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Seal Poop Keeps Shutting Down a Cape Cod Beach

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Beachgoers in picturesque Wellfleet—a Massachusetts beach town nestled on Cape Cod—have been disappointed several times this month by the errant bowels of marine mammals. The beach failed multiple water sample tests, which revealed high levels of the bacteria coliform, an indicator of unsanitary conditions. The culprit, according to CapeCod.com (spotted by the killer poop-dar of an Atlas Obscura reporter), is probably seals, who apparently can’t stop pooping everywhere.

Coliform bacteria, including fecal coliform, isn't dangerous on its own, but indicates the likely presence of disease-related organisms. All area swimming beaches are tested weekly, and only Wellfleet failed this recent round of sampling. It’s the first time it’s closed in years, according to the Cape Cod Times.

While scientists can’t trace the fecal coliform back to a specific species—land mammals are just as likely to be responsible as sea mammals, since their poop can wash into the water after storms—they think that in this case, those cute seals are the poo-prit.

“We do have seaweed that floats in and out and traps seal feces so it could be a function of seaweed plus seals,” Suzanne Grout Thomas, the beach’s administrator, told CapeCod.com.

“When it came down, it was fast and furious,” she told the Cape Cod Times of the recent rains, but the description could just as easily be about the animal poop that no doubt rushed down to the water in the process.

The beach passed its third test and opened back up on Tuesday (August 30), so it's safe to go back in the water—at least for now.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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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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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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