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10 Soaring Facts About Albatrosses

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To golfers, an albatross means that you’re three under par on a single hole. To poetry majors, it’s a centuries-old metaphor for unbearable burdens. To bird enthusiasts, it's one of earth’s most wondrous creatures. 

1. THEY CAN LIVE INTO AT LEAST THEIR SIXTIES.

In 2013, a wild Laysan albatross named Wisdom made headlines when it was discovered she was still laying eggs and raising chicks at the age of 63. Her longevity in and of itself isn’t all that unusual: These ocean birds are known to reach their 60th and possibly even 70th birthdays.

2. THEY HAVE THE LARGEST WINGSPAN OF ANY LIVING BIRD.

The Wandering albatross has a wingspan that measures up to 11 feet 4 inches from end to end. But even that seems measly when compared to the now-extinct Pelagornis, a prehistoric seabird with a beak full of tooth-like spikes and a wingspan of at least 17 feet.

3. THE PRINCE OF WALES IS THEIR CELEBRITY SPOKESMAN.

Twenty-two species of albatross are currently known to science, and every single one is considered vulnerable, threatened, near-threatened, or endangered by conservationists. Longline fishing hooks are especially dangerous to large seabirds: The hooks, which can grab hold of and drown birds, kill an estimated 100,000 albatrosses annually.

Thankfully, the birds have a powerful ally on their side. During his Royal Navy career, Queen Elizabeth II’s oldest son, Charles, grew rather fond of the great gliders. “I remember sailing long distances across the oceans and one of the most marvelous treats of those long passages was to come out on deck and see another albatross or two circling around or following the wake of the ship," he explained to the Albatross Task Force at a reception in 2009. "There was something encouraging and heartening about the fact that you were being escorted by these extraordinary birds.” Now, he's a champion of more avian-friendly fishing techniques. 

4. ALBATROSSES PAIR FOR LIFE (BUT DON'T PRACTICE MONOGAMY).

When a young albatross reaches 6 to 10 years old, it will usually start looking for a significant other. Almost all couples stick together until one party dies, forming unions that can last 50 years or longer. Still, infidelity is rampant. According to a 2006 mass paternity test, 10.7 percent of 75 sampled Waved albatross (Phoebastria irrorata) chicks weren’t sired by their mother’s mate. Another study found that one female had sex with 49 partners over a seven-week period. Males are equally promiscuous, but stay committed to helping raise their mate’s babies—including those fathered by other birds.

5. GLOBAL WARMING MAY CAUSE A (TEMPORARY) POPULATION SPIKE.

Climate change has had a huge effect on oceanic wind patterns. Come mealtime, faster air currents have enabled hungry albatrosses to not only travel greater distances but save valuable time while doing so. This is probably responsible for an average weight increase of 20 percent since the 1970s. And since the birds now spend fewer hours on food-gathering, they’re free to breed more often. The combination might increase albatross numbers across the board, though it doesn’t look sustainable long-term. Wind speeds will only keep increasing, and excessively fast airstreams are dangerous for soaring birds. 

6. TIGER SHARKS ARE A TOP PREDATOR.

Fledgling albatrosses can be an easy target on the ocean’s surface. Once nesting season ends, tiger sharks tend to gravitate toward the nearest albatross hotspot in huge numbers. In some areas, the predatory fish may be responsible for taking out 10 percent of chicks reared each year. 

7. ENGINEERS ARE TRYING TO DECODE THEIR FLIGHT SECRETS.

Without a single wing flap, these birds can coast for several hundred miles—a remarkable feat that no other flying creature is capable of matching. What’s the big secret? Staying current. On long trips, the big birds spend half of their time facing the wind and using it to fly upward. Then they’ll shift and dip back down towards the ocean, catching another skyward draft moments later. By repeating this technique, they can cover enormous distances with very little effort. Copying the strategy just might help humans design more fuel-efficient aircrafts.

8. THEY'VE GOT A SURPRISINGLY GOOD SENSE OF SMELL.

Seabirds don’t usually get much credit for their olfactory skills. Nevertheless, many rely on scent to help track down prey; albatrosses can follow a mouth-watering aroma for over 12 miles. 

9. THEY HAVE A SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP WITH SUNFISH.

The world’s heaviest boned fish, common sunfishes (Mola mola), are rib-less, tailless, flat-sided oddballs. Big ones can weigh 5000 pounds and reach 11 feet in length. The critters are also very vulnerable to parasites, 40 different types of which may plague them. Luckily, they have a helpful (though not entirely selfless) ally. Recently, Laysan albatrosses have been spotted actively pursuing sunfishes from whose skin they later plucked some crustacean hitchhikers. The birds got a meal and the sunfish got a cleaning. Win-win. 

10. MANY FORM SAME-SEX COUPLES.

As biologist Lindsay C. Young is quick to remind ornithologists, not all pairs are straight. “I wouldn’t assume that what you’re looking at is a male and a female,” she told the New York Times. The evidence backs up her advice. In a 2008 survey, 31 percent of the long-term Laysan albatross couples on Hawaii’s Oahu Island were revealed to be female-female partnerships. Out there, the sex ratio is quite imbalanced, with males being significantly outnumbered. So two females will often pair off, enjoy a little hetero hanky-panky on the side, and raise chicks together. 

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Big Questions
Why Do We Dive With Sharks But Not Crocodiles?
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Why do we dive with sharks but not crocodiles?

Eli Rosenberg:

The issue is the assumption that sharks' instincts are stronger and more basic.

There are a couple of reasons swimming with sharks is safer:

1. Most sharks do not like the way people taste. They expect their prey to taste a certain way, like fish/seal, and we do not taste like that. Sharks also do not like the sensation of eating people. Bigger sharks like great whites enjoy prey with a high fat-bone ratio like seals. Smaller sharks enjoy eating fish, which they can gobble in one bite. So, while they might bite us, they pretty quickly decide “That’s not for me” and swim away. There is only one shark that doesn’t really care about humans tasting icky: that shark is our good friend the tiger shark. He is one of the most dangerous species because of his nondiscriminatory taste (he’s called the garbage can of the sea)!

2. Sharks are not animals that enjoy a fight. Our big friend the great white enjoys ambushing seals. This sneak attack is why it sometimes mistakes people for seals or sea turtles. Sharks do not need to fight for food. The vast majority of sharks species are not territorial (some are, like the blacktip and bull). The ones that are territorial tend to be the more aggressive species that are more dangerous to dive with.

3. Sharks attacked about 81 people in 2016, according to the University of Florida. Only four were fatal. Most were surfers.

4. Meanwhile, this is the saltwater crocodile. The saltwater crocodile is not a big, fishy friend, like the shark. He is an opportunistic, aggressive, giant beast.


5. Crocodiles attack hundreds to thousands of people every single year. Depending on the species, one-third to one-half are fatal. You have a better chance of survival if you played Russian roulette.

6. The Death Roll. When a crocodile wants to kill something big, the crocodile grabs it and rolls. This drowns and disorients the victim (you). Here is a PG video of the death roll. (There is also a video on YouTube in which a man stuck his arm into an alligator’s mouth and he death rolled. You don’t want to see what happened.)

7. Remember how the shark doesn’t want to eat you or fight you? This primordial beast will eat you and enjoy it. There is a crocodile dubbed Gustave, who has allegedly killed around 300 people. (I personally believe 300 is a hyped number and the true number might be around 100, but yikes, that’s a lot). Gustave has reportedly killed people for funsies. He’s killed them and gone back to his business. So maybe they won’t even eat you.


8. Sharks are mostly predictable. Crocodiles are completely unpredictable.

9. Are you in the water or by the edge of the water? You are fair game to a crocodile.

10. Crocodiles have been known to hang out together. The friend group that murders together eats together. Basks of crocodiles have even murdered hippopotamuses, the murder river horse. Do you think you don't look like an appetizer?

11. Wow, look at this. This blacktip swims among the beautiful coral, surrounded by crystal clear waters and staggering biodiversity. I want to swim there!

Oh wow, such mud. I can’t say I feel the urge to take a dip. (Thanks to all who pointed this out!)

12. This is not swimming with the crocodiles. More like a 3D aquarium.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Animals
10 Filling Facts About Turkeys
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Don’t be fooled by their reputation for being thoughtless. These roly-poly birds have a few tricks up their wings.

1. THE BIRDS WERE NAMED AFTER THE COUNTRY.

The turkey is an American bird, so why does it share its name with a country on the other side of the world? Laziness, mostly. Turkish traders had been importing African guinea fowl to Europe for some time when North American explorers started shipping M. gallopavo back to the Old World. The American birds looked kind of like the African “turkey-cocks,” and so Europeans called them “turkeys.” Eventually, the word “turkey” came to describe M. gallopavo exclusively.

2. THEY NEARLY WENT EXTINCT.

By the early 20th century, the combination of overzealous hunting and habitat destruction had dwindled the turkey populations down to 30,000. With the help of conservationists, the turkey made a comeback. The birds are now so numerous that they’ve become a nuisance in some parts of the country.

3. THEY’VE GOT TWO STOMACHS.

Like all birds, turkeys don’t have teeth, so they’ve got to enlist some extra help to break down their food. Each swallowed mouthful goes first into a chamber called a proventriculus, which uses stomach acid to start softening the food. From there, food travels to the gizzard, where specialized muscles smash it into smaller pieces.

4. FEMALE TURKEYS DON’T GOBBLE.

Turkeys of both sexes purr, whistle, cackle, and yelp, but only the males gobble. A gobble is the male turkey’s version of a lion’s roar, announcing his presence to females and warning his rivals to stay away. To maximize the range of their calls, male turkeys often gobble from the treetops.

5. THEY SLEEP IN TREES.

Due to their deliciousness, turkeys have a lot of natural predators. As the sun goes down, the turkeys go up—into the trees. They start by flying onto a low branch, then clumsily hop their way upward, branch by branch, until they reach a safe height.

6. BOTH MALE AND FEMALE TURKEYS HAVE WATTLES.

The wattle is the red dangly bit under the turkey’s chin. The red thing on top of the beak is called a snood. Both sexes have those, too, but they’re more functional in male turkeys. Studies have shown that female turkeys prefer mates with longer snoods, which may indicate health and good genes.

7. THEY HAVE REALLY GOOD VISION.

Turkey eyes are really, really sharp. On top of that, they’ve got terrific peripheral vision. We humans can only see about 180 degrees, but given the placement of their eyes on the sides of their heads, turkeys can see 270 degrees. They’ve also got way better color vision than we do and can see ultraviolet light.

8. THEY’RE FAST ON THE GROUND, TOO.

You wouldn’t guess it by looking at them, but turkeys can really book it when they need to. We already know they’re fast in the air; on land, a running turkey can reach a speed of up to 25 mph—as fast as a charging elephant.

9. THEY’RE SMART … BUT NOT THAT SMART.

Turkeys can recognize each other by sound, and they can visualize a map of their territory. They can also plan ahead and recognize patterns. In other ways, they’re very, very simple animals. Male turkeys will attack anything that looks remotely like a threat, including their own reflections in windows and car doors.

10. IN THE EVENT OF A TURKEY ATTACK, CALL THE POLICE.

They might look silly, but a belligerent turkey is no joke. Male turkeys work very hard to impress other turkeys, and what could be more impressive than attacking a bigger animal? Turkey behavior experts advise those who find themselves in close quarters with the big birds to call the police if things get mean. Until the authorities arrive, they say, your best bet is to make yourself as big and imposing as you possibly can.

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