Erin McCarthy
Erin McCarthy

Scientists Have Composed Music For Your Cats

Erin McCarthy
Erin McCarthy

If your cat has ever meowed along to your favorite pop song, it’s probably not because he liked it. That music was designed in pitches and tempos that humans enjoy, so your cat is, at best, likely indifferent to your tunes (and, at worst, maybe tortured by them). Now, two psychologists at University of Wisconsin and a composer at University of Maryland have teamed up to make songs especially for your felines, with beats in the frequency range that they use to communicate with each other—and while the songs might sound unsettling to humans, research indicates that cats dig it.

The music is part of a larger project to create tunes for many members of the animal kingdom; the team has also created music for tamarin monkeys, which had a soothing effect on the creatures. The researchers hope that this species-specific music will enrich the lives of animals in captivity.

According to composer David Teie’s website, these songs are written specifically to appeal to the domestic cat, and are “based on feline vocal communication and environmental sounds that pique the interest of cats.” All of the music was made using traditional instruments and the human voice; no actual animal sounds were used.

There are three types of cat songs: Playful Kitty Ditties, which “incorporate stylizations of some of the animal calls that are of great interest to cats” and “are meant to arouse interest and curiosity”; Cat Ballads, which mimic the suckling sound, and “should be restful and pleasing for your kitty”; and Feline Airs, which are “based on the pulses of the purr” and “[draw] sympathetic emotions from the listener.” You can listen to samples of the songs here.

In their study, which was published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, the researchers made 47 kitties listen to human music, like Gabriel Fauré's Elegie and Bach's Air on the G String, which the cats weren't into. But when they heard the feline-specific tunes, they got much more interested, rubbing their faces on the speakers.

Olly and Pearl's debut album cover. Photo by Erin McCarthy.

was intrigued by this experiment, and decided to run a little experiment of my own, using my two cats, Olly and Pearl, as the guinea pigs. What would they think of the music created specifically for them? I played the songs through our TV’s sound bar and shot video, which you can see below.

Olly seemed intrigued by the music—look at how his ears move!—but not necessarily captivated by it. This could be in line with the researchers’ finding that older cats and younger cats are more likely to respond than middle-aged cats; Olly is almost 6, which, according to this chart, puts him on the cusp of “mature.” He's not a senior or geriatric yet (although he does act like a grumpy old man sometimes).

Pearl, on the other hand, is 1.5 years old, a “junior,” and she really enjoyed the cat tunes. The only things she meows for more is her food and the string we use to get her to run around our apartment (she’s a lazy little kitty with a big appetite). When I played the music for her again this morning, this time on my laptop, she stalked around it, rubbing her face against the edges of the screen and occasionally trying to take a bite (bad Pearl!). As a cat who was likely feral before she was surrendered to a shelter, Pearl can sometimes be standoffish, but I noticed that she became more affectionate during certain songs. And because I'll do anything for a cuddle, I’ll be downloading any cat songs Teie creates in the future—and not just for Pearl and Olly. I found that, after listening to them long enough, they became kind of soothing for me, too.

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Whale Sharks Can Live for More Than a Century, Study Finds
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Some whale sharks alive today have been swimming around since the Gilded Age. The animals—the largest fish in the ocean—can live as long as 130 years, according to a new study in the journal Marine and Freshwater Research. To give you an idea of how long that is, in 1888, Grover Cleveland was finishing up his first presidential term, Thomas Edison had just started selling his first light bulbs, and the U.S. only had 38 states.

To determine whale sharks' longevity, researchers from the Nova Southeastern University in Florida and the Maldives Whale Shark Research Program tracked male sharks around South Ari Atoll in the Maldives over the course of 10 years, calculating their sizes as they came back to the area over and over again. The scientists identified sharks that returned to the atoll every few years by their distinctive spot patterns, estimating their body lengths with lasers, tape, and visually to try to get the most accurate idea of their sizes.

Using these measurements and data on whale shark growth patterns, the researchers were able to determine that male whale sharks tend to reach maturity around 25 years old and live until they’re about 130 years old. During those decades, they reach an average length of 61.7 feet—about as long as a bowling lane.

While whale sharks are known as gentle giants, they’re difficult to study, and scientists still don’t know a ton about them. They’re considered endangered, making any information we can gather about them important. And this is the first time scientists have been able to accurately measure live, swimming whale sharks.

“Up to now, such aging and growth research has required obtaining vertebrae from dead whale sharks and counting growth rings, analogous to counting tree rings, to determine age,” first author Cameron Perry said in a press statement. ”Our work shows that we can obtain age and growth information without relying on dead sharks captured in fisheries. That is a big deal.”

Though whale sharks appear to be quite long-lived, their lifespan is short compared to the Greenland shark's—in 2016, researchers reported they may live for 400 years. 

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Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.
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There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]

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