Ancient whale Basilosaurus, new research

This is a BBC Basilosaurus video.

From PLOS:

15-meter-long ancient whale Basilosaurus isis was top marine predator

Fossils from ‘Valley of Whales’ suggest B. isis predated smaller whales and fish

January 9, 2019

The stomach contents of ancient whale Basilosaurus isis suggest it was an apex predator, according to a study published January 9, 2019 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Manja Voss from the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, Germany, and colleagues.

The authors uncovered an adult B. isis specimen in 2010 in the Wadi Al Hitan (“Valley of Whales”) site in Cairo, Egypt. This site was once a shallow sea during the late Eocene period and is remarkable for its wealth of marine fossils. While excavating this main B. isis specimen, the authors also revealed the remains of sharks, large bony fish, and, most numerously, bones from Dorudon atrox, a smaller species of ancient whale. The Basilosaurus skeleton was distinct from other skeletons in the cluster, containing pointed B. isis incisors and sharp cheek teeth as well as bones. Most of the fish, and Dorudon whale remains showed signs of breakage and bite marks, were fragmented, and tended to be clustered within the body cavity of the B. isis specimen.

One hypothesis to explain the clustering of these remains was that D. atrox had scavenged the B. isis carcass and fish. However, the D. atrox were juveniles, capable only of drinking mother’s milk. Bite marks on prey skulls also indicated predation rather than scavenging, since predators commonly target the head. The authors therefore position B. isis as a top predator which ate its prey live, rather than by scavenging. They propose that the remains of fish and juvenile D. atrox in the cluster are remnants of previous B. isis meals, while the teeth of sharks indicate postmortem scavenging.

Voss and colleagues draw a comparison with the modern-day killer whale (Orcinus orca), another toothed whale apex predator which often feeds on smaller whales and frequently hunts humpback whale calves during humpback calving season. The authors hypothesize that the Wadi Al Hitan site was a whale calving site for prey whale Dorudon, making it a hunting site for top predator B. isis during the late Eocene.


Mystery Blogger Award, thank you Yaasotaa!

Mystery Blogger Award

My dear blogging friend Yaasotaa of the yaasotaa blog has nominated Dear Kitty. Some blog for the Mystery Blogger Award.

Thank you for this kind gesture!

Thank you, Okoto Enigma, for creating this award!

The rules of the Mystery Blogger Award are:

1. Put the award logo/image on your blog

2. List the rules

3. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog

4. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well [unfortunately, it looks like that blog is not on the net any more]

5. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself

6. You have to nominate 10 – 20 people

7. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog

8. Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify)

9. Share a link to your best post(s)

10. Answer the questions your nominator gave you.

It is hard to say which of my blog posts I like best. I think this one is one of the best.

Three things about me:

1. A few days ago, I saw a robin on the balcony.

2. The most visited pages/posts of my blog so far today are:

Title Views
Home page / Archives More stats 49
Big Pharma Novartis extorting people with cancer More stats 22
Big bird sounds archive on the internet More stats 12
Singing humpback whales, new research More stats 11
Arrests for solidarity with Sudanese refugee deported to torture More stats 11
Hawaiian bobtail squid’s genome sequenced More stats 9
Dutch government deports refugees to Sudan dictatorship More stats 6
Adélie penguin saves emperor penguin chicks More stats 6
Spanish neo-fascists love Franco, sexism, bullfighting More stats 6
Northern cardinal sings in Florida, USA More stats 6
Other posts 430

3. The most visited pages/posts of my blog this month are:

December 10, 2018 to Today

Yaasotaa’s questions, and my answers, are:

1. If you could time travel, whom would you want to talk with?

I’d travel to the White House in 2003, just before the start of the Iraq war; to tell George W Bush not to start that war.

2. What was your favorite cartoon during your childhood?

Bucky Bug.

3. What would your perfect SATURDAY be like? Seeing many birds.

4. What accomplishment are you most proud of?

Going to the Antarctic and bringing back natural history objects to a museum.

5. What is the most beautiful place that you have ever been? The little auk nesting colony on Spitsbergen.

My five questions for my nominees are:

1. Who is your favourite artist?

2. Who are your three least favourite prominent people in politics or business?

3. Which is your favourite bird species?

4. Which is your favourite mammal species?

5. 2019 has only just started. What is the best thing which happened to you in this new year?

My 17 nominees are:

1. It Is What It Is

2. Different_Outlook

3. travellogbook

4. Words by Wildflower

5. SoundEagle

6. You’re Strong

7. theatreandart

8. Redzone News

9. Jarrad Saul


11. Vogelknipser

12. Untamed Kenya

13. najarine the Tech Geek


15. Fearless Faith

16. Richard’s Blog

17. Scotch Camel

Singing humpback whales, new research

This video from australia says about itself:

Humpback Whale Singing Hervey Bay 2014

Be sure to have your volume up for this clip. The audio and video were filmed using a GoPro on separate days with the audio being some of the most stunning whale singing that we have heard in many years. The video is yet more footage of our curious friend ‘scratchy’.

From the Wildlife Conservation Society:

Giant singers from neighboring oceans share song parts over time

January 8, 2019

Singing humpback whales from different ocean basins seem to be picking up musical ideas from afar, and incorporating these new phrases and themes into the latest song, according to a newly published study in Royal Society Open Science that’s helping scientists better understand how whales learn and change their musical compositions.

The new research shows that two humpback whale populations in different ocean basins (the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans) in the Southern Hemisphere sing similar song types, but the amount of similarity differs across years. This suggests that males from these two populations come into contact at some point in the year to hear and learn songs from each other.

The study titled “Culturally transmitted song exchange between humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the southeast Atlantic and southwest Indian Ocean basins” appears in the latest edition of the Royal Society Open Science journal. The authors are: Melinda L. Rekdahl, Carissa D. King, Tim Collins, and Howard Rosenbaum of WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society); Ellen C. Garland of the University of St. Andrews; Gabriella A. Carvajal of WCS and Stony Brook University; and Yvette Razafindrakoto of COSAP and Madagascar National Parks.

“Song sharing between populations tends to happen more in the Northern Hemisphere where there are fewer physical barriers to movement of individuals between populations on the breeding grounds, where they do the majority of their singing. In some populations in the Southern Hemisphere song sharing appears to be more complex, with little song similarity within years but entire songs can spread to neighboring populations leading to song similarity across years,” said Dr. Melinda Rekdahl, marine conservation scientist for WCS’s Ocean Giants Program and lead author of the study. “Our study shows that this is not always the case in Southern Hemisphere populations, with similarities between both ocean basin songs occurring within years to different degrees over a 5-year period.”

The study authors examined humpback whale song recordings from both sides of the African continent — from animals off the coasts of Gabon and Madagascar respectively — and transcribed more than 1,500 individual sounds that were recorded between 2001-2005. Song similarity was quantified using statistical methods.

Male humpback whales are one of the animal kingdom’s most noteworthy singers, and individual animals sing complex compositions consisting of moans, cries, and other vocalizations called “song units.” Song units are composed into larger phrases, which are repeated to form “themes.” Different themes are produced in a sequence to form a song cycle that are then repeated for hours, or even days. For the most part, all males within the same population sing the same song type, and this population-wide song similarity is maintained despite continual evolution or change to the song leading to seasonal “hit songs.” Some song learning can occur between populations that are in close proximity and may be able to hear the other population’s song.

Over time, the researchers detected shared phrases and themes in both populations, with some years exhibiting more similarities than others. In the beginning of the study, whale populations in both locations shared five “themes.” One of the shared themes, however, had differences. Gabon’s version of Theme 1, the researchers found, consisted of a descending “cry-woop,” whereas the Madagascar singers split Theme 1 into two parts: a descending cry followed by a separate woop or “trumpet.”

Other differences soon emerged over time. By 2003, the song sung by whales in Gabon became more elaborate than their counterparts in Madagascar. In 2004, both population song types shared the same themes, with the whales in Gabon’s waters singing three additional themes. Interestingly, both whale groups had dropped the same two themes from the previous year’s song types. By 2005, songs being sung on both sides of Africa were largely similar, with individuals in both locations singing songs with the same themes and order. However, there were exceptions, including one whale that revived two discontinued themes from the previous year.

The study’s results stands in contrast to other research in which a song in one part of an ocean basin replaces or “revolutionizes” another population’s song preference. In this instance, the gradual changes and degrees of similarity shared by humpbacks on both sides of Africa was more gradual and subtle.

“Studies such as this one are an important means of understanding connectivity between different whale populations and how they move between different seascapes,” said Dr. Howard Rosenbaum, Director of WCS’s Ocean Giants Program and one of the co-authors of the new paper. “Insights on how different populations interact with one another and the factors that drive the movements of these animals can lead to more effective plans for conservation.”

The humpback whale is one of the world’s best-studied marine mammal species, well known for its boisterous surface behavior and migrations stretching thousands of miles. The animal grows up to 50 feet in length and has been globally protected from commercial whaling since the 1960s. WCS has studied humpback whales since that time and — as the New York Zoological Society — played a key role in the discovery that humpback whales sing songs. The organization continues to study humpback whale populations around the world and right here in the waters of New York; research efforts on humpback and other whales in New York Bight are currently coordinated through the New York Aquarium‘s New York Seascape program.

Big bird sounds archive on the internet

This 21 December 2018 video says about itself:

In October 2018, Ireland’s National Biodiversity Data Centre was delighted to host the 25th meeting of the Governing Board of the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF) in Kilkenny.

GBIF is a global network of 59 Participant Countries and 38 international organisations and initiatives, working together to share data and information on the world’s biological diversity.

From the Global Biodiversity Information Facility:

9 January 2019

Tweets, chirps and hoots: collaborative project Xeno-canto adds 170,000 sound-based bird records

New Dutch dataset more than doubles the number of species occurrences with audio recordings

Images and videos recorded by professional researchers and citizen scientists often provide evidence of species occurring in time and space. But sound recordings can be equally important for identifying species–especially those more easily heard than seen.

While more than 31 million species occurrences available in have images attached to them, only about 100,000 records have accompanying sound files. However, since its addition last month, a new dataset has more than doubled this number, bringing 170,041 more audio-enabled occurrence records to

Xeno-canto (XC) is a long-term collaborative project dedicated to collecting and sharing the sounds of wild birds from across the world. Started in 2005, XC accepts contributions from anyone–professional researchers, dedicated amateur birders or aspiring citizen scientists–who is willing and able to record bird sounds. More than 4,000 XC contributors have recorded and uploaded the sounds of 10,063 avian species–data that has already been used in scientific studies (e.g. Avendaño et al, 2017). The dataset metrics can also give users a sense of the taxonomic and geographical scope of the XC contribution.

Identifications of recordings are subject to crowd-sourced validation by the Xeno-canto community, ensuring accurate, high-quality species identification. As data becomes discoverable through, XC contributors not only help popularize bird sound recordings worldwide, but also add knowledge about avian distributions for use in research and policy-making.

XC intends to update the dataset on regularly, as users add around 5,000 new recordings every month. The next update is expected to bring the total number of records to more than 250,000 records, a spike prompted by current users adopting more open licences for the occurrence information (while maintaining different ones applied to audio files).

As multimedia evidence in occurrence records have become more frequent, it’s important to make it easy for users to view, watch and listen to them. The arrival of the XC dataset prompted improvements to the occurrence pages, making the interface for playback and viewing more accessible and intuitive. Now, in addition to viewing images, users can now also watch videos and listen to audio recordings–directly on the occurrence page.

Members of GBIF community in the Netherlands play a critical role in making the XC dataset available through Naturalis Biodiversity Center has provided the project with long-term support and funding, and persistent, multi-year engagement by the staff of NLBIF has led to them hosting the Dutch national node to host this version of the project dataset.

While audio-enabled records available in are still dominated by the avian variety, users of may be surprised be the taxanomic breadth of other audio content–including sounds of spiders, bees, monkeys–and even an underwater recording of spawning cod.

Hawaiian bobtail squid’s genome sequenced

This 2018 video says about itself:

The bobtail squid is an underwater delicacy for many predators, so the creature found a handy superpower to stay alive: invisibility.

This squishy species is no bigger than a golf ball, making the squid a tasty mouthful for any hungry hunter that feeds along the coastal waters of Hawaii. To avoid becoming a snack, the bobtail squid has formed a powerful alliance with a luminous bacteria called Vibrio fischeri.

The bacteria reside inside a “light organ” on the underside of the squid, and at nighttime, these tiny tenants will glow to match the pattern of moonlight coming from above. This helps mask the silhouette of the squid, rendering them “invisible” to predators from below.

Ed Yong talks with Margaret McFall-Ngai and Edward Ruby from the University of Hawaii, who have been studying the partnership between the bobtail squid and its glowing microbes for years. A spectacular feature of this symbiosis is that squid aren’t born with a complete light organ—the bacteria help build it!

From the University of Connecticut in the USA:

A little squid sheds light on evolution with bacteria

January 7, 2019

Summary: Researchers have sequenced the genome of a little squid to identify unique evolutionary footprints in symbiotic organs, yielding clues about how organs that house bacteria are especially suited for this partnership.

Bacteria, which are vital for the health of all animals, also played a major role in the evolution of animals and their tissues. In an effort to understand just how animals co-evolved with bacteria over time, researchers have turned to the Hawaiian bobtail squid, Euprymna scolopes.

In a new study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international team of researchers, led by UConn associate professor of molecular and cell biology Spencer Nyholm, sequenced the genome of this little squid to identify unique evolutionary footprints in symbiotic organs, yielding clues about how organs that house bacteria are especially suited for this partnership.

The first squid genome was sequenced by Nyholm, along with Jamie Foster of the University of Florida, Oleg Simakov of the University of Vienna, and Mahdi Belcaid of the University of Hawaii. The team found several surprises, for instance, that the Hawaiian bobtail squid’s genome is 1.5 times the size of the human genome.

By comparing the genome of E. scolopes to its cousin, the octopus, the researchers show that the common ancestor of both the octopus and the Hawaiian bobtail squid went through a major genetic makeover, reorganizing and increasing the genome size. This “upgrade” likely gave the cephalopods opportunities for increased complexity, including new organs like the ones that house bacteria.

“The Hawaiian bobtail squid has served as a model organism for studying symbiosis for over 30 years,” notes Nyholm. “Having the genome will help researchers who study these interactions, as well as those studying diverse areas of biology, such as animal development and comparative evolution.”

Many animals have organs that house bacteria. The human gut houses trillions of bacteria that play important roles in digestion, immune function, and overall health. Understanding how these relationships are maintained by identifying genes that help animals cooperate with bacteria lays the groundwork for furthering knowledge of the human body. The Hawaiian bobtail squid is an excellent model for identifying these genes because of its symbiotic relationships with beneficial microbes, and its use by a number of scientists to study communication between bacteria and animals.

The Hawaiian bobtail squid has two different symbiotic organs, and researchers were able to show that each of these took different paths in their evolution. This particular species of squid has a light organ that harbors a light-producing, or bioluminescent, bacterium that enables the squid to cloak itself from predators. At some point in the past, a major “duplication event” occurred that led to repeat copies of genes that normally exist in the eye. These genes allowed the squid to manipulate the light generated by the bacteria.

Another finding was that in the accessory nidamental gland, a female reproductive organ, there was an enrichment of genes that are “orphan genes” or genes that have only been found in the bobtail squid and not in other organisms.

“Squid and octopus showed very unique genome structure, unlike in any other animals,” says Simakov, “corroborating previous reports of their unusual nature and complexity.”

Foster notes that teasing out these unusual and complex details is directly applicable to the study of other bacteria/animal relationships.

“Microbes are major drivers of the evolution of animals and their tissues,” she says. “The results of our study have helped identify the ‘origin story’ of those tissues that house an animal’s microbes, and will help tease apart the genetic processes by which these different types of innovation can happen in animals.”

The molecular mechanism used by many bacteria to kill neighboring cells has redundancy built into its genetic makeup, which could allow for the mechanism to be expressed in different environments. Some strains of luminescent bacteria that compete to colonize the light organs of the Hawaiian bobtail squid kill nearby cells of different bacterial strains using the “type VI secretion system (T6SS).” Researchers at Penn State and the University of Wisconsin-Madison have now shown that the genomes of these bacteria contain two copies of a gene required for T6SS and that the system still works when either copy of the gene is disabled, but not both: here.