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Current Biology

The World's Rarest Whale

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Current Biology

In 1872, part of a damaged whale mandible and set of teeth were found on Pitt Island in New Zealand. Initially thought to be bones from the Scamperdown whale, also known as Gray’s beaked whale, it was not until 1874 that John Edward Gray—who had discovered the Gray’s beaked whale—examined the bones and assigned them to a new, never-before-seen species.

Debates among zoologists couldn’t pin down the name or classification of this new species. In the 1950s, a damaged skullcap was found on New Zealand’s White Island, and was assigned to many different species, later including the Bahamonde’s beaked whale (which was known from a damaged skull found in 1986 on Robinson Crusoe Island in Chile). It was not until 2002 that researchers matched the mandible and teeth from Pitt Island to the skulls from White Island and Robinson Crusoe Island, naming it the spade-toothed beaked whale, Mesoplodon traversii. Yet beyond those three bone fragments, nobody knew what it looked like, or really anything about it.

Then, in December of 2010, two whales—an adult female and a male calf—beached themselves on Opape Beach in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. They were initially categorized as Gray’s beaked whales, an echo of the situation upon the discovery in 1872. Further DNA research, however, identified these two whales as spade-toothed beaked whales, the first complete specimens ever seen.

Scientific American

How this species managed to avoid human eyes for so many years is unknown, but this is the first step toward learning more about the world’s rarest species of whale. The skeletal remains of the whales are now being kept at the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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