29.06.2022
Megalodon feasted on the noses of sperm whales

Megalodon — the biggest shark that ever lived — ate sperm whales because it was attracted by their huge noses, a new study claims.

Measuring up to 65ft long and weighing an estimated 100 tonnes, the prehistoric predator was one of the most ferocious animals when it swam in oceans around the globe between 23 and 3.6 million years ago.

The sperm whale’s enormous snout, which makes up a third of its body, was particularly appealing to megalodon because it is packed with oily saturated fats, according to researchers at the University of Zurich.

Their findings are based on analysis of 7 million-year-old fossilised sperm whale skulls from southern Peru.

A series of bite marks indicate that sharks consistently fed on them.

Lead author Aldo Benites-Palomino, a palaeontology student at the University of Zurich, said: ‘These are concentrated along the nose, mouth and face.

‘In sperm whales, these regions receive most of their greatly enlarged nasal organs that are responsible for the sound production and emission system.

‘The main organs of this complex are the spermaceti and the melon, structures rich in fats and oils, but also heavily regulated by the facial muscles.

‘Most of the bite marks have been found on the bones that would be adjacent to these soft tissue structures, such as the jaws, or around the eye, thus indicating that sharks actively targeted this region.’

The sharks that attacked sperm whales ranged from megalodon — meaning big-tooth — to species that are still around today, including mako sharks, sand sharks and the Great White.

Megalodon even attacked prehistoric sea monster Leviathan melvillei — named after the author of Moby Dick, say scientists.

Half a dozen skulls were unearthed at the Pisco Formation in the Ica Desert.

It is famous for a treasure trove of Miocene shark and ray remains, bony fishes, turtles, marine crocodiles, seabirds, whales and seals.

In the oceans, the Miocene was a time of changing circulation patterns, probably due to global cooling.

It spanned 23 million to five million years ago. By the end of it, almost all modern groups of whales had appeared.

Benites-Palomino said: ‘Sperm whales are a group characterised by their greatly enlarged, and rich in fat, nasal organs, which they use for sound production.

‘Here, we report several fossil sperm whale skulls from the Pisco Formation that display a similar pattern of shark bite marks.

‘These are located across the skull regions which housed these organs, indicating a feeding preference by sharks over these nasal organs.

‘Such a feeding pattern has no modern preference and suggest the broad diversity of Miocene sperm whales served as a fat repository for prehistoric sharks.’

During the last 30 years, explorations carried out in the area have also unveiled aquatic sloths and even walrus-faced dolphins.

Benites-Palomino said: ‘It indicates a rich and diverse ecosystem seven million years ago.

‘Warmer oceanic water temperatures combined with a series of protected coastal environments greatly benefited the marine fauna.

‘Among these, sperm whales and sharks were some of the most abundant and conspicuous groups around.

‘During the last decade palaeontologists across the globe have been inquiring about the interactions between these two large groups of marine predators.’

The researchers hope their study could shed light on the connections between them.

Benites-Palomino said: ‘The overall shape, size and arrangement of the bite marks is greatly variable, suggesting more than one species of shark was targeting the sperm whales.’

Today, sharks seek the carcasses of baleen whales with high concentrations of fats, such as the blubber.

‘During the Miocene baleen whales were small, but sperm whales would have constituted a perfect fat repository due to their greatly enlarged and lipid-rich nasal organs,’ Benites-Palomino added.

Megalodon and Leviathan died out about three million years ago during the period of global cooling, but the reasons for their demise are still being debated.

The new study has been published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

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14.08.2022
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  • 8 часов, 35 минут назад 14.08.2022Science
    Animal charities call for urgent action to prevent chickens roasting alive in heatwave

    According to the Humane League UK, Open Cages and Animal Equality, widespread adoption of the “Better Chicken Commitment” standard would substantially reduce the suffering of the birds in high temperatures. The charities have said that millions of chickens died in the heatwave earlier this year, which saw recorded temperatures exceed 104F (40C) in the UK for the first time. The need for change is “urgent”, they added, as the UK plunges into its second heat wave of the summer — with temperatures this weekend expected to reach as high as 35C (95F).

    The Humane League’s Cordelia Britton said: “There is another heatwave coming this week and we risk another fresh hell for animals.

    “If we don’t act now, chickens will die again and again. It’s a national disgrace.

    “We need the Better Chicken Commitment to be made the minimum legal standard, and for existing laws designed to protect animals from high temperatures to be enforced.

    “The Government must not shrug its shoulders and wait for the next catastrophe to happen.”

    The Better Chicken Commitment is a welfare policy that aims to drastically reduce the suffering of broiler chickens by giving them more enrichment, natural light and space.

    It also mandates the introduction of less painful methods of slaughter, third-party auditing, and the prohibition of fast-growing breeds.

    To date, more than 330 companies in the food service, manufacturing and restaurant industries have signed up to honour the commitment — including recognisable names such as Greggs, KFC, Kraft-Heinz, Nandos and Nestlé, the largest food company in the world.

    According to the Humane League UK, the better ventilation afforded to chickens under the commitment — along with the use of harder, slower-growing breeds — would allow the birds to cope better overall during episodes of extreme heat.

    The charity explained that fast-growing broiler chickens experience more body heat production, making the birds more susceptible to heat stress and upping their already elevated blood pressure levels.

    Heightened blood pressure — especially around the lungs — and high body temperatures can lead to chickens suffering from confusion, diarrhoea, dizziness, heart failure, hyperventilation and death.

    The Humane League UK said: “Adopting the Better Chicken Commitment would also alleviate a range of chronic health and welfare problems faced by fast-growing birds.”

    These, they added, include “like lameness, muscle disorders, impaired breathing and organ failure.”

    According to the Humane League UK, legislation does already exist that calls for ventilation in poultry farms to be sufficient to prevent the birds from overheating — and they have called on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to better enforce the measures.

    They said: “Defra has long been aware of the dangers of heart stress, publishing a guide on it in 2005 and thousands of chickens died in a heatwave in 2019.

    “Charities are questioning why the sector was caught so unprepared.”

    According to whistleblowers, some farms did little to protect their birds from the heatwave that struck the UK last month.

    One account, the Humane League UK said, describes “an ocean of green, rotting mush” found in the farm after the heatwave that the surviving birds were seen eating from.

    Following the last heatwave, a Defra spokesperson told MailOnline that they were “deeply concerned” by the deaths of the birds.

    They added: “It is vital the health and welfare of animals is protected.

    “The Animal and Plant Health Agency is working to support local authorities in investigating what took place and in taking any appropriate further action.”

    Open Cages CEO Connor Jackson said: “Most of these chickens that were cooked alive were destined for the shelves of Supermarkets like Tesco, Morrisons and Co-op.

    “I wish I could say that this is a wake-up call to them, but their deep pockets appear to have made them callous to the welfare of the millions of [fast-growing] ‘Frankenchickens’ they sell every week.

    “I fear that they can’t be trusted to do the right thing. But if the UK Government were to step in right now they could help ensure tragedies like this never happen again.”

    Express.co.uk has reached out to Co-op and Morrisons for comment.

    A Tesco spokesperson told Express.co.uk that all the freshen chicken they sell meets or exceeds Government-approved industry welfare standards as well as the Red Tractor quality certification.

    They added that Tesco’s ‘Finest’, ‘Organic’ and ‘RSPCA Assured Room to Roam’ ranges meet or exceed every aim of the Better Chicken Commitment and that the firm is committed to continuously improving quality and welfare standards.

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  • 12 часов, 35 минут назад 13.08.2022Science
    Full Moon TONIGHT: Why does the moon look so big right now?

    Those looking up at the sky tonight will spot a larger moon casting a more intense glow than usual. The dazzling display follows a year of exceptional lunar activity, and it comes with a simple explanation.

    The moon’s orbit around the earth causes seven distinct phases that can make it appear both extraordinarily big and small.

    Scientists dub the largest moons “supermoons” and the last one of 2022 just passed.

    The Sturgeon Moon debuted earlier this week, appearing roughly 14 percent larger and 30 percent brighter than the usual full moon.

    The super moon passed its peak on August 12, but it will still appear unusually large to most people.

    That is because it remains close to complete illumination, according to moon trackers.

    The satellite’s current phase is “waning gibbous”, the closest phase to a full moon.

    People can see 96.9 percent of the moon’s surface, and as the supermoon was roughly 24 hours ago, it should retain some of its enhanced size.

    Dr Sara Russell, a professor of planetary sciences and leader of the Planetary Materials Group at the Natural History Museum, said supermoons come when it is closest to earth.

    She told The i, the moon remains close for “two to five full moons”, hence why it still appears larger.

    The moon then moves into “the more distant part of its orbit”, Professor Russell added.

    People were recently treated to several months’ worth of displays, meaning they will have to wait a while until they see the moon in all its majesty again.

    The latest part of the moon’s orbit brought it close to the earth for several months.

    Four distinct supermoons have hung bright in the sky since May, including this month’s.

    They were the flower, strawberry, buck and sturgeon moons, and each reached 90 percent of perigee – the closest orbital point.

    The next opportunity to see a similar sight is nearly a year away.

    The next supermoon is on August 1, 2023, with another following within the next few weeks.

    The second will debut on August 31, making up for the long wait from 2022.

    Unfortunately, moon fans will only see those two supermoons next year.

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  • 12 часов, 35 минут назад 13.08.2022Science
    Electric cars: Majority of drivers say they won’t switch until they ‘absolutely have to’

    As part of wider plans to curb carbon emissions, the Government has set 2030 as the point beyond which it will no longer be possible to purchase a new petrol- or diesel-driven car. At present, only 3 percent of cars in the UK are fully electric, with another 2 percent being hybrids. The Government has taken steps to make electric vehicle adoption more enticing — such as by increasing investment in charging points and offering taxation-based incentives. However, the average cost of electric vehicles has increased from £34,000 to £39,000 over the last year — and it seems that this could be putting drivers off from making the switch.

    Amid the present cost-of-living crisis, researchers with price comparison site Quotezone.co.uk polled 500 car insurance policyholders about their feelings on fossil fuel vs electric vehicles and which they found to be more cost effective.

    The respondents of the survey included both petrol and diesel car drivers as well as owners of electric vehicles.

    The pollsters found that 59 percent of petrol or diesel car drivers report that they will only consider buying an electric or hybrid vehicle only when they “absolutely have to”.

    In contrast, 26 percent said that they would make the switch to electric “within the next five years” and 10 percent reported wanting to “buy now” or “as soon as is feasibly possible”.

    Meanwhile, only 4 percent said that they would buy “just before the deadline”.

    The main barrier to the adoption of electric cars appears to not be the nature of the technology — but the current price of such vehicles.

    In fact, the survey revealed that 35.7 percent of UK drivers think that electric cars are “too expensive”.

    Other objections to making the switch included range anxiety — cited by 36 percent of respondents — and concerns over the availability of public charging points, which was flagged by 19 percent of those polled.

    While the initial costs might be deterring drivers from buying electric vehicles, there does seem to be a financial upside to those making the jump.

    Of those respondents with electric cars, 58 percent said that they were saving more than £100 each month in fuel costs compared to their previous fossil fuel vehicles, while 37 percent said that they were saving under £100 per month.

    In fact, less than 6 percent of electric car drivers said that they didn’t believe that they were making any savings after switching from fossil fuels to electric power.

    The act of owning an electric vehicle, meanwhile, appears to allay range anxiety — which was only felt by 20 percent of electric car drivers.

    However, 25 percent of respondents said that there were not enough electric charging points, 19 percent said they disliked dealing with broken charging stations, and 18 percent flagged concerns over the rising cost of electricity.

    Quotezone.co.uk founder Greg Wilson said: “It’s really interesting to see what’s holding people back from going electric.

    “Again, lack of infrastructure and car price appear to be the top offenders that are making it impractical to make the switch.

    “The hike in car prices is most likely due to the new car shortage — brought about by a lack of materials and logistical issues across Europe — causing a spike in shoppers choosing ‘nearly new’ second-hand petrol cars.

    “One positive point to bear in mind for those worried about costs is that electric car insurance is now more readily available as the majority of insurance providers have added electric cars to their offering, making it easier for consumers to shop around and get a competitive premium.”

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  • 14 часов, 35 минут назад 13.08.2022Science
    China poised to copy Putin’s squeeze over Taiwan and CRIPPLE the world with key metals ban

    Following top US democrat Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan despite China’s protestations, tensions between Beijing and Washington soared to new heights. Chinese premier Xi Jinping responded by hosting military drills with live fire all around the island, sparking fears that China could soon try to fulfil its promise to take back to state “by force if necessary”. But if a conflict were to break out between the US and China over Taiwan’s sovereignty, experts have warned it could have far-reaching consequences on global manufacturing, effectively shutting down industries overnight.

    Speaking to Express.co.uk, Jason Kaplan, founder of Commodities Analysis and Insight noted that China has a lot of influence over many minerals and commodities that are vital to the world economy.

    He said: “Now one of the funny things is, China is fairly mineral light. It doesn’t have huge resources, it has all of the processing.

    “But for a couple of commodities, it is the biggest producer of molybdenum and other is rare earth elements.

    “Theoretically, in the past it has tried to use those to restrict the markets.”

    Rare earth elements are used in a number of different industries, like electric batteries, magnets, machinery, etc.

    Molybdenum, on the other hand, is a crucial element used in stainless steel, as it adds corrosion resistance and high-temperature strength to the alloy, making it vital to a wide range of industries.

    He continued: “There’s two sides to the market- one is the state-run large enterprises, and the other is a whole lot of smaller local mines, which was a disorganised part of the sector.

    “A few years ago they decided to clamp down on that, and as a result there was no molybdenum anywhere in the world.

    “It sort of dried up overnight because the government decided to stop producing molybdenum from the disorganised sector.

    “That got a lot of people very concerned that if China ever changes the rules, the impact will be profound.

    “And that’s without China trying to do anything on purpose. If they wanted to try, it will be much more serious.”

    He noted that “virtually everything” will be impacted if China and the West become involved in a sanctions war over Taiwan.

    If Xi were to use such tactics against the US, this would be a similar playbook to the way that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been squeezing gas supplies flowing into the EU over the past year.

    Mr Kaplan noted that China produces 55 percent of global steel, while “Ukraine and Russia together make up 14 percent of global steel exports.

    “The prices of steel went through the roof virtually overnight when the conflict started.

    “If 55 percent is taken out, it’s not enough steel, construction, wind farm, your cars, everything will be affected.

    “With China, we’re not talking about price rise we’re talking about an inability to get materials.”

    He noted that if the price of steel doubles, the price of construction, wind turbines etc would double as well.

    China has repeatedly made clear to the US that Taiwan is a red line and that Washington’s support for “independence forces” could lead to war.

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  • 18 часов, 34 минуты назад 13.08.2022Science
    Monkeypox: WHO to rename disease over stigmatisation concerns — invites suggestions

    Monkeypox — a close relative of smallpox — is a viral disease typically contracted from animal bites or the consumption of improperly cooked meat, but that can spread from person-to-person by close contact. Initial symptoms of infection can include chills, fatigue, fever, and muscle aches — with more severe cases often presenting with a rash on the face and genitals that can spread elsewhere on the body before scabbing over. The virus is known to cause severe disease among certain vulnerable groups, including young children, people who are immunosuppressed and pregnant women.

    In July, the WHO declared the current global monkeypox outbreak to be an international emergency — with an estimated 31,000 cases reported worldwide.

    The disease has been endemic in parts of central and western Africa for decades, but has only begun to produce large outbreaks around the world in recent months.

    Outside of Africa, the majority of cases have affected men who have sex with other men — with vaccine rollouts targeting this community.

    As of August 8, 2022, the UK Health Security Agency has reported 2,914 confirmed and 103 highly probable cases of monkeypox in the UK, with the majority detected in England.

    Monkeypox was given its name when the disease was first identified back in 1958 in research monkeys in a laboratory in Copenhagen, Denmark.

    It is thought, however, that monkeys do not provide a natural reservoir for the virus — with scientists suspecting such may be found among rodent populations.

    In a statement on Friday, a WHO spokesperson said that the decision to rename monkeypox was made this week following a meeting of experts — and is in line with the current best practices for disease nomenclature.

    These practices, they added, aim “to avoid causing offence to any cultural, social, national, regional, professional, or ethnic groups”.

    They also strive to “minimise any negative impact on trade, travel, tourism or animal welfare”.

    The WHO continued: “Assigning new names to existing diseases is the responsibility of [the] WHO under the International Classification of Diseases and the WHO Family of International Health Related Classifications.

    They added that the WHO “is holding an open consultation for a new disease name for monkeypox.

    “Anyone wishing to propose new names can do so here (see ICD-11, Add proposals).”

    It is not yet known if WHO officials have a timeframe in mind for announcing the new name for monkeypox.

    Global health equity advocate Dr Ifeanyi Nsofor of the Aspen Institute told NPR: “Monkeypox should be renamed for two major reasons.

    “First, there is a long history of referring to Blacks as monkeys. Therefore, ‘monkeypox’ is racist and stigmatises Blacks.

    “Second, ‘monkeypox’ gives a wrong impression that the disease is only transmitted by monkeys. This is wrong.”

    On Friday, the WHO also announced that in the interests of avoiding stigmatisation, it had also renamed two clades of the virus such that they use Roman numerals rather than geographical areas.

    (A clade is the name given to a group of organisms that comprises one common ancestor and all of its lineal descendants.)

    A WHO spokesperson said: “Consensus was reached to now refer to the former Congo Basin (Central African) clade as Clade one (I) and the former West African clade as Clade two (II).”

    Subclade IIb, they explained, refers primarily to the group of variants that have been dominant in the current global monkeypox outbreak.

    The WHO continued: “The naming of lineages will be as proposed by scientists as the outbreak evolves. Experts will be reconvened as needed.

    “The new names for the clades should go into effect immediately while work continues on the disease and virus names.”

    They added that “the naming of virus species is the responsibility of the International Committee on the Taxonomy of Viruses, which has a process underway for the name of the monkeypox virus.”

    Monkeypox’s former Congo Basin and West African clades are not the only diseases to take their names from the regions in which they first originated.

    Other examples include Japanese encephalitis, Marburg virus (named after the German town in the State of Hessen which saw an outbreak in late 1967), Spanish influenza and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

    To date, the WHO has not publicly mooted the idea of changing the name of any of these diseases.

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  • 20 часов, 34 минуты назад 13.08.2022Science
    Antarctica warning: Ice shelves could be melting up to 40 percent faster than thought

    Antarctica’s ice shelves jut out from the ice sheet that covers the continent, and float on top of the Southern Ocean. Each several hundred metres thick, the shelves serve as a buffer, protecting the ice sheet on the mainland from flowing into the ocean and drastically raising global sea levels. However, climate change is warming both the atmosphere and the oceans, accelerating the rate at which the ice shelves are melting.

    The increasingly rapid melting of Antarctica’s ice shelves is threatening their ability to hold back the flow of the ice sheet into the ocean.

    This warning comes from environmental scientist Professor Andy Thompson of the California Institute of Technology and his colleagues.

    Prof. Thompson said: “If this mechanism that we’ve been studying is active in the real world, it may mean that ice shelf melt rates are 20–40 percent higher than the predictions in global climate models.”

    These models, he added, “typically cannot simulate these strong currents near the Antarctic coast”.

    In their study, the researchers focussed on one area of the southernmost continent in particular — the West Antarctic Peninsula.

    While the majority of Antarctica is shaped like a disc that remains within high polar latitudes, the peninsula pokes out into lower, warmer latitudes.

    It is here, Prof. Thompson and his colleagues explained, that Antarctica sees the most dramatic impacts of climate change.

    Previous studies by the team using both autonomous vehicles and scientific instruments attached to elephant seals have collected data on the temperature and salinity of both the water and ice around the West Antarctic Peninsula.

    In their modelling, the team took into particular account the so-called Antarctic Coastal Current — a narrow and oft-overlooked flow of water that runs counter-clockwise around the entire southernmost continent.

    Paper author and oceanographer Mar Flexas, also of Caltech, said: “Large global climate models don’t include this coastal current, because it’s very narrow — only about 20 kilometres [12 miles] wide.

    “Most climate models only capture currents that are 100 kilometres [62 miles] across or larger.

    “So, there is a potential for those models to not represent future melt rates very accurately.”

    According to the researchers, their new model illustrates how the Antarctic Coastal Current traps the water released from ice melting on the West Antarctic Peninsula and transports it around the continent.

    Because this freshwater is less dense than the mostly saline waters of the Southern Ocean, it circulates quickly near the surface of the ocean.

    This, in turn, can serve to trap relatively warm ocean seawater against the underside of the ice shelves, helping them to melt from below.

    In this way, the team explained, increased meltwater release from the West Antarctic Peninsula can help to propagate the warming effect via the coastal current — thereby escalating the melting of the ice shelves elsewhere in the West Antarctic.

    This remote warming mechanism, the researchers noted, could explain in part why the loss of ice from the West Antarctic ice shelves has accelerated in recent decades.

    Professor Thompson added: “There are aspects of the climate system that we are still discovering.

    “As we’ve made progress in our ability to model interactions between the ocean, ice shelves, and atmosphere, we’re able to make more accurate predictions with better constraints on uncertainty.

    “We may need to revisit some of the predictions of sea level rise in the next decades or century — that’s work that we’ll do going forward.”

    The full findings of the study were published in the journal Science Advances.

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Science Megalodon feasted on the noses of sperm whales