7 Oddball Aquatic Mammals We Love


Everyone knows all about dolphins and whales, and even dolphins that pretend to be whales (the orca! coughcough). But there are over 100 species of marine mammals in the world, and most of them have as much cool stuff going for them as any old Moby Dick.

1. Leopard seal (Hydrurga leptonyx)

You’ve probably heard of the leopard seal, well-known for being one of the world’s fiercest undersea predators; its name comes from its spotted coat, and from its huge mouth full of extremely sharp, terrifying teeth. Unlike other seals, which eat mostly fish, leopard seals feed on warm-blooded animals like seabirds, penguins and, yes, even other seals. Their diverse and surface-dwelling diet allows them to find plenty of food without needing to dive very deep.

2. Amazon River dolphin (Inia geoffrensis)

Known as the boto in Portuguese, the Amazon River dolphin is one of only five species of freshwater dolphin, four of which are severely endangered, and the last of which has gone extinct. The Amazon River Dolphin sometimes called the “pink dolphin,” though it is naturally white, taking on a pink, blue, or brownish hue depending on its diet and environment. The boto’s shape is different from sea-dwelling dolphins: it’s rostrum (snout) is extra long and thin, and instead of a pronounced dorsal fin, it has a long ridge along its back. Due to the low visibility in cloudy river waters, the boto also has tiny, poorly functioning eyes, and therefore relies almost entirely on echolocation to hunt its prey.

3. Dugong (Dugong dugon)

Along with its close relative the manatee, the dugong belongs to an animal order called Sirenia, derived from the belief that these arguably human-shaped creatures inspired tales of mermaids, who sang their siren song to ill-fated sailors. Less glamorously, the manatee and the dugong are informally known as “sea cows,” and use their large, rough lips to graze on sea grasses. In actuality, their closest relative among land animals is the elephant. The dugong is in a separate family than the better-known manatee, however; while the manatee has a completely round tail, the dugong’s tail is fluked, like that of a whale or a dolphin. And while manatees can live in freshwater, dugongs are strictly ocean-dwellers, making them the only marine mammals that subsist entirely on vegetation.

4. Cuvier’s beaked whale (Ziphius cavirostris)

For decades, scientists credited the sperm whale and elephant seal as performing the deepest and longest dives among air-breathing sea creatures. But recently, studies using digital tags have proven that the unassuming beaked whale leaves all other marine mammals in the proverbial dust. Cuvier’s beaked whale can dive up to 6,230 feet (1,900 meters) and for up to 85 minutes—about 2,00 more feet and 24 minutes beyond the sperm whale. It may not be the most beautiful or graceful of all cetaceans, but its thick, dense body is better suited to withstanding deep-sea pressure than to flitting about upon the waves.

5. Vaquita (Phocoena sinus)

People often use the terms “dolphin” and “porpoise” interchangeably, but the smaller, snub-nosed porpoises differ greatly from their more popular cousins in the Delphinidae family. Also known as the “Gulf of California porpoise,” the vaquita’s name means “little cow” in Spanish. It is endemic to the relatively shallow waters of the Gulf of California, inside Mexico’s Baja peninsula, where commercial fishing and changes in habitat make it one of the most endangered cetaceans on the planet. It’s also the smallest of all cetaceans, at about 4-5 ft. in length.

6. Long-finned pilot whale (Globicephala melas)

After the killer whale (orca) and the short-finned pilot whale, the long-finned pilot whale is the third-largest member of the dolphin family, Delphinidae (characterized primarily by their cone-shaped teeth). It also looks somewhat similar to the arctic’s beluga whale; both have bulbous “melon” heads, which help them echolocate. But unlike the long-finned pilot whale, the beluga is a true whale, most closely related to the narwhal (the one with the unicorn-looking horn).

In terms of social structure, however, the long-finned pilot whale is without rival. Known for being a gregarious species, with strong, maternally based social structures, they engage in a number of showy social behaviors like breaching, fluking, even swimming in formation, and are one of the species of cetacean most likely engage in mysterious mass strandings.

7. Polar bear (Ursus maritimus)

You read that right: Polar bears are scientifically categorized as marine mammals because they spend a large proportion of their time in the water, and rely on the ocean for survival. Other marine mammals in its order (Carnivora) are otters: the sea otter (Enhydra lutris) and the marine otter (Lontra feline). Which of these would you prefer to meet on a scuba dive?

The Surprising Link Between Language and Depression

Skim through the poems of Sylvia Plath, the lyrics of Kurt Cobain, or posts on an internet forum dedicated to depression, and you'll probably start to see some commonalities. That's because there's a particular way that people with clinical depression communicate, whether they're speaking or writing, and psychologists believe they now understand the link between the two.

According to a recent study published in Clinical Psychological Science, there are certain "markers" in a person's parlance that may point to symptoms of clinical depression. Researchers used automated text analysis methods to comb through large quantities of posts in 63 internet forums with more than 6400 members, searching for certain words and phrases. They also noted average sentence length, grammatical patterns, and other factors.

What researchers found was that a person's use (or overuse) of first-person pronouns can provide some insight into the state of their mental health. People with clinical depression tend to use more first-person singular pronouns, such as "I" and "me," and fewer third-person pronouns, like "they," "he," or "she." As Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Reading and the head of the study, writes in a post for IFL Science:

"This pattern of pronoun use suggests people with depression are more focused on themselves, and less connected with others. Researchers have reported that pronouns are actually more reliable in identifying depression than negative emotion words."

What remains unclear, though, is whether people who are more focused on themselves tend to depression, or if depression turns a person's focus on themselves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people with depression also use more negative descriptors, like "lonely" and "miserable."

But, Al-Mosaiwi notes, it's hardly the most important clue when using language to assess clinical depression. Far better indicators, he says, are the presence of "absolutist words" in a person's speech or writing, such as "always," "constantly," and "completely." When overused, they tend to indicate that someone has a "black-and-white view of the world," Al-Mosaiwi says. An analysis of posts on different internet forums found that absolutist words were 50 percent more prevalent on anxiety and depression forums, and 80 percent more prevalent on suicidal ideation forums.

Researchers hope these types of classifications, supported by computerized methods, will prove more and more beneficial in a clinical setting.

[h/t IFL Science]

Pop Culture
The ‘Scully Effect’ Is Real: Female X-Files Fans More Likely to Go Into STEM

FBI agent Dana Scully is more than just a role model for remaining professional when a colleague won't stop talking about his vast governmental conspiracy theories. The skeptical doctor played by Gillian Anderson on The X-Files helped inspire women to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, according to a new report [PDF] from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which we spotted at Fast Company.

“In the world of entertainment media, where scientists are often portrayed as white men wearing white coats and working alone in labs, Scully stood out in the 1990s as the only female STEM character in a prominent, prime-time television role,” the report explains. Previously, anecdotal evidence has pointed to the existence of a “Scully effect,” in which the measured TV scientist—with her detailed note-taking, evidence-based approach, and desire to autopsy everything—inspired women to seek out their own science careers. This report provides the hard data.

The Geena Davis Institute surveyed more than 2000 women in the U.S. above the age of 25, a significant portion of whom were viewers of The X-Files (68 percent) and women who had studied for or were in STEM careers (49 percent). While the survey didn’t ask women whether watching Dana Scully on The X-Files directly influenced their decision to be a scientist, the results hint that seeing a character like her on TV regularly did affect them. Women who watched more of the show were more likely to say they were interested in STEM, more likely to have studied a STEM field in college, and more likely to have worked in a STEM field after college.

While it’s hard to draw a direct line of causation there—women who are interested in science might just be more inclined to watch a sci-fi show like The X-Files than women who grow up to be historians—viewers also tended to say Scully gave them positive impressions of women in science. More than half of respondents who were familiar with Scully’s character said she increased their confidence in succeeding in a male-dominated profession. More than 60 percent of the respondents said she increased their belief in the importance of STEM. And when asked to describe her, they were most likely to say she was “smart” and “intelligent” before any other adjective.

STEM fields are still overwhelmingly male, and governments, nonprofits, schools, activists, and some tech companies have been pushing to make the field more diverse by recruiting and retaining more female talent. While the desire to become a doctor or an engineer isn’t the only thing keeping STEM a boy’s club, women also need more role models in the fields whose success and accomplishments they can look up to. Even if some of those role models are fictional.

Now that The X-Files has returned to Fox, perhaps Dana Scully will have an opportunity to shepherd a whole new generation of women into the sciences.

[h/t Fast Company]


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