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Oldest giant ichthyosaur discovery


Cymbospondylus

Cymbospondylus

From ScienceDaily, 23 December 2021, by the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in the USA:

The two-meter skull of a newly discovered species of giant ichthyosaur, the earliest known, is shedding new light on the marine reptiles’ rapid growth into behemoths of the Dinosaurian oceans, and helping us better understand the journey of modern cetaceans (whales and dolphins) to becoming the largest animals to ever inhabit the Earth.

While dinosaurs ruled the land, ichthyosaurs and other aquatic reptiles (that were emphatically not dinosaurs) ruled the waves, reaching similarly gargantuan sizes and species diversity. Evolving fins and hydrodynamic body-shapes seen in both fish and whales, ichthyosaurs swam the ancient oceans for nearly the entirety of the Age of Dinosaurs.

“Ichthyosaurs derive from an as yet unknown group of land-living reptiles and were air-breathing themselves,” says lead author Dr. Martin Sander, paleontologist at the University of Bonn and Research Associate with the Dinosaur Institute at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County (NHM). “From the first skeleton discoveries in southern England and Germany over 250 years ago, these ‘fish-saurians’ were among the first large fossil reptiles known to science, long before the dinosaurs, and they have captured the popular imagination ever since.”

Excavated from a rock unit called the Fossil Hill Member in the Augusta Mountains of Nevada, the well-preserved skull, along with part of the backbone, shoulder, and forefin, date back to the Middle Triassic (247.2-237 million years ago), representing the earliest case of an ichthyosaur reaching epic proportions. As big as a large sperm whale at more than 17 meters (55.78 feet) long, the newly named Cymbospondylus youngorum is the largest animal yet discovered from that time period, on land or in the sea. In fact, it was the first giant creature to ever inhabit the Earth that we know of.

“The importance of the find was not immediately apparent,” notes Dr. Sander, “because only a few vertebrae were exposed on the side of the canyon. However, the anatomy of the vertebrae suggested that the front end of the animal might still be hidden in the rocks. Then, one cold September day in 2011, the crew needed a warm-up and tested this suggestion by excavation, finding the skull, forelimbs, and chest region.”

The new name for the species, C. youngorum, honors a happy coincidence, the sponsoring of the fieldwork by Great Basin Brewery of Reno, owned and operated by Tom and Bonda Young, the inventors of the locally famous Icky beer which features an ichthyosaur on its label.

In other mountain ranges of Nevada, paleontologists have been recovering fossils from the Fossil Hill Member’s limestone, shale, and siltstone since 1902, opening a window into the Triassic. The mountains connect our present to ancient oceans and have produced many species of ammonites, shelled ancestors of modern cephalopods like cuttlefish and octopuses, as well as marine reptiles. All these animal specimens are collectively known as the Fossil Hill Fauna, representing many of C. youngorum’s prey and competitors.

C. youngorum stalked the oceans some 246 million years ago, or only about three million years after the first ichthyosaurs got their fins wet, an amazingly short time to get this big. The elongated snout and conical teeth suggest that C. youngorum preyed on squid and fish, but its size meant that it could have hunted smaller and juvenile marine reptiles as well.

The giant predator probably had some hefty competition. Through sophisticated computational modeling, the authors examined the likely energy running through the Fossil Hill Fauna’s food web, recreating the ancient environment through data, finding that marine food webs were able to support a few more colossal meat-eating ichthyosaurs. Ichthyosaurs of different sizes and survival strategies proliferated, comparable to modern cetaceans’ — from relatively small dolphins to massive filter-feeding baleen whales, and giant squid-hunting sperm whales.

Co-author and ecological modeler Dr. Eva Maria Griebeler from the University of Mainz in Germany notes, “due to their large size and resulting energy demands, the densities of the largest ichthyosaurs from the Fossil Hill Fauna including C. youngourum must have been substantially lower than suggested by our field census. The ecological functioning of this food web from ecological modeling was very exciting as modern highly productive primary producers were absent in Mesozoic food webs and were an important driver in the size evolution of whales.”

Whales and ichthyosaurs share more than a size range. They have similar body plans, and both initially arose after mass extinctions. These similarities make them scientifically valuable for comparative study. The authors combined computer modeling and traditional paleontology to study how these marine animals reached record-setting sizes independently.

“One rather unique aspect of this project is the integrative nature of our approach. We first had to describe the anatomy of the giant skull in detail and determine how this animal is related to other ichthyosaurs,” says senior author Dr. Lars Schmitz, Associate Professor of Biology at Scripps College and Dinosaur Institute Research Associate. “We did not stop there, as we wanted to understand the significance of the new discovery in the context of the large-scale evolutionary pattern of ichthyosaur and whale body sizes, and how the fossil ecosystem of the Fossil Hill Fauna may have functioned. Both the evolutionary and ecological analyses required a substantial amount of computation, ultimately leading to a confluence of modeling with traditional paleontology.”

They found that while both cetaceans and ichthyosaurs evolved very large body sizes, their respective evolutionary trajectories toward gigantism were different. Ichthyosaurs had an initial boom in size, becoming giants early on in their evolutionary history, while whales took much longer to reach the outer limits of huge. They found a connection between large size and raptorial hunting — think of a sperm whale diving down to hunt giant squid — and a connection between large size and a loss of teeth — think of the giant filter-feeding whales that are the largest animals ever to live on Earth.

Ichthyosaurs’ initial foray into gigantism was likely thanks to the boom in ammonites and jawless eel-like conodonts filling the ecological void following the end-Permian mass extinction. While their evolutionary routes were different, both whales and ichthyosaurs relied on exploiting niches in the food chain to make it really big.

“As researchers, we often talk about similarities between ichthyosaurs and cetaceans, but rarely dive into the details. That’s one way this study stands out, as it allowed us to explore and gain some additional insight into body size evolution within these groups of marine tetrapods,” says NHM’s Associate Curator of Mammalogy (Marine Mammals), Dr. Jorge Velez-Juarbe. “Another interesting aspect is that Cymbospondylus youngorum and the rest of the Fossil Hill Fauna are a testament to the resilience of life in the oceans after the worst mass extinction in Earth’s history. You can say this is the first big splash for tetrapods in the oceans.”

C. youngorum will be permanently housed at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, where it is currently on view.

Ghislaine Maxwell guilty of sex trafficking


This 30 December 2021 video about the USA says about itself:

Ghislaine Maxwell has been found guilty on sex trafficking charges after allegedly recruiting and grooming girls for sexual exploitation by Jeffrey Epstein.

GHISLAINE MAXWELL FOUND GUILTY IN SEX ABUSE TRIAL British socialite Ghislaine Maxwell was found guilty on five counts in her trial for luring teenage girls to be sexually abused by the American millionaire Jeffrey Epstein. Maxwell faces years in prison — an outcome long sought by women who spent years fighting in civil courts to hold her accountable for her role in recruiting and grooming Epstein‘s victims. [AP]

Making a red-tailed hawk carving


This video from the USA says about itself:

Enjoy this archived live conversation with artist and Red-tailed Hawk cam aficionado David Cohen as he explains the inspiration and craftsmanship behind his carving of the Cornell Hawks nest that is now on display at Cornell University’s Corson-Mudd Hall.

Racist killer Rittenhouse acquitted in the USA


This 20 November 2021 MSNBC video from the USA says about itself:

Legal analyst Maya Wiley On Rittenhouse Verdict: ‘We’re In More Danger Today Than Yesterday’

From the Legal Defence Fund of the NAACP in the USA:

Today, Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted on three counts of first-degree reckless homicide, use of a dangerous weapon, and two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, use of a dangerous weapon for the respective killings of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, as well as the shooting of Gaige Grosskreutz in August 2020.

In response, LDF President and Director-Counsel Sherrilyn Ifill issued the following statement:

“Kyle Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin, [crossing state lines] in response to protests over the unjust police shooting of Jacob Blake and armed himself with a semi-automatic rifle he believed was unlawful for him to own. Rittenhouse lied about being a medical professional, then shot and killed two people while injuring a third. Despite numerous confrontations in the streets on Kenosha and the presence of other armed individuals, Rittenhouse was the only person who shot and killed someone that night. After Rittenhouse shot multiple people and called his friend stating, ‘I just killed someone,’ he then approached law enforcement officers and apparently disobeyed their commands; but was still able to walk away without being arrested.

“Fifteen days prior to that deadly evening, Rittenhouse was recorded saying that he wished he had his rifle in order to shoot some men he believed were shoplifters. Months after the shootings in Kenosha, Rittenhouse was seen at a bar flashing a white power sign as men reportedly sang the anthem of the white nationalist Proud Boys group to him. Wisconsin’s guns laws have been repeatedly loosened, strengthening the ability to carry openly in 2011, and loosening other protections in 2015, opening the door for people to brazenly transport and carry weapons, including semi-automatic rifles, with[out] substantial protections.

“Rittenhouse’s actions before, after, and during that night in Kenosha, and the impunity afforded to his actions do not exist in isolation from the larger context of racism, lax gun laws, and the deep flaws in our criminal justice system that so powerfully shape public life in this country.

“We should not forget that these killings took place amid protests in Kenosha. The history of protest is integral to the fight for racial justice in this country and there remains a concerted attack to encroach on this right. Rittenhouse’s conduct must be understood within an environment in which armed militias and vigilantes are acting to silence protesters, and where state legislatures have advanced anti-protest bills in the aftermath of demonstrations calling for racial justice.

“While the actions of all parties during the trial will be scrutinized over time, the acquittal of Rittenhouse on all charges, and the lauding of him as a hero, by right-wing elected leaders and others, will embolden would-be vigilantes who intimidate protestors demanding racial justice to believe that they can escape accountability for their violence.”

Corporate sponsorship of anti-abortion politicians


This 2017 video from the USA says about itself:

In defending his anti-abortion bill, Oklahoma state rep George Faut reveals that he thinks rape and incest all part of God’s will. “The Lord uses all circumstances.”

THESE CORPORATIONS FUNDED CO-SPONSORS OF OHIO’S PROPOSED ABORTION BAN A number of health care companies and major corporations have made campaign contributions to two dozen Ohio state lawmakers who are co-sponsoring new legislation to ban abortion in the state. The list includes health care companies such as Pfizer, Anthem, Molina Healthcare and Merck. [HuffPost]

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF AN OKLAHOMA ABORTION PROVIDER Since Texas banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, a doctor at Planned Parenthood’s Tulsa clinic has been working nonstop to accommodate the influx of Texans. “I worry a lot,” Dr. Joshua Yap said. “What if I get sick or if I become incapacitated? I can’t take a day off knowing that people are driving, sometimes eight to nine hours, to get to our clinic.” [HuffPost]

Good whimbrel news from the USA


This 16 June 2021 video says about itself:

Discovery at Deveaux! This short film follows a team of shorebird biologists as they confirm the first census of a newly discovered Whimbrel roost in 2019. The final counts amount to nearly 20,000 individuals, representing half of the entire Atlantic Flyway population of this declining species using a single barrier island in South Carolina.

Vast flocks of Whimbrels were thought to be a thing of the past, something out of tattered ornithological journals from a century ago. Then a South Carolina wildlife biologist made a major discovery: Nearly 20,000 birds roosting nightly on a sandbar just off the coast—the largest known concentration of this rapidly declining shorebird anywhere on Earth. Read the story.

Wildness on a Whim: South Carolina poet and ornithologist Dr. J. Drew Lanham reflects on the Deveaux Bank Whimbrel roost as sign of a new kind of hope—and a new definition of wildness. Read his essay.

Journalist murdered, Saudi crown prince off the hook?


This video says about itself:

Saudi Crown Prince personally approved Khashoggi murder says US report – BBC News

A US intelligence report has concluded that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman personally approved the murder of the exiled journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.

He was killed while visiting the Saudi consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

The declassified intelligence report says Prince Salman approved a plan to either “capture or kill” Khashoggi, who had criticised the Saudi regime.

It’s the first time America has publicly named the crown prince, who has denied ordering the murder.

Sophie Raworth presents BBC News at Ten reporting by North America correspondent Nick Bryant.

BIDEN PROMISED TO TAKE ON SAUDI ARABIA OVER JAMAL KHASHOGGI. THE SAUDIS WON. In the nine months since he took over from Trump, Biden could have meaningfully punished Saudi Arabia and its prince over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Instead, the U.S. response to Khashoggi’s killing has been too puny to deter future abuses, experts say. Catch up with the case here. [HuffPost]

Greta Thunberg on climate crisis


This video says about itself:

Sep.30 2021– “Build back better, blah blah blah. Green economy, blah blah blah.”

Climate activist Greta Thunberg criticizes world leaders over “empty words and promises” during an international youth climate summit in Italy.

To world leaders,

“Betrayal.”

That’s how young people around the world describe our governments’ failure to cut carbon emissions. And it’s no surprise.

We are catastrophically far from the crucial goal of 1.5°C, and yet governments everywhere are still accelerating the crisis, spending billions on fossil fuels.

This is not a drill. It’s code red for the Earth. Millions will suffer as our planet is devastated — a terrifying future that will be created, or avoided, by the decisions you make. You have the power to decide.

As citizens across the planet, we urge you to face up to the climate emergency. Not next year. Not next month. Now:

  • Keep the precious goal of 1.5°C alive with immediate, drastic, annual emission reductions unlike anything the world has ever seen.
  • End all fossil fuel investments, subsidies, and new projects immediately, and stop new exploration and extraction.
  • End ‘creative’ carbon accounting by publishing total emissions for all consumption indices, supply chains, international aviation and shipping, and the burning of biomass.
  • Deliver the $100bn promised to the most vulnerable countries, with additional funds for climate disasters.
  • Enact climate policies to protect workers and the most vulnerable, and reduce all forms of inequality.

We can still do this. There is still time to avoid the worst consequences if we are prepared to change. It will take determined, visionary leadership. And it will take immense courage — but know that when you rise, billions will be right behind you.

Add my name
It can feel incredibly hard to keep hope alive in the face of inaction. But my hope lies in people — in the millions of us who are rising to save the future. It lies in our marches, in our dogged determination to keep fighting, and in our trembling voices as we speak truth to power. My hope is rooted in action and fuelled by a love for humanity and our most beautiful earth. It’s what keeps me absolutely convinced that we can do this. And we must do this. Together.
With fierce hope,

Greta from Sweden, with Vanessa from Uganda, Dominika from Poland, Mitzi from the Philippines, youth activists across the world, and the whole team at Avaaz

More information:

AMAZON RAINFOREST BIRDS ARE SHRINKING AS TEMPERATURES RISE Birds in the Amazon rainforest have gotten physically smaller over the last four decades, and scientists believe that a warming planet may be the reason. While birds’ bodies have gotten smaller over time, their wings have gotten longer. The researchers believe this may be an adaptation to hotter temperatures. [HuffPost]

CLIMATE SUMMIT IS BARELY OVER AND BIDEN IS OUT HERE SELLING FOSSIL FUELS In the presidential debate in March 2020, President Joe Biden promised to “take on the fossil fuel industry.” But environmental advocates say Biden is breaking that pledge now as the administration prepares to hold the largest offshore oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history on Nov. 17. [HuffPost]

Studying curlew in England


This 1 October 2021 video from England says about itself:

Harry Ewing, PhD student at the University of East Anglia and BTO, shares his research into Curlew in Breckland, tells us how the COVID-19 pandemic affected his work and thanks BTO major donors for supporting an extra field season to gather more data on this declining species.