How giant prehistoric fish Titanichthys fed

This 30 December 2018 video says about itself:

Titanichthys is a genus of giant, aberrant marine placoderm from shallow seas of the Late Devonian of Morocco, Eastern North America, and possibly Europe. Many individuals of the species approached Dunkleosteus in size and build.

Unlike its relative, however, the various species of Titanichys had small, ineffective-looking mouth-plates that lacked a sharp cutting edge. It is assumed that Titanichthys was a filter feeder that used its capacious mouth to swallow or inhale schools of small, anchovy-like fish, or possibly krill-like zooplankton, and that the mouth-plates retained the prey while allowing the water to escape as it closed its mouth

From the University of Bristol in England:

Ancient giant armored fish fed in a similar way to basking sharks

May 19, 2020

Scientists from the University of Bristol and the University of Zurich have shown that the Titanichthys — a giant armoured fish that lived in the seas and oceans of the late Devonian period 380-million-years ago — fed in a similar manner to modern-day basking sharks.

Titanichthys has long been known as one of the largest animals of the Devonian — its exact size is difficult to determine, but it likely exceeded five metres in length; like in the basking shark, its lower jaw reached lengths exceeding one metre. However, unlike its similarly giant contemporary Dunkleosteus, there is no previous evidence of how Titanichthys fed.

Where the lower jaw of Dunkleosteus and many of its relatives had clear fangs and crushing plates, the lower jaw of Titanichthys is narrow and lacking any dentition or sharp edges suitable for cutting.

Consequently, Titanichthys has been presumed to have been a suspension-feeder, feeding on minute plankton by swimming slowly with the mouth opened widely through water to capture high concentrations of plankton — a technique called continuous ram feeding.

However, this has remained uncertain, as no fossilised evidence of suspension-feeding structures such as elongate projections that cover the gills in modern suspension-feeding fish has ever been found.

Instead, the team sought to investigate the question indirectly, using biomechanical analysis to compare the lower jaw of Titanichthys with those of other species. Their findings are reported today in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

Lead author Sam Coatham carried out the research while studying for his masters in palaeobiology at the University of Bristol’s School of Earth Sciences.

He said: “We have found that Titanichthys was very likely to have been a suspension-feeder, showing that its lower jaw was considerably less mechanically robust than those of other placoderm species that fed on large or hard-shelled prey.

“Consequently, those feeding strategies (common amongst its relatives) would probably have not been available for Titanichthys.”

The fossils of Titanichthys used in the study were found in the Moroccan part of the Sahara Desert by co-author Christian Klug, a researcher at the University of Zurich. He added: “When you do fieldwork in the Anti-Atlas, massive skull bones of placoderms can be found quite frequently.”

The team tested the resilience of the jaws by virtually applying forces to the jaws, using a technique called Finite Element Analysis (FEA) to assess how likely each jaw was to break or bend.

This revealed that the lower jaw of Titanichthys was much less resistant to stress and was more likely to break than those of the other placoderm species, such as the famous Dunkleosteus. Therefore, the jaw of Titanichthys probably would not have been able to withstand the higher stresses associated with their strategies of feeding on large prey, which thus exert more mechanical stress on the jaws.

This pattern was consistent in both sharks and whales, with the suspension-feeder proving less resistant to stress than the other species within the same lineage. Further analyses comparing the distribution of stress across the jaws showed similar patterns in Titanichthys and the basking shark, reinforcing this comparison.

It has been established that there were almost certainly giant suspension-feeding vertebrates living 380 million years ago, at least 150 million years before the suspension-feeding Pachycormidae (previously the earliest definitive example) and about 350 million years before the first baleen whales.

The research team believes that there are other extinct species that would have filled a similar ecological role, including other placoderms (armoured fish) and at least one species of plesiosaur.

Sam Coatham added: “Our methods could be extended to identify other such species in the fossil record and investigate whether there were common factors driving the evolution and extinction of these species.

“We suggest a link between oceanic productivity and the evolution of Titanichthys, but this should be investigated in detail in the future. An established link could have implications for our understanding of the conservation of modern suspension-feeders.”

Dutch slaughterhouses, COVID-19 epicentres

This 12 May 2020 video says about itself:

COVID-19 outbreaks in German slaughterhouses expose grim working conditions in meat industry

Unions say much of the cheap meat on our supermarket shelves is slaughtered by migrant workers who earn low wages, live in cramped shared accommodation and operate in crowded working conditions even in the midst of a pandemic.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

A slaughterhouse of the Dutch group Vion in Groenlo was immediately closed after 45 employees have tested positive for coronavirus.

The Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) confirms the closure upon inquiry. All employees will be tested. Due to the high number of infections, the NVWA could no longer guarantee the health of the veterinarians and they decided as a precaution that they suspend their work. This means that the slaughterhouse must be closed because no slaughtering is allowed without supervision.

Minister Carola Schouten of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality informed parliament today in a letter that possibly twenty percent of the employees are infected. …


There have been concerns about the situation in slaughterhouses for some time. Eighty percent of the employees are migrant workers and often live together. Trade unions and whistleblowers also report that there is often not enough distance in the slaughterhouses. The Party for the Animals and D66 called in Nieuwsuur TV show this week for taking measures.

Earlier, 28 employees of a Vion site in Scherpenzeel were tested positive for coronavirus and placed on a ship in isolation. …

Small vans

Also in Bad Bramstedt, a small town to the north of Hamburg, a slaughterhouse of the Dutch group has come to a standstill because 128 employees had to be quarantined due to a coronavirus infection.

Employees in the meat industry throughout Germany are infected with COVID-19. “It is mainly the housing where several people have to live in one room and the transport with small vans that cause people to get infected quickly,” Marcel Mansouri of the NGG union said in Nieuwsuur on Monday.

Southern right whale migration, new research

This 2011 video says about itself:

National Geographic photographer Brian Skerry describes a magical but risky experience photographing an enormous right whale off the coast of New Zealand.

From the British Antarctic Survey:

Migratory secrets of recovering whale species

May 19, 2020

Scientists have discovered where a whale species that feeds around the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia breeds during the winter months. This understanding of where the animals migrate from will enable conservation efforts for their recovery from years of whaling. The results are published this week (20 May 2020) in the Journal of Heredity.

Southern right whales were hunted to near extinction after centuries of whaling. In the most comprehensive study of its kind, 30 researchers from 11 countries studied 15 skin samples from whales feeding around the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia and compared them to 149 samples collected from around Argentina and Brazil and South Africa where the whales breed and give birth to their calves. New samples were collected from South Georgia during an expedition led by the British Antarctic Survey in 2018 and were combined with samples held by a network of collaborators across the globe.

Using a new genetic tool, the team discovered that most of the animals visiting South Georgia were calved around South America and not South Africa. This had previously been suspected, but not confirmed.

Lead author Dr Emma Carroll, from University of Auckland says: “Genetic methods are important in linking whale breeding grounds, areas that are closely monitored for population recovery, with feeding areas that are being and will be impacted by climate change. It is only by understanding these links that we can understand how whale populations will fare in a changing world.”

Collaborating with Chilean colleagues, the team also analysed the first-ever DNA sample from the Critically Endangered Chile-Peru southern right whale population. They found genetically, the Chile-Peru whale is a mixture between Indo-Pacific and Atlantic calving grounds, suggesting Chile-Peru has acted as a ‘stepping stone’ between these two areas.

Whale ecologist and senior author Dr Jennifer Jackson, at British Antarctic Survey, who led the project, says: “This is an important part of the jigsaw in understanding the geographical range of southern right whales. Identifying the migratory links of recovering whale populations is crucial to build accurate assessments of how well whale populations are recovering, and to understand how vulnerable these populations are to anthropogenic threats through their life cycle.

“There have been unexplained high whale calf mortalities around Argentina in the Península Valdéz region over the last 17 years, so there is a lot of work to be done to protect this species throughout their migratory range.”

The team are also tracking the movements of two South Georgia right whales in real time using satellite tags. One whale is already migrating towards the South American coast, providing further evidence of the migratory connection. Follow these whales here.


  • Southern right whales were so named because they were the ‘right’ whale to hunt, and in the South Atlantic they have been heavily exploited for over 350 years, with catches peaking in the mid 1800s. Only in the past three decades, have southern right whales again become regular winter visitors to Argentina, Brazil and South Africa, where they use sheltered bays to calve. Another population to the west, in Chile and Peru, has not fared so well, and the lack of recovery from whaling has led this population to be declared ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN.
  • In 2009, the global estimate of southern right whales was estimated as 13,611 and the calving grounds in Argentina and Brazil was 4,029.
  • The Wild Water Whales project has been running since December 2016, and focusses on studying the population recovery and health of southern right whales in South Georgia waters. The project involves sightings surveys, using acoustic methods to find whales, collecting photo-identifications and skin samples to identify individuals, tracking whales to find out where they feed, and studying the health condition of right whales using drone technology.
  • Historically, the seas around South Georgia are a key feeding ground for multiple whale species, including the southern right, humpback, blue and fin whales. The area is abundant with food in summer, namely krill, a shrimp-like crustacean, which provides a key part of their diet.
  • Led by British Antarctic Survey, the South Georgia Wild Water Whales project has been funded by an EU BEST Medium grant, the Darwin Initiative, South Georgia Heritage Trust, Friends of South Georgia Island and the World Wildlife Fund.
  • The project used a new genetic tool for population visualisation and assignment (GENEPLOT) which estimated how well for example samples from South Georgia could be assigned to wintering ground datasets from Brazil, Argentina and South Africa.

British Conservative COVID 19 mismanagement continues

This 16 May 2020 video from Britain says about itself:

COVID 19 Scares the hell out of players | Premier league restart in jeopardy

Gonzo looks at the comments from Watford’s Troy Deeney and West Ham’s own Fabian Balbuena.

Footballers are increasingly nervous about the coronavirus pandemic and are putting their families first. Project restart could well be over before it’s begun.

From daily News Line in Britain today:

Tories threaten councils – to try to force reopening of schools

THE TORY government has launched a three-pronged attack on parents, teachers and councils in a bid to force schools to open – despite all three warning that it is unsafe to do so.

Tory Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has refused to rule out taking councils to court over their refusal to reopen schools next month.

When pushed by BBC1’s Breakfast programme he refused to rule out legal action.

‘We are working with them to try and ensure it doesn’t come to that … we really hope it doesn’t have to come to that,’ he said, and when pressed again he still would not rule it out.

Liverpool City Council has defied government calls for pupils to return to classrooms from June 1st.

Mayor of Liverpool Joe Anderson said earlier this week that the city will ‘resist’ the call to reopen schools on June 1st, following PM Boris Johnson’s announcement that he wants Reception, Year One and Year Six pupils to go back after the May half-term break.

Anderson said: ‘We are concerned. We have a safeguarding responsibility for our children, our staff, and teachers in the schools. We are concerned about allowing children back into school who could either get the virus themselves or spread the virus.’

The teachers’ unions oppose the June 1st reopening plan.

Shortly after the death of a pupil in a special needs school in Waltham Forest, a meeting of Brent union reps advised members that schools should not reopen.

38 union reps and safety reps from schools around Brent met with their regional officials and branch secretaries prior to the proposed wider reopening of schools.

Members were told ‘The National Education Union’s Five Tests have not been met and therefore it’s not safe yet’.
Jenny Cooper, NEU District Secretary, said: ‘The BMA (British Medical Association) backs us, many parents back us and other unions back us.

‘It’s not that we’re militant for the sake of it; this is a life and death issue’.

She then went on to share the news of the death of a pupil in Walthamstow and the sad news that in one street in Brent 28 people died of coronavirus.

‘Eight Brent schools were named which will not be reopening on June 1st. Reps will be returning to their members in schools, teachers and support staff, to pass on the message that their union advises them not to participate in a wider reopening yet.’

The NASUWT teachers’ union yesterday called on the Secretary of State for Education to provide the evidence and information to justify the decision to start to reopen schools from June 1st and warned that teachers remain far from convinced that reopening can be safely or practicably achieved by this date.

In a letter to Gavin Williamson, NASUWT General Secretary Dr Patrick Roach underlined the NASUWT’s continued commitment to working with ministers over the plans for schools, but called for further urgent work by the government to win the trust and confidence of the profession in meeting its aim of starting to reopen schools from June 1st.
Dr Roach called on the government to provide the scientific evidence and modelling it has relied on in making its decision over school reopening, to work with the NASUWT to strengthen the guidance for schools, and to confirm the actions it will take to monitor and review schools’ compliance on effective safety measures for staff and pupils.
Meanwhile, parents who refuse to allow their children to return to school will be penalised. The government has announced a scaling back of on-line teaching.

The government has asked schools to prepare to ‘welcome back pupils in Reception, Year One and Year Six from June 1st,’

Ministers say the ‘ambition’ is for the rest of primary schools to return by the end of next month, with most secondary pupils not expected to be back in the classroom until September.

Letter from UK teaching assistant against reopening of schools. 20 May 2020. Sarah, who works in a primary school in south Yorkshire, wrote to the WSWS about the Johnson government’s plans to reopen UK schools from June 1.

By Chris Marsden and Thomas Scripps, 20 May 2020. The reopening of schools and non-essential workplaces must be opposed until they are made safe.

By Nicholas Jones in Britain, 19 May 2020

Johnson’s media cheerleaders – how Britain’s press is letting down the nation

The Tory press has mounted a barrage of diversionary stories to hide Boris Johnson’s catastrophic handling of the coronavirus pandemic, writes former BBC TV reporter Nicholas Jones

RARELY has a peacetime prime minister struggling with a national emergency been as fortunate as Boris Johnson in being spared the broad sweep of hostile coverage that proved so debilitating to his predecessors.

Johnson has been blessed with a personal storyline tailor-made for the popular press — “From death to paternity” (Daily Mail, April 30) — and Conservative newspapers have remained his stalwart cheerleaders.

In the months ahead, as he tries to steer the country out of lockdown, the shielding that he has enjoyed might well be at risk amid the chaos and contradictions that have bedevilled the country since the start of the pandemic.

‘No Russian roulette with British footballers’ health’

This 18 May 2020 British TV video says about itself:

Troy Deeney Worries Footballers Will Be Blamed for Wasting Covid-19 Tests | Good Morning Britain

Today Premier League clubs are expected to vote on whether to return to non-contact training. Watford captain Troy Deeney says he is not even talking about football at the moment and won’t put his family at risk.

Dutch NOS radio says that at Watford Football Club, three people are infected with COVID-19. There are also cases at Burnley and an unnamed other club. They write (translated):

Watford captain Troy Deeney revealed yesterday that he will not resume training. He doesn’t want to risk infecting his son with the coronavirus. His five-month-old baby is struggling with breathing problems. “I have already lost my father, grandmother and grandfather. Almost everyone I care about. That is more important to me than a few pence,” said Deeney in the podcast Talk The Talk. “You only need one person to get infected. I don’t want to take that virus home.”

Cats better venomous snakebite survivors than dogs

This 2 April 2016 video from Australia says about itself:

Dog killed by brown snake

The neighbour’s dog went for a boredom trip around the block. Typically, when pet dogs get loose in rural areas, they harass various lizards, snakes and echidnas.

The Australian “Brown Snake” is the second most technically toxic land snake; being twice as toxic as a Taipan. This is why you should not try to grab it in your mouth, and let it bite your face 20 times.

Australians have the lowest level of snake deaths, per capita, compared to other snake infested countries. This appears mainly due to the Commonwealth Serum Labs, producing antivenoms. Experience has shown that Australians lack the motor skills to back away from a snake, and suffer a syndrome which compels them to move towards a snake, and hit it with objects. They usually risk their lives in this manner, because the snake may bite their dog.

From the University of Queensland in Australia:

Why cats have more lives than dogs when it comes to snakebite

May 18, 2020

Cats are twice as likely to survive a venomous snakebite than dogs, and the reasons behind this strange phenomenon have been revealed by University of Queensland research.

The research team, led by PhD student Christina Zdenek and Associate Professor Bryan Fry, compared the effects of snake venoms on the blood clotting agents in dogs and cats, hoping to help save the lives of our furry friends.

“Snakebite is a common occurrence for pet cats and dogs across the globe and can be fatal,” Dr Fry said.

“This is primarily due to a condition called ‘venom-induced consumptive coagulopathy’ — where an animal loses its ability to clot blood and sadly bleeds to death.

“In Australia, the eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis) alone is responsible for an estimated 76 per cent of reported domestic pet snakebites each year.

“And while only 31 per cent of dogs survive being bitten by an eastern brown snake without antivenom, cats are twice as likely to survive — at 66 per cent.”

Cats also have a significantly higher survival rate if given antivenom treatment and, until now, the reasons behind this disparity were unknown.

Dr Fry and his team used a coagulation analyser to test the effects of eastern brown snake venom — as well as 10 additional venoms found around the world — on dog and cat plasma in the lab.

“All venoms acted faster on dog plasma than cat or human,” Mrs Zdenek said.

“This indicates that dogs would likely enter a state where blood clotting fails sooner and are therefore more vulnerable to these snake venoms.

“The spontaneous clotting time of the blood — even without venom — was dramatically faster in dogs than in cats.

“This suggests that the naturally faster clotting blood of dogs makes them more vulnerable to these types of snake venoms.

“And this is consistent with clinical records showing more rapid onset of symptoms and lethal effects in dogs than cats.”

Several behavioural differences between cats and dogs are also highly likely to increase the chances of dogs dying from venomous snake bite.

“Dogs typically investigate with their nose and mouth, which are highly vascularised areas, whereas cats often swat with their paws,” Dr Fry said.

“And dogs are usually more active than cats, which is not great after a bite has taken place because the best practice is to remain as still as possible to slow the spread of venom through the body.”

The researchers hope their insights can lead to a better awareness of the critically short period of time to get treatment for dogs envenomed by snakes.

“As dog lovers ourselves, this study strikes close to home but it also has global implications,” Dr Fry said.

“I’ve had two friends lose big dogs to snakebites, dying in less than ten minutes even though the eastern brown snakes responsible were not particularly large specimens.

“This underscores how devastatingly fast and fatal snake venom can be to dogs.”

Dutch teachers sceptical about reopening schools

This 16 May 2020 video from Britain says about itself:

COVID-19: Parents fearful of sending their children back to school

[Conservative] Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has sought to reassure parents and teachers over the government’s plans to reopen schools, but many are worried.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

[‘Moderate’ christian trade union] CNV Education conducted a poll showing that 49 percent of the 7,000 members who responded would prefer not to see primary education opening up fully until the summer.

“The practical consequences must therefore be carefully considered and discussed”, says chairman Jan de Vries. “Eg, Wash hands with 30 children six times a day. How much can you ask from the teaching staff?”

Keeping a distance of one and a half meters between students in secondary schools is also quite a job, De Vries fears. “Nobody should be asked to do the impossible.”

‘No return under unsafe conditions’ say South African teachers: here.

Ichthyosaur discovery in London Natural History Museum

This 27 January 2020 video from England says about itself:

197-Million-Year-Old Ichthyosaur Fossil Saved

The prehistoric fossil was discovered by amateur fossil hunter Jon Gopsill when he was out walking his dogs on 14 December 2019. The five-and-a-half foot long marine reptile had been exposed by recent storms. The specimen was successfully extracted on 27 December by experts working against the clock in the intertidal zone of Bridgwater Bay National Nature Reserve.

From Baylor University in the USA:

Fishing rod ‘selfie stick’ and scientific sleuthing turn up clues to extinct sea reptile

May 19, 2020

A Russian paleontologist visiting the Natural History Museum in London desperately wanted a good look at the skeleton of an extinct aquatic reptile, but its glass case was too far up the wall. So he attached his digital camera to a fishing rod and — with several clicks — snagged a big one, scientifically speaking.

Images from the “selfie stick” revealed that the creature, whose bones were unearthed more than a century ago on a coast in southern England, seemed very similar to a genus of ichthyosaurs he recognized from Russian collections.

He emailed the photos of the dolphin-like ichthyosaur to fellow paleontologist Megan L. Jacobs, a Baylor University doctoral candidate in geosciences. She quickly realized that the animal’s skeletal structure matched not only some ichthyosaurs she was studying in a fossil museum on the English Channel coast, but also some elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Jacobs and paleontologist Nikolay G. Zverkov of the Russian Academy of Sciences — who “fished” for the ichthyosaur — merged their research, studying their collective photos and other materials and ultimately determining that the Russian and English ichthyosaurs were of the same genus and far more common and widespread than scientists believed.

Their study is published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society.

“Ichthyosaurs swam the seas of our planet for about 76 million years,” Jacobs said. “But this 5-foot ichthyosaur from some 150 million years ago was the least known and believed to be among the rarest ichthyosaurs. The skeleton in the case, thought to be the only example of the genus, has been on display in the Natural History Museum in London since 1922.

Nikolay’s excellent detailed photos significantly expand knowledge of Nannopterygius enthekiodon,” she said. “Now, after finding examples from museum collections across the United Kingdom, Russia and the Arctic — as well as several other Nannopterygius species — we can say Nannopterygius is one of the most widespread genera of ichthyosaurs in the Northern Hemisphere.”

Additionally, the study described a new species, Nannopterygius borealis, dating from about 145 million years ago in a Russian archipelago in the Arctic. The new species is the northernmost and youngest representative of its kind, Jacobs said.

Previously, for the Middle and Late Jurassic epochs, the only abundant and most commonly found ichthyosaur was Ophthalmosaurus, which had huge eyes and was about 20 feet long. It was known from hundreds of specimens, including well-preserved skeletons from the Middle Jurassic Oxford Clay Formation of England, Jacobs said.

“For decades, the scientific community thought that Nannopterygius was the rarest and most poorly known ichthyosaur of England,” Zverkov said. “Finally, we can say that we know nearly every skeletal detail of these small ichthyosaurs and that these animals were widespread. The answer was very close; what was needed was just a fishing rod.”

Caged minks infect people with COVID-19

This 27 April 2020 video says about itself:

Netherlands: Minks test positive for COVID-19 on two farms in Brabant

Two mink farms were closed after animals had shown respiratory symptoms and tested positive for the coronavirus in a small town of Beek en Donk in the North Brabant province, Sunday.

Footage shows tape cordoning off buildings of a mink farm.

“Because some employees had symptoms of the coronavirus at both farms, it is assumed that animals have been infected by people,” said the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality in the statement.

“Currently there is no indication that domestic or farm animals play any role in the spread of COVID-19… and there is no risk that the viral infection will be passed back to humans,” the ministry added.

That was then. But now …

The North Brabant province has been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus. According to the data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, the Netherlands has reported 38,040 COVID-19 cases and 4,491 deaths related to the virus.

Translated from Dutch NOS radio today:

It is probable that a coronavirus infection has taken place from mink to human, says Minister of Agriculture Schouten. It is not clear at which mink fur business this happened.

On one of the employees it has been shown that the virus has similarities with the virus that was found in mink in the same business. It would be the first time in the Netherlands that a human has been infected with a coronavirus by an animal. The minister was unable to say how that is in other countries.

Earlier, as the video says, humans had infected caged minks in the Netherlands with COVID-19. Then, the government said that infections could only go that one way. Now, it looks like infection the other way, from animal to human, is possible too.