Thursday, May 29, 2014

Spectacular fin whale breach a rare sight

Massive cetacean makes like a surface-to-air missile in Strait of Gibraltar; 'Rarely observed and even more rarely captured on camera'

 Fin whale breaches in Strait of Gibraltar
Fin whale breaches in Strait of Gibraltar; photo courtesy of CIRCE

Fin whales are the world’s second-largest whale species and can measure 80-plus feet and weigh as much as 70 tons. Because of their immense size, they rarely breach, which makes the photo accompanying this story all the more striking.
The image was captured May 22 in the Strait of Gibraltar from aboard a vessel operated by the Spanish conservation group CIRCÉ (Conservation, Information et Recherche sur les Cétacés).


CIRCÉ posted the image and video to its Facebook page last week. The video footage shows two of three breaches—the first at 3 seconds and the second at 1:15—and reveals a cetacean that is leaping almost completely free of the water. Fin whales, second in size only to blue whales, are incredibly sleek and can swim at bursts of up to 23 mph, which helps explain how this particular whale was able to make like a surface-to-air missile in the Strait of Gibraltar.
It’s unclear why the whale jumped, just as nobody is 100 percent certain why any of the smaller species of whales sometimes breach.
Humpback whales are famous for breaching, along with other surface behavior that could possibly represent a form of communication. Some scientists theorize that gray whales breach in an attempt to shake lice from their skin.
But fin whales, like blue whales, typically do not break the surface in a breaching behavior.
“It’s a very rare behavior,” said Alisa Schulman-Janiger, a California-based whale researcher. “It’s rarely observed and even more rarely captured on camera. If one does happen to breach, what are the chances that you’re going to be ready with a camera?”
Schulman-Janiger runs the ACS-L.A. Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project from the Palos Verdes Peninsula in Los Angeles County.
Fin whales, for the past several years, have been spotted feeding in nearshore waters off Southern California. In the project’s 31 years, volunteers have seen only a handful of fin whale breaches. That includes a phenomenal display last month, when one or possibly two fin whales breached 20-plus times.
The fin whale, named because of a prominent dorsal fin far back on its body, feeds predominantly on shrimp-like krill and schooling bait fish. The whales are found worldwide but are considered an endangered species, numbering about 40,000 in the Northern Hemisphere and 15,000 to 20,000 in the Southern Hemisphere.
The amazing photo of the Strait of Gibraltar breach inspired many comments on the CIRCÉ Facebook page, mostly in Spanish, but with some English-language commentary such as “Good grief. Imagine the splash!” and “Raw power… totally impressive.”
Another commenter asked, “Is this for real?,” and others also thought it might have been Photoshopped. Were it not for the supporting video footage, these would have been valid observations.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Rare Sawfish Caught in South Florida


ABC News

PHOTO: Dustin Richter caught a rare sawfish at Boynton Beach Inlet on May 25, 2014.

A group of south Florida fishermen reeled in a rare sawfish over the weekend, capturing the exciting feat on video.
It took Dustin Richter and pals more than two hours to wrangle the 11-foot long, 500-pound creature during a midnight fishing trip on Sunday morning, ABC’s West Palm Beach affiliate WPBF reported.
“Catching a fish like that is like once in a lifetime,” Richter said.
Richter and his friends, from Boynton Beach, Fla., let the sawfish go after bringing it to shore and filming a video.
“It’s just one of those prehistoric-looking animals,” he said. “If you see them you’re lucky to see them and if you catch them you’re even luckier.” 

PHOTO: Dustin Richter caught a rare sawfish at Boynton Beach Inlet on May 25, 2014.
WPBF via Dustin Richter
 
PHOTO: Dustin Richter caught a rare sawfish at Boynton Beach Inlet on May 25, 2014.
The sawfish is a shark-like fish with a long, thin snout covered in razor-sharp teeth that resembles a saw.
They might look scary, but sawfish aren’t a direct threat to humans. They use their “saws” to capture and kill prey -- mostly smaller fish, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Sawfish are an endangered species. They’re usually found in shallow, coastal waters. 

PHOTO: Dustin Richter caught a rare sawfish at Boynton Beach Inlet on May 25, 2014.
WPBF via Dustin Richter
PHOTO: Dustin Richter caught a rare sawfish at Boynton Beach Inlet on May 25, 2014.

Five dead as Sierra Leone records first Ebola outbreak

Reuters

ABID (Reuters) - Five people have died in Sierra Leone's first confirmed outbreak of Ebola virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Monday, signalling a new expansion of the disease which regional officials said had been brought under control.
Ebola, a haemorrhagic fever with a fatality rate of up to 90 percent, is believed to have killed some 185 people in neighbouring Guinea and Liberia since March in the first deadly appearance of the disease in West Africa.
Previously, several suspected cases of Ebola were recorded in Sierra Leone early on in the West African outbreak, but they later tested negative for the disease.
In a statement posted on its website, the WHO said the outbreak in Sierra Leone was located in an area along the country's border with Guinea's Guéckédou prefecture, where some of the earliest cases of the disease were recorded.
"Preliminary information received from the field indicates that one laboratory-confirmed case and five community deaths have been reported from Koindu chiefdom," it said.
The WHO said it was deploying six experts to the area along with essential supplies.
The West African outbreak spread from a remote corner of Guinea to the capital, Conakry, and into Liberia, causing panic across a region struggling with weak healthcare systems and porous borders.
A total of 258 clinical cases have been recorded in Guinea since the outbreak was first identified as Ebola, including 174 deaths - 95 confirmed, 57 probable and 57 suspected - according to the WHO.
No new cases of Ebola have been detected since April 26 in Conakry, where an outbreak could pose the biggest threat of an epidemic due to the city's role as an international travel hub.
However Guinean health officials announced two new confirmed cases on Friday in an area previously untouched by the virus. [ID:nL6N0O94X8]
The disease is thought to have killed 11 people in Liberia.
Ebola is endemic to Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Uganda and South Sudan, and scientists initially believed that Central Africa's Zaire strain of the disease was responsible for the infections in Guinea and Liberia.
However researchers later published a study saying the West African outbreak was caused by a new strain of Ebola. [ID:nL6N0N94AE]
(Reporting by Joe Bavier; Additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva; Editing by Alison Williams)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

James Burke Connections³, Episode 5 Life Is No Picnic

Burger worker may have exposed thousands to hepatitis

As many as 5,000 people might have been exposed to hepatitis A at a Red Robin restaurant in Springfield, Missouri. The health threat is linked to an employee. VPC

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Health officials worry that as many as 5,000 people could have been exposed to hepatitis A at a Red Robin restaurant here after a worker was diagnosed with the virus.
Springfield-Greene County Health Department officials received a report Tuesday about the illness, which can affect the liver, and worked with state and federal officials to get enough vaccine shipped so people who went to the restaurant May 8 to 16 can be immunized.
The goal is to get as many customers vaccinated within 14 days of their possible exposure, officials said Wednesday. Otherwise, the shot won't work, so they've set up clinics through the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
"Upon being informed of the incident, the Springfield Red Robin took all safety measures to ensure the well being of our guests and team members including arranging the inoculation of all Springfield team members with the immune globulin prophylaxis shot," Red Robin Gourmet Burgers (RRGB) officials said in a statement.
The restaurant now is considered safe, health department officials said. The city of Springfield, in southwest Missouri, has about 160,000 residents.
STORY: Teavana worker may have exposed shoppers to hepatitis
STORY: 118 sickened in hepatitis A outbreak linked to berries
Typically, hepatitis A is spread from the feces of an infected person to some food or drink that another person consumes. That's why proper hand washing after using the bathroom offers the first line of defense.
Hepatitis A does not always produce symptoms, and adults are more likely to have symptoms than children. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, fever and yellowing of the skin or eyes.
Most cases of hepatitis A infection resolve themselves in a few weeks and do not cause permanent liver damage. About 10% to 15% of those who have the virus have a relapse of symptoms at some point in the six months following its onset, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Since the early 1990s the number of acute hepatitis A cases nationwide has fallen dramatically from more than 30,000 in the early 1990s to fewer than 1,700, attributed in great part to the introduction of the hepatitis A vaccine.
Nationwide, the CDC estimates that about 2,700 people came down with acute cases of the disease in 2011; about 1,400 cases were reported, an average of 28 cases per state.
Also recently:
• A Red Robin employee in Stroudsburg, Pa., also was diagnosed May 5 with hepatitis A. The Pennsylvania Department of Health did not consider the diagnosis a risk to the public though officials did say customers who dined there April 16 to May 5 should contact the department with concerns.
• A Teavana worker in Indianapolis may have exposed shoppers to the virus on three occasions in April while preparing tea samples, said Marion County Public Health Department officials, who told customers to watch for symptoms and offered vaccines for those who had been more recently exposed. Teavana is owned by Starbucks (SBUX).
• A Papa John's (PZZA) employee in Charlotte, N.C., may have infected customers of the pizza shop March 27 to April 7, according to the Mecklenburg County Health Department, which had more than 700 people come to vaccination clinics not far from the restaurant.
Contributing: Sony Hocklander, Jon Shorman and Stephen Herzog, Springfield (Mo.) News-Leader

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

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Jurassic Park Lied to You: T-Rex Had Great Eyesight Really

Matt Blitz - TodayIFoundOut.com

Jurassic Park Lied to You: T-Rex Had Great Eyesight Really 

In the immensely popular (despite the sins) movie Jurassic Park, there's the famous scene where the giant T-Rex is attacking a jeep during a thunder storm. As it attacks, Dr. Alan Grant, a self-respecting paleontologist, yells, "Don't move! He can't see you, if you don't move." Here's the thing – that's wrong. (If that comes as a blow, you're definitely not going to want to learn the shocking truth about Velociraptors.) The Tyrannous Rex not only could see just fine, whether the object was moving or non-moving (which helps one not run into things), there's also quite a bit of evidence that the T-Rex's sight was extremely good, very possibly better than modern-day hawks and eagles.
This non-moving "fact" from the hit 1993 movie inspired a good deal of research into the subject. Professor Kent Stevens at the University of Oregon began the project DinoMorph in 1993. His goal was to develop "a means to create scientifically useful yet simplified digital models of dinosaur skeletons." Using digital technology, he wanted to recreate tangible visualizations of extinct animals, including the T-Rex. After speaking at a conference in Toronto in June 1993 (the movie was released in the US on June 11, 1993), he paid a visit to the Royal Ontario Museum where he met with North America's leading paleoartist, Garfield Minott. He was working on a life-size "reconstruction" of a Tyrannosaurus Rex and provided Stevens with life-like head sculptures of seven different theropods (bipedal and primarily carnivorous dinosaurs), including a T-Rex and Velociraptor.
Using these models, a laser pointer, a glass plate, and taxidermic glass eyeballs, Stevens performed experiments to determine the visual field, depth perception, and binocular range (the area that can be viewed at the same time by both eyes) of these dinosaurs. He published the results in 2006. Performing a test called "inverse perimetry," Stevens evaluated how well a T-Rex would be able to see objects at various elevations and shapes. The wider an animal's binocular range is, "the better its depth perception and capacity to distinguish objects–even those that are motionless or camouflaged."
Stevens determined that a T-Rex's binocular range was 55 degrees, which is wider than even hawks. Stevens continued the research with other theropod dinosaurs and determined that most theropods had binocular ranges at least similar to modern raptorial birds (aka "birds of prey").
Another recent discovery also confirmed that vision was an important sense for the T-Rex, as scientists determined that the T-Rex's snout over time gradually grew longer, narrower, cheek bones dipped more inward, and their eyeballs grew bigger.
While structurally the T-Rex's head and eyes seem primed for great vision, the question remained- how good were their eyes really? For that, Stevens took the known optics of distant relatives of the T-Rex, including the eagle, chicken, and crocodile, and plugged them into the larger T-Rex eyeball. He was trying to determine visual acuity (clearness of vision) and the greatest distance an object can be seen that still remained distinct. According to his findings, while admitting that these were best-case scenario determinations, the T-Rex may well have had visual clarity up to 13 times better than a modern human. For reference, an eagle has about 3.6 times the visual clarity of a person. Additionally, it was determined that a T-Rex's vision allowed an object to remain relatively clear up to six kilometers away. For humans, it's only about 1.6 kilometers for the same clarity. As Stevens put it, "With the size of its eyeballs, (the T-Rex) couldn't help but have excellent vision."
Of course, in the movie (and to a greater and more detailed extent in the book), it is stated that in order to bring these dinosaurs back to life, the scientists needed more DNA to fill the "gaps". In the book, they decided to splice dino DNA with bird, lizard, and frog DNA. In the movie, they only use frog DNA to hammer home the plot device that certain species of frogs can change gender when there is significantly less of one gender in the wild. So given this, it may be that the dinosaurs in the movie are more frog than actual historic dinosaurs. So, if that's the case, while a bit of a stretch, the question that can be asked is, "Was the statement made by Dr. Grant in the movie actually more about a frog's vision than a T-Rex's?" Digging a tad deeper, this quote from the movie by Dr. Grant gives us a clue to what species of frog they may have used:
 
They mutated the dinosaur genetic code and blended it with that of a frog's. Now, some West African frogs have been known to spontaneously change sex from male to female in a single sex environment.
 
The most common West African frog that has a tendency to change gender is the African reed frog. These frogs see quite on par with other species of frogs with their horizontal pupils, though they cannot see in the red spectrum. Yes, it is documented that frogs have a hard time seeing prey that doesn't move, but not significantly so, such that they'd be blind to them. Plus, humans (and really, all other prey) do move even when they think they are standing still- breathing, trembling, involuntary jerks, this is all movement. Additionally, as Kent Stevens said in response to this moving myth question, "If you're sweating in fear one inch from the nostrils of the T. Rex, it would figure out you were there anyway."
Besides great vision, the T-Rex also had a great sense of smell (and had good hearing). In fact, their large olfactory bulbs and nerves relative to their brain size indicates they may have had a sense of smell about equivalent to modern vultures, which are able to smell dead things from as far away as a couple kilometers. So whether scavenging or hunting, the T-Rex was good at finding things to eat. That said, there is some debate as to just how fast they were, with most scientists today thinking they had only a max speed of about 17-25 mph. That would have made the jeep chasing scene quite a bit less dramatic.
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy:
Bonus Facts:
  • The T-Rex's arms may have looked small (1 meter or so long) in comparison to their massive body size, but each arm of an adult T-Rex is estimated to have been able to lift over four hundred pounds based on large areas for muscle attachment on the bones.
  • The T-Rex's closest living relative is thought to be chickens, which incidentally were originally domesticated not for food, but for cockfighting.

Matt Blitz writes for the wildly popular interesting fact website TodayIFoundOut.com. To subscribe to Today I Found Out's "Daily Knowledge" newsletter,click here or like them on Facebook here. You can also check 'em out on YouTube here.
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Nightmarish looking deep sea fish washes up on NC shore

Odd News
A deep sea lancetfish washed up alive on a Nags Head, North Carolina beach on Monday. WGHP Fox 8 reports that because it is an open ocean fish, lancetfish are rarely seen near shore. North Carolina Aquarium worker Daryl Law sent photos of the lancetfish to the station. He said that the fish was released after the photos were taken.
(Leif Rasmussen via Daryl Law/WGHP)
The species have long, high dorsal fins and can grow over six feet long. Their jaws contain several long fang-like teeth as well as several smaller teeth. The station notes that very little is known about the biology of the fish, except that they live in all oceans, with the exception of the polar seas.

(Leif Rasmussen via Daryl Law/WG

Thursday, May 15, 2014

U.S. health officials urge use of HIV pill for at-risk individuals

Reuters

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. health officials on Wednesday issued new recommendations urging healthcare workers to consider offering an HIV prevention pill to healthy individuals who are at substantial risk for HIV infection.
The guidelines, issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Public Health Service, involve the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, a strategy in which at-risk individuals take a daily dose of an antiretroviral drug to reduce their risk of HIV infection.
The strategy builds on a landmark 2010 study that found Gilead Sciences Inc's Truvada - a pill already widely used to treat the human immunodeficiency virus - was more than 90 percent effective at preventing HIV infections among test subjects who took the drug as prescribed.
According to the new guidelines, healthcare providers should consider PrEP for anyone who meets specific risk criteria, such as being in a relationship with an HIV-infected partner or having sex without condoms with partners known to be at risk for HIV, such as injecting drug users.
The guidelines offer the first comprehensive guidance from the CDC, replacing interim guidance that emerged after studies showed PrEP to be effective in different patient populations.
The CDC now estimates as many as 275,000 uninfected gay men and 140,000 heterosexual couples, in which one partner is HIV-infected, could benefit from PrEP.
Some 1.2 million people in the United States live with HIV, and new infections are estimated at 50,000 each year.
(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Tom Brown)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

US reports third case of potential MERS virus

AFP
Saudis wear mouth and nose masks in their farm on May 12, 2014 outside Riyadh
Saudis wear mouth and nose masks in their farm on May 12, 2014 outside Riyadh (AFP Photo/Fayez Nureldine)
Washington (AFP) - A third potential case of the dangerous Middle East Respiratory Virus (MERS), has been found in the United States, health authorities said Tuesday.
"Two of the 20 team members exposed to the confirmed MERS patient are showing symptoms," said Geo Morales, spokesman for the Orlando hospital where one infected patient was treated.
"One of the two has been admitted to the hospital but is in stable condition. The other was treated and discharged and is following precautions at home. All 20 team members have been tested and we are expecting those results within the next day or two," the spokesman added.
The second infected US patient was confirmed as such May 10. The man, 44, is a health care worker who resides and works in Saudi Arabia, who traveled by plane May 1 from Jeddah to London, England, then to Boston, Atlanta, and Orlando, officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters.
The United States announced its first case earlier this month, a health care worker who had traveled to Riyadh at the end of April.
MERS causes fever, cough and shortness of breath, and can be lethal particularly among older people and those with pre-existing health problems.
Some 30 percent of the several hundred people infected with it have died, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The virus first emerged in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and recent research has suggested it may originate in camels.
The vast majority of cases have been in Saudi Arabia, but MERS has also been found in 16 other countries. Most cases involved people who had recently traveled to Saudi Arabia.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

MERS in the U.S.: Why You'll See More of It

Health officials reported the second U.S. case of the mysterious new Middle East respiratory syndrome virus, or MERS, on Monday. Like the first case, it’s in a health care worker who traveled from Saudi Arabia.

Second US Case of MERS Found in US

Here are six things you need to know about MERS:
It’s new.
MERS was first seen in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Since then it has spread to 16 countries, most in the Middle East but also in Europe and Asia and now including the United States. It’s a coronavirus, a distant relative of the SARS — severe acute respiratory syndrome virus — that infected more than 8,000 people around the world and killed 774 before it was stopped in 2004.
You can expect more US cases.
"This is unwelcome, but not unexpected," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Tom Frieden says. Health officials note that just about any disease is just a plane ride away. But most Americans are at very low risk of ever becoming infected. In 2003, eight SARS cases were confirmed in the U.S., all of them in travelers who were infected overseas and who did not infect anyone else.
It can be deadly.
WHO reports more than 530 confirmed cases and 174 deaths since the virus was identified in 2012. It’s killed between a quarter and a third of victims, which is a very high death rate for an infectious disease. But health experts say as officials look more closely for people infected with MERS they are finding milder cases, which takes the mortality rate down. Most who die have been either elderly or had another illness, such as diabetes or kidney failure. MERS
It doesn’t spread easily.
Health officials have closely studied the known patients, and the people who become infected usually have been in close and prolonged contact. One-fifth of the cases have been among health care workers who were treating patients intensively. There’s been no documented spread on an airplane, for instance. A patient in France who died infected a person who shared his hospital room, and family clusters have been reported from Saudi Arabia.
"We believe that if good infection control precautions are used during healthcare the risk to healthcare workers is also exceedingly low," says Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University, an infectious diseases expert. That includes wearing masks, gowns and gloves when treating patients.
There’s no treatment.
There’s no vaccine against MERS, although some groups are working on one, and antiviral drugs don’t appear to be of much use against it, either. The CDC has told U.S. hospitals to take strict precautions if someone shows up with symptoms. Patient care is mostly support, such as providing oxygen or breathing care.
No one knows where it came from.
The latest research suggests camels, but many patients have had no known contact with camels. Camel meat or milk might be a source, and the virus can live on surfaces and potentially could spread when people touch an infected surface. SARS was eventually traced to an animal called a civet, often sold in Asian markets as food.
Some health officials say it's possible MERS has been circulating but no one knew what it was because there wasn't a test for it. Many respiratory diseases are never diagnosed.
“While experts do not yet know exactly how this virus is spread, CDC advises Americans to help protect themselves from respiratory illnesses by washing hands often, avoiding close contact with people who are sick, avoiding touching their eyes, nose and/or mouth with unwashed hands, and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces,” the agency advises.
First published May 12th 2014, 2:59 pm

Ohio measles outbreak largest in USA since 1996

A measles outbreak in Ohio has reached 68 cases, giving the state the dubious distinction of having the most cases reported in any state since 1996, health officials say.
The Ohio outbreak is part of a larger worrisome picture: As of Friday, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had logged 187 cases nationwide in 2014, closing in on last year's total of 189. CDC warned several weeks ago that the country could end up having the worst year for measles since home-grown outbreaks were eradicated in 2000.
The last time a state had more measles cases than Ohio has now was 1996, when Utah had 119, according to CDC.
The Ohio outbreak, like ongoing outbreaks in California and elsewhere, has been linked to unvaccinated travelers bringing the measles virus back from countries where the disease remains common. In Ohio, all of the cases have been among the Amish, health officials say. The outbreak began after Amish missionaries returned from the Philippines. The Philippines is experiencing a large, ongoing measles outbreak with more than 26,000 cases reported, according to CDC.
The California outbreak, also linked to the Philippines, had reached 59 cases as of Friday, according to the California Department of Public Health.
The center of the Ohio outbreak is Knox County, where 40 cases have been reported. Thousands of Amish in Knox and surrounding areas have lined up to be vaccinated, says Pam Palm, spokeswoman for the county health department. Though the Amish traditionally have low vaccination rates, "they have been very receptive to coming in and getting immunized," to stem the outbreak, Palm says.
Some of the unvaccinated missionaries told local health officials they would have been vaccinated for measles before going to the Philippines if they had been told there was an outbreak there, Palm says: "One guy we spoke to feels just terrible that he brought the measles back and exposed his family."
Ohio also is in the midst of a mumps outbreak of more than 300 cases. Given the outbreaks, state health officials are urging families to check vaccination records and get up to date before summer camps and gatherings begin. "Activities that bring large groups of people together can accelerate the spread of these diseases," state epidemiologist Mary DiOrio said in a news release.
Before the measles vaccine became available in 1963, the virus infected about 500,000 Americans a year, causing 500 deaths and 48,000 hospitalizations. Case counts since 2000 have ranged from 37 in 2004 to a high of 220 in 2011, CDC says.
While most people recover from the fever, rash and other symptoms associated with measles after a few days, complications can occur, especially in children. Those complications can include ear infections and pneumonia or, more rarely, brain infection. One or two out of 1,000 children with measles will die, says CDC

Monday, May 12, 2014

BP spill: Sea methane persisted after microbe cleanup

AFP
Waves crash along the beach, days after a BP announcement that it is ending its "active cleanup" on the Louisiana coast from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, on April 19, 2014 in Grand Isle, Louisiana
Waves crash along the beach, days after a BP announcement that it is ending its "active cleanup" on the Louisiana coast from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, on April 19, 2014 in Grand Isle, Louisiana (AFP Photo/Sean Gardner)
Paris (AFP) - Scientists on Sunday said that methane which leaked from the 2010 oil-rig blowout in the Gulf of Mexico persisted in the sea for months beyond a presumed cleanup of the gas by marine microbes.
As much as half a million tonnes of natural gas, 80 percent of it methane, leaked into the deep sea as a result of the blowout on April 20, 2010, on BP's Deepwater Horizon rig.
The leak triggered a surprising "bloom" of marine bacteria that feasted on the gassy hydrocarbon plume.
The bugs performed a valuable environmental service, helping to prevent gas from lingering in the sea -- where it would contribute to ocean acidification -- or from escaping to the air, where it would add to the greenhouse-gas problem.
The bloom was so dramatic that, by the end of August, tests suggested all the gas had been mopped out by these natural little helpers.
But in a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience on Sunday, US marine scientists said the bloom abruptly declined at the end of June, even as methane concentrations remained about 5,000 times above background levels.
The bugs did indeed remove a significant amount of the gas, but their population crashed while the leak was still in progress, it said.
Engineers eventually capped the blowout on July 15, after 83 days. In addition to the gas, around four million barrels of oil escaped into the Gulf of Mexico.
Data from research expeditions that ran from May to December 2010 suggest that the residual plumes dispersed, according to the study.
Above-normal methane concentrations from the well, carrying a telltale carbon isotope signature, were found over a large area north and northeast of the wellhead, and this persisted until the end of the year at least, the study said.
The investigation, headed by Samantha Joye at the University of Georgia, did not estimate how much gas was not gobbled up by the microbes.
In addition, it was not designed to assess any environmental damage.
Why the microbial bloom crashed is unclear, but the fact that it happened underscores the many uncertainties in the complex marine environment when a gas leak occurs, it said.
Potential factors in these blooms include the availability of other nutrients for the bacteria, currents, other microscopic marine life and chemicals used to disperse oil slicks.

Friday, May 9, 2014

No lie: dinosaur dubbed 'Pinocchio rex' would eat you alive

Reuters
Two Qianzhousaurus sinensis individuals are pictured hunting in this handout artist's rendering
Two Qianzhousaurus sinensis individuals are pictured hunting in this undated handout artist's rendering. …
 
By Will Dunham
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Its nickname may sound funny - "Pinocchio rex" - but it probably would not have been wise to laugh at this strange, long-snouted cousin of the famous meat-eating dinosaur T. rex as it easily could have eaten you alive.
Scientists on Wednesday identified a new member of Tyrannosaurus rex's family, a beast named Qianzhousaurus sinensis that was up to 30 feet (9 meters) long and stalked China at the very end of the age of dinosaurs.
It differs in some significant ways from other members of the carnivorous group of dinosaurs known as tyrannosaurs, especially with a skull far more elongated than that of T. rex.
"It's a new breed of tyrannosaur, with a long snout and lots of horns on its skull, very different from the short-snouted, robust, muscular skulls of T. rex. So it tells us that tyrannosaurs were more ecologically variable than we previously thought," said paleontologist Steve Brusatte of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, one of the researchers.
Its elongated snout prompted researchers to nickname it "Pinocchio rex," inspired by the wooden puppet who dreamed of being a real boy but whose nose grew when he told a lie. "The long snout made us think of Pinocchio and his long nose, so Pinocchio rex seemed like a cheeky nickname," Brusatte said.
Two other tyrannosaur fossils with long snouts have been found previously in Mongolia but both specimens were juveniles. Brusatte said it had been unclear whether those two were dinosaur kiddies with juvenile features like a long snout that would disappear in adulthood.
"The new fossil solves this debate because it is twice the size of the two Mongolian specimens and much more mature, and still has the long snout and weird horns. So these were not juvenile features, but characteristic features of this unusual subgroup of long-snouted tyrannosaurs," Brusatte said.
Qianzhousaurus lived about 66 million years ago, not long before an asteroid believed to have been 6 miles wide (10 km) hit Earth and wiped out the dinosaurs and many other creatures.
"It would have been one of the last surviving dinosaurs and this species may have even witnessed the asteroid impact," said Brusatte, whose study appears in the journal Nature Communications.
Qianzhousaurus was smaller than T. rex, which lived at the same time in North America, measured about 40 feet (12 meters) long and was the largest known land predator ever. Even though it still had the "toothy grin" of T. rex, the unique snout of Qianzhousaurus and its more slender build suggested it favored different types of prey than "conventional" tyrannosaurs, the researchers said.
"It was still a big boy," Brusatte said. "And it still had a long mouthful of sharp teeth. You wouldn't want to run into it. It is something of a runt compared to T. rex, but T. rex was the baddest predator of all time."
The beautifully preserved fossil was found by workmen at a construction site in Jiangxi province in southern China.
Qianzhousaurus lived in a fairly wet, lush, rich landscape full of dinosaurs including feathered, bird-like ones named Banji, Ganzhousaurus, Jiangxisaurus and Nankangia that may have been on its menu as well as the huge, long-necked Gannansaurus.
"Although we are only starting to learn about them, the long-snouted tyrannosaurs were apparently one of the main groups of predatory dinosaurs in Asia," another of the researchers, paleontologist Junchang Lü of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, said in a statement.
Its genus name, Qianzhousaurus, honors a nearby city. Its species name, sinensis, pays homage to China.
(Reporting by Will Dunham; Editing by James Dalgleish)
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Chikungunya Virus Outbreak Likely in the U.S., Say Experts

Yahoo Health
Chikungunya (pronounced chik-en-gun-ye) is a viral disease transmitted to humans by the bites of infected Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, which are found across the globe. First described during an outbreak in southern Tanzania in 1952, the virus then spread to Africa, Asia, and the Indian subcontinent.
Originally believed to be a “tropical” disease, experts were surprised when an outbreak occurred in northeastern Italy in 2007. Now it has spread farther—to 14 Caribbean island countries since it was first detected on the island of St. Martin in December 2013. On May 1, 2014, the Caribbean Public Health Authority declared it an epidemic, with 4,108 probable cases across the region.
Get the Facts: Chikungunya Symptoms and Treatments

Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Chikungunya

The most common symptoms of chikungunya are acute, high fever and intense joint pain. The infected person may also experience headaches, muscle pain, swollen joints, and/or a rash.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chikungunya infection should be considered as a possibility in anyone who develops a high fever and joint pain, and who has traveled to the location of an active outbreak within the previous three to seven days.
A blood test is used to diagnose chikungunya and to differentiate it from dengue, a more serious viral infection, which is also transmitted by Aedes mosquitos. Outbreaks of dengue usually occur in tropical urban areas, according to the CDC.
Even though chikungunya symptoms can be severe, the disease is rarely fatal, unlike dengue, which can be lethal if not treated in a timely manner. Most patients with chikungunya begin feeling better within a week; a few may experience joint pain for several months. Some cases result in persistent arthritis symptoms. People at risk for more severe cases of the disease include newborns, adults over the age of 65, and patients with underlying medical conditions.
There is no cure for chikungunya, and no vaccine to prevent it, so treatment is focused on relieving the symptoms. An infected person needs to rest, drink lots of fluids, and take medicines like ibuprofen, naproxen, or acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain until the symptoms fade.
Learn More: The Big Dangers of Small Bug Bites

Mosquitoes May Spread the Virus to the Southeastern U.S.

Because the Caribbean islands are close to the U.S., there is some concern that chikungunya will spread to the U.S., perhaps via Florida.
The disease has been diagnosed in the U.S. before, but only in travelers returning from areas where there are outbreaks, according to the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. So far, no U.S.-based infections have occurred. But Dr. Gio J. Baracco, an associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, told Healthline that the mosquitoes spreading the virus are already in the southeastern part of the U.S. “This fact, and the large amount of travelers passing through South Florida en route to and from the Caribbean islands, makes it very likely that chikungunya will be introduced into the U.S.,” he said.
Another infectious disease expert, Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, explained how this “spreading” might occur. “Patients can acquire the infection while in the Caribbean through mosquito bites, and be incubating the infection. They’re feeling well as they come to the U.S. and then when they get sick, the virus is circulating in their blood streams.”
Then, an Aedes mosquito could bite that person and become infected itself, said Schaffner. “The mosquito thus infected in the U.S. infects another U.S. person, and that person in turn infects further mosquitoes. That’s how the virus appeared for the first time in a temperate zone, in Italy in 2007."
The virus could be carried beyond Florida, Schaffner said, but he added, “It might be established more readily in Florida, partly due to the volume of travel.”
Dr. Aileen M. Marty, a professor of infectious diseases at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine in Miami, agreed. “It can spread to any part of the U.S. where the mosquitoes live and breed,” she said.
Although an outbreak may occur at any time, Baracco said that summer is a vulnerable time. “The likelihood of an outbreak is related to the amount of vectors [infected mosquitoes] present. Aedes mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, and therefore are more common during the rainy season.”
The CDC's Dr. Erin Staples told Healthline that although it’s not possible to say at this point when local cases may occur here, it becomes more likely as more travelers return from areas where there are currently outbreaks, as mosquito populations grow, and as the weather gets warmer.

How Can I Protect Myself from Chikungunya?

To avoid becoming infected, Baracco said, “People should prevent mosquito bites by using adequate clothing, applying repellent, and getting rid of potential mosquito breeding sites."
Business travelers and vacationers in the Caribbean should exercise extra caution, Schaffner added. “Cruise travelers and people who stay in the islands for a period of time will need much more awareness about the prevention of mosquito bites. Use repellant—especially if you go out in the evening or in the early morning, when most of these mosquitoes like to bite. Wear longer trousers and long sleeves.”
Schaffner also envisions a wider use of bed netting. “People like to go to the islands, open the windows, and let the Caribbean breezes come through—they’re not always in hermetically sealed, air conditioned rooms. If you do that now, you might have to sleep under a bed net.”
The CDC is taking several steps to educate travelers to the Caribbean about the risks of chikungunya and how to protect themselves. Staples explained, "We are continually updating our travel notice with the latest on the spread of the virus and recommendations to prevent infection. In addition, the CDC has been working with its partners at airports with flights to the Caribbean to educate outgoing travelers about how to stay safe from chikungunya while in the Caribbean, and returning travelers about what symptoms to watch for and when to seek care. We’re also working to post them at additional airports and to translate them into Spanish."
Read this article at Healthline.com

Great white shark bites inflatable boat as worried crew hopes for the best

The Big Blue Ocean Exploration

Vessel does not sink and crew gets safely away in incident off South Africa

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Great white shark sinks teeth into rubber boat; image is a video screen grab
Video showing a great white shark repeatedly biting an inflatable boat before its wide-eyed crew is being widely shared this week, along with sensational headlines such as this from the Daily Mail:
“Let go of the boat, Jaws! Terrifying moment great white shark sunk its teeth into a rubber dinghy in the middle of the sea.”
And this from Huffington Post: “Shark mistakes inflatable boat for chew toy.”
Actually, it was quite a spectacular incident last month off South Africa. But the MaxAnimal film crew did not seem overly concerned as the shark teethed on and ultimately popped one of the vessel’s pontoons.
MaxAnimal wrote in its video description: “Is the scariest part when the shark eyes our folks on the boat? Ah, yeah.”
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Great white shark takes another bite in what appears to be investigatory behavior; image is a video screen grab
But the boat did not sink–it can be seen motoring away at the end of the video–and nobody was injured, according to a YouTube comment by MaxAnimal.
But why was the shark biting their boat?
Amber Marlow was probably accurate when she commented: “Not an ‘attack’ – he was just exploring the boat, and subsequently chomped it to death out of curiosity.”
More than likely, the crew used chum to lure the shark to the boat, and once the shark was close it was simply being a shark by investigate potential prey.
“No uncommon behavior,” Christopher Lowe, a white shark expert at Cal State University, Long Beach, told GrindTv. “But, staying near an adult white shark in an inflatable boat is not a smart move. Expensive rookie mistake!”
Added Martin Graf, whose Shark Diver company specializes in great white shark expeditions at Mexico’s Guadalupe Island:
“I think they had a bait in the water that got the shark close. The vibrations from the engine make it appear alive and the shark is testing it, to see if it is edible. They also bite outboard engines, because of electrolysis that comes from it, for the same reason.”
So it’s good for the crew that the shark was simply investigating. Had the boat been much smaller the shark might have chosen to launch an ambush attack. That would have been truly sensational.
–Find Pete Thomas on Facebook and Twitter

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

MERS Experts Fret About Deadly Virus' Great Unknowns


Posted: Updated:

MERS
ISTANBUL -- With cases of a virulent and highly fatal pathogen on the rise, including the first-known occurrence in the United States, epidemiologists and public health officials say some of their biggest concerns about the disease lie in the basic information that they still don't have about it.
The virus, called Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS, is closely related to SARS, which spread rapidly across Asia a decade ago, leaving some 800 people dead. So far, MERS, which has a higher fatality rate than SARS and no known vaccine or cure, has proven to be much less of a public health risk because its transmission rate, or how easy it is to spread between humans, has remained low.
But there are anecdotal hints that the disease could be bucking that trend, including a dramatic uptick in the number of sick patients in Saudi Arabia, where the outbreak is centered. More than 400 people have been infected with the disease so far, almost all of them in the Middle East. The virus, which can cause "severe acute respiratory illness," according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has killed about one-third of those who have contracted it.
Official health groups like the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control still describe the risk of worldwide pandemic as low, but epidemiologists and public health experts say critical blank spots in the scientific understanding of the virus need to be filled in order to be sure.
"We don't know exactly what's happening," said Dr. David Swerdlow, the head of the MERS monitoring team at the U.S. CDC. "I think there are still some questions that are unanswered about how it's transmitted, how commonly it's occurring, what the prevalence is in the population, what is the spectrum of illness."
Until recently, infections from the disease largely seemed to occur in patients who had direct contact with an infected camel, which is believed to be the source of the disease, or with health care workers who spend extensive time with the most ill patients.
But a recent report by the World Health Organization said that 75% of new infections were transmitted between humans alone, and most of the latest Saudi patients had no known exposure either to camels or health care facilities.
That doesn't necessarily mean that the virus has mutated to become more easily transmissible, experts say. The spike could be related to poor health care procedures, or a higher vigilance for testing, or even a natural seasonal cycle of the virus, but it raises important questions that demand answers.
"With this disease, if your epidemiologic data are a month old, it's outdated," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. "Just what role does a lack of adequate respiratory protection in the healthcare setting play? I believe that we must entertain the possibility that there may be mildly ill or asymptomatically infected people who might transmit this."
One of the biggest challenges, some experts say, has been the fact that the current outbreak is centered in a series of countries -- including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- that are not accustomed to opening their facilities and bureaucracies to outside eyes.
Until recently, that has meant a frustrating dearth of public information about the spread of the disease, and limited access for doctors who would like to inspect sick patients and hospital facilities.
It also means that if the virus does mutate, something that could have potentially catastrophic implications, it might not be immediately known.
"Without detailed information on the recent Saudi cases, it's really hard to do anything but guess," one infectious disease expert, Connie Savor Price of Denver Health and Hospital, recently told a leading online medical journal. "We could guess endlessly."
A team from the World Health Organization is currently in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where they hope to learn important details about the disease's life cycle and whether it might have changed to become more easily transmitted.
Osterholm said he doesn't think that change has happened -- at least not yet.
"It doesn’t appear to have done that," he said. "If it had we might expect to see more efficient human-to-human transmission, including in areas outside of Saudi Arabia. But with a virus like this, you have to view this as a journey, not a yes or no event."
Along the way, Osterholm said, even something as basic as understanding the way the virus leaps from camels to humans is crucial to preventing a worsening of the outbreak. Some experts have noted that Saudi traditions related to camels can make it difficult to limit contact with potentially ill animals.
"With every transmission from an animal to a human you have to worry -- it's like another play at the genetic roulette table, and eventually one might hit the jackpot," Osterholm said. "And when you have more human-to-human virus transmissions, that's even more evolutionary pressure to change. So I look at this like a process -- not where are we at today, but we have to look at where we could be tomorrow."
He added, "Every day we're seeing more cases. We are hardly out of the woods yet."

Monday, May 5, 2014

Laguna Beach described as ‘Whale Beach’ after series of unusual close encounters

The Big Blue Ocean Exploration

Moms and babies are so close that swimmers can't resist the urge to greet them

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Gray whale calf spyhops near two swimmers

A two-mile stretch of Southern California coastline has been renamed “Whale Beach” by the operator of a whale-watching business who’s reporting an unusually high number of gray whale moms and calves stopping to rest and play in the area’s tranquil coves.
Donna Kalez, general manager of Dana Wharf Whale Watching, says that during the past few weeks her captains have logged more than 40 sightings of gray whale cow-calf pairs in the shallow coves of Laguna Beach.
That’s well above average, Kalez says, but what’s really unusual are the number of close encounters with swimmers.
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Gray whale mother and calf a mere stone’s throw from shore

With unseasonably warm weather, more people are visiting the beach, and when whales emerge just a few yards from the sand, many can’t resist swimming out for a more personal experience–which is a rare opportunity and sounds like fun, but it’s not in the best interest of public safety.
“This only happens for one month, from April into May,” Kalez said. “But ususally at this time of year it’s too cold for people to go swimming with them, and there are not many people at the beach.”
Kalez on Friday emailed local media outlets,  announcing that gray whale cow-calf pairs “are making the beaches of Laguna Beach a playground.”

She included the image atop this post, which also is posted on the company Facebook page under a caption that reads, “We are calling this Whale Beach.”
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Most are content to watch the whales from the beach, but some can’t resist a more personal encounter
The photo was taken from aboard the 95-foot Dana Pride. Captain Tom White reported to Kalez: “The whales are actually loving the people in the water. It’s amazing, they are going over to them.”
But this was just one of many instances. Swimmers also have pursued the whales, while wearing snorkeling gear and GoPro cameras, and Kalez’s captains have reported some cases in which swimmers have spooked the mothers.
Also, in some cases, swimmers have been kept out of the water by lifeguards.
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Swimmers who approach whales might be violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act
Spooking whales, or altering their behavior in any way, is a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, punishable by fines and/or jail time.
Plus, said NOAA marine mammal specialist Monica DeAngelis, it’s dangerous for swimmers to approach powerful, unpredictable cetaceans that can measure to 50 feet and weigh 40 tons.
“From my perspective we wouldn’t want to encourage people getting in the water, especially with a mom and calf,” DeAngelis said. “Gray whales were nicknamed devil fish mainly because of the reactions mothers had when whalers came in and went after the babies.
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Gray whale mother trys to keep calf from getting too close to the beach

“Snorkelers aren’t whalers, but I’m using it as an example that they are wild and unpredictable, especially with a baby in tow. Best to admire at a distance. If they do approach, stay calm and do not pursue.”
About 24,000 Pacific gray whales are migrating from Baja California nursing grounds to Arctic home waters. Most have already passed Southern California. Bringing up the rear, as usual, are the mothers and calves.
Captain Frank Brennan of Dana Wharf said that the cow-calf pairs that are entering the coves appear to be in a playful mood among themselves, “but they don’t want to be bothered.”
Brennan said that the whale pairs turn right toward the coast after passing the Dana Point headland, and settle mostly into coves with rocky cliffs.
But most of the encounters involving swimmers have occurred at Aliso Beach, which is sandy and popular with swimmers.
This is where the photo opportunities are best, for those aboard boats and on the beach–and in some cases, in the ocean.
Lasting memories, for sure, but the whales have a long journey ahead of them, and as they get farther up the California coast they must deal with predatory killer whales, which like to feed on gray whale babies.
Perhaps this is why cow-calf pairs are hugging the coast and resting in coves, and perhaps this is the best reason of all for swimmers to leave them alone.