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Dale Trockel, UC Davis
Dale Trockel, UC Davis

You Might Be Eating Fibers and Plastic With Your Fish

Dale Trockel, UC Davis
Dale Trockel, UC Davis

Fish is often touted as a healthy food, and for more than a billion people in the developing world, it’s the primary source of protein—but depending on where you live, your fish likely contains whatever your culture dumps into the ocean.

In a recent study published in Nature Science Reports, fish caught off the the coasts of Indonesia and California were found to have plastic (Indonesia, 55 percent of all species) and textile waste (California, 67 percent of all species) in their stomachs. About one third of shellfish sampled were also found to contain these foreign matters.

Dale Trockel, UC Davis

What appears in fish guts is a reflection of wastewater treatment and recycling—or the lack thereof. In Indonesia, there's little recycling, so quite a bit of plastic is discarded into the ocean. In the U.S., the fibers in fish bellies are likely to come from millions of clothes washing machines.

In short, “the mismanagement of our waste is coming back to haunt us in our food,” Chelsea Rochman, lead researcher for the study and a postdoctoral fellow in conservation biology at the University of California, Davis, told mental_floss.

Which is a nice way of saying we are eating our own garbage.

Susan Williams, UC Davis 

This indigestible material is a problem for both the fish and for us. It's bad for the basic health of the fish, because chemicals in the plastics can bioaccumulate, causing potentially deadly liver toxicity and pathology. When it comes to smaller fish like sardines and anchovies that we eat whole, human consumers are downing those plastics or fibers too.

Of even larger concern is that even for fish whose stomachs are removed before consumption, parts of that ocean trash—toxic chemicals—could be passed on to the people who eat them.

Rosalyn Lam, UC Davis

That’s because plastics break down chemically in seawater, and some become what researchers call microplastics. As they break down, they both release toxic chemicals into the surrounding seawater and absorb chemicals from it. These microplastics then become traveling toxin bundles that leave their chemicals behind in fish flesh. It starts at the bottom of the food chain, with zooplankton eating microplastics, then these tiny noxious particles are passed all the way up the food chain to us.

The fix isn’t complicated. Rochman says, “Our study suggests that in the U.S. and other countries where waste management is more developed, we should be thinking about strategies like putting filters on washing machines to prevent the fibers from entering the marine environment." In Indonesia and other developing countries, she says, the focus should be on waste management infrastructure like landfills, recycling, and wastewater treatment plants, as well as incentives like curbside pickup. 

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Why Can Parrots Talk and Other Birds Can't?
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If you've ever seen a pirate movie (or had the privilege of listening to this avian-fronted metal band), you're aware that parrots have the gift of human-sounding gab. Their brains—not their beaks—might be behind the birds' ability to produce mock-human voices, the Sci Show's latest video explains below.

While parrots do have articulate tongues, they also appear to be hardwired to mimic other species, and to create new vocalizations. The only other birds that are capable of vocal learning are hummingbirds and songbirds. While examining the brains of these avians, researchers noted that their brains contain clusters of neurons, which they've dubbed song nuclei. Since other birds don't possess song nuclei, they think that these structures probably play a key role in vocal learning.

Parrots might be better at mimicry than hummingbirds and songbirds thanks to a variation in these neurons: a special shell layer that surrounds each one. Birds with larger shell regions appear to be better at imitating other creatures, although it's still unclear why.

Learn more about parrot speech below (after you're done jamming out to Hatebeak).

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paleontology
Extinct Penguin Species Was the Size of an Adult Human
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iStock

A penguin that waddled across the ice 60 million years ago would have dwarfed the king and emperor penguins of today, according to the Associated Press. As indicated by fossils recently uncovered in New Zealand, the extinct species measured 5 feet 10 inches while swimming, surpassing the height of an average adult man.

The discovery, which the authors say is the most complete skeleton of a penguin this size to date, is laid out in a study recently published in Nature Communications. When standing on land, the penguin would have measured 5 feet 3 inches, still a foot taller than today’s largest penguins at their maximum height. Researchers estimated its weight to have been about 223 pounds.

Kumimanu biceae, a name that comes from Maori words for “monster" and "bird” and the name of one researcher's mother, last walked the Earth between 56 million and 60 million years ago. That puts it among the earliest ancient penguins, which began appearing shortly after large aquatic reptiles—along with the dinosaurs—went extinct, leaving room for flightless carnivorous birds to enter the sea.

The prehistoric penguin was a giant, even compared to other penguin species of the age, but it may not have been the biggest penguin to ever live. A few years ago, paleontologists discovered 40-million-year-old fossils they claimed belonged to a penguin that was 6 feet 5 inches long from beak to tail. But that estimate was based on just a couple bones, so its actual size may have varied.

[h/t AP]

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