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Blue Whales Maintain Their Size By Eating Smart

When blue whales, the Earth’s largest animals, are shown feeding on krill in nature documentaries, it looks like an all-you-can-eat buffet. The giants of the deep blue sea appear to open their massive jaws to consume any and everything in their way, but a new study suggests that blue whales are very efficient eaters in terms of quantity and energy conservation, which helps the mammals maintain their impressive size.

Recently published in the journal Science Advances, the study used data from 55 tagged blue whales off the coast of California. The researchers found that instead of going to town on as many krill as they can find throughout the day, blue whales passed up smaller or less dense shoals of krill to conserve energy for lunge-feeding, a tactic the scientists describe as “a high-cost, high-benefit foraging mode that confers high energetic efficiency when engulfing very dense prey patches.” 

“Blue whales don't live in a world of excess, and the decisions these animals make are critical to their survival,” study co-author Ari Friedlaender, associate professor at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, said in a press statement. Blue whales feed longer in areas with denser shoals, and interrupting those sessions is less than ideal. “It may not have consequences today, or this week, but it could over a period of months," Friedlaender said. "There can be impacts on their overall health, as well as on their fitness and viability for reproduction.”

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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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