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The Strange Effect 9/11 Had on the Whale Population

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Canada’s Bay of Fundy is located on the east coast of North America, tucked between Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. It’s a common home to a number of ships and active ports, at least on a typical day. But September 11, 2001, was not a typical day. The attacks on the United States brought sea traffic throughout the region to a crawl as authorities rushed to ensure the safety of ships, their passengers, and their cargo. That slowdown lasted a couple of days and unintentionally created unique conditions for scientific inquiry. 

For example, it helped researchers discover that whales were really stressed out.

The Bay of Fundy is a seasonal feeding ground for a few species of whales, whose populations spike in the summer and into the early fall. As a relatively enclosed body of water, the Bay of Fundy lends itself well to the study of these creatures. In September 2001, two teams of researchers were independently conducting whale-focused experiments in the area. One was collecting recordings of whale songs, to learn more about how whales communicate. The other was collecting whale feces, which, while gross, can be used to tell us more about whale diet and nutrition by measuring various hormone levels found within the stool samples. (The things we do in furtherance of science.)

Nearly a decade after 9/11, a group led by scientists from the New England Aquarium in Boston noticed that these two experiments provided a rare opportunity. For years, as the New York Times reported, we’ve known that whales “communicate with acoustic signals at low frequency, the range of many noises from ships” and that “whales move off, reduce their own calls and otherwise respond to ship noise.” Some researchers believed that whales were moving away because ship noise caused them stress, but there was no good way to test this theory. Incredibly, the 9/11 data provided a rare insight into the question. 

When whales get stressed, they release a hormone that, ultimately, they excrete in their feces. Because researchers were collecting the poop on 9/11 and the days previous and subsequent, the science community had data on the relative stress levels of the Bay of Fundy whales during that time. What it shows is that the whales were pretty relaxed on the days after the attack—or, at least, more relaxed than they were in the days prior. 

From the same time period, we also have data measuring the amount of low-frequency acoustic signals in the Bay that week—again, from before and after 9/11. We already knew that ship traffic came to a near-halt, so it shouldn’t be surprising that the amount of underwater noise also dropped dramatically. One could say that it was, relatively speaking, rather peaceful if you were a whale.

Whether the whales’ stress levels are important, though, is harder to determine. Since the conditions of this experiment were accidental, researchers can’t repeat the tests. One of the researchers pointed out, in the words of the Associated Press, that it is “unclear how much chronic stress from noise the whales can take before the population is affected, largely because it’s impossible to conduct controlled experiments on fifty-ton animals.” So for now, we’ll likely keep stressing out the whales.

Bonus Fact

Life as a college student can be stressful, too, especially around finals. A few schools have found a cute solution—puppies. The schools bring in trained therapy animals to take some of the edge off.

Excerpted from Now I Know More Copyright © 2014 by Dan Lewis and published by F+W Media, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. 

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Animals
The Simple Way to Protect Your Dog From Dangerous Rock Salt
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Winter can be a tough time for dogs. The cold weather usually means there are fewer opportunities for walks and more embarrassing accessories for them to wear. But the biggest threat to canines this time of year is one pet owners may not notice: the dangerous rock salt coating the streets and sidewalks. If you live someplace where this is a problem, here are the steps you need to take to keep your pooch safe until the weather warms up, according to Life Hacker.

Rock salt poses two major hazards to pets: damage to their feet and poisoning from ingestion. The first is the one most pet owners are aware of. Not only do large grains of salt hurt when they get stuck in a dog’s paws, but they can also lead to frostbite and chemical burns due to the de-icing process at work. The easiest way to prevent this is by covering your dog’s paws before taking them outside. Dog booties get the job done, as do protective balms and waxes that can be applied directly to their pads.

The second danger is a little harder to anticipate. The only way you can stop your dog from eating rock salt from the ground is to keep a close eye on them. Does your dog seem a little too interested in a puddle or a mound of snow? Encourage them to move on before they have a chance to take a lick.

If, for some reason, you forget to follow the steps above and your pet has a bad encounter with some winter salt, don’t panic. For salty feet, soak your dog's paws in warm water once you get inside to wash away any remaining grit. If your dog exhibits symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and disorientation and you suspect they’ve ingested rock salt, contact your vet right away.

Even with the proper protection, winter can still create an unsafe environment for dogs. Check out this handy chart to determine when it’s too cold to take them for a walk.

[h/t Life Hacker]

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© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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Animals
Boston's Museum of Fine Arts Hires Puppy to Sniff Out Art-Munching Bugs
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Some dogs are qualified to work at hospitals, fire departments, and airports, but one place you don’t normally see a pooch is in the halls of a fine art museum. The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is changing that: As The Boston Globe reports, a young Weimaraner named Riley is the institution’s newest volunteer.

Even without a background in art restoration, Riley will be essential in maintaining the quality of the museum's masterpieces. His job is to sniff out the wood- and canvas-munching pests lurking in the museum’s collection. During the next few months, Riley will be trained to identify the scents of bugs that pose the biggest threat to the museum’s paintings and other artifacts. (Moths, termites, and beetles are some of the worst offenders.)

Some infestations can be spotted with the naked eye, but when that's impossible, the museum staff will rely on Riley to draw attention to the problem after inspecting an object. From there, staff members can examine the piece more closely and pinpoint the source before it spreads.

Riley is just one additional resource for the MFA’s existing pest control program. As far as the museum knows, it's rare for institutions facing similar problems to hire canine help. If the experiment is successful, bug-sniffing dogs may become a common sight in art museums around the world.

[h/t The Boston Globe]

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