Mediterranean sperm whales, new research

This 13 June 2014 video says about itself:

Underwater images of sperm whale bachelor groups in the waters of Ischia.

The sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) is one of the eight species of cetaceans routinely encountered in the Mediterranean Sea; however, information on the social organisation of sperm whales living in the basin remains scarce.

We observed the social behaviour of sperm whales within female units, and groups of males made over a 11-year period in waters around Ischia and Ventotene Islands (Tyrrhenian Sea, Italy), an area characterized by the presence of a submarine canyon system and a coastal Marine Protected Area (‘Regno di Nettuno’ MPA).

From the University of East Anglia in England:

Underwater robots reveal daily habits of endangered whales

July 29, 2020

Not all humans are morning people. Neither, according to a new study, are all sperm whales — at least when it comes to foraging for food.

The research, led by the University of East Anglia (UEA), has revealed the daily habits of the endangered Mediterranean sperm whale. Unmanned underwater gliders equipped with acoustic monitors recorded the sperm whale sounds, or ‘clicks’, over several months and 1000s of kilometres of ocean.

Sperm whales are highly vocal, producing distinct types of clicks for both echolocation and social interaction purposes. The study, published today in the Endangered Species Research, focused on the extremely powerful and highly directional ‘usual clicks’ produced while foraging.

The recordings confirmed the whales’ widespread presence in the north-western Mediterranean Sea and identified a possible hotspot for sperm whale habitat in the Gulf of Lion, where a higher rate of clicks was found. This could indicate a higher number of whales, but could also be for behavioural reasons.

In addition, continuous day and night monitoring during winter months suggests different foraging strategies between different areas. In the Ligurian Sea, mobile and scattered individual whales forage at all times of day. In the Sea of Sardinia usual clicks were also detected at all times of the day.

However, in the Gulf of Lion larger groups target intense oceanographic features in the open ocean, such as fronts and mixing events, with acoustic activity showing a clear 24-hour pattern and decreased foraging effort at dawn. This could suggest they may have modified their usual foraging pattern of eating at any time to adapt to local prey availability. It provides a clue regarding sperm whale diet in this area and may be what makes it attractive to them.

There are fewer than 2500 mature individual Mediterranean sperm whales and threats to them include being caught as bycatch in fishing nets and, as recently the case off the Italian coast, entanglement in illegal fishing gear. Other dangers are ship strike and ingestion of marine debris, to disturbance by human-made noise and whale watching activities.

The study involved researchers from UEA and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), University of Gothenburg and Sorbonne University.

Lead author Pierre Cauchy, a postgraduate researcher at UEA’s Centre for Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences (COAS) and CEFAS, said their findings would help conservation efforts: “Information on the ecology of the Mediterranean sperm whale subpopulation remains sparse and does not meet the needs of conservation managers and policy makers.

“Increasing observation efforts, particularly in winter months, will help us better understand habitat use, and identify key seasonal habitats to allow appropriate management of shipping and fishing activities.”

He added: “The clear daily pattern identified in our results appear to suggest that the sperm whales are adapting their foraging strategy to local prey behaviour. The findings also indicate a geographical pattern to their daily behaviour in the winter season.”

The whales spend a substantial amount of their time foraging — when in a foraging cycle, they produce usual clicks 60 per cent of the time. As such, they provide a reliable indicator of sperm whale presence and foraging activity, and their specific features allow them to be identified and detected up to a distance of four to 20 km.

The study involved analysing sounds recorded by passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) sensors, previously successfully used for weather observation, on gliders deployed by the team to collect oceanographic data during winter 2012-2013 and June 2014, covering 3200 km.

Prof Karen Heywood, also of COAS, said the study demonstrated the possibilities of using existing glider missions to monitor the Mediterranean sperm whale over the winter months, for which there is a lack of crucial data for conservation.

“Our ability to successfully observe sperm whale distribution in different geographic areas of the north-western Mediterranean Sea, across the slopes and the open ocean, highlighted the complexity of sperm whale behaviour, foraging strategy and habitat use,” she said.

“This study shows that the addition of PAM sensors to existing oceanographic glider missions offers the opportunity for sustained long-term observation, which would significantly improve sperm whale population monitoring and behaviour description, as well as identification of key habitat and potentially harmful interaction with human activities.”

Co-author Dr Denise Risch, a marine mammal ecologist at SAMS, added: “We need to understand the Mediterranean sperm whale population better in order to work towards their conservation by eliminating threats.

“This is also true for other marine mammal species globally, and gliders allow us to go into new areas, which we wouldn’t have any observations from otherwise, and also at times of year when we are not usually monitoring.”

‘Sperm whale presence observed using passive acoustic monitoring from gliders of opportunity’, Pierre Cauchy, Karen J Heywood, Denise Risch, Nathan D Merchant, Bastien Y Queste, Pierre Testor, is published in Endangered Species Research on July 30.

Billionaire Epstein-Ghislaine Maxwell paedophilia scandal, new information

This 31 July 2020 CBS TV video from the USA says about itself:

Ghislaine Maxwell exchanged emails with Epstein as late as 2015, unsealed court documents show

More than 600 pages of newly unsealed court documents were released late Thursday night, containing new details about Ghislaine Maxwell’s relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. They come weeks after she pleaded “not guilty” to being part of his alleged sex trafficking ring. Mola Lenghi reports.

UNSEALED DOCUMENTS DETAIL DAMNING EVIDENCE AGAINST GHISLAINE MAXWELL Hundreds of pages of court documents involving British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell, a longtime associate of Jeffrey Epstein accused of enabling the late financier’s sexual abuse of underage girls, were unsealed on Thursday night following a monthslong court battle. Among other things, the documents add detail to an allegation that Epstein forced an underage girl to have sex with Prince Andrew at Maxwell’s London apartment. [HuffPost]

Triassic dinosaurs family tree, new research

This 2016 video says about itself:


Dinosaurs are a diverse group of animals of the clade Dinosauria. They first appeared during the Triassic period, 231.4 million years ago, and were the dominant terrestrial vertebrates for 135 million years, from the start of the Jurassic (about 200 million years ago) until the end of the Cretaceous (66 million years ago), when the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event led to the extinction of most dinosaur groups at the end of the Mesozoic Era.

The fossil record indicates that birds are modern feathered dinosaurs, having evolved from theropod ancestors during the Jurassic Period. Birds were the only dinosaurs to survive the extinction event that occurred 66 million years ago.

From the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA:

Study sheds light on the evolution of the earliest dinosaurs

Geological evidence suggests the known dinosaur groups diverged early on, supporting the traditional dinosaur family tree

July 29, 2020

Summary: Geological evidence suggests the known dinosaur groups diverged early on, supporting the traditional dinosaur family tree.

The classic dinosaur family tree has two subdivisions of early dinosaurs at its base: the Ornithischians, or bird-hipped dinosaurs, which include the later Triceratops and Stegosaurus; and the Saurischians, or lizard-hipped dinosaurs, such as Brontosaurus and Tyrannosaurus.

In 2017, however, this classical view of dinosaur evolution was thrown into question with evidence that perhaps the lizard-hipped dinosaurs evolved first — a finding that dramatically rearranged the first major branches of the dinosaur family tree.

Now an MIT geochronologist, along with paleontologists from Argentina and Brazil, has found evidence to support the classical view of dinosaur evolution. The team’s findings are published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

The team reanalyzed fossils of Pisanosaurus, a small bipedal dinosaur that is thought to be the earliest preserved Ornithiscian in the fossil record. The researchers determined that the bird-hipped herbivore dates back to 229 million years ago, which is also around the time that the earliest lizard-hipped Saurischians are thought to have appeared.

The new timing suggests that Ornithiscians and Saurischians first appeared and diverged from a common ancestor at roughly the same time, giving support to the classical view of dinosaur evolution.

The researchers also dated rocks from the Ischigualasto Formation, a layered sedimentary rock unit in Argentina that is known for having preserved an abundance of fossils of the very earliest dinosaurs. Based on these fossils and others across South America, scientists believe that dinosaurs first appeared in the southern continent, which at the time was fused together with the supercontinent of Pangaea. The early dinosaurs are then thought to have diverged and fanned out across the world.

However, in the new study, the researchers determined that the period over which the Ischigualasto Formation was deposited overlaps with the timing of another important geological deposit in North America, known as the Chinle Formation.

The middle layers of the Chinle Formation in the southwestern U.S. contain fossils of various fauna, including dinosaurs that appear to be more evolved than the earliest dinosaurs. The bottom layers of this formation, however, lack animal fossil evidence of any kind, let alone early dinosaurs. This suggests that conditions within this geological window prevented the preservation of any form of life, including early dinosaurs, if they walked this particular region of the world.

“If the Chinle and Ischigualasto formations overlap in time, then early dinosaurs may not have first evolved in South America, but may have also been roaming North America around the same time,” says Jahandar Ramezani, a research scientist in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, who co-authored the study. “Those northern cousins just may not have been preserved.”

The other researchers on the study are first author Julia Desojo from the National University of La Plata Museum, and a team of paleontologists from institutions across Argentina and Brazil.

“Following footsteps”

The earliest dinosaur fossils found in the Ischigualasto Formation are concentrated within what is now a protected provincial park known as “Valley of the Moon” in the San Juan Province. The geological formation also extends beyond the park, albeit with fewer fossils of early dinosaurs. Ramezani and his colleagues instead looked to study one of the accessible outcrops of the same rocks, outside of the park.

They focused on Hoyada del Cerro Las Lajas, a less-studied outcrop of the Ischigualasto Formation, in La Rioja Province, which another team of paleontologists explored in the 1960s.

“Our group got our hands on some of the field notes and excavated fossils from those early paleontologists, and thought we should follow their footsteps to see what we could learn,” Desojo says.

Over four expeditions between 2013 to 2019, the team collected fossils and rocks from various layers of the Las Lajas outcrop, including more than 100 new fossil specimens, though none of these fossils were of dinosaurs. Nevertheless, they analyzed the fossils and found they were comparable, in both species and relative age, to nondinosaur fossils found in the park region of the same Ischigualasto Formation. They also found out that the Ischigualasto Formation in Las Lajas was significantly thicker and much more complete than the outcrops in the park. This gave them confidence that the geological layers in both locations were deposited during the same critical time interval.

Ramezani then analyzed samples of volcanic ash collected from several layers of the Las Lajas outcrops. Volcanic ash contains zircon, a mineral that he separated from the rest of the sediment, and measured for isotopes of uranium and lead, the ratios of which yield the mineral’s age.

With this high-precision technique, Ramezani dated samples from the top and bottom of the outcrop, and found that the sedimentary layers, and any fossils preserved within them, were deposited between 230 million and 221 million years ago. Since the team determined that the layered rocks in Las Lajas and the park match in both species and relative timing, they could also now determine the exact age of the park’s more fossil-rich outcrops.

Moreover, this window overlaps significantly with the time interval over which sediments were deposited, thousands of kilometers northward, in the Chinle Formation.

“For many years, people thought Chinle and Ischigualasto formations didn’t overlap, and based on that assumption, they developed a model of diachronous evolution, meaning the earliest dinosaurs appeared in South America first, then spread out to other parts of the world including North America,” Ramezani says. “We’ve now studied both formations extensively, and shown that diachronous evolution isn’t really based on sound geology.”

A family tree, preserved

Decades before Ramezani and his colleagues set out for Las Lajas, other paleontologists had explored the region and unearthed numerous fossils, including remains of Pisanosaurus mertii, a small, light-framed, ground-dwelling herbivore. The fossils are now preserved in an Argentinian museum, and scientists have gone back and forth on whether it is a true dinosaur belonging to the Ornithiscian group, or a ” basal dinosauromorph” — a kind of pre-dinosaur, with features that are almost, but not quite fully, dinosaurian.

“The dinosaurs we see in the Jurassic and Cretaceous are highly evolved, and ones we can nicely identify, but in the late Triassic, they all looked very much alike, so it’s very hard to distinguish them from each other, and from basal dinosauromorphs,” Ramezani explains.

His collaborator Max Langer from the University of São Paulo in Brazil painstakingly reanalyzed the museum-preserved fossil of Pisanosaurus, and concluded, based on certain key anatomical features, that it is indeed a dinosaur — and what’s more, that it is the earliest preserved Ornithiscian specimen. Based on Ramezani’s dating of the outcrop and the interpretation of Pisanosaurus, the researchers concluded that the earliest bird-hipped dinosaurs appeared around 229 million years ago — around the same time as their lizard-hipped counterparts.

“We can now say the earliest Ornithiscians first showed up in the fossil record roughly around the same time as the Saurischians, so we shouldn’t throw away the conventional family tree,” Ramezani says. “There are all these debates about where dinosaurs appeared, how they diversified, what the family tree looked like. A lot of those questions are tied to geochronology, so we need really good, robust age constraints to help answer these questions.”

This research was mainly funded by the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (Argentina) and the São Paulo State Research Support Foundation (Brazil). Geochronologic research at the MIT Isotope Lab has been supported in part by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Serco mercenary corporation, British coronavirus disaster profiteers

This 2014 video from Britain says about itself:

UK Charity Calls For Government Ban For G4S And Serco

British outsourcing firms G4S and Serco should be barred from bidding for government work until a fraud investigation into their failed criminal-tagging contracts is complete, a penal reform charity said on Monday. The two firms were found in July to have charged for monitoring criminals who were dead, in prison or had not been tagged at all. The Howard League for Penal Reform, a British charity, criticized that move and said on Tuesday it would hand a dossier outlining failures in recent years by both firms in delivering justice contracts to police in order to assist the SFO inquiry.

By Solomon Hughes in Britain, 31 July 2020:

23 million reasons not to trust Serco on Covid-19

Serco, a company deeply reliant on government contracts, has hired another government insider — helping them win more lucrative public-sector gigs to mess up like the ‘track and trace’ debacle — despite being fined £23m for fraud, writes SOLOMON HUGHES

IN JULY Serco announced Dame Sue Owen, formerly a top civil servant, is becoming one of its non-executive directors. Dame Sue was permanent secretary for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport until April 2019. That made her the most senior civil servant in the department, although it isn’t a department particularly relevant to Serco’s government business.

However, Dame Sue has had a long career in government with many other Serco-relevant positions: she was a Department for Work and Pensions director-general from 2013-19 and had senior positions in the Treasury before that.

Serco itself told investors Dame Sue “has held senior positions in several government departments.”

Corporations cashing in on Covid-19 are set to make billions in profits as poverty soars, Oxfam warns: here.

Eastern and western North American monarch butterflies

This June 2014 video is called Monarch butterflies amazing migration to Mexico.

From Emory Health Sciences in the USA:

Butterfly genomics: Monarchs migrate and fly differently, but meet up and mate

A genome-wide comparison of eastern and western monarchs

July 29, 2020

Each year, millions of monarch butterflies migrate across eastern North America to fly from as far north as the U.S.-Canadian border to overwinter in central Mexico — covering as much as 3,000 miles. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Rocky Mountains, western monarchs generally fly 300 miles down to the Pacific Coast to spend the winter in California. It was long believed that the eastern and western monarchs were genetically distinct populations.

A new study, however, confirms that while the eastern and western butterflies fly differently, they are genetically the same. The journal Molecular Ecology published the findings, led by evolutionary biologists at Emory University.

“It was surprising,” says Jaap de Roode, Emory professor of biology and senior author of the study. His lab is one of a handful in the world that studies monarch butterflies.

“You would expect that organisms with different behaviors and ecologies would show some genetic differences,” de Roode says. “But we found that you cannot distinguish genetically between the western and eastern butterflies.”

The current paper builds on previous work by the de Roode lab that found similarities between 11 genetic markers of the eastern and western monarchs, as well as other more limited genetic studies and observational and tracking data.

“This is the first genome-wide comparison of eastern and western monarchs to try to understand their behavioral differences better,” says Venkat Talla, first author of the current study and an Emory post-doctoral fellow in the lab.

Talla analyzed more than 20 million DNA mutations in 43 monarch genomes and found no evidence for genomic differentiation between eastern and western monarchs. Instead, he found identical levels of genetic diversity.

“Our work shows that the eastern and western monarchs are mating together and exchanging genetic material to a much greater extent than was previously realized,” Talla says. “And it adds to the evidence that it is likely differences in their environments that shapes the differences in their patterns of migration.”

Co-author Amanda Pierce, who led the earlier study on 11 genetic markers, launched the project while she was a graduate student in the De Roode Lab.

“Monarch butterflies are so fragile and so lightweight, and yet they are able to travel thousands of miles,” Pierce says. “They are beautiful creatures and a great model system to understand unique, innate behaviors. We know that migration is ingrained in their genetic wiring in some way.”

After monarchs leave their overwintering sites, they fly north and lay eggs. The caterpillars turn into butterflies and then fly further, mating and laying another generation of eggs. The process repeats for several generations until finally, as the days grow shorter and the temperatures cooler, monarchs emerge from their chrysalises and start to fly south. This migratory generation does not expend any energy on breeding or laying eggs, saving it all for the long journey.

“For every butterfly that makes it to California or to Mexico, that’s its first journey there,” Pierce marvels.

Previous work had identified a propensity for the eastern and western monarchs to have slight differences in their wing shapes. For the current paper, the researchers wanted to identify any variations in their flight styles.

They collected eastern monarchs from a migratory stopover site in Saint Marks, Florida, and western monarchs from one of their overwintering sites near Oceano, California. Pierce ran flight trials with the butterflies by tethering them to a mill that restricted their flight patterns to circles with a circumference of about 25 feet. The trials were performed in a laboratory under controlled light and temperature conditions that mimicked overwintering sites. Artificial flowers were arranged around the circumference of the flight mills.

“The idea was to try to give them some semblance of a ‘natural’ environment to help motivate them and to orient them,” Pierce explains.

Butterflies were released unharmed from the flight mills after performing short trials.

The results showed that the eastern monarchs would choose to fly for longer distances while the western monarchs flew shorter distances but with stronger bursts of speed. “The more powerful flight trait of the western monarch is like a sprinter, essentially,” Pierce says, “while the eastern monarchs show a flight trait more like marathoners.”

Pierce has since graduated from Emory and now works as a geneticist for the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.

Talla, who specializes in bioinformatics, grew up in India where the rich diversity of wildlife inspired him to become an evolutionary biologist. He moved to Sweden to get his PhD, where he studied the genomics of the European wood white butterfly. Although all wood whites appear identical visually, they are actually three different species.

“One of the big questions I’m interested in answering is how does an individual species wind up becoming multiple species?” Talla says. “I want to understand all the processes involved in that evolution.”

He jumped at the chance to join the De Roode Lab. “Monarchs have always been at the top of my list of butterflies I wanted to study because of their incredible migrations,” Talla says. “They are a fascinating species.”

Last November, he joined de Roode on a lab field trip to the eastern monarch overwintering site, inside and adjacent to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in central Mexico. Tens to hundreds of millions of monarchs blanket the trees and landscape through the winter. “It’s a mind-blowing sight,” Talla says. “It makes you wonder how they all know how to get there.”

Previous tracking and observational studies had shown that at least some western monarchs fly south to Mexico instead of west to California. The full-genome analysis suggests that more than just a few of the western monarchs may be making the trip to Mexico where they mix with the eastern monarchs. And when the butterflies depart Mexico, some may fly west instead of east.

“Evidence from multiple directions is coming together to support the same view,” de Roode says.

The findings may help in the conservation of monarchs. Due to a combination of habitat loss, climate change and lack of nectaring flowers, numbers of both eastern and western monarchs have declined in recent decades, with the western ones showing the most precipitous drop. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is currently considering whether the butterflies need special protections.

“If environmental factors are all that drives the differences between the eastern and western monarchs, it’s possible that we could help the western population by transplanting some of the eastern ones to the west,” de Roode says.

The De Roode lab now plans to investigate what exactly in the environments of the butterflies triggers different expressions of their genes.

The work was funded by Emory University, the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Boris Johnson, guilty of British coronavirus deaths

This 8 July 2020 music video from Britain says about itself:

Shagger – It Wasn’t Me

Boris Johnson’s Shaggy tribute act.


Sent 25,000 patients into care homes with no tests
Didn’t get the PPE, but Hancock got some Galatasaray vests
Wonder if there’s a way I could blame it on the care home chaps
It would take serious brass neck after taking part in all those claps

Bloody hell, it seems I’ve caused a big old genocide
When I wanted to be Churchill, that’s not what I had in mind
I’d be strung up by the ankles if the papers weren’t onside
I’d still lead all the polls if a million of you died

Let the record show I threw a protective ring
Get you all hammered so you don’t recall a thing
Like how I threatened to remove the care homes’ funding
Unless they took the COVID patients under their wing

The one who locked down belatedly
(It wasn’t me)
Refused to learn from Spain and Italy
(It wasn’t me)
The guy who favoured herd immunity
(It wasn’t me)
And picked the science accordingly
(It wasn’t me)
Who didn’t go to COBRA meetings
(It wasn’t me)
And hardly bothered with the briefings
(It wasn’t me)
The one who went around greeting
(It wasn’t me)
People hospitals were treating
(It wasn’t me)

Sent 25,000 patients into care homes with no tests
It was either that or show the world how bare we’d left the NHS
I’m not saying my own case of COVID-19 was overblown
But I spent the weekend in bed watching all of Home Alone

From daily The Morning Star in Britain, 30 July 2020:

PM told he must accept ‘personal responsibility’ for high Covid-19 death toll

THE PM must “take personal responsibility” for England suffering the highest numbers of excess deaths in Europe during the first half of 2020, Labour charged today.

Shocking figures from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) revealed today that England endured the “longest continuous” period of excess deaths during the Covid-19 pandemic.

PM Boris Johnson responded by saying the recent reduction in deaths has been a “massive success.”