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Roland Edler/Duisburg Zoo via Peer J
Roland Edler/Duisburg Zoo via Peer J

Scientists Capture First Underwater Footage of Rare Beaked Whales

Roland Edler/Duisburg Zoo via Peer J
Roland Edler/Duisburg Zoo via Peer J

There’s a lot waiting to be discovered about the True’s beaked whale. The migration habits, social behaviors, and population size of the rare species still remain a mystery to scientists. Until recently, the creature had never been caught on tape swimming underwater. The footage below, reported by Discover, provides a never-before-seen look at the animals in the wild.

The video was recorded by science students in 2013. During an educational field cruise off the Azores, a pod of three True’s beaked whales congregated at the surface near their inflatable boat. The whales stuck around for close to 10 minutes, giving those on board enough time to deploy an underwater camera. The observations published by a team of international scientists in the journal Peer J are among a handful of live True’s beaked whale sightings reported in scientific literature.

In addition to the first-ever underwater footage of the whales in their natural habitat, the study authors published the first close-up photo taken of a True’s beaked whale calf. The paper also reports the discovery of tissue samples collected from beached whale specimens in the Azores and Canary Islands. Based on the sightings and the stranded specimens, scientists now believe the whales perform coordinated dives and sometimes brandish certain color patterns that hadn’t been observed in the species previously.

Beaked whales are some of the ocean’s most elusive mammals. They spend most of their time deep beneath the water's surface, and when they do come up for air they do little to draw attention to themselves. Three new species have been discovered in the past 20 years, including a new type of beaked whale identified last year with the help of a display skeleton from an Alaska high school. True’s beaked whales are distinguished by pale streaks stretching across the tops of their heads. Scientists now believe the Azores and Canary Islands hold potential for future sightings.

[h/t Discover]

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NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
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Researchers in Singapore Deploy Robot Swans to Test Water Quality
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

There's something peculiar about the new swans floating around reservoirs in Singapore. They drift across the water like normal birds, but upon closer inspection, onlookers will find they're not birds at all: They're cleverly disguised robots designed to test the quality of the city's water.

As Dezeen reports, the high-tech waterfowl, dubbed NUSwan (New Smart Water Assessment Network), are the work of researchers at the National University of Singapore [PDF]. The team invented the devices as a way to tackle the challenges of maintaining an urban water source. "Water bodies are exposed to varying sources of pollutants from urban run-offs and industries," they write in a statement. "Several methods and protocols in monitoring pollutants are already in place. However, the boundaries of extensive assessment for the water bodies are limited by labor intensive and resource exhaustive methods."

By building water assessment technology into a plastic swan, they're able to analyze the quality of the reservoirs cheaply and discreetly. Sensors on the robots' undersides measure factors like dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels. The swans wirelessly transmit whatever data they collect to the command center on land, and based on what they send, human pilots can remotely tweak the robots' performance in real time. The hope is that the simple, adaptable technology will allow researchers to take smarter samples and better understand the impact of the reservoir's micro-ecosystem on water quality.

Man placing robotic swan in water.
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

This isn't the first time humans have used robots disguised as animals as tools for studying nature. Check out this clip from the BBC series Spy in the Wild for an idea of just how realistic these robots can get.

[h/t Dezeen]

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iStock
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science
There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
iStock
iStock

Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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