voorschoten nest, in 2018

As does this photo.

Unfortunately, the nest did not produce any young collared doves. Probably because of a predator attack.

French governmental homophobia


This video says about itself:

Gay Pride Paris 2017 – Marche des Fiertés LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisex, Transgender) Paris 2017 on Saturday June 24, 2017 from Place de la Concorde Paris to Place de la Republique Paris, France.

From Pink News in Britain:

French official sparks outrage by telling gay couples they can only adopt ‘atypical’ children

19th June 2018, 4:38 PM

A French adoption official has caused controversy by saying that gay and lesbian couples are only able to adopt “damaged” children.

Pascale Lemare, who is the adoption services head in the Seine-Maritime region of Normandy, said that heterosexual couples would be prioritised for adoptions in the region.

According to AFP, Lemare made the comments in an interview with local radio on Tuesday.

During the interview with France Bleu, Lemare said that gay couples were likely to be left with the children that heterosexual couples did not want to adopt due to their age, size or even their disability.

“Children that no one wants – there are people who don’t want to adopt children who are too damaged, too psychologically damaged, too big, or handicapped”, she explained.

Lemare was then asked whether it was more difficult for gay and lesbian couples to adopt younger or healthier children in the region.

The official replied: “There are parents who correspond better to the required criteria.” …

She then stated that gay and lesbian couples were “a little atypical, you might say, with regard to social norms and biological norms.

“If their plan includes children with atypical profiles… if homosexual couples have open expectations, they can indeed adopt a child.”

Translated from Dutch NOS TV today:

The statements from Normandy do not stand alone. Another French radio station revealed that in Northeast France there is an adoption agency that says aloud that they prefer heterosexuals. “They said: we have nothing against gay parents, but if a husband and wife report then they will get priority”, says [NOS correspondent] Renout.

Angry comments

In France there has been an angry response to the news coverage. Advocacy groups say that it is a much broader problem, and that it is therefore difficult for gays and lesbians to adopt children. Renout: “The association of gay parents says: this is homophobia, this is punishable and they have filed a complaint with the courts.” …

Homosexual couples are allowed to adopt children in France since 2013 without any conditions.

A measure by the then Socialist Party government, before the now ‘centristMacron government. Fiercely resisted by the ‘moderate’ right and by the extreme right.

Extinct Carolina parakeets, new research


This 2017 video from the USA says about itself:

The Carolina parakeet (Conuropsis carolinensis) or Carolina conure was a small green neotropical parrot with a bright yellow head, reddish orange face and pale beak native to the eastern, Midwest and plains states of the United States and was the only indigenous parrot within its range.

It was called puzzi la née (“head of yellow”) by the Seminole and kelinky in Chickasaw. It was found from southern New York and Wisconsin to Kentucky, Tennessee and the Gulf of Mexico, from the Atlantic seaboard to as far west as eastern Colorado. It lived in old-growth forests along rivers and in swamps.

There are two recognized subspecies. The Louisiana subspecies became extinct in much the same way, but at a somewhat earlier date (early 1910s). The Appalachian Mountains separated these birds from the eastern C. c. carolinensis. Though formerly prevalent within its range, the bird had become rare by the middle of the 19th century.

The last confirmed sighting in the wild was of the ludovicianus subspecies in 1910. The last known specimen perished in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo in 1918 and the species was declared extinct in 1939.

From ScienceDaily:

Museum collection reveals distribution of Carolina parakeet 100 years after its extinction

June 19, 2018

While 2018 marks the centenary of the death of the last captive Carolina parakeet — North America’s only native parrot, a team of researchers have shed new light on the previously known geographical range of the species, which was officially declared extinct in 1920.

Combining observations and specimen data, the new Carolina parakeet occurrence dataset, recently published in the open access Biodiversity Data Journal by Dr Kevin Burgio, Dr Colin Carlson, University of Maryland and Georgetown University, and Dr Alexander Bond, Natural History Museum of London, is the most comprehensive ever produced.

The new study provides unprecedented information on the birds’ range providing a window into the past ecology of a lost species.

“Making these data freely available to other researchers will hopefully help unlock the mysteries surrounding the extinction and ecology of this iconic species. Parrots are the most at-risk group of birds and anything we can learn about past extinctions may be useful going forward”, says the study’s lead author, Kevin Burgio.

The observational recordings included in the study have been gleaned from a wide variety of sources, including the correspondence of well-known historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson and the explorers Lewis and Clark.

The study team referenced recorded sightings spanning nearly 400 years. The oldest recorded sighting dates back to 1564, and was found in a description of the current state of Florida written by Rene Laudonniere in 1602.

Alongside the written accounts, the researchers included location data from museum specimens. These include 25 bird skins from the Natural History Museum’s Tring site, whose skin collection is the second largest of its kind in the world, with almost 750,000 specimens representing about 95 per cent of the world’s bird species. Thereby, the study proves what invaluable resources museum collections can be.

“The unique combination of historical research and museum specimens is the only way we can learn about the range of this now-extinct species. Museums are archives of the natural world and research collections like that of the Natural History Museum are incredibly important in helping to increase our understanding of biodiversity conservation and extinction”, says Alex Bond.

“By digitising museum collections, we can unlock the potential of millions of specimens, helping us to answer some of today’s big questions in biodiversity science and conservation.”

It is hoped that this research will be the beginning of a wider reaching work that will explore further into the ecology of this long lost species.